network in a vpn service

What Is VPN Service? How A VPN Works 2021

What is a VPN service? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and this allows a computer or mobile device to connect to the internet securely via a VPN tunnel. This tunnel encrypts traffic that flows between your device and a secure VPN server.

For better understanding, I will break the subject into various sections. You can use the table of contents to skip straight to any section.

  • Got no time? Select the best VPN for your device or region and take back your internet privacy.
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A. How does a VPN service work?

Every device, be it a computer, mobile device or smart TV, has a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address that identifies it on the web. 

A perfect analogy is your phone number that identifies you on a mobile network.

Similarly, no two devices have the same IP address but this makes it easy to be targeted by hackers online if this IP address is not masked. 

Look at these two scenarios…

1. Internet connection without a VPN

what is a vpn service - no vpn

Your ISP provides access to the internet and if you don’t have a VPN, all the traffic or sites you visit are visible to the ISP.

This is because any DNS queries (your searches) are handled by ISP servers so your activity is easily logged.

In addition, your traffic is not encrypted so any hacker can intercept your traffic and that is a security concern.

This action is called a man-in-the-middle attack and is discussed in the article highlighted.

Anyone on the internet can also see your actual IP address, making it easy to target you.

This configuration is neither private nor secure, so to achieve the two, you add a VPN as explained below.

2. Internet connection with a VPN

what is a vpn service - with vpn

In this case, when you go online, a VPN client on your device encrypts all your traffic.

The VPN also assigns a new IP address to your device, thus hides your true identity online.

All the DNS queries are handles by VPN servers instead of your ISP, so your activities remain anonymous and secure.

Your ISP is not able to view your data, but only sees a stream of encrypted traffic.

The same applies to any hacker who intercepts your traffic, thus a VPN adds a layer of security.

B. Types of VPN services

Let’s keep things easy to understand…

There are basically two types of VPNs and in both cases there is secure transmission of data.

1. Remote access VPN

This is the commonest VPN configuration used by individuals and we review VPNs that use this set up on this site.

It is relatively cheaper than site to site VPN (described next) because you don’t have to set up expensive VPN servers.

Instead, a VPN provider has all the infrastructure and allows you to use their servers, usually on a subscription basis. 

You download and install a VPN client on your device (that app you install), then you get credentials that are used for logging in.

This VPN client links you to the VPN server and this creates a secure VPN tunnel on the internet. 

2. Site to site VPN

A site to site VPN mainly connects corporate offices as it links remote LAN (Local Area Network) locations via VPN tunnels.

Resultantly, branches communicate with each other privately and securely over the internet in a WAN (Wide Area Network).

Usually, the company has dedicated VPN servers for their operations, allowing only those with valid login credentials to login. 

By using an encrypted VPN tunnel, there is an extra layer of protection as third parties cannot access sensitive company data.

Different companies can share information in the WAN and still keep their confidential information safe.

Site to site VPN is costly for an everyday user and it is mainly suitable for companies.

If your primary goal is only to mask your identity on the internet or change your geo-location, a trusted remote-access VPN is adequate.

C. Pros and Cons of a VPN service

  • Quick Fact: The benefits of a VPN outweigh the disadvantages

What are the benefits of a VPN?

There are several important benefits of a VPN that have seen the proliferation of its use amongst consumers.
All these benefits come together to give a highly secure environment for you to surf the internet.
However, this only applies if you use recommended VPN services because there are some that are not robust.
Let’s jump into VPN benefits:

1. A VPN hides your IP Address

The first benefit of a VPN is IP-masking, which gives you anonymity on the internet. Hackers use your IP address to see your location and carry out targeted attacks.
By using techniques like IP sharing, rotating IPs and more, it’s difficult to pin-point your identity.
This is one of the main reasons why you need to use a VPN every time you are browsing the internet.
Unscrupulous individuals lurk on the internet and want to capture your data or infiltrate your device.
With IP address masking, you appear to be surfing from anywhere in the world where the servers of the VPN are located.

2. A VPN encrypts your data

A VPN provides 2 layers of security to prevent access to your data when you are on the internet. I will go through them one by one to give you more clarity.
VPN tunnel 
The first layer is by the establishment of a secure VPN tunnel between your device and a VPN server. 
This VPN tunnel uses VPN protocols to ensure that no unauthorized access of your traffic takes place.
Not only that, but this traffic is also encrypted using techniques like AES-256 bit encryption to make it invisible to hackers, the government and third parties.
Kill switch 
Another layer is the ability to terminate the internet connection once there is a disruption of a VPN connection.
This stops your data from being transmitted over an unsecured internet connection.
Premium VPNs have a reliable kill switch that works instantly and you can read more about it here.

3. Bypass geoblocks and firewalls

A VPN allows you to access geo-restricted online content like on-demand video streaming services.
Netflix is a good example because it is not available in all countries.
Service providers use the device’s IP address to determine the location of the user, making it easy to block any users from a restricted country.
With a VPN, you can change your IP address and appear to be surfing the internet from another location of your choice.
In the case of Netflix, you simply select an IP address in the U.S. and you won’t be blocked. 
Premium VPNs go a step further by blending VPN traffic with normal traffic because some service providers block VPNs and proxies.

4. A VPN prevents bandwidth throttling

A VPN can give you better internet speeds when your ISP has a habit of putting limits to your bandwidth.
This becomes crucial when you perform actions that require a lot of bandwidth, like online gaming and streaming videos.
Every time you go online, your internet service provider (ISP) monitors the sites you visit and adjusts your bandwidth when necessary.
This ensures that during peak hours everyone is able to access the internet, but it comes at a cost of reduced network speed, a process called throttling.
As a result, you may experience lags when streaming HD videos, which gives a poor user experience.
When you use a good VPN, your ISP only sees a stream of encrypted data, so it’s not possible to throttle your bandwidth.
You can even notice better internet speeds especially if you use a good VPN like NordVPN.

5. VPNs enable access to cheaper services

When you change countries, prices of a service in a location may also change.
Take hotel booking as an example…
Booking charges usually differ depending on which country you are booking from. A remote booking made from one country can be more expensive than the same booking done in another country. 
With a VPN, you can compare prices from different countries and see which countries gives the cheapest price.
This applies to hotel bookings, car rentals and online purchases.
In the end, you save a lot of money while you are right where you are.

What are the disadvantages of a VPN?

If you choose a VPN randomly, you risk using a malicious VPN. Fortunately, we have done all the research for you so that you don’t run into pitfalls. 
Without further ado, here are the disadvantages of using a VPN:

1. The further you are from a VPN, the slower the connection speed

If you use a VPN service with few servers, your traffic has to traverse a long distance before reaching the nearest VPN server.
This results in a slow network, not ideal for streaming, torrenting or online gaming. 
To counter this, use a VPN with many servers around the world so that VPN traffic takes the shortest possible route.

2. A VPN is not legal in some countries

Some countries block some VPN providers because the government wants to monitor all the internet activity of citizens.
As a result, if authorities suspect any suspicious activity, your location can easily be identified. 
This lack of access to VPNs exposes your data to hackers and other third parties.
Countries like China have strict laws against VPNs and those that they allow to operate are heavily monitored.
As a result, these dubious VPNs gather you data when in operation.

3. Some sites block VPNs

There are sites or networks that block VPN traffic and if you use a free or cheaply-built VPN, the VPN traffic is more likely to be detected and blocked.
Sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and other streaming services have systems that are very sensitive and only premium VPNs can avoid detection successfully.
Only use trusted VPN services that are stable, with widespread servers.

What VPN should I use?

Each VPN has its strengths so you should pick a VPN that caters for most or all of the these positive factors.

This is what you should look for in a VPN:

1. Excellent speed

Time is money and if you are doing something on the internet on a slow network, your productivity drops. This is critical for businesses where some operations are time-dependent. 
Even if data is secure, it needs to be delivered in a timely manner for effective operations. Hence, you need a VPN service provider with powerful servers. 
Other activities, like online streaming or gaming, also require a fast connection speed.

2. High security

For some, speed alone is not enough because data protection is now a very sensitive topic. It is important to use secure protocols when encrypting data in a VPN tunnel.
This is crucial for individuals where sensitive or confidential information ends up being misused in the wrong hands. 
However, if you only want to access geo-restricted sites without worrying about security, this may not be a big issue.

3. Good value for money

Your budget may restrict you from getting the best VPN service on the market. However, there are some pocket-friendly VPN services available. They provide excellent security and have good connection speeds.
Whatever you do, stay away from free VPNs because they are not exactly free, you ‘pay in kind’ (see below)

4. Good privacy

Internet privacy is a right and you should have control over who gets access to your personal data.
Therefore, VPN service providers that don’t share your internet activity are more secure. 
Use a trusted VPN with privacy policies that undergo periodic independent audits.

5. Widespread VPN servers

The more the VPN servers, the better the network speed and reliability. Traffic is routed to other VPN servers if there is a network disruption.
In addition, this also gives confidence to businesses as there is room for expansion without worrying about server overload.

6. Room for expansion

This mainly applies to businesses that need a VPN provider to tailor services to their operations.
Therefore, if you are a business and require the best business package, this factor plays a major part
On the contrary, a one-package-fits-all approach is usually adequate for personal use.

7. Availability of a kill switch
 
A kill switch prevents your data from being transmitted over an insecure network.
Check to make sure the VPN you want to use has a kill switch.

8. Positive reviews

This is an easy way to find out quickly if you should use a particular VPN or not. A quick search of review sites on the internet gives you an ideal of what you are signing up for.
That is what I do on this site, giving you an in-depth review of VPNs to use or to avoid.

9. Good customer support

There should be an effective help-desk to address any queries.
I prefer a VPN provider with live chat support, in addition to email support and a knowledge base of helpful tutorials.
A bad customer support is always bad for business.

Why free VPNs are bad?

When it comes to free VPNs, you have to understand that there is always a catch because someone has to pay for maintenance of the service.
Most free VPN providers have hidden agendas that they don’t disclose to you when you sign up and it involves collecting your browsing patterns for resale.
Below is what you have to worry about when using a free VPN…

1. Annoying Ads

When you run a free VPN, Ads may disrupt the user experience and this can also slow down the network, as these Ads need internet access to refresh content. 
You never know which Ads are displayed and some may lead to installation of malware.
In addition, trackers share your browsing pattern with third-parties so that you are shown targeted Ads. 
Get an Ad-free VPN with trusted security policies.

2. Free VPNs do not unblock all sites

A free VPN has challenges in unblocking restricted sites, making it difficult to access streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and more.
VPN traffic from a free VPN is easily recognizable and the number of IP addresses is limited by a few servers.
Premium VPNs are difficult to block because the VPN traffic blends with normal traffic successfully.

3. Free VPN has low security

Free VPNs entice users with high connection speed at the expense of security, in some cases by using outdated VPN protocols. 
Ads incorporated in free VPNs also increase the risk of malware.
In addition, one way in which providers of the free VPNs make money is by selling your browsing data to third parties.
Choose a VPN with a strict no-logs policy and one that uses secure VPN protocols like Wireguard or OpenVPN protocol.

4. Free VPNs Log your data

When you are using a VPN, one of the goals is to hide your online activity.
However, a dubious VPN service provider tracks your activity and sells your data to third parties.
This becomes critical when you are dealing with sensitive data, either personal or business. 
Some governments demand access to data in VPN servers and VPNs that log your data should never be trusted.
Choose a VPN with a no-log policy to be on the safe side.

5. Free VPNs limit the data you use

Free VPNs limit the number of servers you access and the amount of data you use.
One of the reasons is to force you to upgrade your plan or to accommodate as many users as possible. 
With limited data, you get a poor internet experience and VPN providers maximize revenue through adware.
Get a paid, trusted VPN without data limits and with access to all servers.

Conclusion

Now that you understand what a VPN service is, you are now in a position to make an informed decision.

This site is structured to make it easy for you to find the best VPN service.

Use the links below to go straight to the best VPN or choose the overall best VPN.

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