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What is a VPN?

Are you considering purchasing a VPN subscription? But before you go ahead and buy, did you try to find the answers to the questions like what is a VPN, or what a VPN can do for you?

There are many such questions that people must ask, but often, they don’t! They flow with the tide. Many people use very absurd logic to justify a purchase. I choose to believe you are not one of them.

I believe you are a seeker, and you want answers that can give you absolute clarity on any subject. This writeup will clarify all your doubts and answer everything you need to know about a VPN.

So, before I start, let me give you a sneak peek of the questions that I will address in this blurb. It will be lengthy, but the time you spend here will help you to make an informed decision.

Questions We’ll be Addressing.

  1. What is a VPN?
  2. What types of people need a VPN, and do you need one?
  3. What can a VPN do for you?
  4. How does a VPN work?
  5. What are VPN protocols, and how many types are there?
  6. How should you choose a VPN provider?
  7. Are there VPN alternatives that you can use?

The list of questions above covers pretty much everything you need to know about VPNs. There will still be a few things unanswered. I will include them in a general Q&A section at the end of this blurb. Sounds good?

Great! Let’s start.

What is a VPN?

The term VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network. You and I and everyone else in this world spend a significant amount of time on the Internet. The problem is, the Internet is an open place – a network of computers publicly accessible.

When you get into a public network, anyone with the right set of tools and knowledge and snoop around. All that you do becomes visible.

You may be transacting online using your debit card or credit card.

You may be downloading a copyrighted movie from a torrenting website using a torrent client like Vuze or µTorrent.

You may be watching something on a streaming service site like Hulu or Amazon Prime or Netflix.

You may be sending vital documents to someone using an email service like Gmail.

A hacker can see everything and, in the worst-case scenario, steal your financial data, or even your identity. The hacker can access your email accounts and grab essential information.

Scared?

That’s not the only thing that should worry you.

Did you ever wonder about the government keeping an eye on your online activities every moment? That’s a breach of your privacy.

There are prying eyes crawling all over the Internet, looking for a chance to access your data. How do you safeguard yourself?

The answer is a VPN.

A VPN creates a private channel or tunnel between your computer and the destination computer (for example, a website server) that you are using. This tunnel has encryption that converts your plain text data into ciphertext using advanced algorithms.

When the ciphertext reaches the destination, a secret key decrypts the data and makes it readable.

When the data passes through the tunnel, the encryption prevents entities like hackers or government agencies from grabbing the data. Even if they manage to get the ciphertext, they fail to read anything because the data remains in an unreadable format.

So, a VPN is a technology that hides all your online activities and safeguards your privacy.

What can a VPN do for you?

A VPN can do a lot! Here is a quick rundown of the things a VPN can do for you:

  • A VPN service will hide your IP and make you anonymous while torrenting.
  • A VPN will prevent your ISP from throttling your Internet connection. ISPs are infamous for throttling Internet speed when they find someone is using a streaming service. Since a VPN will prevent an ISP from seeing your online activities, they cannot throttle your Internet speed.
  • A VPN service can keep your identity and financial activities hidden from hackers.
  • Depending on the VPN service you use, you can use a dedicated IP address. Dedicated IP addresses have a lot of benefits (and a few drawbacks). I will discuss them later in the writeup.
  • VPN services can quickly unblock websites and services that have geo-restrictions in place.
  • You can securely use a public network using a VPN.
  • You can get rid of annoying ads using the adblocker feature that many VPN services offer.
  • You can play games that are not yet available in your country.
  • A VPN keeps your online activities hidden from the prying eyes of the government and security agencies, thereby safeguarding your privacy.
  • A VPN will safeguard several devices at the same time. Almost all VPN providers offer multiple simultaneous connections against a single license. So, you can not only keep your desktop or laptop protected, but you can also protect your mobile, your router, smart TV, and more!

How does a VPN work?

For you, it is as simple as selecting a server in a location of your choice and then clicking on the connect button. Voila! You are using a VPN service. Albeit, you need to install the VPN application by yourself. That’s not a hard task, is it?

The technology behind it is not that easy! Several components work in tandem. Here is how it all works:

The starting point – authenticating your device

You start by installing a VPN software known as the VPN client on your device that can be a router, a desktop, a laptop, a mobile, or a tablet.

When you connect to the VPN service using the client, the VPN client/software will create an encrypted tunnel. To create the tunnel, the VPN client will authenticate your device with the VPN server somewhere else.

This authentication will ensure that the client (your device) and the VPN server are talking to each other and no one else.

A pair of secret keys come into existence during this authentication process. One key stays with the VPN client while the other stays with the VPN server.

The mid-point – encapsulation, and tunneling

Once the authentication is successful, the VPN client will encapsulate your data packets.

What?

Okay, when you connect to the Internet, whatever data you send or receive is broken down into small packets. These packets then pass over the Internet. These data packets remain in a readable format, and anyone with proper tools can access it. Your ISP can always access your data.

The VPN client present on your computer will wrap each of those data packets with an outer packet before sending out the data. Once the client covers the data packets with an extra layer, it will then encrypt the packets with an algorithm.

During this encryption process, your data will change into a ciphertext. It will be scrambled and unreadable.

This entire process of covering data packets with an extra layer and then encrypting them using an algorithm is called encapsulation.

Once encapsulation is complete, the client on your device will start sending the data out. Your ISP can see that you are sending data packets, but it cannot read the ciphertext.

The data then reaches the VPN server, which has the secret key. The server will use the secret key to decrypt the data. Once the server receives the data, it will decrypt it and convert it back into plain readable text.

The data then goes out to the destination (can be a website or a streaming service) from the server using the VPN server’s IP address.

Things that happen here:

  • When the data leaves your computer, no one can read it, not even your ISP.
  • If someone steals your data before it reaches the VPN server, the person cannot decrypt it with the secret key. Even if someone uses a supercomputer to decrypt the data without the secret key, it will take years to do so. Regular computers can take billions of years to decode only a part of the data. That’s not worth the time.
  • The destination service sees the IP address of the VPN server and not your IP. The IP address of the VPN server is a shared IP address that many users use at the same time. So, no one can link the data back to you. This proxy IP makes torrenting, streaming geo-restricted content, etc. safe.

The end-point – back to your computer

Once your data reaches the destination, there will be some reply. For instance, you want to access a webpage. The server where the webpage sits will send back a response to the VPN server.

The VPN server will then carry out the encapsulation process again and encrypt the data. Once encapsulation is over, the VPN server will send the data packets over the VPN tunnel back to your computer or device.

Your ISP can see that you are receiving data. Unfortunately, the encryption will prevent your ISP from accessing the data. Also, the ISP will see that the data is coming from the VPN server with an IP address of that VPN server! Your ISP will never know that the information is coming from somewhere else.

Once the data reaches your computer or device, the VPN client sitting there will use the secret key decrypt the ciphertext and convert it into a plain text that you can read and understand.

What are VPN protocols, and how many types are there?

By now, you already know that when you use a VPN, a secure connection forms between your computer and a VPN server. However, there are methods of establishing such secure connections. These methods are known by the name ‘protocols.’

There are different protocols available. They are:

  • WireGuard
  • OpenVPN
  • IKEv2/IPsec
  • L2TP/IPsec
  • PPTP
  • SSTP

Which one to use? If you don’t want to get into details, here is a quick snapshot of what you should know:

VPN ProtocolTo Use or Not to Use?
WireGuardPeople say it is the future of VPN protocols, but unfortunately, a stable version is yet to be out there in the market.
OpenVPNUse it whenever you find it.
IKEv2It is mostly suitable for mobile devices; however, it might not be readily available for all devices.
L2TPUse it only if you know that the implementation is correct.
PPTPNever use it even if you find it as an option.
SSPTIt comes from Microsoft – try to avoid it.

If you are satisfied with the table above, it is excellent! You can skip the protocol part and read the remaining. But if you are interested in finding out more, continue reading.

WireGuard

Many people consider that WireGuard is the future of VPN protocols. It is supposedly the most secure protocol ever. Unfortunately, it is not available with most of the VPN providers. The reason is simple! WireGuard is still under active development.

Unless there is a stable version available, you will not see this protocol anytime soon. You can skip learning about it for now.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is the industry standard. It guarantees security. It receives regular updates, and it is very transparent. Did I mention, it is open source?

When it comes to security, OpenVPN is by far the best you can get. The OpenVPN protocol has many iterations, but even the weakest configuration comes with impressive security features.

The lowest security that OpenVPN offers is Blowfish-128 cipher. The highest you get is 256-bit AES encryption. AES encryption technology is so secure that even NSA or National Security Agency of the United States recommends this for encrypting confidential files.

The best part of OpenVPN is that you can customize it either for speed or for security. Additionally, it is very reliable when it comes to evading censorships.

The best performance of OpenVPN comes when you use it over UDP (User Datagram Protocol) ports. That doesn’t mean it cannot run on other ports. It can run on any port, including the TCP port. You may recognize the TCP port using a number – 443. Does that ring bells?

You hear about this 443 port, mostly related to websites. Using the TCP 443 port with OpenVPN will mask the VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic and prevents blocking! It is better to use OpenVPN TCP in countries where you can face heavy Internet censorship.

OpenVPN, as the name suggests, is an open-source application. Even you can contribute to its development if you have the necessary knowledge. Because it is open-source, it undergoes frequent security audits. Good news, not even a single inspection has managed to point out any severe security flaw so far.

Pros of OpenVPNCons of OpenVPN
It is incredibly versatile.It has restricted availability, but all popular VPNs offer OpenVPN protocol.
It is an open-source protocol.
It integrates with Windows completely.

IKEv2

IKEv2 stands for Internet Key Exchange version 2. It is a result of a joint effort between Cisco and Microsoft. The idea was to create a tunneling protocol that was flexible and yet, secure.

By itself, the IKEv2 is only a tunneling protocol. It means that this protocol will not encrypt any data. Combine IKEv2 with IPsec (IP Security), and you get a very secure VPN protocol.

IPsec, which is nothing more than a suite of protocols, came into existence because there was a need for ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and authentication of data over any IP network. IPsec is too complex to cover here in this blurb, and so, I will skip that part.

Coming back to the IKEv2/IPsec protocol, VPN providers can list it as just IKEv2 or IKEv2/IPsec.

Windows 7 onwards, the IKEv2 is natively available. It is available on Blackberry and iOS platforms. There are several open-source versions of IKEv2 out there in the market that support platforms like Android and Linux. Unfortunately, those open-source iterations may require a third-party program to run.

Talking of the IKEv2/IPsec protocol used in VPN services, it is very stable. When it combines with 256-bit AES encryption technology, it becomes a very robust and secure protocol.

IKEv2 is incredible for another reason. Even if you experience a temporary interruption (such as a power outage that disrupts your connection), it will resume operations automatically. You don’t have to re-establish a VPN connection again.

The only problematic thing is that Cisco and Microsoft created this tunneling protocol. If you have an OpenVPN option, go for it instead of IKEv2. It is needless to say, Microsoft is quite infamous in the privacy world.

Pros of IKEv2Cons of IKEv2
It uses AES encryption.Only a few platforms have this protocol natively.
It is very stable.Microsoft and Cisco created it, giving trust issues. Only open-source versions are genuinely trustworthy.

L2TP

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol or L2TP is a tunneling protocol similar to IKEv2. It doesn’t encrypt any data. For encryption, you will need IPsec just as in the case of IKEv2.

A VPN provider who offers this type of tunneling may give it the name L2TP or IPsec or L2TP/IPsec. They all refer to the same thing.

As of today, L2TP uses the AES encryption algorithm, but there was a type when 3DES encryption was in use. 3DES went out of business once it came under several collision attacks.

Yes, L2TP is faster than OpenVPN even though it encapsulates the data twice. Unfortunately, that’s not always great.

There are several problems with L2TP/IPsec. This protocol can work only over a limited number of ports, and it is easy to block them all. It doesn’t work great behind NAT firewalls.

And then, there is Edward Snowden who claimed that NSA cracked the L2TP/IPsec protocol. It is not proven, but Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, and currently lives in Russia under Right to Asylum.

If Snowden is correct, L2TP might not be the right protocol to use. I will say that if you are using L2TP/IPsec, keep it for casual usage. Never think of using it for torrenting or other illegal things. NSA might be watching you!

Pros of L2TPCons of L2TP
It uses AES encryption.It doesn’t fare well with NAT firewalls.
It is easy to set up.NSA might have cracked it (not proven).
You can find it on all platforms.It uses a limited number of ports.

PPTP

Don’t use this thing, please! PPTP or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol was born in 1999. Honestly, it was the first VPN that came into existence for public use. It is effortless to set up, and corporate VPNs use it widely even to this day.

Microsoft led the consortium that was behind the development of the PPTP. PPT uses MPPE or Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption along with MS-CHAP v2 methods of authentication. The highest encryption available is 128-bit

Bad things happened to PPTP. People cracked this VPN protocol in just 48 hours. Microsoft did provide a patch for that, but today, even the creator recommends using either L2PT/IPsec or SSTP.

Then comes NSA. That agency, has for long, been cracking data protected by PPTP. I will put it this way – if PPTP is butter, NSA is a red hot knife.

There are other problems with PPTP as well. It works with GRE or General Routing Encapsulation protocol, and it needs port 1723. Without that port, PPTP cannot work. It is relatively easy for anyone to block the GRE protocol with a firewall.

Yet another problem that you should know is that if your connection is not steady and it suffers from data packet loss, PPTP can become very ineffective. The protocol will, in a situation like that, attempt repeated re-transmissions. The result will be a terrible slowdown. Do you like slow internet speed?

Bottom line? Never use it!

Pros of PPTPCons of PPTP
It is very fast.Security levels are shallow.
It is straightforward to set up.NSA can crack it with ease.
Almost every platform supports it.It is effortless to block PPTP connections.

SSTP

Microsoft first came up with PPTP, and then it gave us the SSTP. Yes, SSTP is better than PPTP, but it is proprietary. My opinion about Microsoft is not that great, and so, I avoid it. Your opinion may differ.

SSTP or Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol made its first appearance in Windows Vista SP1. It uses SSL 3.0 for security, which is decently good but better than PPTP.

SSTP has quite some advantages. It has full Windows integration, making it easy to set up. It is quite dependable, and it deals with firewalls pretty well. It also allows using port 443, making it a suitable option in places with heavy censorship/

It is needless to mention that Microsoft’s past love affairs with NSA are out there in the open. There are rumors that Microsoft’s operating systems have backdoors giving NSA the needed access. No wonder people have suspicions.

The big problem is that SSTP is vulnerable to POODLE attacks. These attacks target the vulnerabilities in SSL 3.0. It is because of past successful POODLE attacks that IETF or Internet Engineering Task Force deprecated SSTP.

Pros of SSTPCons of SSTP
Microsoft supports SSTP.Microsoft owns it.
It has complete integration with Windows.There is a complete lack of transparency.
It provides decent security.It is very vulnerable to POODLE attacks.

How should you choose a VPN provider?

This question is genuinely good! The market is teeming with VPN providers. How do you select one? Everyone says it is the best.

Honestly, there is not even a single VPN provider that is perfect. Everyone has some flaw or the other.

When you try to select a VPN provider, here is the list of things you should consider:

Country of origin

In case you are not aware, there is something called the 5 Eyes Alliance. It was an alliance of 5 countries (the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) that agreed to share intelligence. The coalition came into existence after WWII.

The 5 countries wanted to monitor communications of the Eastern Bloc and the former Soviet Union. Later, they extended their surveillance capabilities to the World Wide Web on the grounds of ‘war on terror.’

The 5 Eyes, started monitoring private communications globally! The alliance later added 4 more countries. It thus became known as the 9 Eyes. Later, another 5 countries joined. The coalition then became 14 Eyes.

Though it is interesting to note that the 9 Eyes Alliance and the 14 Eyes Alliance are separate agreements, but they contain the original 5 Eyes countries.

AllianceCountriesNew MembersNew Members
5 EyesThe US, The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand
9 EyesThe US, The UK, Australia, Canada, New ZealandFrance, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands
14 EyesThe US, The UK, Australia, Canada, New ZealandFrance, Denmark, Norway, the NetherlandsBelgium, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy

If the VPN service originates from (is registered) in any of these countries, don’t by a subscription! If you do, your data is never secure!

Encryption algorithm

There are various encryption algorithms out there. Some are great, while others are awful. One that people consider the gold standard of encryption is the 256-bit AES cipher. If a VPN provider does not offer that, don’t buy it.

Encryption protocol

A VPN provider must offer various encryption protocols, especially the OpenVPN (UDP or TCP) and IKEv2/IPsec. Especially if OpenVPN is missing; you should avoid the VPN provider.

Storage type

VPN providers have their servers. These servers have different storage types.

The traditional one is that of hard drive storage. The newer option is RAM storage. Both are great, but if you find one offering RAM storage across all servers, you should prefer that provider.

No-logs policy

A VPN provider needs to have No-Logs Policy. It merely means that a VPN provider will, under no circumstances, keep logs of your online activities. It is a crucial feature. If they are keeping records, they can be compromised. If a hacker manages to get to their servers, he or she can get hold of all the data.

Here the storage type becomes essential. A server reboot erases all data in the case of RAM storage. In case of hard drive storage, the VPN provider needs to delete all data from the hard drives manually.

I am never saying that you should not go for hard drive storage. Just make sure that the VPN provider deletes everything. As long as they are not keeping any log, you should have no problem.

Server count and server location

The more the number of servers that a VPN offers, the better it is. More servers mean less load on individual servers because the users will distribute over a larger number of servers instead of flocking over a fewer number of servers.

Less server load translates into faster speed.

Again, you should also see how many locations are there for each VPN provider. The higher the number of server locations, the better it is. For instance, one VPN provider may have servers in only five areas in the US. Another one may have servers spread over 15 different places in the US.

The higher the spread, the better it is. Why? Suppose you want to connect to a service located in New York and you are connecting from a server located in California, your data has to travel a very long distance. If the server is in New York, your data travels a shorter distance. The shorter the distance your data goes, the faster your connection speed.

You also need to see the number of countries that the VPN provider covers. What if you want to access a service in India, and the VPN provider doesn’t have servers in India? You will not be able to access your preferred service or content.

Simultaneous connections and mobile apps

The VPN provider must allow you to install the VPN client on multiple devices against a single license. The more, the better! Some VPNs will offer up to 5 simultaneous connections; some will offer more, while some others will offer unlimited. Depending on your needs, you can select one.

Don’t forget; a VPN provider should have mobile apps. Android and iOS apps are a must.

Speed

Any VPN provider should not throttle your Internet speed. Also, even after you connect to a VPN server, there should not be a significant drop in speed. Usually, when you use a VPN, there will be some speed loss because of two factors:

  • Encryption and decryption of data take time.
  • The data first goes to a VPN server and then to the destination. It takes time.

Ability to Bypass Geo-restrictions

Is the VPN service capable of bypassing geo-restrictions? Will it let you access country-specific streaming libraries like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, etc.? Some people even see whether the VPN can bypass the Great Firewall of China or not.

The ability to bypass geo-restrictions is an essential aspect of any VPN provider. If a VPN fails to do that, it is not worth your time and money.

Does the VPN pass IP/DNS Leak Test?

Many VPN services end up leaking your IP address. If that happens, the very purpose of a VPN fails. Make sure that the VPN provider never leaks such information.

Kill Switch

A VPN provider must provide a Kill Switch. It is a feature that will prevent your computer or device from accessing the Internet if the connection to a VPN server drops suddenly.

The Kill Switch is a critical feature. If a VPN provider is not giving that feature, you must try to find some other provider.

Customer Service

Using a VPN can get complicated at times. You may run into technical problems. Unless a VPN service provider offers multiple channels for resolving your issues, you should avoid that provider.

The commonest channels are:

  • A robust FAQ segment with tons of tutorials explaining almost everything related to their services is a must!
  • There should be a chat support system (preferably 24×7).
  • There should be email support that responds within a few hours is also a must!

If they have telephone support, that will be great, but most of the VPN providers do not offer that.

Cherry-picking

After considering all the factors above, you can start cherry-picking. You can look at the price, money-back guarantee, free trials, etc. These factors are something you should decide on depending on your financial strengths.

Are there VPN alternatives that you can use?

Yes, there are two alternatives. They are:

  • Tor Network or the Onion Router.
  • Proxy

Tor or Onion Router

The Onion Router or Tor offers what is known as the Tor Network. There are numerous server nodes spread all across the world. When you try to connect to a service using the Onion Router, your connection will bounce over various server nodes before reaching the destination.

This feature of bouncing over different nodes increases anonymity and protects your identity because it is not easy to follow the path. I said, ‘not easy.’ I never said, ‘impossible.’

There are three significant drawbacks of the Onion Router.

  1. Because Tor works on distributed trust, you can never know who is sitting behind a node. The party behind a particular server node may not be trustworthy at all.
  2. The entry node – the point of origin (which is your computer), always remains visible. Your ISP will immediately know what you are doing.
  3. You are bouncing over multiple server nodes while connecting to a service. It will significantly slow down your connection speed!

Proxy

A proxy server works pretty much the same way as a VPN. It sits between your computer and the Internet. However, the two are very different.

A proxy is like a middleman that will try to hide or mask your IP address. It can work for a single application at a time (like the web browser).

A VPN, on the other hand, is set up on your computer. It encrypts data from all applications at the same time.

Proxy servers are often very insecure, and they don’t protect your privacy. It is especially true in the case of free proxy servers. These free proxy servers will instead take your data and sell it to third parties and make money!

If you are willing to pay for a proxy server, it is better that you pay for a VPN service instead.

Who needs a VPN, and do you need one?

The list is quite long! You may find yourself in one of these categories. If you don’t, you will most likely not need a VPN.

People concerned about privacy: Governments in many countries are engaged in blatant infringement of the privacy of the citizens. I can name a few, but it is useful if you do your research. The governments in those countries keep an eye on the online activities of everyone.

Thousands and thousands of people don’t accept that. Are you one of them? If yes, a VPN is for you. A VPN will protect your online activities by encrypting your data and hiding your IP address.

Human rights warriors/activists: In many countries, freedom of speech is a utopian dream, and those who try that, face dire consequences. People, especially human rights activists, need to hide their identities and keep their online activities anonymous.

A VPN is what they need to bypass government censorship and present the truth to the world while keeping themselves anonymous. Are you a human rights activist? If you are, you are going to need a VPN.

Crazy gamers: I have seen people – people crazy about gaming so much so that they forget eating and sleeping! If you are one such crazy gamer, a VPN is for you.

A VPN will allow you to access new titles before they arrive at your geo-location or country. You can even play with your friends abroad if they are using the same VPN server as you are, and you get a better price!

Security freaks: There are a group of people out there in the wilderness of the Internet who just want to ensure that everything they do online is secure. They don’t want to become victims of identity theft or banking fraud. They perhaps want to keep their office communications safe.

A VPN is an obvious choice because of the advanced 256-bit AES encryption that encrypts all data into an unbreakable ciphertext that can be decrypted only with a secret key. In case you are a security freak, a VPN is for you.

Avid travelers: If you are a traveler who goes places every now-and-then, a VPN will keep you secure whenever you need to use public Wi-Fi. A VPN will keep your online activities safe even when you are using public networks where hackers crawl around to find potential victims.

Torrenting ninjas: Torrenting is a risky business. It can get you into legal trouble, especially when you are downloading copyrighted material. It can be anything from a movie to a song to a game – downloading through torrent sites is illegal. You can even get threatening letters from ISPs.

A VPN will keep you safe. It will hide your IP address, and your ISP can never see what you are doing online. No matter how big a file you download or how many of them you download, your activities will remain hidden.

Streaming fans: I know you have heard of and possibly even used one or more of various streaming services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Hulu, DZAN, etc.

All these services have some fantastic content. Unfortunately, they have geo-restrictions in place. Libraries of different countries have different content. You cannot access those various libraries unless you live in those countries.

A VPN can help you bypass those geo-restrictions, allowing you to watch streaming content available anywhere in the world.

Mobile users: Mobile data is precious and pricey. Unfortunately, when you try to access website services like apps and websites, ads will start blasting your screen.

These ads are not only irritating, but at the same time, they eat up a significant chunk of mobile data. Several VPNs come with the ad-blocker feature. So, if those pesky little ads are bothering you, a VPN might be the solution you seek!

Do you fall into any of those groups? Be the judge of your requirements! I believe, at least one thing should bother you – security!

Okay, now that I have explained the basics of VPN to you, it is time to answer some generic questions. Are you ready?

VPN Frequently Asked Questions

Are VPNs legal?

Yes, a VPN is entirely legal. No one can stop you from buying a VPN subscription. A large number of VPN services out there in the market is the testimony to the fact that they are legal.

But conducting illegal activities online using a VPN will remain unlawful! Don’t engage in unlawful activities.

Will a VPN provider throttle your traffic?

Generally, they don’t do that. Instead, the VPN providers help you to bypass the throttling activities of your ISP.

Should you buy a long term subscription right away?

I will never suggest that. If you get a VPN service that offers a free trial, use it to see whether the VPN meets your needs or not. If there is no free trial (most popular VPNs will not give free trials), I will suggest you buy a subscription for a month. Use it and test it. If you are happy with the VPN service, upgrade with a long term subscription.

Are there free VPNs?

Yes, you can find some, but don’t blame anyone if your data doesn’t remain safe or if you get a limited number of servers.

Free VPNs will severely downgrade the capabilities of a VPN. You can get only a handful of servers (most likely ten servers). On top of that, there will be data limitations.

Many free VPNs will leak your IP address, and they will never offer state-of-the-art encryption technology.

Such free VPNs are almost always good for casual browsing. They cannot bypass most of the streaming services, and nearly none of them will allow torrenting.

As the cliché says, ‘you will get what you pay for.’

How does a VPN bypass geo-restrictions?

Let me explain this with an example. Suppose you live in Japan, and you want to watch the Netflix library in the USA. Generally, you cannot do that because Netflix has a geo-restriction feature that prevents anyone outside of the US from accessing that library.

Now, if you buy a VPN subscription, install it, and connect to a VPN server located in the USA, the Netflix site in the US will see the IP address of the VPN server in the US.

Netflix will consider it as traffic from the US and allow access. Do you now understand how a VPN works against geo-restrictions?

Why is decrypting the AES encrypted data impossible?

The AES algorithm uses a key for encrypting data. The length of the key is 256-bits.

You can achieve the 256 bits length using a whopping 1.1 x 1077 different combinations!

A standard computer will take billions of years to use a brute force attack and run all those possible combinations. Even a supercomputer will need many thousands of years.

Who on this Earth is going to wait for that long? I mean, the Earth may not even exist a billion years from now.

Unless someone has the secret key (of 256-bits length), it is virtually impossible to crack this encryption. Do you want to try?

Is it possible to have complete anonymity with a VPN?

Short answer – NO! You cannot be anonymous online. For complete anonymity, you need to stop using the Internet completely.

Even a VPN provider will keep some data. What data, you ask? Here is the list:

  • Your email address – you need to subscribe to a VPN service!
  • Your payment information – you need to pay for a VPN service!

How do you think that makes your anonymous? A good VPN will not store your IP address, your network traffic, the bandwidth you use, etc. That’s all.

In terms of privacy, yes, you can keep your activities hidden. No one can know what you are downloading or what streaming services you are using when you use a VPN. It happens because of the data encryption that takes place when you use a VPN. No one case easily break the encryption.

But does that make you anonymous? Not really! You connect to VPN servers. The VPN provider knows what data you are sending and receiving. The provider will also know what services you are using.

The only thing the VPN provider will do is to delete all logs so that no one else can get hold of it.

Complete anonymity is IMPOSSIBLE! Don’t fool yourself.