What is a VPN and how to choose the right one

Blog » What is a VPN and how to choose the right one

With the transition to remote work, more and more users began to think about how to protect themselves not only on the streets and from the virus, but also on the network.

In the article below, let’s take a closer look at such a tool as VPN:

  • What is a VPN
  • Why it’s needed 
  • What’s the difference between a VPN and a proxy 
  • What kind of VPNs there are
  • Is it legal to use it 
  • What are the disadvantages of VPN
  • Does everyone need a VPN and what are the alternatives

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What is a VPN 🛡

Virtual Private Network or VPN is a technology that creates a secure connection to protect your data online.  

When you normally access the Internet, your device communicates with the website’s server and shows it your data: location, IP, etc. In this way, the server knows who you are, what information you want to get, and where to send it. In addition, it can also start surveilling you.

If you use VPN, then the website sees the data of the VPN server, the amount of data transmitted, the start and end time of the session. But who you are and your actions in the network will be encrypted. Thanks to this, the website will not understand who is really visiting the site. 

Why is VPN needed?

Data protection. A VPN creates a secure connection for your device through which data is transmitted. As a result, no one from the outside can see who you are, what you do, and what data you use on the network unless they have an encryption key.

VPN work scheme

For better protection, advanced users use VPN chaining. In this case, several VPN servers are connected in series, making it almost impossible to track the user and his actions.

Location spoofing. With a VPN, you can change your IP and pretend to be a user of any country or city. This helps, for example, if you work with many accounts and need to impersonate different users.

Get access to a secured server. For example, if you have a private corporate network at work, you can access it from anywhere in the world with a special corporate VPN configured for these purposes. Similarly, you can set up access to your home computer or any other device: just choose and set up the proper VPN.

Access restricted websites. By using VPN, you can bypass the restrictions of specific countries and visit blocked websites. For example, although LinkedIn is blocked in Russia, with the help of VPN people can easily use it. The reason is that the VPN hides data, even from your Internet service provider(ISP).

What’s the difference between a VPN and a proxy

If a person uses a proxy, each time he tries to visit some website first his request hits the proxy server, and then the server redirects this request to the website. And vice versa. The proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the site you are visiting. 

VPN does not redirect traffic, but encrypts it completely. Thus, it protects the user’s data and information about his actions in the network. 

What types of VPNs are there ☝️

VPNs come in different forms depending on the protocol used. The VPN protocol describes all the parameters of a particular service: how the connection is made, how data is exchanged, what devices are compatible with a particular VPN, etc. Below we have collected the main protocols and indicated for what tasks they can be suitable. 

🔺OpenVPN. One of the best VPN protocols available. It has a high download speed and security level, so it is suitable for various tasks: anonymity in the network, masking traffic, visiting restricted websites, etc.

This protocol has open-source software(OSS) which helps to quickly find vulnerabilities and fix them. Most often, to use OpenVPN, users need to install a special program or application depending on a particular VPN service. 

Compatible with operating systems: iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux, Android.

🔺Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol or PPTP. This protocol is one of the oldest. It is suitable if you need to access restricted websites. In other cases, this protocol has a number of serious vulnerabilities, that is why even its developer, the Microsoft company, recommends choosing other protocols. 

Compatible with operating systems: iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux.

🔺Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol or SSTP. This protocol has no major vulnerabilities detected and allows fast access to sites. Its key disadvantage: it is rarely used and is only compatible with Windows, so it is not suitable for all tasks.

Compatibility with operating systems: Windows. 

🔺Internet Protocol Security or IPsec. After information emerged that U.S. government agencies have access to such VPNs, some users are wary of using IPsec. Apart from that, the protocol has a good level of protection and speed. The protocol itself is often used with other protocols, such as IKEv2. 

Compatible with operating systems: iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux.

🔺WireGuard. One of the newest types of protocols. As of now, it has no detected vulnerabilities and has a high download speed. There have also been no reports of intelligence agencies accessing it yet.

Compatible with operating systems: iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux, Android.

Is it legal to use VPN? 😉

It depends on the specific country. For example, in Russia, bypassing the blocks of restricted websites is against the law. That’s why all VPN services need to be included in a special register, which lists blocked websites. But in fact, only a few VPN services are included in this register, and others continue to work with no restrictions. This means that: either the state has gained access to the data of these services, or the services themselves have agreed to cooperate and transmit data. In any case, if your goal is to achieve complete anonymity, known and public VPN services will not help you with this. 

Read more in the block below. 

Disadvantages of VPN

Like any service, a VPN has disadvantages. 

The service itself can have access to your data. It all depends on whether the service stores your log files (logs) — data about your actions, entered passwords, etc. Information on whether the service stores logs should be specified in the privacy policy. Alas, this does not guarantee that the service does not have access to your data. Often services say that they do not have access and fully encrypt users’ data, and then later information from that device appears in investigations and criminal cases. 

Moreover, anyone who has the encryption keys of a particular VPN will have access to information about you and your traffic. These keys can be obtained, for example, by intelligence agencies based on a court decision, during an investigation, or intelligence agencies may initially control such services. For example, if the VPN server is located in Russia, it is 99% likely that the intelligence services have access to it.

VPN can guarantee you full privacy and anonymity only if you set up a personal VPN server. In other cases, there will always be a risk that someone else can access your data. 

Can slow down your Internet access speed. Almost all VPNs slow down website download speeds. It will be even slower if you use a VPN chain.

Does everyone need a VPN

As always, it depends on your objectives. If you have no illusions that a VPN will give you 100% anonymity, it can be useful, for example, to visit blocked sites or protect your digital fingerprint from advertising websites. It is also often used by corporations to protect their network or give access to it to remote employees.

If you do decide to use a VPN, pay attention to:

  • What VPN protocol is used.
  • The download speed of the data.
  • What tasks a specific VPN is suitable for.
  • What country the servers are located in. For example, if they are located in Russia or the U.S., the security services of these countries probably already have encryption keys. The importance of this item will depend on the tasks for which you need a VPN.
  • Price. As a rule, popular VPN services cost $3-10 per month.
  • Security. Pay attention to the reviews and whether there have been independent tests of the work of a particular service. It is better to give preference to VPNs with open-source software. 

If not VPN, then what 🤔

If, for some reason, VPNs don’t work for you, below we’ve collected examples of other options: 

  • ❗️Proxies. You can also use them to replace your real IP with the IP of a proxy server or another user. Different proxies are used for different tasks, from protecting data online to working with cryptocurrencies and bookmakers.
  • ❗️Anti-detect browser. These are special programs that help to change your digital fingerprint (fingerprint). Anti-detects are suitable for different tasks: data protection, access to restricted websites, affiliate marketing, etc. Anti-detects show the best results when used together with a proxy. If you plan to use such a browser, the Dolphin{anty} anti-detect browser has a completely free rate.
  • ❗️Smart DNS or Smart DNS. This is a special service designed specifically to bypass blocks and restrictions. With his help, you can get access to banned websites in a particular territory. However, Smart DNS does not change your IP, so it is definitely not suitable for maintaining anonymity and protection of your data on the network. 
  • ❗️Lantern is another program that helps you bypass blocked sites, but it will not protect your data online, either. 

Whatever program you choose, always keep in mind that the best program that can protect you is the one that you can control yourself and that no one else has access to.