What is VPN and how does it work?
It is not uncommon for companies to emphasize the advantages of VPN networks. This form of network access is said to protect small businesses as well as large corporations. In fact, VPN is one of the basic security measures that help companies gain remote access. But: What is VPN and how does it work?
Definition and meaning: What does VPN stand for?
The term VPN is increasingly used in the corporate world. But what does “VPN” stand for? The abbreviation stands for “Virtual Private Network” and refers to a protected network connection. According to this definition, VPN makes it possible to establish a protected connection even in public networks. The software disguises one’s online identity, which makes Internet traffic much more secure. Since the encryption is done in real time, it is more difficult for third parties to track online activities or steal sensitive data.
Virtual private network: How does a VPN work?
The VPN software redirects the IP address used through a configured remote server. This VPN host is responsible for hiding the identity. At the same time, it becomes the source of the data used. Internet service providers (ISPs) and third parties can therefore neither see what data is being received nor which websites have been visited. The encrypted information is therefore no longer understandable, even if it gets into the hands of third parties.
What is VPN used for? – Benefits of a VPN connection
VPNs offer additional security in everyday business. Yet what is VPN used for and what are the benefits of such a connection?
- VPN enables disguised data traffic. It protects your own activities on the Internet and makes it more difficult to gain access from the outside.
- Thanks to the secure encryption, hackers and cybercriminals can no longer access the data. Even if the access succeeds, the data will not be useful to them.
- The VPN usage ensures that not only the data but also the location is encrypted. Demographic location data is thus no longer visible.
- VPN location spoofing makes it possible to effectively change one’s location.
- Those who work remotely benefit from VPN security. Sensitive data remains protected. At the same time, access to the network is not possible. These security measures reduce the risk of data leakage and protect valuable company data.
Types of VPN
Depending on your company, it makes sense to consider different types of VPN. Overall, there are three types of VPN that are suitable for different projects.
An SSL VPN is always useful when employees want to access the company network with their own end devices. This is necessary, for example, when employees cannot use a separate company laptop. The basis for this type is almost always a corresponding hardware box. At the same time, an HTML 5-capable browser is necessary, which enables calling the login page for the company. Such internet browsers are not only available for Windows, but also for other operating systems.
This VPN is basically a private network. It allows users to securely access the corporate network and the resources it contains. Its use makes sense should the company have multiple sites with local networks. Once they are connected via a WAN (Wide Area Network), the contents of both intranets can be accessed via VPN. The most important advantage is that no direct access to the remote intranet is necessary. This makes site-to-site VPNs particularly interesting for large companies that want to benefit from the flexibility.
Client-to-server VPN is a popular option that is quick and easy to use. Employees benefit from the fact that they can dial into the company network without further ado. This gives them the opportunity to work just as if they were sitting in the office. For this to work, the VPN client must be installed on the computer and configured accordingly. The VPN configuration is usually known by the administrator in charge of this task.
It is important that the user does not connect to the Internet via his own ISP. Instead, the direct connection is made via the VPN providers. This has the advantage that the tunnel phase is much shorter. Therefore, this type of VPN is also useful for working over insecure public Wifi-connections.
VPN: Predecessors, early and current forms
As early as the 1960s, the first projects for encrypting Internet communication data were developed. While research at that time was driven by the U.S. Department of Defense, today numerous security experts are involved. To understand what is a VPN, it is worth taking a look at the beginnings.
At the beginning of this development a special packet switching network was used. This was the basis for the later Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. However, the Internet layer remained vulnerable, which is why the first version of a modern VPN was developed in 1993. This initial version was also known as the Software IP Encryption Protocol (swIPe).
However, as the Internet became more popular, the need for consumer-friendly and comprehensive security systems increased. The reason for why use a VPN at that time was to hide one’s browsing history. Therefore, mainly companies used the first versions of the VPN from the beginning of the 2000s. It was not until 2010, with increasing security breaches, that private interest in it increased. In the meantime, the use of VPN services is steadily increasing according to GlobalWebIndex. However, today’s VPN providers can no longer be compared to the initial offerings, as they are constantly evolving.
VPN networks put into practice
In practice, setting up a VPN helps to protect one’s own data from outside access. This makes it an important tool for security at the enterprise level, while protecting the internal network. However, the meaning of VPN is also growing in private use: Around five percent of VPN users in the USA, UK and Germany are private users. However, encrypted data is even more interesting in countries with censorship. These include China, Indonesia and Thailand, where Internet access is restricted. Here, one in five private individuals with Internet access uses the VPN service.
VPN is also of interest when there are geographical access restrictions on digital content. This is the case with YouTube or Netflix, for example. Both are only allowed to provide certain videos in predefined countries. If you want to circumvent this restriction, you can use a VPN access that encrypts the IP address.
The right software: Choose a secure VPN provider
To choose the right VPN provider it is important to consider the most important aspects. After all, VPNs do not work at all like a comprehensive antivirus software – instead, they protect the IP address. Therefore, it makes sense to always rely on additional security mechanisms.
- Respectability: It is important to be able to trust the VPN provider. The reason for this is that the providers can see the internet traffic, unlike the classic ISP. Therefore, maximum security as well as the best possible obfuscation are absolutely necessary.
- Encrypted IP address: Hiding the IP address is the main task of VPN. This allows companies or individuals to surf securely or send and receive confidential messages. For this to succeed, the IP address must be reliably encrypted.
- Encrypted logs: To hide browsing history, search history and cookies, the provider should offer the right security measures. Cookies in particular can provide access to confidential information, which is why encryption of logs is also important.
- Two-factor authentication: different authentication methods ensure that the VPN can verify who is logging in. If the program has such a possibility, the security for the user increases.
- Kill Switch: If the VPN connection is interrupted, then the connection is no longer secure. However, a good VPN is capable of detecting such downtime. In this case, the software terminates preselected programs so that data is not compromised.
- Data security: a VPN app can provide secure data transmission. This makes it impossible for third parties to access potentially intercepted data unhindered.
Good to know – TeamViewer vs. VPN: TeamViewer is a VPN alternative that uses a different approach to data security. The reason for this is that data still leaves the underlying infrastructure via VPN, which in turn can be problematic. The difference is that TeamViewer only transfers data to a limited extent. Primarily, it is the transmission of the screen of a remote end device. A transfer of concrete data content only takes place when it is really necessary.
Why Use TeamViewer Instead of Traditional VPN Solutions?
Setting up a VPN on your computer
It is easy to explain how to get a VPN installed. However, it is useful to decide on an implementation method first. Depending on the implementation, a different setup of the software is required.
1. VPN client
The VPN client is a standalone piece of software that must be installed and configured. This configuration must meet the requirements of the endpoint so that the connection over the encryption tunnel is possible. Therefore, the setup is usually done by an administrator who can provide the required certificate. In addition, a password is required, which is usually issued by the company. The firewall recognizes from the certificate or password that there is an authorized connection. The employee can then authenticate as usual.
2. Browser extension
An alternative to the VPN client is an online VPN. This is, for example, an extension for the web browser. The advantage of this approach is that users can quickly switch between the secure and the normal connection. However, it is important to keep in mind that the protection only extends to the browser content. All other programs and data are not encrypted. It is easily installed via the browser extensions of the end device.
3. Router VPN
If several end devices use the same Internet connection, VPN is often implemented directly on the router. In this way, the VPN protects all end devices that dial into the Internet via the router. Especially devices that are not so easy to configure benefit from this. These include smart TVs or home entertainment systems. Installation takes place directly on the router. It makes sense to opt for this solution if the router has its own user interface. Otherwise, it can be difficult to manage.
4. Corporate VPN
As a custom solution, the corporate VPN requires technical support for setup. Access is usually created by the internal IT department, so users themselves have no administrative control over their VPN. Typically, the company logs both the activity at hand and the data transfers. This minimizes the potential risk of data leaks while still providing a secure connection to the internal network.
What is VPN on my phone?: Installing VPN on a smartphone or other mobile device
Basically, VPN on a cell phone works the same way as VPN on a computer. That means the app protects personal data and payment information that third parties might intercept. Once it’s clear what is VPN on iPhone and whether it’s worth using, installing the app is quick and easy.
- To install VPN on a mobile device, download the VPN app from the Google Play Store or the iOS App Store. It is best to choose a professional provider.
- The setup is usually designed to be user-friendly and to be used on a smartphone. It is only necessary to register or log in. Then, the VPN service guides the user through the most important functions.
- Once VPN access is set up, it can usually be turned on or off via the home screen. Server switching, on the other hand, requires manual intervention if such a change of location is necessary.
Surfing securely using VPN
VPNs make it possible to encrypt one’s IP address and protect sensitive data. Whether this is private information or company data is irrelevant. This is because the connection reliably encrypts the browsing history and makes it difficult for third parties to gain access.
Nevertheless, it is important to take into account that it does not prevent the intrusion of cybercriminals. In turn, other tools help with this, as well as with protection against Trojans, bots, viruses or other malware. A combination of VPN and antivirus software is therefore advisable.
Important: To increase VPN security, you should choose a reputable VPN provider. Although there are free variants, not every offer is secure. A trustworthy VPN provider, on the other hand, not only protects its customers from compression, but also itself. This makes surfing the internet much safer.