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What is a VPN Connection – VPNs Explained

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are a useful tool in the internet age, but can sometimes be a little hard to understand. In basic terms, they consist of a private connection between a user and secure, private network in order to access a public network like the Internet. In order to use a VPN then you are connecting your computer or mobile device to the VPN. In this article, we’ll be looking a little m closely at the notion of a VPN connection.

Once connected to the VPN, data is transferred across the network through protocols. There are a number of different protocols that are used, and each one handles the data in a slightly different way. Some of the most popular protocols are the PPTP, L2TP, and the IPSec, protocols. To understand them in a little more depth, below we go into more detail about each individual protocol and the way in which they allow users to connect to a VPN:

Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). PPTP is a standard protocol, supported by a variety of operating systems including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.  It’s relatively simple to set up if your VPN client doesn’t do so automatically, however it doesn’t include security measures as standard (although Microsoft offers a version which does, as standard). As such, for encryption (translating your data into code) and authentication (only swapping information when a secret ‘handshake’ or password has been exchanged between your computer and the VPN) the PPTP often works in tandem with other protocols, such as the ones described below.

IP Security (IPSec). The IPSec protocol transfers communications to and from a computer connected to a VPN securely. It achieves this security through two types of encryption. To begin with, there is tunnelling mode. In this mode, all of the data packet is encrypted. Alternatively, there is transport mode. In this mode, only part of the data packet that is  encrypted; specifically, the part being communicated. All in all, this is a robust protocol used to connect to a VPN, and one that is used by many different VPN providers.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). Another protocol used to connect and to a VPN is the L2TP protocol. This protocol is actually often used alongside the IPSec protocol to ensure that a high standard of security is achieved. Where the IPSec protocol excels in terms of encryption, L2TP is particularly good at securing data through processes of authentication. In these instances, L2TP requires clients and servers to trade certificates or a shared key. If and when these match, the parties are deemed to be authentic, and the data is transferred across the network.

Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS).  There is also a process of cryptography known as a ‘handshake’ which is used to authenticate clients when forming a VPN connection. This is a kind of virtual negotiation in which a client is able to connect to a VPN after performing the handshake. SSL and TLS are two protocols which use this method of securing connections between client and network. More specifically, the virtual handshake makes use of encrypted certificates that both the client and the server share. When they match, the client is deemed authentic and is granted access to the VPN.

These are some of the most popular protocols around and many VPNs use a combination of them. With an understanding of how they work, it’s a little easier to understand just what a VPN connection is: The protocols essentially allow internet users to connect to a VPN network, and through the VPN network the client then accesses the internet. With all the added layers of security afforded by these protocols then, a VPN connection can be understood as an easy way to connect to the internet in a secure fashion by transferring data across a private and secure network. What’s more, because VPN providers have a number of different servers located across a number of different locations, clients are also using the internet with anonymity as they assume the IP address associated with these servers.

That’s all we have time for in this article, but this covers all the basics you need to know about VPN connections. If you haven’t looked into VPNs before, then you may want to given the obvious benefits that more secure and anonymous web browsing can bring – and now you know just what a VPN connection is, you’ll have no trouble finding one to suit you.

About the author

Conner Sinclair

An obsessed techie (not recovering), I'm all about find the latest ways to protect my online privacy and I share what I find with others...

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