How Does a VPN Work?

Last Updated on January 19, 2023

How Does a VPN Work

VPNs were once cutting-edge technological innovations, but they are now essential utilities. A VPN protects your online privacy at the most fundamental level, preventing location-based targeting and discrimination.

Consider the internet as a motorway where we drive our cars to get from point A to point B. We shop, check our stock portfolio, read the news, play games, visit our favorite websites, and more.

You are very noticeable while seated in a vehicle. Along these digital roads, anyone with the desire to do so can track you, learn who you are, and get a glimpse into your personal life. Anyone can check to see your internet activities, identity, favorite locations, and more. Even worse, they might follow you home. You’retraceable!

You can use a virtual private network (VPN) to travel through a secure tunnel rather than the public internet. By enclosing you in your private tunnel, a VPN hides your activity and prevents others from seeing what you’re doing or where you’re going.

It would be wise to become familiar with the fundamentals of what a VPN is and what it accomplishes before we jump right into its inner workings.

VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, it offers users a private virtual network to access the internet safely and securely. In essence, a VPN’s main objective is to protect the confidentiality of your data.

We strongly advise you to read this post first for a more thorough explanation of what a VPN is, but in any event, here is a brief introduction.

How a VPN Works

When you connect to the internet without a VPN, your device sends and receives data directly to and from the websites and services you use. This means that your internet service provider (ISP) and any other third parties can see which websites you visit and what you do online.

When you connect to a VPN, your device sends and receives data through the VPN server. This server acts as a middleman between your device and the internet. It encrypts the data before sending it to the internet and decrypts it when it receives it back. This means that your ISP and other third parties can only see that you are connected to a VPN server, but not which websites you visit or what you do online. A VPN works like a filter that turns all your data into “gibberish”. Even if someone were to get their hands on your data, it would be useless.

Encryption and Decryption of Data

The process of encrypting and decrypting data is what makes a VPN secure. Encryption is the process of converting plaintext (readable data) into ciphertext (unreadable data) using an encryption algorithm. This encryption algorithm is applied to the data as it travels through the VPN tunnel.

When the data reaches the VPN server, it is decrypted using the same encryption algorithm. The decrypted data is then sent to its intended destination on the internet. When the response is received, the process is repeated in reverse order, encrypting the data before sending it back to the user.

Tunnelling Protocols

Tunnelling protocols are the methods used to create a VPN connection. These protocols are responsible for establishing and maintaining a secure connection, and for encrypting and decrypting the data that is transmitted through the VPN tunnel.

Several different tunnelling protocols can be used for VPN connections, including:

  • OpenVPN: This is considered the most secure and flexible option, it is open-source, which means that its code is publicly available for review by experts. This means that security vulnerabilities can be quickly identified and fixed. OpenVPN uses SSL/TLS for encryption, which is a widely used and well-established encryption standard. It also offers support for a wide range of devices and operating systems.

  • IPSec: This is a protocol that is a good option for site-to-site VPNs, it uses strong encryption and authentication methods to secure the connection between the two networks. It is commonly used in enterprise environments because of its ability to provide secure communication over IP version 4 and IP version 6 networks. However, it is not as flexible as OpenVPN and requires specific configuration to work properly.

  • PPTP: This is an older protocol that is not as secure as OpenVPN or IPSec. It uses a point-to-point connection and is less effective in protecting the data being transmitted. It is still supported by many VPN providers but is not recommended for use if security is a concern.

  • L2TP/IPSec: This protocol is a combination of the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and IPSec. L2TP is responsible for creating the tunnel, while IPSec provides encryption and authentication. This protocol is considered more secure than PPTP but less secure than OpenVPN. It is often used in conjunction with other protocols, such as PPTP, to provide an additional layer of security.

Also read: How to Protect Your Data From Cyber Attacks

Types of VPNs

Remote-Access VPNs

A remote-access VPN allows an individual or a group of users to connect to a VPN server from a remote location. This is the most common type of VPN used by individuals and small businesses. The user’s device connects to the VPN server using a VPN client, which can be installed on a wide range of devices including laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The VPN client establishes a secure connection with the VPN server, and the user’s device is assigned a new IP address. This allows the user to access the internet securely and privately.

Remote-access VPNs are typically used to:

  • Protect personal and sensitive information while using public Wi-Fi

  • Bypass geographical restrictions on certain websites or online services

  • Maintain privacy and anonymity while browsing the internet

Site-to-Site VPNs

A site-to-site VPN, also known as a router-to-router VPN, connects two or more networks over the internet, allowing them to communicate as if they were on the same local network. This type of VPN is typically used by larger organizations or businesses. Site-to-site VPNs can be used to connect networks in different locations, such as different offices or branches. This allows for the secure sharing of resources and information between the different networks.

Site-to-site VPNs are typically used to:

  • Connect remote locations securely to the main office

  • Connect a corporate network to a partner’s network

  • Connecting a network to a cloud-based service

Both types of VPNs use a tunneling protocol to establish and maintain the connection and encrypt the data being transmitted. Remote-access VPNs rely on a VPN client that is installed on the user’s device, while site-to-site VPNs usually require specialized VPN devices such as routers or firewalls that can be configured to connect to a VPN server.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a VPN

Using a VPN can offer many benefits including:

  • Increased security and privacy: Encryption makes it much more difficult for third parties to intercept or steal the user’s information. This is particularly important when using public Wi-Fi, as it is easy for hackers to intercept unencrypted data on these networks.

  • Bypassing geographical restrictions: Changing the user’s IP address allows them to access websites or online services that may be blocked in their location. This can be useful for people living in countries with internet censorship or for accessing content that is only available in certain countries.

  • Maintaining anonymity: A VPN can help protect the user’s identity and browsing history from being tracked by websites and advertisers. This can be particularly useful for people concerned about their online privacy.

However, there are also some potential drawbacks to using a VPN, including:

  • Slowed internet speed: The encryption and decryption process can add some latency to the user’s internet connection. This can make some online activities, such as streaming or gaming, less enjoyable.

  • Limited access to certain websites or online services: Some websites or online services may block VPN connections. This is usually done to prevent people from bypassing geographical restrictions.

  • Additional cost: Some VPN providers charge a monthly or annual fee for their service. This can be an additional expense for people who want to use a VPN.

Choosing a VPN Provider

When choosing a VPN provider, there are several factors to consider, including:

  • Location: It is generally considered more secure to choose a VPN provider that is located in a country with strong privacy laws. This is because some countries have laws that require VPN providers to keep logs of the user’s internet activity.
  • Logging policy: Some VPN providers keep logs of the user’s internet activity, while others do not. It is important to choose a provider that has a strict no-logging policy to ensure that the user’s browsing history remains private.

  • Server locations: The more server locations a VPN provider offers, the more options the user will have for bypassing geographical restrictions. This is particularly important for people who want to access content that is only available in certain countries.

  • Speed and reliability: A VPN that is slow or unreliable can be frustrating to use. It is important to choose a provider that offers fast and reliable connections to ensure a good user experience.


A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a powerful tool that can be used to increase security and privacy, bypass geographical restrictions, and maintain anonymity while browsing the internet. It works by creating a private, encrypted tunnel between the user’s device and the internet, which makes it much more difficult for third parties to intercept or steal the user’s information.

There are different types of VPNs available, including remote-access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs, each with its advantages and disadvantages. It is also important to choose a reputable and reliable VPN provider and to consider factors such as location, logging policy, server locations, and speed and reliability. By keeping these factors in mind, you can be confident that you will be able to find a VPN provider that meets your needs.

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