What is a VPN? Are VPNs Safe to Use?

If you use the internet regularly, it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard about VPN. Chances are you use VPN already, or maybe you heard the term but couldn’t understand its true potential.

As you have guessed, today I’m talking about VPNs. Being a broad topic, we hardly see anyone talking about its basics. Worry not, we got you covered. Let’s talk about VPN from the core and understand together what it is, how it works, and why it is so important to internet users.

What is VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. The term might sound easier to understand now. Basically, what it does is establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated circuits or with tunneling protocols over existing networks.

In easier words, VPN establishes a protected network connection when using public networks. VPN encrypts your internet traffic and hides your IP address meaning your online identity.

How does VPN work?

You know how the internet works, right? It’s basically sending data back and forth between your device and the webserver. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see the data being produced by your activity. Even interceptors can hop in on the data as well with the proper technology.

When you use a VPN, it encrypts your data before leaving your device and sends it to the VPN’s data servers before reaching the other side meaning the internet. As the data is being encoded and scrambled, outsiders including ISPs and sneaky interceptors can’t look up into it.

When you use a VPN, its server becomes the origin of your location. That means, a VPN actually hides your location and IP and keeps you anonymous around the internet.

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Why is VPN important?

When using a VPN, your data is encrypted. Your all activity is hidden from your internet service provider. This way VPN provides you safety for important personal information such as your IP address.

The free public WiFi hotspots we see can intercept your data using WiFi packet sniffers. A VPN works like a man in the middle. Your information is encrypted even when connecting to these kinds of networks.

Security and privacy are the two most concerning terms nowadays for an internet user. VPN works on just that, making your personal information hard to decipher no matter who the sneaky party is. 

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When VPN is used?

We already talked about the importance of VPN. But what I can use VPN for – you may ask. There are plenty of reasons for your concerns. Let’s talk about them one by one.

Media, especially online media, is being more influential than ever in every corner of the world. It’s fairly understandable if streaming any audio or video seems unavailable to you. This happens because of the regional rules and regulations these streaming services have to follow. Also, sometimes some artists release their works only on certain demographics. All your streaming-related issues can be solved at once just by using a VPN.

VPN lets you undo geographic restrictions on any website. The same applies to streaming audio and video as well. Now you know that it’s no problem for you to stream your favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu, and so on regardless of your demographic.

Free wireless connections are not the safest way to connect to the web. You can protect yourself from snooping on untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots.

Though it might seem impossible, you can at least gain some anonymity online by hiding your true location.

If the torrent is your daily jam, then VPN can be used in order to protect yourself from being logged while torrenting. Basically, a VPN saves your identity across the internet. 

Can VPN change your location?

The answer to this question is both – YES and NO. Yes, VPN can basically let you access any websites mimicking the VPN server’s address as your own. The answer is NO regarding VPN changing your location because it just changes your location virtually.

When connected to a VPN, your location changes as your traffic travels through a server in another location according to the VPN server. Anyone with an IP lookup tool can easily check out your location and more just by using your IP address.

Is a VPN safe to use?

A VPN is used to make your internet experience safer, right? But there is a catch. How can you believe a VPN provider, when you’re not doing the same for a website? That’s a concern worth raising.

Luckily, it is not as complex to understand as it seems. There are countless VPN solutions out there. There are free ones and paid ones. It’s kind of hard to justify a free VPN service. You need a VPN anyway, so you better find a paid alternative just to be an extra step secure regarding the question we raise.

A paid service always has liability as you pay for the service. Paid VPN services get paid in exchange for the service they provide. This way, their service is built around providing you the best and safest experience possible.

But a free VPN is a tricky choice. Research by the ICSI Networking and Security Group found that 38% of the 283 Android VPNs studied contained some form of malware presence. Safety is not guaranteed with free VPN tools we can say. 

The same ICSI research found that 72% of the free VPN services analyzed include third-party tracking tools in their software, enabling VPN service providers to collect user information. They sell it for a profit to the highest bidders allowing advertisers to target free VPN users with ads.

In a world of countless free and paid VPNs, we can really determine to say that free a VPN can cause more trouble than providing safety and security.

Can VPN be traced?

We have discussed VPNs to be invincible, right? Sadly it isn’t. Have you been wondering “can VPN be traced?”? The answer is “yes”, VPN can be tracked if not configured properly. 

Free VPNs are also greatly known for not providing proper services. Even VPNs can cause leaking IP addresses through DNS leaks. Many free VPNs sell your data to third parties. It’s a big NO as well.

Are VPNs legal or illegal?

VPN sounds like fun and geeky stuff. The question of being legal is still there. It’s fairly easy to answer the question anyway.

Yes, it is legal to just use VPN. But some countries banned it anyway. It is better to check out your country’s regulations before using any.

There is a big BUT included here as well. It is not illegal to cover your tracks and activities using a VPN. But if you are torrenting copyrighted material, it is illegal. That means you can’t use VPN to do stuff like torrenting copyrighted material.

Does VPN slow down my internet speed?

This is the most asked query about VPNs. A VPN can slow down your internet speed, but not that much. VPN slightly slows down the internet speed. It’s more likely to have more latency while using a free VPN. On the other hand, premium options are there providing more stable performance without screwing up the internet speed. 

There are certain factors that affect internet speed while using a VPN. For example – the server of VPN you’re connecting to matters the most. If you connect to a near region you’re living in, you will get better speed optimization. 

You get slower speed while connecting to a distant place from yours. More factors like server load, encryption quality, ISP-provided internet speed, etc. affect your internet speed while using VPN.

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Why is the VPN not working?

There are several causes that can occur in your VPN not to connect. If you can’t connect to a VPN, check your internet connection first as it might be broken or slowed down way too much.

Server load can provoke your VPN not to connect. In that case, you can switch to a different server location. Trying a different server or location can easily fix this problem.

If you’re using VPN through software, make sure it’s up to date. Also, you can try restarting the app or the browser you’re using the VPN extension with. Changing VPN tunneling protocols should be the fix if the mentioned ways don’t work.

Can VPN increase internet speed?

We’ve said that VPN slows down the internet speed. It can increase internet speed given certain situations.

Take this as an example. If you’re trying to access a website that has a server located in India and you’re using the internet from North America, then connecting to a VPN, location set to India can easily reduce the server latency. This way, you can increase internet speed using VPN.

Can VPN be hacked?

Nothing is hack-proof. VPN is no exception. But it’s hard to hack a VPN. VPN secures online privacy by encrypting your data and using private DNS servers. But given enough time, funds, and resources, VPN is no exception from a hackable system.

VPN can be hacked either by stealing the encryption key or breaking the encryption system of the VPN network. Breaking the encryption system of a VPN is comparatively a harder task. Hackers mostly steal the security key of the encryption process of a VPN network, via brute-force attack or dictionary attack. There are other advanced methods to guess the encryption key as well. 

Which VPN protocol is the best?

There are multiple VPN protocols. Let’s talk about them one by one, and find out together which one is the best VPN protocol and which one is the worst.

  • PPTP: Designed by Microsoft, the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is an older method of VPN encryption. PPTP, using TCP port 1723 and General Routing Encapsulation, enables the encrypted tunnel between the PC and VPN server. It’s tough to recommend it to modern users as it is fairly a dated one.
  • L2TP: Layer Two Tunneling Protocol is basically an extension of PPTP. It was designed by Cisco. L2TP requires more overhead for the more complicated 256-bit encryption and double encapsulation. It is difficult to configure as well. It is recommended to be safe, although NSA leaks suggested that L2TP is vulnerable to attacks when the encryption is using pre-shared keys.
  • SSTP: Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (MS-SSTP) is the other name of SSTP as it is designed by Microsoft. It is much modern than previously mentioned protocols. This protocol was designed for remote client access and does not generally support site-to-site VPN tunnels.
  • OpenVPN TCP: Created by the legend, James Yonan, OpenVPN is a popular security protocol that is open source as well. TCP is the most used connection protocol on the internet. OpenVPN TCP is an ideal protocol for higher security if latency is not a concern.
  • OpenVPN UDP: Based on a low-latency data transmission model, OpenVPN UDP is an alternative version of OpenVPN TCP. It is suitable for media and gaming as it provides a low-latency performance model.
  • WireGuard: As of being an upcoming VPN protocol, WireGuard is being tested by names like ExpressVPN and NordVPN to determine whether it’s a better open-source solution of VPN protocol.

Is VPN worth it?

Given the fact of you are a security-concerned individual, VPN is a must to have gear while surfing around the internet. You can use a free VPN anyway. But as we’ve discussed above, those make you vulnerable instead of increasing your web safety. If safety on the internet is your first priority and you won’t mind spending a few bucks on that, then you should definitely get a premium VPN today.

How much does VPN cost?

There are countless VPN providers out there, as we’ve discussed already. Let’s have a look at some of the best of them and their pricing models.

VPN ProviderServer CountSimultaneous ConnectionsMonthly PlanAnnual Plan
ExpressVPN3,000+5$12.95$99.95
NordVPN5,5026$11.95$4.92/month
Surfshark VPN3,200+Unlimited$12.95$6.49/month
CyberGhost VPN6,800+7$12.99$3.99/month

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links and we may receive a small commission if you purchase something by following them. However, we recommend services/products that we believe good to serve your purpose.

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Jack Oliver
Jack is a content specialist at Techfring. He is a full-time writer, occasional photographer, seasonal traveler, and a food-lover. When he's not writing, probably he is cooking.
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