A VPN connection (which stands for Virtual Private Network), gives a user secure (encrypted) and anonymous (redirected) access to a network and thus makes the internet connection more secure. Just as a firewall protects the data on your computer, a VPN protects your data online.
A VPN connection works in the background and therefore does not change anything in the use of the computer or smartphone. All your internet traffic is encrypted so that other parties (such as hackers, governments, internet providers, websites and your employer) can no longer see what you are doing on the internet. In addition, internet traffic is redirected via the VPN server, so that your location is hidden. A VPN connection can be used for various reasons. For example, the use of a VPN is strongly recommended on public WiFi networks . A VPN also allows you to download anonymously .
How does the internet work?
To understand a VPN it is first important to basically understand how the internet works. If you want to visit a website, you make a request via your computer to your router. Your router passes this request on to your internet provider. The internet provider passes this request on to the website that is located on a server somewhere in the world. This server then sends a response to your request via the same route as where the request comes from. This request can be the request to visit a website by entering a web address, or for example a mouse click to navigate to a new page. Everything you do online is basically a series of requests and answers. Think of it as sending and receiving a letter. You write something down and put it in the mailbox. PostNL then ensures that your letter is delivered. The response will be delivered back to you via PostNL. This is how it works on the internet, as it were. A VPN is an extra layer of security and privacy that works as a kind of safe and anonymous tunnel so that nobody can intercept your correspondence.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN works as a secure and anonymous tunnel through which all communication with the internet runs. VPN software on your computer or smartphone wraps every request that you make and puts a lock on it. This lock is almost unbreakable. Your request will then be sent to your VPN server via your router and internet provider. This server unpacks your request and forwards it to the website you visit. The response from the website is sent to the VPN server where the data is packed again. This encrypted response is delivered to your computer or device, where the VPN software unpacks and displays the response. This is basically how a VPN works.
The encryption is of course not a real password with a lock. Using a complex encryption method, your request will be transformed into a kind of illegible sequence of letters and numbers. Because this request also includes where the request comes from and where it is going, that data is also made illegible. This means that no one sitting between you and the VPN server can see where the request comes from, who made the request and where it goes. The only thing they can see is the data from the VPN server. Even the IP address shown and the location where the request comes from are changed to the IP address and the location of the VPN server.
The good thing about this is that everything you do on your computer where the internet is used can be encrypted. Think of e-mail, visiting websites, video games or even streaming online videos. This encryption also ensures that you are completely anonymous on the internet. The only thing others can find out is the data from the VPN server, where nothing can be traced back to you as a user.
How do you use a VPN connection?
To actually connect to a VPN network you must have a VPN subscription. Nowadays there are dozens of VPN providers. To be sure that your privacy is well protected and your internet connection is not slow, it is important to purchase a subscription from a good VPN provider . A good place to start is our overview with VPN reviews .
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The steps to set up a VPN connection as a user are very easy nowadays:
- Take out a VPN subscription with a VPN provider that seems suitable for you.
- Install the VPN software on the device that you use. This can for example be a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
- Then start the VPN software.
- Log in if necessary.
- Turn on the VPN and, if necessary, choose the desired VPN server location . The VPN software usually has a clear button for this. As soon as the VPN is switched on, you will be notified of this in the software.
- You are now secured via VPN . From now on all your internet traffic is encrypted and you can browse, download and email anonymously.
How do VPNs work on your computer?
Above you can read how VPNs work basically and how you can install and use them. However, there is a difference between VPNs on different operating systems. Not every VPN works on every operating system and sometimes the installation process may differ. Below we briefly discuss some details of VPNs per operating system.
Windows is the most used operating system for VPNs. Just about every serious VPN has software for Windows. Windows is therefore often seen as the ‘standard’ from VPNs. When installing a VPN on a Windows computer you may have to give the VPN software permission to make adjustments to your network settings. This is necessary so that the VPN can be set up. The default settings of your network are not always suitable for VPN traffic.
In addition to Windows, MacOS is the most used operating system for desktop PCs and laptops. It is therefore not surprising that most VPNs also work on MacOS. The difference between the operation of VPNs on MacOS and Windows is minimal. Also view our article: Setting up VPN on Mac .
Using a VPN on Linux is another story. Because Linux is reasonably safe in itself, and because Linux users usually have some technical knowledge, most VPNs do not have special VPN software for the Linux operating system. Yet the major VPN providers do offer that you can use their VPN on Linux. The installation of this requires a little more technical knowledge because you have to set things up yourself. For example, you must first create new credentials at the VPN provider. Hereby select the protocol and possibly the country with which you want to connect. You then receive a server, special username and password that you can use to connect to the internet through that VPN server.
How does a VPN work on your tablet or smartphone?
Installing VPNs on tablet and smartphone is fairly simple. Most VPNs are simply available as an app. This means that you can download the VPN from the app store. You then only have to enter your account details if you have started the VPN and you should be able to use it. The VPN app does, however, request permission to make adjustments to your network settings. This is necessary to get the VPN connection working on your smartphone. On Android, iOS and Windows, the VPN will also protect you if you use other apps that need the internet. This way they protect all your mobile data online. A VPN also provides greatly improved security if you connect to unprotected or public WiFi networks. Because you will connect to this type of network more often on your smartphone and tablet than on your desktop PC, a VPN on tablet or smartphone is not a superfluous luxury.
How does a VPN work on your router?
VPN providers have set a limit on how many devices you can use a VPN at the same time. If you want to bypass this, or if you conveniently want to have all devices in your house connected via VPN, you can choose to install a VPN on your router. You then no longer need to install the VPN individually on each device. Every device that uses your router will be secured.
Installing a VPN on your router is more difficult than on most other devices. You must have a special router or ‘flash’ your router. This means adjusting the firmware of your router so that you can install a VPN on it. How this works exactly can be found here: Set up VPN on your router . It is also possible to buy a router that has been flashed before. You then only have to install the VPN on these pre-flashed routers.
VPN and security: how do VPN protocols work?
Most VPNs give the option to choose from different security protocols . These protocols all have their own advantages and disadvantages. This is often a technical story in which one protocol allows a certain application and the other does not. Most VPN users can work with OpenVPN. This is an open-source VPN protocol that uses various encryption algorithms. This protocol therefore has few safety problems. Below you can read a short summary of some other common VPN protocols and how they work.
VPN security protocols
Many different security protocols have been developed for VPNs, each with different levels of security and functions. The most common are:
IP security (IPSec):
IPSec is often used to secure internet communication and has two versions (modes). Transport mode only encrypts the data package itself while the Tunneling mode encrypts the entire data package. This protocol can also be used in combination with other protocols to jointly increase the safety level.
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) / IPsec:
The L2TP and IPsec protocols combine their best individual features to create a highly secure VPN connection. Since L2TP cannot encode, it generates the tunnel and the IPSec protocol is used for encoding.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS):
SSL and TLS are widely used in the security of online retailers and service providers. These protocols work by means of a handshake method. IBM explains: “ An HTTP-SSL connection is always initiated by the customer via a URL starting with https: // instead of http: //. At the start of an SSL session, an SSL handshake was performed.This handshake produces the cryptographic parameters of the session. ”These parameters, usually digital certificates, are the means by which the two systems exchange encryption keys, authorize the session and create the secure connection.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP):
PPTP is a very widely used VPN protocol and can be installed on a huge variety of operating systems. Just like L2TP, PPTP itself does not encrypt data, but it creates a tunnel and encapsulates the data package. A second protocol (eg TCP or GRE) is used for the coding. PPTP has been overshadowed by newer methods; the protocol remains strong, but is no longer the safest.
Secure Shell (SSH):
SSH establishes the VPN tunnel and takes care of the encryption. The data itself is not encrypted, but the channel is. SSH connections are made by an SSH client, which forwards the traffic from a local port to a remote server. All data between the two sides of the tunnel flows through these specified ports.
To actually use the VPN tunnel, the local machine must run a VPN client (program). Open-VPN is a popular (and free) multi-platform application, but most good VPN providers provide their own software.
What is a good VPN provider?
The choice of a VPN provider can be difficult. The number of providers you can choose from is increasing almost daily. Unfortunately there is a lot of “junk” between the available providers and it is sometimes difficult to make a good distinction between good providers and bad VPN providers.
A good VPN provider must meet various conditions. First of all, the provider must have a good server network . The server network must be spread over different countries, because each country has its own advantages and disadvantages. In addition, the servers themselves must be fast and their connection to the rest of the internet must be fast.
In addition, the provider must guarantee proper handling of your data. As few logs as possible must be kept and the best protocols (such as OpenVPN) must be available. This is a major problem for many providers. It can also be difficult for consumers to carefully determine which providers handle their privacy best.
We have tested an extensive selection of VPN providers and have listed the 5 best choices: