VPN technology any good for safe and open Internet access?

By now you probably have heard a lot about VPNs and maybe you’re considering subscribing to premium VPN service to protect your information when connecting to unsecured public access points. Unfortunately, a lot of literature on the web about VPNs is geared toward promoting certain VPN services – and not giving you the needed information about VPN technology for you to make an informed choice at your own.

In this article, we will discuss the nitty-gritty of VPN technology in order to help you understand the different types of VPNs and how they secure your safety on the web. We will delve more into the security measure employed by VPNs for a safe internet access.

diagram showing how a vpn works
How VPN protects users

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private network is a private data network that uses strong virtual tunneling technology to establish a secure tunnel over a non-secured public network such as the internet. Primarily, VPN were designed to help employee securely access the company intranet over the internet – as if they were connecting directly using Ethernet cables. A VPN enables shared protection of data on a public network explaining why organizations employ VPNs for company extranets and intranets.

Today, people use VPNs to secure their private information when connecting to non-secured public Wi-Fi. The high encryption in VPNs keeps off eavesdroppers from your private chats. VPNs are also commonly used to unblock geo-restricted websites such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go outside US. Another use of VPNs is to bypass internet restrictions in censored countries like China and parts of Europe.

Types of VPNs

Basically, there are three VPN technologies which include trusted VPNs, Secure VPNs and Hybrid VPNs.  Trusted VPNs are leased circuits in which the ISP assures customers that no one else would use the very same circuit. They don’t employ any encryption and Integrity of data is based purely on trust between the ISP and customer. Secure VPNs are an improvement of the Trusted VPNs. They employ end-to-end encryption to guarantee data integrity. Hybrid VPNs are relatively new and combines features of Trusted VPNs and Secure VPNs.

Meanwhile, the most important classification of VPNs is based on how they function. The simplest VPNS are in form of browser plugins such Cocoon and Hola. These plugin only encrypts internet traffic from your browser not from other programs in your PC.  The most secure VPNs encrypt traffic from all program in your PC. They are involve downloading a VPN client that is compatible with your operating System. Some of the big names in this category include HideMyAss, ExpressVPN and IPvanish.

How secure are VPNs?

If well configured and used correctly a VPN technology is very secure. Good VPNs employ at least 3DES or AES end-to-end encryption of internet traffic. This implies that your internet traffic is encrypted as it leaves your browser, and only decrypted at the recipient end. Criminals can see your internet traffic but cannot alter or read it without the decryption keys.

Furthermore, the security of a VPN is enhanced by the VPN tunneling protocol employed.  You probably have come across terms like PPTP, IPSec, L2TP, SSTP and TLS/SSL often referred to as OpenVPN support. Well, these are the VPN tunneling protocols which determine the security of a VPN. SSL and IPsec are most commonly used security protocols. Each protocol has its merits and drawbacks as we will discuss below.

VPN Tunneling Protocols

  • Point-2-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) – probably one of the oldest security protocol widely used for remote access and site-to-site VPN connections. It employs Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption (MPPE) and relies on encryption keys to secure your data on the web. PPTP is compatible with most Microsoft clients including windows XP, Vista windows server 2008. Although it’s a strong protocol, PPTP does not guarantee data integrity or authenticate data origin and therefore not recommend for commercial VPNs.
  • Layer -2-Tunneling Protocol – is an improvement of PPTP developed by Cisco technologies. It relies on Internet Protocol security (IPsec) for encryption, which is better than Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption (MPPE). This combination of L2TP and IPsec commonly referred to as L2TP/IPsec guarantees data integrity, confidentiality and data authentication. L2TP can be used with Microsoft clients running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista. Both the VPN clients and server must support L2TP in order to establish a VPN connection.
  • Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) – is a relatively newer VPN protocol which is improvement of the L2TP. It uses HTTPS secure protocol over TCP port 443 to bypass firewall and web proxies that may otherwise block PPTP and L2TP/IPsec traffic. It provide strong data origin authentication mechanism, guarantee data integrity and has a strong encryption.

How VPN Technology ensures Safe internet Access

  • Cloaking you device IP address. A VPN masks your device IP address with a Virtual IP address to allow you browse the web anonymously. A VPN routes your internet traffic through a VPN server in a different geographical location. Your device assumes a new IP address based on the location of the VPN server.
  • Protects you from data monitoring and Eavesdropping. strong virtual tunneling technology employed by VPNs exempts you from eavesdropping and traffic hijacking by enemies of the Internet freedom.
  • Bypassing Your ISP port blocking. Connecting to a VPN is an easy way to keep off your ISP (Internet Service provider) from sniffing around your internet traffic. Some ISPs employ keyword filtering or block access to sites such as Pirate bay. A VPN scrambles your traffic such that your ISP provider cannot tell bits for torrents and those for Wikipedia.
  • Bypassing Internet restrictions. A VPN encrypts your traffic allowing you to access the open web without any restrictions. Highly censored China, Iran, and parts of Europe employ underhand methods such as keyword filtering, DNS hijacking and port blocking to manipulate the openness of the internet.
  • Secures your online privacy on Public Wi-Fi. Strong end-to end encryption in VPNs eliminate man in the middle (MITM) attacks to protect your private information on non-secured public Wi-Fi.
  • Bypassing Geo-restriction and Location errors. – A VPN enables you to unlock geo restricted websites such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go that are only available in certain geo-blocks.

In conclusion, with increase in government spying, wiretapping of communications and other cyber threats propagated by enemies of internet freedom, it is a good idea to start using a VPN. In this article we have discussed in length the VPN technology, how it works and the security protocol employed to secure your browsing space. This information is meant to help you make an informed decision when choosing a VPN. Feel free to give more insight on the VPN technology via the comment section below.

Featured Image: By Bits of Freedom [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ali Raza Ali is a freelance journalist, having 5 years of experience in web journalism and marketing. He contributes to various online publications. With a Master degree, now he combines his passions for writing about internet security and technology for SecurityGladiators. When he is not working, he loves traveling and playing games.
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