This blog is the third part of the Internet Security for Home Users series. Throughout this series, you will learn tips and tricks to keep your home internet secured with the use of network troubleshooting, modem configuration, firewall setup, and VPN usage among others. This particular blog will cover everything you need to know about a VPN in general and how it can help protect your data from prying eyes.
What is a VPN?
When your devices are connected to the internet, they exchange data constantly on the web. A Virtual Private Network, or what is commonly known as VPN, is a tool to create a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. Your data will be sent through a secure connection. First, through an encrypted, secure connection to the VPN server and then its destination on the internet.
The VPN helps help with three things:
- Hide your real IP address
- Secure and encrypt your data
- Freedom to use the internet
Who Needs a VPN?
With a large part of our lives like banking, medical, and social carried out online, the data must be secured. Without a secure internet connection, you are prone to leak your data to hackers, the government, internet providers, websites, employers, and other parties. If you are concerned about sharing more of your information online than you would have liked, perhaps a VPN can be your solution. Besides the online security mentioned, the VPN also increases your online privacy, gets you around censorship online, and makes public Wi-Fi safer.
What are the Benefits a VPN offers?
Online Security Aspects
By heavily encrypting all your internet traffic even before reaching the VPN server, a VPN helps enforce your online security. While your data traffic is guided through a VPN tunnel, it is harder for other parties, such as governments and hackers, to intercept and view your data. VPN is especially important when it comes to using public networks. VPN is also useful to have at home. Depending on the provider, most top-of-the-line VPN providers offer a high level of encryption that will keep you free from worrying about someone using your data against you.
Online Anonymity and Privacy
With a VPN, your IP address will no longer be publicly exposed when you surf the internet. As long as you are connected to the VPN server, that will be the case and your browsing history will remain private. The IP address shown will be changed to the IP address of the VPN Server. Without a VPN, others can link your online actions to your identity and your location based on your IP address. In other words, instead of linking your online browsing history to your real IP address, they can only trace it back to the VPN server.
VPNs can offer more freedom online because it allows you to connect to different servers all around the world. When you choose to connect to a VPN server in a certain country, you have the same internet access as someone who is in that country physically. This will make a difference, especially when you live in places where part of the internet is being censored. However, if you are getting VPN service, for this reason, it is a good idea to check if VPN is legal in the country you are residing in.
Security on Public Wi-Fi
Generally, using a public Wi-Fi network makes you vulnerable to hackers because it is less secure than a private network like your home internet. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use a VPN when you are connected to a free Wi-Fi hotspot. Thanks to the traffic tunnel mentioned, your data can be encrypted which makes it almost impossible for anyone to see the content. It will be much more difficult for any other party to access your private information.
How Safe is a VPN?
Does It Slow Down Your Internet Connection?
Now that the safety aspect is out of the way, let us address another important aspect – speed. Some people are concerned whether they should use one. Often because they heard that it can decrease the speed of their internet connection. Technically, redirecting your traffic through a remote server is an additional step. Therefore, it sometimes takes longer, which leads to users feeling that VPNs make your internet connection slower. However, this is not always the case because using a VPN could also lead to your connection becoming faster. In the case that your home internet speed is restricted by your internet service provider, using a VPN will result in the limit being lifted. Hence, your internet connection becomes faster.
What are Different VPN Protocols?
The encrypted connection, or a tunnel, comes with every VPN service. There are, however, different protocols in which the VPN connection can be set up. The purpose of these protocols is to ensure that your data is encrypted and cannot be read by other parties. Here are some of the most common VPN protocols:
OpenVPN is one of the most widely used VPN protocols. It is an open-source protocol of which the encryption uses the OpenSSL and SSLv3/TLSv1 protocols. Many consider OpenVPN to be the best choice. The only limitation is that it does not support Mac OS and iOS. If you have iOS devices, you need to use a different protocol such as IKEv2/IPsec.
IPsec/L2TP combines IPsec for the data encryption and L2TP for establishing a secure connection. The protocol is supported by most operating systems, making it a good alternative for OpenVPN.
IKEv2 is a protocol based on IPSec. It can quickly connect to and switch between networks which is preferable for portable devices like smartphones. With the ability to switch between different Wi-Fi networks in and out of home, it is more convenient. In comparison to OpenVPN, some sources say that IKEv2 is faster, but OpenVPN is seen as the better protocol in general.
PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) is one of the first widely used protocols, but it comes with a risk. This protocol is only suitable if you are in a situation whereby speed is more important than security. For example, it would be a good fit for when you want to bypass restrictions set up by streaming services.
Unlike other protocols previously mentioned, Softether is not a stand-alone protocol. It is an open-source application that works across different platforms to support other VPN protocols like SSL VPN, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, and Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol.
WireGuard is the final protocol that will be introduced in this blog. It is a relatively new protocol that is still in a development process, that runs on a Linux kernel. The goal is for it to one day be better than OpenVPN and IPsec.