What is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user's initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
Why do I need a VPN?
Connecting to a Virtual Private Network often conceals your real IP address
Using a VPN will almost certainly result in getting a different IP address
Encrypt data transfers
A Virtual Private Network will protect the data you transfer over public WiFi
With a Virtual Private Network, users can choose the country of origin for their Internet connection
Access blocked websites
Get around websites blocked by governments with a VPN
Virtual Private Network Security
Security is the main reason why corporations have used VPNs for years. There are increasingly simple methods to intercept data traveling to a network. WiFi spoofing and Firesheep are two easy ways to hack information. A useful analogy is that a firewall protects your data while on the computer and a VPN protects your data on the web. VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers. Most savvy computer users wouldn't dream of connecting to the Internet without a firewall and up-to-date antivirus. Evolving security threats and ever-increasing reliance on the Internet make a Virtual Private Network an essential part of well-rounded security. Integrity checks ensure that no data is lost and that the connection has not been hijacked. Since all traffic is protected, VPNs are preferred over proxies.
Setting Up a VPN
Setting up a Virtual Private Network is a straightforward process. It's often as simple as entering a username and server address. The dominant smartphones can configure Virtual Private Networks using PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. All major operating systems can configure PPTP VPN connections. OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec protocols require a small open source application (OpenVPN) and certificate download respectively.
Virtual Private Network Protocols
The number of protocols and available security features continues to grow with time. The most common protocols are:
PPTP - PPTP has been around since the days of Windows 95. The main selling point of PPTP is that it can be simply set up on every major OS. In short, PPTP tunnels a point-to-point connection over the GRE protocol. Unfortunately, the security of the PPTP protocol has been called into question in recent years. It is still strong, but not the most secure.
L2TP/IPsec - L2TP over IPsec is more secure than PPTP and offers more features. L2TP/IPsec is a way of implementing two protocols together in order to gain the best features of each. For example, the L2TP protocol is used to create a tunnel and IPsec provides a secure channel. These measures make for an impressively secure package.
OpenVPN - OpenVPN is an SSL-based Virtual Private Network that continues to gain popularity. The software used is open source and freely available. SSL is a mature encryption protocol, and OpenVPN can run on a single UDP or TCP port, making it extremely flexible.