Most of us connect to the internet through our ISPs (Internet Service Providers). When you do that, your data travels through a network of routers to reach its destination.
Usually, it’s completely unencrypted (i.e. plain text). Even if it has some encryption, some information remains visible – like your IP. It’s needed to communicate with the internet with no issues.
On top of that, your ISP can easily see what you’re up to online… and worse, so can anyone who monitors your connection. This includes the websites you browse and the files you download.
How does a VPN make your connection private?
When using a VPN, a secure “tunnel” is created between the provider and the end-user (that’s you!). VPNs operate on the same lines everyone else uses on the internet. There is an important distinction: the data is scrambled to create a private connection.
Your information travels back and forth privately via this encrypted “tunnel”. Using this encrypted “tunnel,” information travels back and forth between the user and the VPN provider. If somebody tried to decrypt it, they would have to have an access key. Without it, that’s essentially impossible!
What is the “tunnel” in Virtual Tunneling Protocol?
The virtual tunnel referred to in the acronym VPN isn’t actually a tunnel at all. A physical tunnel between two locations would involve a direct link between them.
WAN access was used in a similar way before VPN technology spread throughout the world. So, virtual tunnelling uses a method called encapsulation to literally wrap your data in a layer of secure encryption. This is the “virtual tunnel” we are creating when we use a VPN.
Why would I want to use a VPN?
The era we live in is one of connectivity. While it has many advantages, it unfortunately also has a lot of risks. There’s a growing number of cyber-threats and generally a lot of unsolicited attention in our lives.
Not all of it is malicious. For example, advertisers may want to collect your private information for marketing reasons. But they do compromise your privacy, and that’s something many people value – and a lot more should.
If you want to be more private online, or don’t want anyone to spy on you, using a VPN is an easy – and simple – choice to make.
VPNs also provide other nifty benefits. For example, you can access content that’s not available in your country. You can also protect yourself on public WiFi, and even get better prices when you shop for airline tickets! There are quite a few more use cases, and you can find all of them here.
Is it legal for me to use a VPN?
This will vary depending on your country or region.
Many countries have no laws banning or restricting the use of VPNs. For example, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom don’t restrict the use of VPNs. Neither do countries that belong to the European Union.
North Korea, China, Russia, and Iraq, on the other hand, restrict or outright ban the use of VPNs.
You’ll want to check your local laws for an up-to-date answer to this question.
Are VPNs easy to use and configure?
Consumer VPNs are very easy to set up! Most VPN services, including Surfshark, have easy-to-use apps that handle the majority of the setup for you. If you can open a web browser or log in to your email, you can use a VPN.
VPN services do include complex security and privacy features. Luckily, the applications take care of them on their own! You’ll probably only need to enter your login information, select the server you want to connect to, and that’s it!
The server you select will provide websites and servers you connect to with a proxy IP. That way, nobody will ever know where you’re truly connecting from.
VPNs used to require some technical know-how to establish and secure, but that’s no longer true. If you were intimidated by the VPN setup process in the past, you shouldn’t hesitate to dive in right now!
VPN Protocols and Security
So, how can a VPN protect your data? It uses security encryption on all packets that are transmitted to and from your computer to the provider. Specific details – including how effective it is – vary from protocol to protocol.
Generally, encryption works by scrambling the information that is transmitted. Anyone attempting to view it without the decryption key will be looking at gibberish.
Decryption keys are shared in different ways, too. It depends on the encryption protocol itself and how its configured. Here’s an easy way to think of these keys: picture an impenetrable locked file cabinet. It’s safe, but you need one of your coworkers to access it.
So, what do you do? Simple – you give them a key. Now, they can open this cabinet and access the files whenever they need to. Of course, in reality, actual encryption key sharing is more complicated. Some methods are more “secure” than others, but it’s a realistic way to picture how key encryption works.
There are a few common VPN protocols currently in use:
Here’s a quick glimpse at two popular secure protocols and how they work:
OpenVPN is one of the most reliable open source software choices. It’s trusted and recommended by the leading internet security providers, such as Surfshark. OpenVPN guarantees fast performance and top-notch encryption.
Paired with robust encryption algorithms, OpenVPN supports data transmission protocols UDP and TCP.
OpenVPN is used for Surfshark’s Windows app and manual router configurations.
‘Open source’ also means it is continuously improved and developed by the security community worldwide.
IKEv2 (also known as Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2) is the most recent and advanced protocol. It’s way faster than most protocols and is really good at maintaining a stable VPN connection.
This tunneling protocol was developed by Microsoft and Cisco. Currently, it’s considered the most reliable in terms of performance and security