What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It allows you to browse web sites and send and receive email anonymously and secure because it uses something called encryption.
Why should I bother using a VPN for Security?
Browsing web sites and sending and receiving private email are actions which are supposed to be secure from snoops. No one has the right to peek at your private email accounts, including the government of the country where you reside, whether you are a citizen or not.
How does a VPN work?
Suppose that you write a long, 10 page physical letter but you tore off each paragraph and put it in a separate, numbered envelope and mailed it from different parts of the city. When it arrived to your recipient, the envelopes would then be read in numbered order.
Data is not sent over the Internet one message at a time. Each message knows where to go and to return to using a set of addresses called Internet Protocol or IP addresses. Every computer on the Internet has a unique IP address. When you send an email message or a request for website information, the data is broken up into small pieces called packets. These packets can be “intercepted” as they leave your computer and easily ready by anyone with the proper equipment. It is as if you sent an letter in a transparent envelope.
A VPN looks at the IP addresses of the sender and recipient and creates a software “tunnel” directly between them. This tunnel is accomplished by putting a “regular” packet within another packet before it’s transported over the Internet. The outer packet is this tunnel which protects the inner packets from public view and ensures that the packets move securely to their destination. This is called packet encapsulation.
These tunnels are as if the two computers are connected, point-to-point, with a direct cable, a black, opaque cord. It is as if there were no wireless, no Internet nor anything else which can come between the two machines. You can compare VPN software to a child’s tin can telephone, connected by a thin wire or a physical dedicated “tunnel.”
VPN software can be installed on a home computer, a laptop, a mobile phone or a tablet such as Nexus or iPad.
Imagine that before you sent the 10 page physical letter mentioned above, you sent the recipient a code or “key” to unlock the letters of the message that you write. A simple example might be where the letter “a” actually means the number “25″ or “10″ equals “x.” Without the key to unlock the code, the recipient would see only nonsensical and unreadable strings of numbers and letters. This is called encryption, it has been around for two or three thousand years.
A VPN, in a similar but much more sophisticated manner, also encrypts or scrambles the data being sent through a tunnel so that it looks like gibberish to someone who does not have the key to unlock it. The VPN software does the packet encapsulation and the encryption once it is set up properly, the software user does not have to do anything else.
The location of the servers of your VPN provider may be important to you. If you live in a country where websites are blocked by government of that country, you may want to have a VPN server located in another country where those sites are not blocked. At one time, YouTube was blocked to anyone using an IP address which originated in Turkey. By using a VPN located in the UK, the EU or the US, people located in Turkey would then have been able to see YouTube. If you’re concerned about privacy or state-sponsored snooping, you may want to pick a service operated outside of your home country.
The reverse is often true. If you live in Turkey you cannot shop at Google or Apple USA online or watch certain BBC programs in the UK. If you have a VPN provider located in the US or UK, it is as if you are physically located in those countries.
However, if the service is based on the US, they’re subject to US laws, and may be forced to turn over usage data to the authorities upon request.
Warning about VPN Log Files:
Usually a file server administrator keeps a log of every transaction which happens on that server. A VPN server administrator is in a different category and if they keep log files, they cannot guarantee the privacy nor the anonymity of their clients under the threat of the laws of the country in which the server is located.
It is important that if you decide to use a VPN on a regular basis, you find one which does not keep log files; most of them do not. If a VPN provider is then faced with an order from the authorities, they cannot give up data that they do not have.
A security specialist recently wrote, “If you don’t trust your VPN provider 100%, use two VPNs. This way you are tunneling your already encrypted connection through another tunnel.” First, connect to your primary VPN, and when the connection is complete, connect to another without disconnecting the first. Like magic, a tunnel is created through a tunnel.
A Proxy is sometimes confused with a VPN. They are very different. A proxy server is a means of either connecting to the internet in order to mask your Internet identity, it “serves” you the IP address of the country in which their server resides. Proxy servers are usually used if you want to see certain web sites or do Internet shopping from a country in which that information is not allowed or available. Netflix, the Google Store, and certain BBC sites are examples of this. Proxy servers may or may not be much help in in browsing or seeing blocked websites, especially if you are in a heavily censored country.
If you use a proxy, your computer is not secure and can be more easily tracked because the data between the the user and the proxy server is not encrypted thereby allowing your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government, or a hacker with snooping software, to potentially see and access your data. You then run the risk of being accused of accessing a restricted part of the Internet.
VPNBook.com is a free VPN service that is relatively easy to setup and use. It should NOT be used as a primary VPN service. It should only be used occasionally for some website shopping in foreign countries or an occasional browse to blocked web sites. Go to their web site where their home page describes a VPN and why is it used.
You will next need to get the software bundles to use with Free OpenVPN. If you click on one of the country “bundles” it should ask you to download some software.
You will also need to download OpenVPN software from the OpenVPN software site.
After you download the software then read carefully for How to Setup OpenVPN and VPNBook.
Links and References:
The website VPN and Usenet Reviews.com seems to have honest editor reviews and keeps a good comparison table.
The Wikipedia page explaining what is a VPN.
VPN Services That Take Your Anonymity Seriously, 2013 Edition
Why You Need a VPN, or How You Can Benefit from Using One
“Six Strikes” Boosts Demand For BitTorrent VPNs and Proxies
“The launch of the six strikes anti-piracy scheme in the United States has boosted demand for VPN services and BitTorrent proxies. Data from Google reveals a big surge in searches for terms such as “BitTorrent VPN” and “BitTorrent proxy” over the past two weeks. Some VPN providers see the scheme as a clear invasion of privacy and are encouraging people to protect themselves.”
How to Make A VPN Even More Secure
The Wikipedia page explaining a Proxy Server.
What’s The Best VPN / Proxy for BitTorrent?
“StrongVPN, HideMyAss, VyprVPN, and Astrill are typically at the top of the charts on most review sites.“