What is VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the hottest commodities in the online market. The reason? A VPN allows you to add multiple layers of security to your online experience, giving you the ability to surf the web from any of the VPN provider's servers, encrypt your web traffic, and simultaneously hide your IP address by rerouting you to a dedicated VPN server of your choice. VPNs are used by individuals, universities and high schools, governments, and businesses due to their ability to protect sensitive information as well as both public and private networks which are being accessed.

How Does a VPN Actually Work?

Virtual Private Network: Back to the Basics

A VPN is actually quite a simple technological idea. We are going to give you a basic example to help try to explain the complexities of a VPN. In order to do so, we are going to have to make some comparisons, so stay with us while we let it all out.

Let's take a well known interstate, say I-95 or Route 66, and rename it the "Internet Interstate". Next, imagine that in order to drive on the "Internet Interstate", you have to "drive" in one lane only the entire way. This "lane" is decided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the IP address they provide you. Regardless of how much traffic is on the interstate, you have to stay in this one lane and anyone else being able to see how fast you are driving, what you are looking at while driving, and even track your movements every step of the way.

So how does a VPN come into play? Well, a VPN is like a traffic cop standing at the beginning of your designated lane. This traffic cop gives you the choice of whichever lane you want to drive in… and even more so, provides you with a police escort for your entire trip, ensuring your safety, anonymity, and speed of travel. After setting off on your journey on the "Internet Interstate", the "VPN Traffic Cop" stops anyone else from following you in your lane and tracking your movements and whereabouts while driving.

 Bringing this back to Internet-related terms, the traffic cop essentially works as the server locations provided by a VPN - meaning you can access any content available per designated "highway lane". So, if you want to surf from Germany or England instead of the US, you can and can do so quickly. The "police escort" is the encryption protocols and standards which the VPN service uses. These standards are there to make sure that what you do while "driving on the Internet Interstate" is protected via encryption from criminals, protected from outsiders, and kept private to you and only you. Finally, as no-one can track your movements because of the security protocols and encryption standards used by the VPN, your anonymity is kept while surfing online. The only information which is available to be seen by your ISP is the IP address of the VPN server you have connected to - everything else is encrypted.

VPN protocols: how does a VPN protect my data?

In order to activate a VPN, the user has to be able to access the VPN servers. To do so, usually most VPN providers require a username and authentic password, which acts as your key into the virtual private network. This can be relatively simply, and most VPN providers use a reoccurring key or token (i.e. something connected to your login information) to ensure you are able to connect with ease

Moving on to the security side of a VPN, a protocol is a standard for encryption methods, and there a multiple different VPN protocols which can be used, each with its own unique method of securing your data:

  • IP security (IPSec)

  • Secure Sockets Layer & Transport Layer Security (TLS)

  • Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)

  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)

  • Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS)

  • Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)

By utilizing such protocols combined with common encryption security standards, VPNs are able to keep your data, traffic, and information safe and secure while browsing online. However, ensuring that a VPN does not falter on its security promises can be a difficult tasks, as it requires administrative efforts to ensure breaks in private line of communication between user and VPN server do not occur. The following is a list of encryption standards which are used by VPN providers. These encryption standards and algorithms vary on length and type of encryption and decryption keys.

  • Triple DES / DES:

  • RSA

  • Blowfish

  • Twofish

  • AES

Are VPNs fool-proof to all cybercrime?

The link between security and consistency

VPNs are extremely secure and consistent, but as the Internet itself is not necessarily a consistent medium and there is no such thing as 100% security (in any aspect of life for that matter), we have to elaborate a bit more. Let us explain. Nothing is fool-proof on the Internet and depending on the strength of the encryption key being used by your VPN provider, your data could "technically" be at risk. Technically, though, Elon Musks theory that we are all part of a video game of another civilization is also "technically correct". So, with that in mind, we have to stress the chances of a hacker being able to successful hack your encryption key would require a lot of time, effort, resources, and ability in order to do so. The chances of being hacked while using a VPN are slim to none, and you really are exponentially more secure while under the umbrella of protection and security that a VPN provides. Have a look at our support article here to get a better idea.

Helpful VPN tips - what is good to know:

It is no secret that all VPNs can sometimes affect server speed or bandwidth speed when browsing online. However, there are extremely simple ways to avoid such set-backs, and they don't even require you doing anything special.

As a VPN works by connecting to a server which the VPN provider host, sometimes connectivity, download speed, or bandwidth can take a hit if a specific server is overloaded with users. To avoid this, it is usually best to connect to servers closer to your physical proximity if your specific use case for a VPN is security and encryption.

For example, you are living in the Eastern Hemisphere but are trying to connect to a server in the Western Hemisphere; speed and connectivity could take a hit if the servers are extremely busy or overloaded. This is because the physical distance between servers can also affect bandwidth and speed while connecting to a VPN, as the packets of information have to travel for a longer and farther period.

VPN providers which have more servers in different countries as well as multiple servers within one location, like ZenMate, don't experience this issue to the same degree. By having more servers per area, a VPN provider can spread out the amount of users connecting to a specific city, country, or region over multiple servers. So, as a tip, if you want more speed, use a VPN provider such as ZenMate which has a solid server location and number base as well as a dedicated team to acquiring more servers. Fortunately, we fit the bill for both requirements.

Overall, once you use a VPN, you almost will never want to not use one. VPNs really do provide a necessary level of security to your online experience. It is extremely scary and real how much cybercrime is out there in today's world and even more frightening is how little people know about it. For example, free-wifi and public wifi hotspots are easy-pickings for cybercriminals as there is no security measures implemented.

Verdict on What is a VPN

Security: VPN as an Answer

If you are looking for the ability to be able to browse from locations of your choosing while remaining anonymous and have encrypted data, then a VPN is a right choice for you. There are many options out there and research is definitely recommended in order to make sure you make the right choice for yourself. If you are a frequent traveller, a VPN is a necessity as public wifi and the need for access to home-grown content is as important as anything while on the road. A VPN will change your online experience, and give you the power to make sure your time online is only yours and no one else's.

Is ZenMate right for you?

ZenMate is a reputable VPN service, with a large user base and multiple strong reviews across the Internet. We provide a 128-bit AES encryption standard and have server locations in over 20 countries. ZenMate even offers a turbospeed feature for its premium users, which helps eliminate the issue of slowdown within popular servers across the globe. Have a look at a third party review of ZenMate here for a different perspective of our VPN quality.