A Guide to Virtual Private Networks
In a previous Zapper Learn article, we introduced the basics of what networks are and how they work. This article will distinguish between two specific types of networks, Private Networks (PN) and Virtual Private Networks (VPN), before exploring how VPNs can be used to enhance data security and access to services.
Simply put, a PN is a network that is not accessible to the general public. PNs are commonly used by organizations who frequently handle information that is very confidential and valuable. If data like this leaked out, the organization may suffer huge losses. PNs solve this problem by creating an internal network that is not connected to the public network outside the company. It is extra difficult for hackers outside the company to enter such a network easily, meaning the company’s data is safe.
The next question that follows is, what if you work for an organization that uses a PN, and you need to access the network while on a business trip? You are not at the location where you typically can connect to the private network, your organization’s office, so how do you work remotely? In this situation, the organization will usually advise you to use a VPN. After connecting to the VPN your organization sets up for you, you can surf the web and do your job even if you are in a different country.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN is a network communication method. You can use it to establish a protected network connection when using public networks, because it can encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online identity. This also makes it more difficult for the third parties to track your activities online and steal data.
To be more specific, a VPN hides your IP address by redirecting it through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN host. This means that if you surf the web with a VPN, the VPN server becomes the source of your data, rather than your IP address. When using a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other third parties cannot see which websites you visit or what data you send and receive online. A VPN works like a filter that turns all your data into gibberish. Even if someone were to get their hands on your data, it could not be connected back to you.
VPNs and their current use
The number of VPN users worldwide has increased dramatically in recent years. In countries such as Iran and China, where Internet use is restricted and censored, VPNs have been used for getting around the government’s firewall. With VPNs, people can have access to Google, Youtube, Twitter, and a lot of other websites that have been banned in these countries. Some countries have also banned any activity having to do with cryptocurrency, so in order to participate in web3, many people around the world rely on VPNs.
Another bigger driver for VPN adoption in recent years has been the increasing demand for content with geographical access restrictions. For example, video streaming services such as Netflix or YouTube make certain videos available only in certain countries. With contemporary VPNs, you can encrypt your IP address so that you appear to be surfing from another country, enabling you to access this content from anywhere.
Finding and Setting up a VPN
To use a VPN, you must first have a VPN account, which will provide the VPN server’s connection addresses, username and password, etc. There are some free VPN services on the market, and users can get a VPN account after registering. However, a lot of VPN services require payment. Users will need to pay first to get an account. VPN service providers are further divided into domestic service providers and foreign service providers. Be sure to do some research to narrow down VPN providers based on your privacy needs, security requirements, and any access restrictions in your area.
Depending on where you are located, starting with a simple web search using keywords like “VPN services” will yield a lot of related information. There are also many providers of VPN connections for smartphones which keep mobile data traffic anonymous. You can find certified providers in the Google Play Store or the iOS App Store.
Remember, only your data traffic on the Internet is anonymized and protected by using a VPN. The VPN connection does not protect you from hacker attacks, viruses, or other malware. You should therefore have trusted anti-virus software to protect you from those types of risks.