The second type of VPN is the consumer VPN, which is the variety that most folks think of these days when the term VPN is mentioned. With a consumer VPN, the user is connected to the private network via an encrypted tunnel, which is known as a VPN tunnel. The data transferred via the tunnel is encrypted to keep it private and prevent it from being intercepted.
With the user transmitting encrypted data to the VPN server via the virtual connection, which then hooks up with the worldwide web, it keeps the user’s activities more anonymous and secure. The ISP cannot see the data transferred, but only that the user is connected to a private server.
Consumer VPNs have many uses contributing to their current popularity. Some common uses include:
- Anonymity from ISP tracking
- Greater security while using public Wi-Fi hotspots
- Obtaining access to geo-blocked websites
- Getting around country-specific internet censorship
Methods of setting up a VPN for a home user include at the level of the computer, or at the router. Setting up a VPN individually on a PC offers the advantage of simplicity, and it is easier to try out a new service without committing fully to it. While desktops and laptops can be configured this way, and even Android and iOS phones, not all devices – like smart TVs or media boxes – will have the capability to connect to a VPN service.
On the other hand, having the VPN at router level offers the advantage of having the whole network on the VPN without individually configuring each device, meaning that the aforementioned devices like smart TVs will be covered.
A crucial component for a VPN is the tunnel that connects the user to the VPN server, which is the key to keeping the data private. At this point, remember that to send and receive data over the internet requires it to be divided up into packets. To keep each data packet secure, it gets wrapped in an outer packet which is encrypted through a process known as encapsulation. This outer packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and forms the basis of the VPN tunnel. Upon arrival at the VPN server, the outer packet is removed, to access the data of the inner packet, and this requires a decryption process.
A VPN connection is generally speaking slower than a non-VPN connection. This is due to three factors:
- The encryption process
- The transmission to the VPN server which is geographically further away, often in another country
- The decryption process
Given the multiple steps in this whole process, you might well ask: how do you know if the VPN is working? And is your location really being kept private and hidden? Thankfully, we do not have to rely on a leap of faith here, and the anonymity can be easily checked with an IP leak test.
This simple test is conducted via a web browser, and allows you to see if your local IP address or your public IP address gets displayed – hopefully it won’t. With the VPN functioning correctly, these addresses will be hidden and not displayed, and the leak test will confirm that privacy is being maintained.
VPN is a technology with plenty of useful applications, as well as limitations. With an understanding of how a VPN achieves privacy via the tunnelling process, users can successfully leverage the tool to good use, thereby enhancing their internet experience.
For users who value their anonymity and security online, it is well worth choosing, configuring and maintaining a good VPN service (there are even quality free services) to keep internet traffic encrypted and safe.