What is VPN? Understanding How VPN Works and Different Types

A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that allows users to securely access the internet and share data privately. VPNs encrypt internet traffic and disguise identities online by masking IP addresses.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a service that creates a secure, encrypted connection over a less-secure network, like the internet. It protects your privacy and anonymity online.

VPNs allow you to surf the web privately, access restricted content, safely connect to public Wi-Fi, and share data securely through tunneling protocols. By routing your internet traffic through an encrypted VPN server, a VPN keeps your browsing history, data, and true location private.

VPN Purpose

The main purpose of a VPN is to encrypt your internet data and connection while obscuring your real identity. VPN services replace your IP address with one from their servers, masking your physical location. They also encrypt data traffic between your device and the VPN server using secure tunneling protocols.

This prevents hackers, your internet service provider (ISP), and untrustworthy Wi-Fi networks from viewing your browsing history and online activities. VPN establishes an encrypted virtual tunnel, hiding your true location and usage from prying eyes.

How VPN Technology Works

VPNs use a combination of protocols to establish secure connections, hide IP addresses, encrypt data, and tunnel online traffic through intermediary servers. Here’s an overview of how VPNs work on a technical level:

Hiding Your Real IP Address

One of the core functions of a VPN is masking your real public IP address with one provided by the VPN server. This hides your actual location and identity, providing anonymity online.

Your device connects directly to a VPN server, which assigns you a virtual IP address from its own IP range. All your internet traffic then gets relayed through the remote server.

This makes it appear like you are browsing from the VPN server’s location instead of your true physical location. This allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and censorship.

Encrypting Internet Traffic

VPNs use advanced data encryption protocols to scramble your internet traffic into indecipherable code as it travels between your device and the VPN server.

Some examples are OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP, IKEv2, WireGuard® protocol. The encryption happens through a securely generated virtual tunnel.

Even if hackers intercept the encrypted data packets, they can’t decipher their contents. The receiving VPN server then decrypts the data so it arrives safely at the destination website.

Anonymizing Online Identity

By hiding your IP address and encrypting traffic, the VPN shields who you are, where you’re accessing the internet from, and what you’re doing online.

Your internet service provider, network administrators, government agencies, and advertisers are unable to trace your usage or tie your browsing history back to you.

You can browse, communicate, and access content with complete anonymity. VPN technology guarantees online privacy by creating a private, untraceable internet connection.

Benefits of Using a VPN Connection

There are many important benefits VPN provides internet users beyond just the core security and privacy features:

  • Securely access public Wi-Fi – Using hotel, airport or cafe Wi-Fi without a VPN exposes you to data theft. VPN encryption protects you.
  • Bypass censorship – VPN allows you to bypass government censorship and access content blocked in your country.
  • Enhanced online protection – VPN encryption shields you from cyberattacks on public networks.
  • Hide torrenting activity – VPN masks your IP address to keep your P2P and torrent transfers private.
  • Access region-restricted content – VPN lets you spoof your location to access streaming content and websites blocked in your area.
  • Protect data on travel – Business travelers can safely access internal systems and networks abroad through VPN.
  • Avoid price discrimination – VPN prevents websites and airlines from hiking prices based on your location.

Setting Up a VPN Connection

There are a few common methods to set up and start using a VPN connection:

VPN Apps and Client Programs

VPNs usually provide custom apps and client software like NordVPN, TunnelBear, Cyberghost, etc. to set up connections easily on devices. These clients have user-friendly interfaces to select locations, connect/disconnect, and configure settings.

Browser VPN Extensions

VPNs like Hotspot Shield and AnchorFree provide browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox instead of full-blown clients. These plug directly into your browser to give your internet traffic a quick VPN makeover.

Router VPN Configuration

Gaming consoles, smart TVs and other connected gadgets can’t install VPN clients individually. Configuring your router with VPN encrypts traffic for all devices that connect to it.

Mobile VPN Apps

Android and iPhone VPN apps like Hotspot Shield, Dashlane VPN, and TunnelBear secure mobile traffic. They encrypt public Wi-Fi access on phones and tablets.

Corporate VPN Networks

Businesses invest in virtual private networks with advanced management capabilities for secure remote access to company systems and resources.

Choosing the Best VPN Service

With dozens of VPN services on the market, it’s important to pick one from a reputable provider that offers premium features:

  • Strong encryption – OpenVPN and AES-256 bit encryption is standard.
  • No traffic logs – VPN should have strict no-logging policies.
  • Speedy servers – Look for diverse, high-speed server network locations.
  • Multiple device support – Apps across all operating systems: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux.
  • Allows P2P/torrents – VPN must support filesharing and BitTorrent.
  • Kill switch feature – Prevents exposing your IP if the VPN connection drops.
  • Dark web monitoring – Scanner to check if your IP address gets leaked.
  • 24/7 customer support – In case of any connection problems or speed issues.

Some top-rated VPNs that meet these criteria are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access.

Types of Virtual Private Networks

There are a few common configurations and sub-types of VPNs designed for different use cases:

Remote Access VPN

A remote access VPN allows individual devices like laptops, tablets or smartphones to securely access a remote network over the internet. Telecommuters and mobile workers use remote access VPNs to connect securely to an office network from outside.

Site-to-Site VPN

A site-to-site VPN connects two fixed locations together over public infrastructure like the internet. This could be an entire office, branch or campus location. Site-to-site configurations are common for connecting regional corporate offices.

Mobile VPN

A mobile VPN provides security to mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets when connecting over public Wi-Fi hotspots, cellular data networks or other untrusted networks. They encrypt mobile broadband traffic.

Router VPN

Consumers often configure VPNs directly on a router to protect Smart TVs, video game consoles, and other connected home devices that can’t have VPN software installed individually.

Public vs. Private VPN Networks

There are two main classes of VPN services: public/commercial VPNs and private corporate VPNs:

Public VPN Providers

Public VPN services like NordVPN, Surfshark, IPVanish, CyberGhost etc. allow individuals to encrypt their internet traffic and protect privacy. There are both free and paid tiers available.

Private VPN

Private or corporate VPNs are centered around an organization’s internal network security requirements. Companies install VPN gateways to allow remote workers to securely access intranet resources or transmit data through encrypted tunnels.


Public VPN services offer a wider range of server locations and faster speeds. But corporate VPNs usually have stricter access controls, larger bandwidth allowances, and integrated security layers tailor-made for that organization.

Public VPNs are better suited for personal use for the average consumer who just wants simple, secure internet access on-the-go. Business teams are better served by managed private VPN networks set up by a company’s IT department.

Advanced VPN Topics

There are a few more complex types of VPN setups that provide additional layers of security and anonymity:

P2P/BitTorrent VPN

Some VPN providers optimize servers specifically for P2P filesharing and torrent transfers. This provides extra encryption and obscures your IP address to keep copyright trolls at bay.

Double VPN

With double VPN, internet traffic first gets encrypted and passed through one VPN server. Then it goes through a second VPN server for anonymous web access with double encryption. This offers maximum privacy.

VPN Protocols

There are different protocols VPNs rely on to handle traffic tunneling, encryption, handshakes and authentication, like OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, SSTP, WireGuard® etc. Each has its own technical strengths and weaknesses.

VPN Encryption

VPN encryption scrambles your data into secret code. Standard algorithms used include AES, RSA, SHA256 bit, MD5 hashes, 4096-bit keys, TLS, and other methods for securely encapsulating packets.


In summary, virtual private networks provide tremendous security and anonymity benefits for internet users. By encrypting data and disguising locations, VPNs allow people to browse the web privately, access restricted content safely, share data securely, and maintain complete privacy online.

With identity theft and cybercrime on the rise, VPN usage will only continue growing. VPN services give people better control over their digital security in an increasingly interconnected world.


Sarah, known as Gadget Guru, is a tech aficionado who closely follows the latest technological devices and gadgets. Through her reviews and recommendations, Sarah keeps readers up-to-date on current gadget trends.

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