What is VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. Encryption is a common, although not an inherent, part of a VPN connection.
VPN technology was developed to provide access to corporate applications and resources to remote users, mobile users, and to branch offices. For security, the private network connection may be established using an encrypted layered tunneling protocol, and users may be required to pass various authentication methods to gain access to the VPN. In other applications, Internet users may secure their connections with a VPN to circumvent geo-blocking and censorship or to connect to proxy servers to protect personal identity and location to stay anonymous on the Internet. Some websites, however, block access to known IP addresses used by VPNs to prevent the circumvention of their geo-restrictions, and many VPN providers have been developing strategies to get around these blockades.
A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated circuits or with tunneling protocols over existing networks. A VPN available from the public Internet can provide some of the benefits of a wide area network (WAN). From a user perspective, the resources available within the private network can be accessed remotely.
Secure VPN protocols include the following:
- Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was initially developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for IPv6, which was required in all standards-compliant implementations of IPv6 before RFC 6434 made it only a recommendation. This standards-based security protocol is also widely used with IPv4 and the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Its design meets most security goals: availability, integrity, and confidentiality. IPsec uses encryption, encapsulating an IP packet inside an IPsec packet. De-encapsulation happens at the end of the tunnel, where the original IP packet is decrypted and forwarded to its intended destination.
- Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) can tunnel an entire network’s traffic (as it does in the OpenVPN project and SoftEther VPN project) or secure an individual connection. A number of vendors provide remote-access VPN capabilities through SSL. An SSL VPN can connect from locations where IPsec runs into trouble with Network Address Translation and firewall rules.
- Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) – used in Cisco AnyConnect VPN and in OpenConnect VPN to solve the issues SSL/TLS has with tunneling over TCP (tunneling TCP over TCP can lead to big delays and connection aborts).
- Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption (MPPE) works with the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol and in several compatible implementations on other platforms.
- Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) tunnels Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol traffic through an SSL/TLS channel (SSTP was introduced in Windows Server 2008 and in Windows Vista Service Pack 1).
- Multi Path Virtual Private Network (MPVPN). Ragula Systems Development Company owns the registered trademark “MPVPN”.
- Secure Shell (SSH) VPN – OpenSSH offers VPN tunneling (distinct from port forwarding) to secure remote connections to a network or to inter-network links. OpenSSH server provides a limited number of concurrent tunnels. The VPN feature itself does not support personal authentication.
- WireGuard is a protocol. In 2020, WireGuard support was added to both the Linux and Android kernels, opening it up to adoption by VPN providers. By default, WireGuard utilizes Curve25519 for key exchange and ChaCha20 for encryption, but also includes the ability to pre-share a symmetric key between the client and server.
Using Proxy to unlock restricted content on internet, you can use proxy server to request from internet and access the content you want to visit.
In computer networking, a proxy server is a server application or appliance that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from servers that provide those resources. A proxy server thus functions on behalf of the client when requesting service, potentially masking the true origin of the request to the resource server.
Instead of connecting directly to a server that can fulfill a requested resource, such as a file or web page, the client directs the request to the proxy server, which evaluates the request and performs the required network transactions. This serves as a method to simplify or control the complexity of the request, or provide additional benefits such as load balancing, privacy, or security. Proxies were devised to add structure and encapsulation to distributed systems.
VPN VS Proxy
Proxy servers act as relays between the website you’re visiting and your device. Your traffic goes through a middle-man, a remote machine used to connect you to the host server. The proxy server hides your original IP address so that the website sees the IP of the proxy (in some cases, the computers of other proxy users are used for this). However, proxies only work on the application level, meaning it only reroutes the traffic coming from a single app you set your proxy up with. They also don’t encrypt your traffic.
There are three main types of proxy servers:
- HTTP Proxies – These only cater to web pages. If you set up your browser with an HTTP proxy, all your browser traffic will be rerouted through it. They are useful for web browsing and accessing geo-restricted websites.
- SOCKS Proxies – These proxies are not limited to web traffic but still only work on the application level. For example, you can set it up on a game, video streaming app, or a P2P platform. Although they can handle all kinds of traffic, they are usually slower than HTTP proxies because they are more popular and often have a higher load.
- Transparent proxies – These are a different kind of proxy because their users are usually unaware of their existence. These proxies can be set up by employers or parents who want to monitor users’ online activity and block access to specific websites. Hotels and cafes use them to authenticate users on public Wi-Fi and companies or home users might also set them up to save bandwidth.
Like a proxy, a VPN also reroutes your internet traffic through a remote server and hides your IP address so websites can’t see your original IP or location. However, it works on the operating system level, meaning that it redirects all your traffic, whether it’s coming from your browser or a background app.
A VPN also encrypts your traffic between the internet and your device. That means the Internet Service Provider (ISP) monitoring your internet activity and collecting data about you can no longer see what you’re doing online – just that you’re connected to a VPN server. The encryption also protects you from government surveillance, website tracking, and any snoopers or hackers who might try to intercept your device. A VPN provides you ultimate online privacy and security.
It’s important to note that both VPN and proxy providers can log user data such as user IP addresses, DNS requests, and other details. You should avoid such providers because they can give this information to law enforcement agencies, advertisers, or hackers if their servers get breached. To keep your activity online truly private, look for a provider that has a strict no-logs policy.
Here is a quick comparison between the two:
- VPNs encrypt your traffic while proxy servers don’t. A VPN service protects you from ISP tracking, government surveillance, and hackers. Proxies don’t, so they should never be used to handle sensitive information;
- VPNs work on the operating system level and reroute all your traffic while proxies work on the application level and only reroute the traffic of a specific app or browser;
- VPNs can be slower than proxies as they need to encrypt your data; however, there are ways you can improve your connection and browsing speeds;
- VPNs are usually paid (you shouldn’t trust free services as they have limitations and tend to mine your data) while many proxy servers are free;
- A VPN connection is more reliable while proxy server connections drop more frequently.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a VPN Do?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates a secure connection between your device and the internet. The service encrypts your data and sends it through a remote, private server before passing it onto your requested website or application.
When you use a VPN, it masks your IP address and allows you to:
- Protect yourself against government and ISP surveillance
- Prevent attackers from spying on your personal information
- Hide your identity and activity from advertisers
- Bypass internet censorship and IP blocks
- Stay safe on public WiFi networks
- Stop ISP throttling
- Torrent securely
- Access region-restricted streaming sites and unlock Netflix libraries
Using a VPN is one of the best ways to ensure your privacy, security and freedom online.
Are Free VPNs Safe?
There are lots of free VPNs on the market, but most of them are limited at best and dangerous at worst.
Without an income from subscription fees, free VPNs are far more likely to offer insecure, slow, or ineffective services and monetize their users by tracking, storing, or selling your personal information and online activity.
Clearly, using a free VPN can sometimes be worse than using no VPN at all.
It’s not all bad news, though. There are some free VPN services that we consider safe to use. They might not unblock Netflix reliably or work for torrenting, but they’ll hide your IP address, secure your data without leaks, and give you good connection speeds.
There are also ‘freemium’ VPN services, where providers offer users a free trial or restricted version of their paid product.
Freemium VPNs are more trustworthy than free VPNs. They make money from subscriptions, so are less inclined to monetize their users.
Do VPNs Slow Down Your Internet?
All VPNs will slow down your internet speeds to some degree. With the very best VPNs, however, the impact is negligible.
Fundamentally, a VPN works by diverting your web traffic through its own servers. As with any diversion, this adds distance to the connection’s journey and reduces its speed.
Encryption can also add to the time taken to load sites or download files. Loosely speaking, the stronger the encryption, the longer the delay.
To maximize your VPN speeds, you can choose a VPN server closer to your physical location or change the VPN protocol. Faster protocols include IKEv2 or WireGuard.
In some circumstances, a VPN might actually improve your connection speeds. If you’re experiencing ISP throttling on your normal internet connection, using a VPN can stop your connection being throttled and therefore increase your internet speed.
Can You Be Tracked If You Use a VPN?
Yes, you can still be tracked when using a VPN.
With a VPN, your online activity will be much more private compared to surfing the web without one. However, a VPN will not make you completely anonymous.
If someone was serious about trying to track your activity, your IP address is just one approach they could use to try and identify you.
Are There Any Downsides to Using a VPN?
Though a good VPN is an essential tool for every internet user, it can’t do everything. It is important to be aware of what a VPN won’t do, as well as some of the dangers associated with using a VPN:
Slower Connection Speeds
As mentioned, using a VPN will almost always result in some degree of speed loss. Encrypting your data and routing it via an external server will inevitably add delays to the connection. With a good-quality VPN, however, the speed loss is so small you won’t even notice it.
You’re Not Fully Anonymous with a VPN
Though a VPN will hide your identity from the websites you visit and prevent third parties from monitoring your activity, it will not provide you with complete anonymity. The VPN provider itself still has the capacity to see what you’re doing.
This is why it is crucial to use a trustworthy VPN service with a verified no-logs policy. Often poor-quality services, including most free VPNs, will exploit their privileged position in order to collect and sell your personal information.
Websites That Block VPNs
Websites and services, such as Netflix, are getting better at blocking VPN users from accessing their content. They do this by figuring out which IP addresses belong to VPN servers and banning those addresses from entering the site. If you plan to use a VPN to access streaming content, make sure you find a service that is known to unlock your preferred platform.
Your Online Accounts May Become Temporarily Suspended
When browsing with a foreign IP address, online accounts such as internet banking may register a security breach and temporarily suspend your account as a safety precaution. This is only a small annoyance though as these suspensions are temporary and can be easily removed.
Is a VPN Worth It?
Absolutely. A good VPN is as a worthy investment into your security, privacy, and freedom. It prevents costly data loss, opens up your browsing capabilities, and protects your right to privacy.
We thoroughly test each VPN reviewed on our website and make sure to keep our recommendations up-to-date so that you can make an informed decision.