VPN: what it is, how it works and what it is for

VPN: what it is, how it works and what it is for


VPN is an increasingly popular term. You have probably heard of it or seen sponsorships around the net, especially on YouTube. On the other hand, Virtual Private Network services have gained a certain popularity, not only thanks to the spread of streaming platforms, but also and above all from the huge amount of people who have found themselves working from home or in smart working due to of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the term VPN is increasingly present in everyday life. And if you are our faithful readers, you will have already noticed that we have several guides and reviews on this topic.

More experienced users, on the other hand, will almost certainly know the topic discussed here. For everyone else, and for those wishing to review or deepen this topic, we wanted to summarize the most important aspects that define a VPN service, together with some tricks to choose the one that best suits you.

Continue reading to find out everything you should know about VPN services.

What is a VPN?

VPNs (acronym for Virtual Private Network) are a service for connecting to the internet via so-called tunnels, secure and encrypted connection methods, with which devices usually access the network via a client. Consequently, your navigation will be anonymous and protected from any person wishing to access your personal data. Furthermore, thanks to the possibility of replacing your IP address, VPN services allow you to access streaming content subject to territorial blocks (for example, it allows you to watch the Netflix catalog in Italian while you are abroad).

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VPNs exploit specific technologies to increase the security of private and public networks, allowing the transmission of data while maintaining a high level of security (like that found on private networks).

So the traffic goes through a secure tunnel, a secure connection that shouldn't be intercepted. We can say that with VPNs you will be able to browse privately, although anonymous browsing is not always guaranteed.

Furthermore, although they have a certain degree of protection, VPNs are not 100% impenetrable. For example, a device already affected by a virus or other types of malware will remain vulnerable even within a VPN. In cases like this, the only support can come from a good antivirus.

VPN - How does it work?

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Therefore, while a connection not protected by a VPN takes place from a device to the site and vice versa, the The path followed by the traffic managed by a VPN is a bit more complex.

In this case, in fact, the web traffic goes from the device to the secure servers of the VPN and then to the website, and vice versa.

In addition to making browsing safer, this method also hides where the device is physically located. Therefore, the website will not "know" your real location, but the one indicated by the VPN. Let's take an example: you are in Palermo, you connect to a well-known streaming service via VPN, which will identify your position as if it were in Seattle. In this case, the service will show you the most relevant content to your geolocation, that is the Statute catalog. Therefore, your privacy is protected, and you can also circumvent the so-called "region-lock" or the blocking of certain contents based on your geographical area of ​​belonging, as we said in the example above.

Once By understanding how a VPN works, we can also better understand what purposes we might use one for. Surely security is the most emphasized point by the various online services, however thanks to a VPN you can do much more than just protect your connection.

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First of all, to stay on the subject of security, you can use public Wi-Fi connections with greater peace of mind. Such connections can be easily intercepted, but thanks to a VPN you can avoid nasty intrusions while connected from a hotel, a shopping center or at the airport while waiting for your next flight, especially if you want to access sensitive services, such as your home banking. In this case, it is the encryption offered by the VPN that makes the difference.

As we said above, you can also unblock geolocated content from streaming services such as Netflix or Disney Plus. This also applies to important sporting events, since you can connect to countries that broadcast them in the clear, saving considerably on a possible subscription to a platform that you would not otherwise use.

If for some reason you are in a country where the internet is subject to censorship or restrictions, such as China, Russia, United Arab Emirates, India, Turkey and others, you will not have access to services such as Google (including YouTube) and Facebook (consequently Instagram, WhatsApp etc.). In this case, a VPN will give you full internet access, bypassing government blockades.

Many of us still work at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, VPNs may already be part of your habits, as several companies adopt them for security reasons, given the number of people accessing corporate networks from the outside via personal devices.

Among others advantages of a VPN, we mention the possibility of bypassing the traffic peaks of a given geographical area by changing the IP address. This way you could optimize the connection speed. This also applies to the gaming sector, where a VPN could also be useful for protecting your identity (here in Italy this may not happen, but you know the sad phenomenon of swatting in the USA?) And avoiding the DDoS attacks of which they are often online video game servers victim.

Finally, another aspect that we hope will come in handy very soon is the ability to book trips at lower prices: in fact, flights and hotels have rates that vary according to your geographic location . By changing your IP address you could save a lot on your next vacation, hoping that the Coronavirus crisis will end as soon as possible.

But is it legal to use a VPN?

VPN services are legal, but not all over the world. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, the use of a VPN also leads to prison, as in Russia. In Iran, Belarus, Turkmenistan and North Korea, all VPNs are subject to indiscriminate banning. In other countries, such as China, there are authorized VPN services and they are the only ones that can be used.

Although the prohibitions normally apply to residents and not to those who are visiting the country, it is still necessary to be careful if you intend to use a VPN, for example from your hotel lobby.

China imposes some restrictions on VPNs

Which VPN to choose?

If this article convinced you If you try a VPN, you will have already realized that there are dozens of online services. Therefore, especially for those unfamiliar with this type of technology, it may be difficult to understand which brand to trust.

Before proceeding, we invite you to consult our guide to the best VPNs, while below we will summarize the main factors. to consider when choosing your ideal service.

First, check that the service includes servers in the countries you are interested in. But remember that the number of servers offered does not affect the connection speed. So don't discard plans with a limited number of servers a priori.

The connection protocol is a fundamental aspect to take into consideration. Not all VPN service providers are transparent about this, so try to understand what protocols they offer.

OpenVPN and IKeV2 are safe, fast and reliable. Other services may offer other older protocols (SSTP, PPTP) or TCP and UDP. In general, the services that offer the most options may be the ones to consider for speed and reliability.

One of the ones that convinced us the most is definitely ExpressVPN, which offers excellent protocols and systems for safety. However, it is good to know that the company was recently acquired by Kape, a company with a not very clear past as it is dedicated, under a different name, to ad-injection and malware diffusion activities. Additionally, Daniel Gericke, the CIO of ExpressVPN has been fined for working as a contractor for the UAE government, working on hacking activities with techniques considered illegal in the United States.

ExpressVPN has claimed to be at knowledge of Gericke's background, although not knowing the details, indeed the company hired him for this very reason. This is a common practice in the industry, many other security companies also hire former criminal hackers for their technical expertise.

The provider has promised to strengthen their external audits and continue to ensure a secure service . And while Kape also owns the two main VPN review sites (a somewhat worrying conflict of interest), it's unreasonable to imagine that it could misbehave pursuing its old ad-injection and malware businesses, especially in the much more lucrative market like that of VPNs.

In general, the best advice is to always be cautious and check for yourself if the service is right for you. ExpressVPN remains an excellent service from a technical point of view and, unless you have very specific and delicate needs, we advise you to try the provider firsthand, also thanks to its refund formula within 30 days and determine for yourself whether despite everything it is that can meet your needs.

ExpressVPN is one of the services we liked the most. Another factor is the number of simultaneous connections it supports. On average, the services allow the use of 3-5 devices, such as a smart TV, a tablet and a laptop.

Also pay attention to the rules of use, that is, if the connections are valid for each user or if it is possible to give access to other family members. This is important because if you violate the terms of use, you could have problems.

As anonymous as it is, no VPN service can guarantee total blackout of data. This is inevitable, therefore Terms of Service and Privacy Policy are the first sections that you will need to consult to understand what data (such as the date of access to the service) will remain in the possession of the provider and for how long (it can be a few months or even a few years).

Once all these aspects have been evaluated (to which you could also add the quality and functionality of the clients made available), the question of price remains. After identifying the service that offers a plan suited to your needs, both from the point of view of the monthly / annual rate to be paid, and from that of the duration of the subscription (the plans are usually monthly, annual, biennial), take a look at the payment methods offered.

A service that requires payment exclusively by credit card could cause some perplexity, since it is inevitable that it will store data about you (such as the transaction), therefore it is essential to go to retrieve the Privacy Policy and see how personal data are processed.

The services that offer secure methods such as PayPal, or even Bitcoin, are the ones that should be preferred, all things being equal , as it is easier to anonymize your transactions and check your subscription.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that not all VPNs have pricing plans in euros. Sometimes it can be advantageous based on the currency exchange of the moment, for example if the dollar is weak, but if you prefer more clarity, you could evaluate services with prices in euros. One of them is NordVPN, a service which, by the way, ranks among the best of those we have tested.

NordVPN is an excellent service that we recommend Finally, several VPNs offer a trial period with more or less limitations (eg a limited amount of data traffic per month), which could help you understand if the service is for you.

Others, on the other hand, have a satisfaction guarantee or your money back very generous, which allows you to try the service (after paying for it in full) and ask for a refund without too many explanations within 30 days (in some cases even 45).

In some cases, then, you will find a VPN included in several security packages offered by various antivirus brands. In most cases, these are limited versions, for example with fixed monthly or daily data traffic that can range from 200 to 500 MB, or with few options in terms of choice of servers, locations and other functions. Although this is an interesting extra that can help you prefer one antivirus over another, and maybe it will suffice for basic uses (such as checking email or accessing home banking while connected to a public access point), It is very rare that any of these services can be compared to a specially marketed VPN. In any case, the features we talk about here can help you decide whether an integrated VPN can be useful to you in some way or not.

Is a free or paid VPN better?

There are several free VPNs, but they usually have limitations that may make them less effective than paid ones.

For example, Avira Phantom and TunnelBear VPN services offer free plans, but limited to 500 MB per month. Not a lot.

Other services are more generous, like PrivateTunnel, with 2GB per month and ZPN with 10GB per month. Besides the data, there are other limitations, for example it is not possible to use the free version for torrents.

Free services such as those of Hide.me do not guarantee speed, as priority is given to paying users . In addition, geographical areas are also subject to restrictions, in this case you can only choose between Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore.

In general, free plans should only be evaluated if there are no great needs, for example to protect Connections While Traveling.

Paid VPN Service Might Be Worth It Those looking for more comprehensive solutions should opt for a paid VPN instead. By now, all premium services offer optimal ease of use, so the factors to consider are more than anything else the availability of those services and geographical areas that you will need for your purposes, which is simply hiding your location from ISPs during a trip to a country with internet access restrictions, or change your IP address to watch your favorite team while abroad.

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