How Does A VPN Work?

A VPN helps you protect your devices while browsing the internet. In this article we will explain how this really works.

A VPN provides a secure way to browse the internet. It also gives its users the freedom to access any restricted content at will. Although many individuals and companies use this tool every day, a lot about how VPNs work is still unknown to them.

In this guide, we’ll explain everything about the workings of a VPN and highlight the best ones to get.

What was obtainable before VPNs came around?

Before the advent of VPN technology, people connected to the internet through their Internet Service Providers (ISP) directly. The ISP also acted as an intermediary between devices for file sharing. You’ll be given a unique address called an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which allows your device to be found anywhere on the internet.

This method of internet connection seemed fruitful until security concerns began to spring up. ISPs at that time could (and they still can) monitor all the steps their customers take while browsing the internet. Usually, the connection was unencrypted, which meant information like your IP address remained visible.

This method of connecting to websites is still in use, but with the introduction of VPNs, these security concerns have been alleviated. Furthermore, your IP address will not be visible to others (not even your ISP). Let us delve into how VPNs work to help you understand this better.

How VPNs work

VPNs are not high-tech tools that people seem to think they are. They operate on the same lines every other person uses on the internet to provide a much secure and safe connection. A VPN network comprises servers and the users’ devices.

Here’s how a VPN works:

  • First, the VPN app or browser extension has to be installed on your device. Once installed, you’ll need to connect to a server in a country where the VPN has one. Just like on your device, each server has an IP address. So, when connected to it, you’ll be given the IP address of the server. Since IP addresses of devices are similar in the same country, connecting this way will make it seem like you are in the country where the server is.
  • The VPN then encrypts your packets, hiding not only your IP address information but also the data. The software at your end then sends the data packets through the connected server.
  • In rerouting the information, the server then sends the data packets to the destination website.
  • The information from the website then follows the same path back to your device.

What can a VPN be used for?

A VPN can be used for the following reasons:

  1. To watch geographically restricted videos on streaming sites at super-fast speeds
    Netflix and YouTube are two popular streaming websites on the internet. But not all the content on these sites is available in every country. When resident in a country where a particular version is not available, VPNs can provide the access you need. All you’ll need to do is connect to a server in the country where you want to watch a particular version of the streaming website’s videos.
  2. To bypass content surveillance and web censorship
    In a lot of countries, firewalls are set up to regulate what people hear, see, and share with others on the internet. For example, China has the Great Firewall, which is a combination of technologies and legislative actions that control how people use the internet. Sites like Google and Facebook are blocked in the country, and it can be limiting if you need to get information from them.

    VPNs help bypass these content surveillance and censorship by providing a secure and private connection.
  3. To obtain secure connections between sites
    We now know that connecting to websites through your ISP is not the safest way to use the internet. Apart from the fact that your ISP will monitor your IP address and activities, hackers may also intercept your data and traffic. For both businesses and individuals, VPNs allow their users to securely use the internet without having to worry about their traffic getting into the wrong hands.
  4. To use public WiFis without having to worry about hackers
    Public WiFis are almost everywhere we go. A lot of people use it to browse the internet but are unaware that they are very easy to hack. Cybercriminals wait for people to log on to these improperly secured sites, so they can access files and intercept their traffic.

    With a VPN on your device, you don’t have much to think about when using public WiFi. VPNs will protect so much that even if hackers get access to your traffic, they’ll not be able to decrypt it.
  5. To download torrents anonymously
    Your IP address is included in a torrent swarm every time you want to download torrents. If a VPN is not used, it won’t be just yours, but everyone else who’s on the file-sharing network with you. The concern here is that these IP addresses can get into the wrong hands.

    With a VPN, you can hide your IP address and download torrents anonymously. And as an added layer of security, your true IP address will not be used.

Top 3 VPNs you should consider getting

The three top-notch VPNs at the moment are:

1. ExpressVPN

Features

  • Number of servers: More than 3,000
  • Speeds: Unlimited
  • Server locations: 160 in 94 countries
  • Maximum devices supported: 5
  • 24 live chat: Yes
  • 30 day money back guarantee: Yes

Pros/Cons

  • Fastest VPN out there
  • Strict no logs policy
  • 256-bit AES encryption
  • Few discounts

ExpressVPN is an oldie in the VPN industry. The VPN has a lot of users around the world because of its amazing services and features.

To start, ExpressVPN has the best encryption system you’ll find in a VPN; the AES-256 encryption. This encryption is so good that it is what high-level security personnel and the U.S. government uses to secure its connection. But that’s not all, no cyberattack on it is feasible. To add to this top-notch encryption, ExpressVPN has a Perfect Forward Secrecy feature that negotiates keywords every hour. This feature prevents your traffic from getting decrypted in rare situations where hackers get hold of them.

ExpressVPN also has quite a good number of other security measures to further strengthen its security firewalls. Some of them include a network kill switch, VPN split tunneling, and a zero-knowledge DNS protection. And with its no-logging policy, you can be assured that none of your data or traffic will get intercepted or decrypted.

This VPN service has more than 3000 servers in 94 countries around the world. In each of these ExpressVPN servers, you’ll get super-fast speeds, as well as unlimited bandwidth, to browse the internet freely. The service is compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux devices, and you can link up to five devices to one account at a time. Only recent and high-performing protocols are used in this VPN’s servers.

ExpressVPN has a reliable customer support system to help with any technical issues you may face when using the VPN. You’ll also have quite some troubleshooting videos and articles on the VPN’s home page that’ll prove useful. The service offers a 30-day money-back guarantee to its users, and there are several subscription plans to choose from.

  • Pros: Fastest VPN out there; Strict no logs policy; 256-bit AES encryption
  • Lowest price: $8.12

2. NordVPN

Features

  • Cryptocurrency accepted? Yes
  • Simultaneous connections: 6
  • Dedicated IP-addresses? Yes
  • Servers: 5342 in 58 countries

Pros/Cons

  • Lots of pricing options
  • Netflix support kept up to date
  • 256-bit AES encryption
  • Slow app

Another high-performing VPN that’ll provide the security, anonymity, and freedom you’ll need to browse the internet conveniently is NordVPN. When it comes to exciting features and excellent service, this VPN ranks as one of the best.

Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN uses the best-in-class AES-256 encryption to secure THE traffic and data users send to a destination website. But unlike ExpressVPN, other features like Cybersec, which helps to avoid botnet controls, are included in this Virtual Private Network’s security features. NordVPN has a Double VPN feature that sends traffic through two servers, thereby providing an extra shield from attacks for its users. Still, on its security measures, NordVPN operates a no-logging policy and has an automatic kill switch, Onion over VPN, and a DNS leak protection feature.

There are very few VPNs that can match the amazing number of servers that NordVPN has around the world. At the moment, the service boasts of 5462 servers in 59 countries. With all of them having lightning speeds, watching videos, playing games, and streaming content on sites should not be a problem.

You can connect as many as six devices to a single NordVPN account. It doesn’t matter if you use Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and Android devices. The service is available on virtually all operating systems out there. But that’s not all; you can also get a browser extension if you don’t want to use the app.

NordVPN has a 30-day risk-free guarantee as well as a dedicated customer support system.

  • Pros: Lots of pricing options; Netflix support kept up to date; 256-bit AES encryption
  • Lowest price: $2.99

3. Surfshark

Features

  • Free trial? Yes
  • Simultaneous connections: unlimited
  • Ad blocking? Yes
  • Servers: 1000+ in 61 countries

Pros/Cons

  • No footprints
  • Allows torrenting
  • 256-bit AES encryption
  • Not the cheapest around

The third VPN on this list is Surfshark. Located in the British Virgin Islands, the provider does not have retention laws and is not mandated to hand over information. Here are some of the reasons we think it is one of the best VPNs to get.

Firstly, Surfshark has excellent security features. It includes a DNS leak protection, 256-bit encryption, and an automatic kill switch to protect users’ data even if the connection drops. To add to these features, Surfshark has some advanced measures like Multihop and a camouflage mode to help bypass internet restrictions and firewalls.

Surfshark runs a strict no-logging policy, so no session information, IP address, or browsing information will be stored. You’ll also only need an email, password, and billing information. And you can use Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to pay.

Surfshark’s premium subscription allows users to connect unlimited devices to a single account. You’ll also have more than 1040 servers in over 61 countries to select from, which is a good number to have.

This VPN service has a 30-day money-back guarantee if you are dissatisfied with the service within this time. And like the two other VPNs mentioned above, Surfshark has a 24/7 customer support system.

  • Pros: No footprints; Allows torrenting; 256-bit AES encryption
  • Lowest price: $1.99

Is it legal to use a VPN?

The legality of VPNs has always been in question. To answer the question simply, yes, VPNs are legal to use in most countries. In some others like China and the United Arab Emirates, stiff laws are in place to regulate their use. But in all countries, VPNs are not to be used for;

  1. Cyberstalking and cyberbullying: Due to the privacy and anonymity features in place in VPNs, many people take it as an opportunity to use them to stalk or bully others. In most countries, using VPNs for such purpose is a crime punishable by stiff laws.
  2. Trading on the dark web: The dark web is blacklisted as one of the places that users should stay off on the internet. However, people still sell, buy weapons, drugs, and other illicit materials on it. They usually do this with a VPN because of the privacy these tools have.
  3. Hacking networks and computers: Finally, the last way in which VPNs should not be used is to hack computers and networks.

Tips on how to use a VPN

  • Don’t get a free one: Free VPNs usually pose security threats because they do not have the sophisticated measures that their paid counterparts have. You’ll also not likely have unlimited bandwidth to browse as much as you want with them.
  • Check the terms and conditions before you use a VPN: There could be some VPN hidden conditions that you’ll not take note of on the surface. Take a good and thorough scan of the VPN’s terms and conditions before you get one.
  • Ensure that the VPN has an automatic kill switch: Your connection can drop while you browse, and when this happens, you’ll want to stay protected. This is why you should always check whether a VPN has an automatic kill switch or not.
  • Make sure the VPN has a large number of servers: You’ll not enjoy VPNs if you only have a handful of servers to connect to. Server congestion is definitely something you’ll experience often.

In conclusion

The workings of a VPN are quite easy to grasp, and in this guide, we’ve highlighted a thorough process it. We’ve also included three of the best types you should consider getting as well as what they work for. So, what are you waiting for? Get a VPN today and start enjoying all the benefits that come with using one.