How does a VPN work?

I am pretty sure that everyone knows that VPN stands for Virtual Private Network but do you know what happens behind the scenes, how does it work or how can we access blocked websites or content, by using a VPN? Well, hop into this journey to find it out.

VPN helps us by adding in an extra security layer to the data you send across the internet while browsing. Wait a minute, data? What data are we talking about?

When you enter the name of a website in the URL box, for example, ‘instagram.com’, and press enter, you are giving a request to the server owned by your ISP(Internet Service Provider) to fetch the website. The ISP then requests an Instagram server to pass on the website, which it passes onto you.

By the way, the ISP is the guy who provides you a network connection.

The request you pass onto the ISP will contain:

  • IP Address of the website.
  • IP Address of your device.
  • Maybe the IP Address of other devices connected to the same.
  • Cookies contain information about you on the website.
  • The data you have inputted into a form/field on a web page.

What is interesting is the fact that the ISP stores the logs of the requests on their server. Also, when the government demands them to provide the logs, they will have to pass on those logs. This seems scary, doesn’t it? But that’s not all.

Not using a VPN is similar to screaming something to your neighbor, except he is in the other building. People around you can choose to ignore what you say or take the extra effort to listen to you.

Public free Wi-Fi networks will instantly become a nightmare for you. How? Hackers who are connected to the same public Wi-Fi network can tap into the requests you send and get hold of your transmitted data. Also usually those public free Wi-Fi networks will have poor security protocols because why do they have to care?

The other scary thing is that the government can use the IP Address of your computer to find your location. They can gain this through the logs stored in the ISP’s server.

Also, there is this fun fact that the ISP server can choose whether or not to accept or decline the request you make. This is how you get blocked from certain websites. The requested website is checked with a blacklist. If the website requested is contained in the blacklist, the ISP server never fetches the requested website thus having nothing to show you other than the “you are blocked” message.

Websites that use an HTTPS protocol for communication might help you lean towards the safer side as it encrypts the request you send making it harder for hackers to tap into.

Instead of sending your request to the ISP’s servers, a VPN service will create a safe tunnel to their private server and make sure the requests only travel through it. Another plus point is the fact that it encrypts the requests before it starts to propagate. Also, instead of using the computer’s IP address, the VPN service will replace it with the local IP address of its private server

This makes it much harder for hackers to hack into your requests when you are connected to a public wi-fi network. Also, the Government can’t trace your location. They can go as far as getting the address of the VPN server but nothing further.

You also have the flexibility to choose which of their servers can accept your requests. VPN services usually have their servers in different locations of the world. Also, you can gain access to all the blocked websites/content as these VPN servers don’t have any sort of blacklists.

Trusted VPNs like NordVPN, ProtonVPN and others lets you prevent them from storing the logs of your activities. This is often called the no-log policy. This way you can have a much more private and secure internet experience. It is advisable to check the privacy policies and features of each VPN service, manually, before buying them.

There goes a popular saying, “If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product”. Free VPN services will try to earn their money, some way or the other, mostly by selling your data to others.

Why? Because running a server cannot be done for free! Also if they want to sustain as a company, they need to make profits. Like I said before, it is pretty advisable that you read their privacy policies and other documents before you rush to press the “Agree and Continue” button.

In short, VPNs work by rerouting your encrypted requests to their servers. Choosing a paid VPN will allow you to enjoy all the benefits, while the free ones will come with some compromise. Some of the best-paid VPN services are NordVPN, ProtonVPN, SurfShark, and ExpressVPN.

Privacy is a myth in today’s era. But fortunately, we have tools that can increase our privacy to certain limits. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how much the world should know about you. Stay home, stay safe. Cheerio!

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I don't think you must follow this guy

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