More and more often we talk online about VPN services and more and more frequently users wishing to protect their online privacy choose these tools. Is it a passing fad or are the VPNs here to stay? We also asked ourselves, while we try to explain in a simple and understandable way what they are and what they need before, and how to choose the best solution for you.
VPN: how do they work?
The name stands for Virtual Private Network. It is a private and logical network, established between subjects through a public network. A typical example of a private network is the wired LAN often present in companies and institutions, this network is a physical local network where all the components of the network are close and physically connected to each other.
A virtual private network (VPN) is something very similar but where the components of the network are physically distant from each other (sometimes even continents) and communicate with each other through a common protocol (encrypted) through the public network (Internet).
VPNs are widely used across the enterprise because they allow employees remote access to data on company servers and those on the internal network. Individuals instead usually use VPNs to surf anonymously and more securely.
Pros and Cons of using a VPN
It’s really difficult to enumerate all the Pro of a VPN, so we will focus on the Cons, especially on those that affect private users. Obviously if you are a business user we advise you to pay close attention to the Cons, to better understand some of the risks of this technology, and pay attention to possible critical issues.
Pros: security (for the private)
We often surf and distribute our data around the network, a VPN should completely encrypt your network traffic before transmitting it securely over the Internet. This is why companies often use VPNs to allow their employees access to company data.
With a VPN, two people can connect and communicate remotely as if they were in the same building.
Use of a VPN is recommended if we often connect to unsecure networks such as public WiFi hotspots, where data exchanged with non-https sites is pretty much clear. Often it is with the smartphone that you connect more often to public networks and not secure.
Pros: avoid regional blocks and restrictions
This is why VPNs are most often used. Since VPNs route your traffic through a network, it will obviously seem that all the components of the private network are connected to the Internet from the same place, which will usually be very different from your location.
It is therefore the simplest solution to circumvent geographical restrictions, some sites like Netflix have always limited access to some markets, and many users have bypassed the block. Obviously Netflix has noticed the phenomenon and now aggressively blocks access to customers who use VPN.
Some private VPNs (like NordVPN ) are still very effective in getting around blocks and they work great even with Netflix.
Recently, the Chinese government has also tried to block and regulate VPNs as they were the preferred way for the citizens of the Asian giant to evade the censorship imposed by the government.
Pro: download anonymously
The torrents have become a favorite tool by users for exchanging files. Not all torrents are pirated, but unfortunately many users use this tool improperly. For example, Canonical offers the official version of Ubuntu also through torrents. Several ISPs (Internet service providers, otherwise known as Providers), despite torrents, can also be used in a legal way without harming anyone’s rights, filtering traffic and limiting service to those who use them.
For this reason, several users prefer to use torrents with VPN services, so that the ISP can not control the nature of the data exchanged and the IP of those who download. Of course, we strongly advise against using VPNs for illegal downloads as governments can request certain VPNs (under their jurisdiction) your true IP address.
Pros: easy exchange of files between PCs on the network
Being similar to a local network architecture, a VPN behaves exactly the same way. So each client connected, has access to the data on the local network as if it were in the same building. This is very important for companies, especially multinationals, which can thus safely provide access to data sensitive to distant employees.
Now that our quick overview of the VPN Pro has ended, let’s move on to the Cons,
We all appreciate VPNs because they encrypt all our traffic, which is also their weakness. A higher level of encoding generally implies a greater use of hardware resources and therefore generally greater waiting times for sending and receiving information. All of this inevitably slows down the connection, so much of the VPNs are quite slow.
I say the majority because there are some pay-as-you-go VPNs that are an exception and can even guarantee greater speed, usually using servers in our country. This happens because the routing of some of our operators (ISP) is particularly painful, and is completely replaced by the routing offered by the chosen VPN.
Cons: complexity of the network
The more serious a VPN service is, the more often the network it is based on is complex. This is usually done with the intent of ensuring a more robust and attack-resistant network. Unfortunately, however, greater complexity is not always an advantage, as it makes all the nodes that your data pass through more opaque and less transparent.
Cons: security (for the company)
This section deals with the concerns of large companies, which they consider comfortable using VPNs as we explained above, but then have to deal with a client infrastructure (ie, connected terminals) that are not all concentrated in one location and therefore can be hardly controlled.
Security problems increase as the number of connected clients increases, as the device from which the employee connects could be used improperly or be infected and compromise the entire network.
How to choose a VPN?
Considering the Pros and Cons that we have exposed to you, there are a couple of other information to know before choosing the service that really suits you.
The information collected by the services
They are one of the most critical points of this topic, obviously your activities will leave traces on the servers of the service of your choice, when it comes to traces only.
It is often the VPN service that spy on you to resell your data to third parties (typical profiling, usually). For example, most of the free VPNs unfortunately identifies its users through their original IP address (which remains stored on their servers), understand well that this is a serious risk for your security since your IP can be traced back to your identity.
Every serious VPN service usually communicates how you manage your sensitive information, the best (usually unfortunately paid) are keen to point out that they do not collect and store any information about their customers.
Available servers and their location
A large number of servers usually increase the likelihood that the service will offer someone near your location. A server near your location, perhaps in our country, will allow us to have higher connection speeds and a lower latency. A large number of servers also offer more possibilities to bypass regional blocks and filters.
There are several protocols that these services use to encrypt the traffic exchanged, they are imported because if the servers do not keep logs, the attack to find out what you are doing on the network can only be brought to the connection between you and the server of the service. The most used protocols are: PPTP, Open VPN, IKEv2, and SSTP. If you are a user with special security needs, we suggest you choose the services that offer an Open VPN connection, and maybe even double the 256bit data encryption.
Now that we have discussed most aspects of the issue, you have the tools to consciously choose the tool that best suits you.
Always taking into account that the free VPNs are comfortable but must have a source of funding and that this money could come to it just by selling customer data to third parties (profiling). So our advice is if you have to use the VPN for more complex tasks to circumvent a simple territorial block seriously consider to rely on a referenced service.
Which VPN can we recommend?
To be completely safe, usually unfortunately free VPNs are not the best. It is not uncommon for them to use obsolete security protocols and to collect logs from their users’ sessions, sometimes even to resell them.