The worldwide VPN market is expected to more than double between 2016 and 2022. More and more people are turning to a VPN to keep their internet communications secure.
That’s not the only reason to use a VPN though. Let’s look at what they can do for you and how to choose from the different VPN protocols.
What Is a VPN?
VPN is short for virtual private network. A VPN is a secure connection, or tunnel, between you and another server somewhere on the internet. Everything you send and receive gets encrypted from end-to-end so nobody can intercept and read it.
If you use public wifi networks at your local coffee shop, library, or anywhere else, everything you send can be intercepted by someone nearby. If the data isn’t encrypted, they can read everything you send including passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.
What a VPN Will Do for You
Once you’re connected to a VPN, everything you send and receive gets encrypted before it leaves and unencrypted after it reaches your computer. If someone is running a “sniffing” tool to intercept your data, all they’ll see is a bunch of meaningless characters.
There’s more to a VPN than security though. When you’re connected to a VPN, your computer or other device sends the details of what you want to the server at the other end and that server makes the connection to the website, video service, or other internet location.
As far as the end target is concerned, the request came from the server, not from you. This helps with several things.
Since the VPN masks your IP address and location, it helps to keep you anonymous when surfing the web or doing anything else online. This not only helps minimize tracking and other annoyances, but it can also help protect you from more serious threats in some parts of the world.
Along those same lines, a VPN can help protect you from spying by both governments and your internet service provider (ISP). Some ISPs monitor everything their customers do online and either sell that information to advertisers or pass it along to governments.
When you connect through a VPN, they can’t do anything with your data even if they do intercept it because it’s encrypted.
Bypass Region Locks
Some content on the internet, especially video services like YouTube and Netflix, have restrictions on what countries can watch certain videos. In some cases, they may block access to certain countries altogether.
Because everything looks like it’s coming from the VPN server and not your computer, a VPN connection can help you get around these limits. Connect to a server in the country you want to mimic (most VPN providers offer a range of options) and you’ll be able to watch to your heart’s content.
Find the Best Deals
Online shopping prices are another thing that can vary from one location to another. For example, airlines often show different prices based on where they think you’re located. You could check the price of a flight where you are and have a friend check it from halfway across the country and see two very different prices.
Similar to avoiding region locks, a VPN will let you “relocate” yourself to a location that sees the best deals.
What’s the Difference Between VPN Protocols?
There are 5 common protocols for VPN connections. They each have pros and cons and some are more widely compatible than others but they all protect you to one degree or another.
OpenVPN is one of the most secure types of VPN. It’s open-source, which means the source code is available for anyone to review. It’s easy for software developers to review the code and make sure everything is on the up-and-up.
A VPN has three components to making a secure connection – a hashing algorithm, VPN authentication, and VPN encryption. OpenVPN supports AES–256 bit encryption, 2048-bit RSA authentication, and has a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm.
All of which is a fancy way of saying it’s pretty darned secure.
L2TP, or Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, is the successor to PPTP, an older protocol we’ll cover in a moment. L2TP is the tunneling portion of this type of VPN connection but it doesn’t provide encryption and authentication. The IPSec protocol adds those two pieces so it all works together.
L2TP/IPSec VPNs also offer a high degree of security and while it’s not open source and free viewable to anyone, there are no known vulnerabilities in its security.
SSTP, or secure socket tunneling protocol, is a proprietary Microsoft VPN protocol. It has been implemented in all versions of Windows going back to Windows Vista Service Pack 1. This means it’s supported natively by the operating system and doesn’t need a lot of extra software to make it work.
SSTP is another very secure protocol, offering 2048-bit SSL/TLS authentication and 256-bit SSL encryption.
IKEv2, or internet key exchange version 2, is another protocol that is only used for the tunneling portion of a VPN connection. Like L2TP, it’s usually paired with IPSec to add the encryption and authentication components.
IKEv2 is less widely supported than the other protocols in this list. It’s mostly used on Windows, iOS (iPhone/iPad), and Blackberry devices.
PPTP, or point-to-point tunneling protocol, is one of the oldest VPN protocols. It was originally introduced in 1995 with Windows 95. It helped millions of Windows 95 users get connected to the internet for the first time but it has since been all but replaced by SSTP or one of the other protocols in this list.
PPTP’s only advantage is its speed. Because its encryption and authentication standards aren’t as secure, it can connect and transfer data faster. Hackers (and governments) compromised it many years ago though, so it’s far from secure.
Stay Safe out There
With so much of our lives taking place online, there’s a lot of private and sensitive information going back-and-forth across the web. Using one of these VPN protocols will help keep you safe.
But even if you’re not worried about your information getting intercepted, the other advantages of a VPN make it worth checking out.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out the rest of our blog for more interesting posts.