What does VPN stand for?
Once reserved for IT people, the term VPN is used more and more in casual conversations and on the internet. Its time to update our vocabulary and understand what it means and more importantly how does it work.
VPN comes from the abbreviation of Virtual Private Network. Before we get into what it actually does, let us analyze each of those terms:
Virtual – “not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so”.
Private – “belonging to or for the use of one particular person or group of people only.“
Network – “a group or system of interconnected people or things.”
As you may have figured out by now, a VPN uses software to simulate across the internet an actual physical network connection, to another member of that network. This network is usually password protected to restrict access to untrusted parties and to anyone that is not an actual member of that network.
What was the motivation behind it?
Usually, computers connected to the same VPN can act like they’re on the same office network, even though some people are on the field, working from home, or in a different office location in another country.
Using a VPN makes it very easy for people to access common resources stored on their local network and interact with other connected members.
Because it is used over the internet, which is an open network with plenty of dangers and vulnerabilities, VPN connection achieves the private aspect by encrypting every package that is sent.
Commercial VPN Services
Now that you have a general understanding of Virtual Private Networks, let us talk about commercial VPN Services. This kind of service has become very popular and it is usually the type of VPN when people think of Virtual Private Networks.
People generally use commercial VPNs because of these three advantages: Privacy, Security, and Unblocking restricted items.
When a user connects to a VPN server, all his internet traffic is redirected to through that server, using it as a proxy.
Let’s say that after connecting, you want to access Youtube. The internet traffic coming to your computer will appear as coming from the VPN server, keeping your browsing preferences safe from anyone snooping or your Internet Sevice Provider.
Being used over the internet, VPN connections are encrypted with a strong algorithm that can take millions of years to crack on supercomputers. Using an encrypted connection is a must when using any open wifi networks, as you cannot trust everyone connected to it.
Unblock Restricted Sites
When a site only allows visitors from a specific country it can be very frustrating. But, connecting to a VPN server from that country will make you appear as a regular internet user from that location. This is very useful for streaming services that usually have different content libraries across the globe. Netflix, for example, has 20%of its USA movie library in some European countries. But, using a commercial VPN that is Netflix friendly, can bypass that restriction, giving the user access to the show of his VPN location.
An Internet Service Provider or a network administrator can also restrict certain internet sites. Let’s imagine that you’re a student living in the university campus but the network blocks torrenting and Steam.
As we learned earlier, using a VPN will route the traffic through the server of your choosing. The user doesn’t access the Steam site, the VPN server does and it redirects the traffic to the user.
Of course, there are more serious situations that require VPN than a college student having some sites blocked. In countries that don’t have an open internet and most sites are restricted, using a commercial VPN can be a window to the outside world.
Should I use one?
The short answer is “Yes, maybe!“. Here is a list of some reasons to get one:
- It may add value to your movie streaming subscription by allowing you to access more content.
- Your ISP is slowing the internet for some sites.
- Planning on using public wifi networks from hotels and bars.
- Wanting to access restricted sites, geo-restricted or blocked by your ISP
- Traveling to a country with censored internet like China, Russia, and most of the Arab countries.
- You value your internet privacy and anonymity