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VPN vocabulary: all the key terms and jargon explained

VPN jargon and vocabulary
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Virtual private networks - even that trio of words feels like it needs a bit of unpicking. But the weird thing is when it comes to VPN services, that there are lots of mysterious and unfathomable terms for such a relatively simple bit of kit.

So if you're thinking about downloading one, but still can't quite sort your DNS from your Data Canary and aren't entirely sure what the difference between a server and a service is, you've come to the right place.

Below you'll find an alphabetical list of some of the most common but least decipherable VPN-related jargon.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

A symmetric encryption standard that gets used for VPN as well as other applications. It is widely trusted for a variety of applications, and at 256-bit is considered secure enough for government Top Secret communications.

DataCanary

A machine-based learning algorithm for monitoring users’ behaviors online. It is monitoring software typically used in business settings.

Domain Name System (DNS)

A service that translates addresses typed into the address bar of a browser, into the numeric IP address that is used to route traffic across the internet. While the default DNS provider for many users is their ISP, when using a VPN the DNS is provided by the VPN provider.

Eavesdropping Attack

A hacking attempt that steals information that is transmitted over an unencrypted, wireless internet connection, such as a free Wi-Fi connection that does not require any password. It is also known as a sniffing or spoofing attack.

Geo-Spoofing

A process that will allow your computer to change location and appear in another geographic place entirely. This can be used to bypass a geo-restriction, such as content available only in another country. Look for a VPN provider that offers servers in countries that you are interested in if you plan to use this feature.

 IP Leak

An IP leak occurs when the user’s IP address is seen, despite the use of a VPN. This can leave a user vulnerable to a hacking attack.

Kill Switch

A feature that is provided by the VPN provider. It functions to terminate the VPN connection, to avoid any data being exposed if the encrypted tunnel gets disrupted. Thus avoiding an IP leak (see above). This is especially useful for anybody transmitting private information on public Wi-Fis and, frankly, those using VPNs for torrenting things they shouldn't be.

No Logs Policy

This is a policy of the VPN provider that agrees to not keep a record of their user’s activities online. Better VPN services have this policy prominently available on their site and some, like NordVPN, have them audited independently.

OpenVPN 

A popular VPN encryption protocol that supports all the major operating systems, with a high level of security that is considered state of the art. A more thorough explanation can be found in our guide: What is OpenVPN?

Public Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi hotspots, often provided by municipalities, that are designed for anyone to connect to via a radio signal, also known as a wireless connection, or Wi-Fi. In order to facilitate the access, no password is required to establish the connection. As this is unencrypted, users are at particularly high risk to be hacked, and a VPN is important to maintain the security of the data transmitted.

Tunnel

This is an encrypted connection - that is considered secure - between your computer and another network. For example to a VPN or to the darknet.

VPN Client

The device that the user has that connects, via the encrypted tunnel to the VPN Server. The device can include a computer, smartphone, tablet, games console, TV streaming device - even your router.

VPN Server

The server is run by the VPN provider, which in turn connects to the internet. Users use the encrypted tunnel to connect their device to the VPN Server. The world's best VPN - ExpressVPN - has in excess of 3,000 servers.

VPN Service

A service (often a company) that provides VPN servers for its users to make a connection to via an encrypted tunnel.

WireGuard

A next generation VPN encryption protocol, developed for ease of setup, and a smaller code base when compared to older VPN encryption protocols. The benefits include high reliability and faster throughput. 

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