What is a VPN?

what is vpn

If you have come across a new for you term “VPN” and don’t know what exactly it is, or want to know more about this notion, then you are on a right way.

This is a short rundown on what a VPN is. Here you will find more about its thorny pass to the world market and why VPN is worth-using.

But before we come back to the past to see the VPN rise, let’s briefly clear up:


What is a VPN?

A VPN, aka a virtual private network, is a special technology which creates a kind of network within the Internet. In other words, it makes public and private networks more secure. After a user connects to a VPN server he gets all the transferred data encrypted and, as a result, protected from the peering eyes.


Shortly About VPN Prehistory

The first incentive to VPN creation was a desire of different companies and corporations to remove a set of impediments of their successful business development.

Lots of business representatives were looking for the methods of boosting their data security. The question was how to keep information safe while transferring it to the other company department located far away from the headquarter.

Besides, there arose the issue of Wi-Fi security, too. Business needed to make private Wi-Fi wireless network safe for their work. A necessity to economize on remote network access for employees was another reason to make use of a VPN.

The X.25 protocol and Frame relay were the first steps to forthcoming of a VPN which later conquered not only business market but also became popular with common online users.

A range of events, like Edward Snowden scandal, made Internet users consider their online privacy and security more seriously. Besides, governments one by one have started adopting laws according to which all communication providers have to keep users’ data up to 2 years.

Users of countries with a highly censored Internet space like China also started looking for alternative ways of getting unrestricted access to the net. Another spur to VPN popularity was blocking policy of renowned online streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, etc.

In some time VPN entered the global market which covered the wide audience which suddenly faced the disadvantages of VPN solutions.

The point is that the first VPNs were offered by IT giants which provided VPN clients usable only with their software.

However, later this problem was solved automatically by the high competition level among the VPN providers.


Major VPN Functions

So what is VPN namely for a user? A VPN performs a range of functions which highly improves the net surfing.

The first reason and at the same time function of this service is security. Online users are striving for a safe browsing and a feeling of a complete online protection.

The next function of a VPN is providing of user’s privacy and anonymity. This service is also used to unblock the restricted websites and their content.  

VPN providers cope with these tasks by means of different widgets and technical characteristics mentioned below.


Protocols and Encryption

Different VPN services have different protocols variety. The most popular of them are OpenVPN, L2TP, IPSec, PPTP and SSTP. All of them differ in their security level and speed results.

OpenVPN is now considered to be the most reliable one as it is at the same time fast and safe. This protocol runs on UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) ports. Note that despite its high speed UDP is less reliable than TCP.

OpenVPN is highly compatible and supports a hefty AES 256-bit data encryption. Access to OpenSSL Library is also available. All highly-secured services like PIA VPN or ExpressVPN make use of OpenVPN.

L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) is another protocol often used by VPN providers. It is not as reliable as OpenVPN therefore in most cases it comes together with IPSec (Internet Protocol security) protocol. However, it’s worth-mentioning that the speed provided by pair of these protocols is not as good as OpenVPN has. Besides, they have more chances to get blocked by firewalls.

Like OpenVPN SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) has also got a high security level. Unfortunately its compatibility features aren’t so impressive because this protocol is supported only by Windows platform.

PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) is probably the oldest VPN protocol. Though it hasn’t lost its popularity because of its fast and easy setup, PPTP isn’t the best option for a secure net surfing.

Speaking of encryption types a VPN can have either 128-bit or 256-bit data encryption. The second one is more secure and powerful and usually comes together with OpenVPN protocol.


Hidden IP Address

In order to keep users away from the ISPs, government authorities and hackers tracing, a VPN hides their actual IP addresses.

Providers usually make use of shared, aka dynamic IP addresses. This option doesn’t only prevent tracking but also allows access to geo-restricted websites.

A VPN offers a set of servers based all over the world using which subscribers are able to hide their real location.


Privacy Policy

Every VPN service has its own privacy policy which often depends on provider’s location.

VPN companies which are based in countries leading a strict censorship policy like China, or are under a constant surveillance of such organizations, like NSA (the National Security Agency), CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service), Five Eyes and others, cannot guarantee their subscribers 100% of anonymity and privacy.

However, most of VPN providers try not to keep users’ logs, traffic time and its amount data. These actions keep users protected in case a VPN service gets a legal inquiry for their private information, or is hacked.


Public Wi-Fi hotspots

A number of online users, asked a question “What is a VPN?” will tell you that it’s a safe way to use public Wi-Fi hotspots. In fact, VPN providers protect you while using Wi-Fi encrypting all the data you transfer.


Safe Torrenting

By means of VPN online users are also able to make their P2P file-sharing safe and anonymous.

However, not all the VPN services provide their subscribers with this option.

On modern market safe torrenting is offered by such VPN providers as NordVPN, IPVanish, PureVPN and others which you can find in our list of best VPN for Torrenting.


Data Leak Protection

In order to save users’ privacy lots of VPN providers use different kinds of data leak protection which embrace DNS/IPv6/ WebRTC leak protections. Some VPN providers like IronSocket VPN or VyprVPN have their own DNS servers.

Kill Switch is also a useful VPN widget which prevents any data leak in case of unpredicted connection drops.

Sometimes VPN providers work out their own extensions to boost users’ security level. A nice example is TunnelBear VPN with its GhostBear extension and TCP override, and VyprVPN with its NAT Firewall and Chameleon widgets.


Other VPN Features Worth of Your Attention

Server Coverage

VPN providers have different server coverage. Some services have thousands while others only dozens of servers all over the world.

The number of locations also differs. However, keep in mind that the more spread VPN servers are, the better speed a provider can offer.

Besides, a VPN with more servers copes with geo-restrictions also better.


Speed results of each VPN provider depend on the security characteristics it has, number of servers and sometimes some eternal factors.

Usually, the farther the server is located the slower streaming you will get.

Some VPN services offer their own Speed tests (e.g., ExpressVPN) which help to choose a server with the highest speed.


Modern VPN providers have a high level of compatibility with devices and their operating systems. However, there are services which are more suitable for a certain platform than others.

On our website you can find the lists of best VPN providers for Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS.

The number of simultaneous connections is different, too. There are VPN services which allow making use up to 6 devices at the same time.


As we have already mentioned, security level of a VPN provider very often depends on the country where it is based.

The best option is a service which is not under the control of US or EU Data Retention Laws. A good example is NordVPN based in Panama.

User’s location plays a crucial part, too. Citizens of some countries have less online freedom than others.

Therefore some VPN services are oriented at a certain audience taking into account its location peculiarities. There are best VPN providers for US, UK, Australia, Canada and China.

Payment Methods

This feature is a part of VPN security level. A provider with top-notch privacy allows various ways of payment including anonymous methods like Bitcoin.

Some providers can even surprise you with their creative approach to this question. For instance, TunnelBear VPN accepts real jars of honey as a safe alternative to other payment methods!


So What is a VPN?

On the whole, a VPN is a great tool which can turn a dangerous net surfing into a safe and anonymous process.

Such network lets users get rid of government control and escape from hackers’ attacks. It also solves the problem of strict online censorship and geo-restricted content.

Together with a VPN public Wi-Fi is no more your weak spot and torrenting becomes a safe process, too.

Don’t hesitate to make use of a VPN and plunge into a new virtual world which is much brighter and safer together with this tool.

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