VPN (Virtual Private Network)

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A computer network is a system of interconnected computers that can communicate with each other. It can be local in nature wherein a few computers might be inter-connected and they communicate with each other via a network of wires. A public network like Internet is accessible by everyone with little or no restrictions. On the other hand, a private network is accessible by the computers present within the network only. Any device from outside the private network cannot access it since there is no connection of the private network with devices outside it.

VPN depiction
A VPN is a technique by which an outside device can interact with a private network over a public network (i.e. internet)

A VPN is a technique by which an outside device can interact with a private network over a public network (i.e. internet) in such a manner as if the outside device is actually a part of the private network. This is achieved by an authenticated one-to-one connection between the outside device and a server inside the private network. This connection is usually encrypted so that any outside agency will not be able to know what communication is taking place between the device and the server. This communication uses what is called a Tunneling Protocol which is a communication standard allowing for communication between networks.

Whereas corporate users may use it to connect to their corporate server and hence access the relevant data, regular users may simply use it to maintain privacy of their internet traffic.

Some of the features of VPNs are:

  1. The VPN connection is usually encrypted and authenticated by means of password, certificates or other methods. Therefore, even if a person gets hold of the data going out from your computer to the server, the person will not be able to make any sense out of it.
  2. VPN service providers may or may not log your original IP addresses for some duration of time to comply with law of the country where the server is located. The one which does not log IP addresses is better for anonymity and privacy.
  3. VPN service providers may or may not log your browsing history. The one which does not log browsing history is better for anonymity and privacy.
  4. VPN service providers may offer you the choice to connect to a server of your choice in a particular country. This feature is a must for privacy conscious users.

The uses of VPNs are as follows:

  1. It can help you connect to a private network across internet at a distant geographical location.
  2. It helps in maintaining privacy of your internet activities as some service providers do not log IP addresses and browsing history.
  3. It can be used to bypass censorship by connecting to a VPN server in a country where the specified content is not being censored. As a corollary of this, it can also be used to access location-specific content.
  4. Since connecting to public WiFi is unsafe, VPNs can provide a safety net here also as all outbound internet traffic from your device will be encrypted.

Since there are so many VPN providers in the market, which one should you choose? Here is a list of features you should look for in a VPN service provider:

  1. It is better to go for a service provider if the service provider does not log your IP addresses or browsing history.
  2. The connection between you and the server should be encrypted and authenticated.
  3. Service providers providing a kill switch should be favoured as they terminate the internet connection if one tries to access internet without using the VPN connection.
  4. The service providers should run the most advanced and current connection protocols.
  5. Location of servers is essential. Connecting to a VPN server geographically located near you will give you a faster connection as compared to connecting to a distant server.
  6. Service providers supporting multiple devices on a single account should be favoured.
  7. Service providers with larger bandwidth and data limits should be favoured.
  8. Based on the above features, the cost-benefit analysis should be positive.

List of some VPN service providers:

  1. Nord VPN
  2. Express VPN
  3. IP Vanish
  4. Cyberghost

For Wikipedia entry on VPN, click here.

For Wikipedia entry on Internet, click here.

For more posts on Internet, click here.

For more posts in The Cyber Cops project, click here.

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