Web services and cloud technologies constantly improve and expand their influence on both home users and businesses, but heightened interconnection comes with a significant dose of threats to online privacy and data security. This is why VPN is steadily becoming a valuable widespread tool against invasive entities and malicious attacks. But what is it exactly and how does it work?
VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an encrypted connection (VPN tunnel) between the device of the user (VPN Client) and a private network (VPN Server). All traffic transmitted over the web through a VPN tunnel is protected by specific VPN protocols that ensure data transfer and communication security, so neither the internet service provider, nor the wider internet populace can intercept or decode it.
Simplified diagram of basic VPN
There are two main types of VPN:
1. Remote Access VPN – a secure connection to a VPN provider’s network of servers which allow further access to the public Internet;
- most commonly used by: home users, small to medium businesses; easy to set up and maintain;
- typical usage: accessing geo-restricted content, secure connection to the office network during business travels (even over public WiFi).
2. Site-to-Site VPN (Router-to-Router VPN) – a secure connection between the private networks of a given organization (Intranet), or between its private network and its external partners (Extranet);
- most commonly used by: large entities (such as corporations or government organizations), demanding to configure and maintain, requires significant resources;
- typical usage: using the central office network of an organization from a different geographical location (can be another city, country, continent etc).
VPN offers many advantages for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. See how you can benefit from it in the following list:
- Privacy – VPN stops any tracking attempts. The cryptographic protocols used in VPN technology are designed in such a way that only two parties can decrypt the traffic passing through the VPN – the Client and the Server at each end of the VPN tunnel.
- Security – VPN protects sensitive business data. Data breaches can lead to substantial damages to the company, such as compensation fines to the customers, leaking of trade secrets, loss of trust and compromised corporate image.
- Mobility – VPN can greatly increase the mobility and flexibility of businesses – the office network can be safely accessed by company staff anytime and anywhere, circumventing geo-blocks, and even public WiFi can be used without danger.
- Cost – VPN can serve as a significantly cheaper alternative to physical private networks; it can additionally drive costs down thanks to the opportunity to set up remote offices and outsource employees.
Free vs. paid options
As a general rule, quality services are rarely free, and VPNs are no exception. So how do providers of free VPN cover their operating costs? Beside the common but harmless approach of placing ads all over the software interface, there are also harmful methods, that can cause a lot of trouble for you, such as:
- Malware-infested service that abuses the device’s resources and constantly collects personal data and usage details of the user, then sells them to data brokers, ad agencies, authorities etc.
- Hidden breach of privacy due to controversial Terms of Service clauses which trick the user into giving consent to gathering and further distribution of his personal data (example: Facebook’s now defunct Onavo app).
- Unauthorized use by malicious agents – the user is tricked into giving access to his device to third-party agents, which can then gain complete control over it, thus creating an ideal environment for illegal activities such as hacker attacks (example: Hola VPN and the Luminati network).
It can be very tempting to choose a free service over a paid one, but when it comes to VPN, we strongly advise against it. There are plenty of VPN providers that deliver great services at reasonable prices.