Yet despite being so popular, many people don’t actually know how VPNs work.
If you’re one of them, and would like to learn about VPN connections, here’s all you need to know:
First Things First – What Is a VPN?
At its core, a VPN is an online service you can use to hide your IP address, and encrypt your Internet traffic.
To run properly, a VPN relies on a VPN client, a VPN server, and VPN protocols. There are other aspects to running a VPN, but let’s focus on the main and most easy-to-understand ones for now.
What Is a VPN Server?
A VPN server can be either a physical or a virtual server that VPN providers configure to host and deliver their services. You can think of a VPN server as a combination of VPN software and hardware.
VPN server software is responsible for client/server communications, and it uses VPN protocols to encrypt data. The hardware part makes connections more smooth since it has more logical and communication ports.
VPN providers normally rent servers from reliable data centers, but they can also use their own physical servers if they can afford them.
What Is a VPN Client?
A VPN client is software offered by VPN providers. You install it on your device to use the provider’s services.
Besides allowing you to connect to VPN servers, a client will also offer additional features and options – like Kill Switches, server grouping, VPN protocol and port options, and auto-connect/auto-login settings.
VPN clients normally work across most platforms – Windows, iOS, macOS, Android, and sometimes even on some Linux distros (like Ubuntu), eReaders, and smart TVs.
What Is a VPN Protocol?
If you ever heard the term “VPN tunneling,” that’s what VPN protocols are responsible for.
Simply put, a VPN protocol is a set of rules and processes VPN clients and servers use to establish a secure VPN connection. They’re responsible for deciding how the VPN encrypts and transmits your data over the connection.
Right now, providers are most likely to use the following protocols:
Keep in mind that not every provider offers access to all protocols. Usually, a VPN provider will offer users a choice between two to four protocols.
Also, some providers can use proprietary protocols too. Catapult Hydra is such an example – it’s a protocol AnchorFree developed solely for HotSpot Shield.
So, How Does a VPN Connection Work? Here’s a Simple Example
Whenever you run a VPN connection, this is what happens:
- When you run the VPN client and choose a server to connect to, the client will start negotiating the connection with the server.
- During the negotiation process, the client and server agree which VPN protocol to use to encrypt your data.
- Once that’s done, the VPN client will start encrypting your traffic.
- The client then sends the connection requests to the VPN server through your ISP. Since the service previously encrypted your data, your ISP can’t see anything.
- When the VPN server receives your traffic, it replaces your IP address with its own. Next, it starts decrypting the information, and forwards your connection requests to the appropriate website.
- Once the VPN server receives the online content you requested from a web server, it encrypts it. Then, it sends it to the VPN client through your ISP.
- Finally, when the VPN client on your device receives the data, it decrypts it so that you can freely view and access it.
That’s basically how a VPN connection works. It seems complex (and it is), but the entire process happens extremely fast – provided you use a decent provider who knows how to optimize their servers. Otherwise, you’ll get choppy speeds and unstable VPN connections.
If you’re looking for something like that, you should know that HotSpot Shield is a reliable VPN provider. They offer high-speed connections, unlimited bandwidth for paid users, a no-log policy, and military-grade encryption.
Does a VPN Connection Hide All Your Traffic From Your VPN?
Basically, yes. As long as the provider uses top-notch encryption, and knows how to secure their service against IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks, your ISP shouldn’t be able to see what websites you access and what files you download.
At most, they’ll just see:
- The IP address of the VPN server.
- How much data you send and receive from the server.
- How long you stay connected to the server.
Will a VPN Connection Slow Down Your Speeds?
It is possible, though it’s not likely to happen 100% of the time.
Usually, your VPN connection will likely slow down your download and upload speeds by a bit if you’re using a resource-intense protocol with heavy encryption.
For example, OpenVPN can cause some slowdowns, while IKEv2, Catapult Hydra, or SoftEther (which are much more lightweight) will offer smooth and stable speeds.
Connecting to a VPN server that’s too far from you can also reduce your speeds. That’s usually the case when you use a server on a different continent.
Other things that can affect your online speeds include:
- Your firewall
- Your CPU
- The provider’s routing algorithms
- Whether you’re using WiFi or cable
- Your ISP’s connection speeds
Trying to understand VPN connections can be daunting, but things get easier if you think of it this way:
- You run the VPN client, and connect to a server.
- The client encrypts your data, and then sends it to the server.
- The server decrypts the info, and forwards your requests to the web.
- When the server receives the content you want, it encrypts it and sends it back to the client.
- The client decrypts the data for you.
And that’s pretty much how a VPN connection works.