In order to find the best variety of a technology-related product, you’ll need to have a healthy degree of familiarity with its working principle, so you’re able to identify how well each market offering adheres to that principle (and expands upon it). This holds true for VPNs as well.
If this is your first time shopping for a VPN gateway software – the questions you need to ask should be along the lines of ‘what is VPN software?’; ‘what does VPN mean?’; ‘what does VPN stand for’ and so on and so forth.
Fortunately, you’ll find answers to these and other questions in this write-up, and ultimately, you’ll be much more prepared for making the right choice of VPN connection from the plethora of paid (and free) products available in the market.
What is VPN and how does it work?
A VPN (or Virtual Private Network), is, as implied by its name, a private network into which users can log in and communicate over an unsecured public network (i.e. the internet) in a secure fashion. They utilize a concept known as ‘tunneling’ to establish network paths that are inaccessible (and in most cases invisible) to anyone but the service provider and the user’s computer.
Similar to how a firewall guards the data inside your computer, a proxy VPN setup safeguards your communications over the internet. Strictly speaking, VPNs are a sub-class of Wide Area Networks (WAN), but in this case, they’ve got special VPN clients that are designed to maintain an illusion that you’re still using the over-arching public network.
Large organizations have been utilizing VPN routers and software to secure their data transfers and communication between decentralized locations for years. More recently, there has been a surge in their popularity among ordinary internet users as well: they use it to privatize their activities on P2P networks (e.g. torrent downloads), to prevent themselves from being scrutinized under invasive internet monitoring laws, to circumvent geographical restrictions – basically to enable themselves to do any online activity that involves the concealing or spoofing of their identity.
Modern products have become so sophisticated that you can setup VPNs (mainstream, commercially available ones) in a matter of minutes – just like you’d install any other software on your computing device!
Features of modern VPN solutions
Now that you’ve got a fundamental understanding of how a VPN setup works, it’s time to have look at some of the core features to look out for in present day VPNs:
Multiple server end-points:
All premium VPN services in the market these days will have dozens (if not hundreds) of server locations you can choose from – spread out all over the globe. Besides helping the service provider in efficiently managing their user loads, it also enables the users to bypass geographic restrictions such as those imposed by Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
The following two encryption standards are prevalent in the industry these days:
This protocol is known for providing the best kind of concealment for your online activity, but is a tiny bit slower than its competitor.
This protocol has the advantage of being more adoptive in terms of device support – you’ll find many a VPN for iPad as well as several Android VPNs using this technology for their clients, due to this very reason.
Note that there are other protocols in the market as well e.g. vanilla L2TP (without any encryption), PPTP (aging) and SSTP (proprietary Microsoft). You should avoid software running these since they won’t offer the same kind of performance or protection as the two mainstream standards discussed above.
Today’s providers market their VPN solutions as supporting all popular device platforms. This means that besides Windows and Macintosh operating systems, you’ll find premium VPN solutions with native apps for iOS, Android and Linux systems.
In fact, VPNs have become so popular that providers are rolling out dedicated solutions for smart devices e.g. Apple TV VPNs, Samsung SmartTV VPNs etc. Multi-platform support for VPNs has permeated to the degree that you’ll find that the best VPN for iPhone will also double up perfectly as a VPN on Apple TV – ExpressVPN is a service that is a fine example of this.
Any decent present day VPN will have an option for unlimited bandwidth – perfect for those who plan to stream HD quality videos and download large files over their torrent client. Obviously, this will be expensive: normally, those who are on a stricter budget will find less costly (but more bandwidth-restrictive) subscription options as well.
Hopefully, you’ll now be more educated about VPNs, so you can get past newbie queries such as ‘what is VPN connection’, and start asking the real questions in the market. With the governments of the world coming up with innovative (and frankly alarming) methods of dissecting the online lives of their citizens, VPNs are quickly becoming a necessity from a novelty, for the average internet user.
Essentially, whether it’s a VPN on iPhone you need or a simple Windows based solution you’re looking for, your decision will be based on how well the candidate software is able to perform its core functions – and picking the right one is only possible if you are clear on how VPNs operate.