What is a VPN?

Most people spend a lot of time on the internet every day, and they therefore build up a large amount of internet traffic.

10-04-2022 - 7 minute read. Posted in: cybercrime.

What is a VPN?

Most people spend a lot of time on the internet every day, and they therefore build up a large amount of internet traffic. Internet traffic can be insecure, so it's a good idea to use a VPN.

Why use a VPN connection?

VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network" and allows you to create a protected network connection when using public internet networks or public Wi-Fi networks.

When you connect to the internet, a VPN encrypts your internet traffic and hides your online identity. This makes it harder for third parties to track your online activities and steal your data. The encryption takes place instantly and creates a secure connection.

So a VPN protects your privacy when you access the internet, both on your computer and on other devices.

Secure VPN connection on the go

When you go online via public Wi-Fi networks, for example on the train or in a restaurant, cybercriminals can easily monitor your internet traffic and access your personal information. A VPN connection creates a secure encryption of your traffic and protects your data.

Your IP address reveals you

On a regular internet connection without a VPN, the IP address (a unique ID number on your computer or other devices) is available. The address is assigned by your ISP, so all your online activity can be traced back to you. This is because the IP address is stored every time you visit a website.

Once the server hosting the website has stored your device's IP address, you can access the website. This can potentially make you vulnerable to hackers, as there is a "tunnel" between the internet and your device.

Cyber criminals can steal information about you as the information is passed back and forth between the server and your device.

Anonymize your IP address

You can protect your data and privacy with a VPN. A VPN connection can hide your IP address by allowing the VPN connection to redirect it through a specially configured remote server controlled by a VPN host. This means that when you browse the internet with a VPN, the VPN server is the source of your data.

Your ISP and other third parties therefore cannot see what websites you visit or what data you send and receive over the net. A VPN acts like a filter, turning all your data into unreadable information. It is therefore useless to hackers should they gain access to it.

Access to content from other countries

Content online, such as films and series on streaming services, is not always available everywhere. Some services and websites have content that can only be accessed from certain parts of the world. The default connections use the country's local servers to determine your location. This means that you cannot access the content if you are not in the country where the content is offered.

Many VPNs have location spoofing, which means that when you use a VPN, you can switch to a server in another country and thus "change" your location to make it look like you are connected to a network in that country.

So if you want to watch movies that aren't available in the country you live in, or you want to watch home content when you're abroad, you can switch the location to the country you want when you use a VPN.

How do I connect to a VPN?

There are different ways you can connect to a VPN, but the easiest way to get a VPN is to download a VPN service from a VPN provider.

Most VPNs own a number of different servers around the world that you can use to encrypt your internet traffic and stay safer online. All you need to do is download a VPN service and connect to the VPN server you want via the VPN service's application.

You should remember that there is a big difference in how good these VPN services are when it comes to factors like the security of the servers, speed and stability.

How does a VPN work?

Setting up a Virtual Private Network requires a server and a client. In most cases, you'll just be a client on a VPN network. For example, you might want to connect to your company's network. When you use paid VPN services, the server is already available.

Once you're logged in, a secure connection is created between your device and the internet. This connection ensures that all data sent and received over the internet is encrypted. This ensures that only the sender (you) and the receiver can see the data being sent. This is why it is also called a "VPN tunnel".

The encryption that happens to your data can only be decoded with a special key. It's just your computer, or other device, and the VPN,who knows this key. Not even your ISP can see what you're doing online.

When you are logged into the VPN connection and you go online, your device will be on the VPN's local network and your IP address can be changed to an IP address provided by the VPN server.

Which VPN to choose?

There are a number of different VPN providers on the internet, offering both free VPN connections and paid VPN connections.

The best VPNs are those that cost money, such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Some VPN providers have additional security features, such as double encryption, security scans, ad blocking, etc.

Most free VPNs have very few servers available compared to the paid versions, and there are also usually very few countries to connect to. They are also typically slow and create an unstable connection to the internet.

What should a good VPN do?

When choosing a VPN, make sure your VPN service can perform a number of tasks, including those already mentioned in this blog post. In addition, the VPN should also protect you from compromise. Here are the features you should look for to get the best VPN service:

  • IP address encryption: the VPN's primary job is to hide your IP address from your ISP and other third parties. That way, you can send and receive information over the web through a secure connection, without the danger of anyone other than you and your VPN provider seeing your data.
  • Encryption of other protocols: The VPN should prevent you from leaving digital traces, such as internet history, search history and cookies. Cookie encryption is especially important because it prevents third parties from accessing confidential information, such as personal and financial data.
  • Two-factor authentication: by using two-factor authentication, a VPN makes your accounts even more secure. For example, this can be done by entering your password for an account and then sending a code to your mobile device. This makes it harder for unwanted third parties to access your accounts.
  • Kill switch: if your VPN connection is suddenly disconnected, your secure connection is also disconnected. A good VPN will detect the sudden disconnection and terminate/close active applications, reducing the risk of data being compromised.

Summary

A VPN connection creates a secure link between you and the internet. The VPN sends all your data traffic through an encrypted virtual tunnel. It hides your IP address when you use the internet, making your digital location invisible to everyone except yourself and your VPN provider.

VPNs give you access to regionally restricted content no matter where in the world it comes from. Many streaming platforms, or parts of their content, are not available in all countries, but you can still access them through a VPN.

There are also many providers of VPN connections for smartphones that anonymise your mobile traffic. You can find certified VPN providers in the Google Play Store or iOS App Store.

Important to remember

It's important to point out that only your internet traffic is anonymised and protected via a VPN. The VPN does not protect you from hacker attacks, Trojans, viruses or other malware.

Therefore, you should also always use antivirus software on all your devices and be aware of cyber threats such as phishing attacks or malware.

Author Sofie Meyer

About the author

Sofie Meyer is a copywriter and phishing aficionado here at Moxso. She has a master´s degree in Danish and a great interest in cybercrime, which resulted in a master thesis project on phishing.

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