What Is A VPN? A Beginner’s Guide To Virtual Private Networks

Haseeb Awan
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March 10, 2024
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March 10, 2024

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Without even realizing it, we share a lot of personal information online through the sites we visit, what we post on social media, the files we download, and the data given in forms. This compilation of activities creates an outline of our internet exposure.

It's important to know that most of our internet usage is sent through unsecured connections, making it easy for anyone to access if they really wanted to.

People may be afflicted with censorship if their data is collected and material is censored.

Fortunately, there is a solution: secure your data with a VPN. By doing so, you will protect your online activity from any onlookers. But how do VPNs work? In this guide, we'll cover what a VPN is, how it works, its purpose, the benefits of using one and tips for testing any VPN leaks and help you steer clear of the red flags.

VPN: Definition

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure connection between the internet and your device. Traffic is encrypted and identities are protected online. You can browse safely without worrying about third-party control or interference.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

The primary reason for the need for a virtual private network (VPN) service is to keep your data safe from prying eyes. Every time you've been on the road, opened your emails while dining out, or accessed your bank account while waiting in the banking lounge, your information might have been stolen. This is because any data transmitted when connected to a public or free WiFi network can be intercepted by any other users logged into the same network.

Encryption and anonymity are essential benefits of using a VPN service. This can help protect your online activities, like checking email, paying bills, or shopping online. In fact, VPNs can also help keep your web browsing anonymous to keep your data safe.

What Exactly Does A VPN Do?

A virtual private network (VPN) masks your actual IP address and encrypts your internet connection. But how does it look in practice?

Your IP address is hidden from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) — A virtual private network (VPN) disguises your online activities and search history from your ISP. The only thing the ISP sees is encrypted data flowing to the VPN server.

A VPN will let you change your virtual location by connecting to a server in another country. Doing this gives you access to local content that may not be available where you are (e.g., US Netflix if you're outside the United States).

A no-logs VPN allows you to torrent and participate in P2P networks without anyone being able to track your internet usage.

How Does VPN Work?

Although you may feel daunted by the technology, using a VPN is relatively straightforward:

When you connect to the internet using a VPN service, your traffic first goes through the VPN provider's servers. From there, it is routed straight to the host of a website, such as a server that hosts it.

When you connect to a VPN, your IP address is replaced with the VPN's own.

Encrypting all traffic that goes through the VPN server from that point forward. This procedure transforms all of your data into a code that restricts access. Even if someone captures your messages, they won't be able to understand them.

If you can picture driving down the highway in a convertible, you can understand how a VPN works. Just like satellites can see everything we do from above, your internet service provider (ISP), websites and servers you connect to have access to your unencrypted traffic. Using a VPN encrypts your traffic so that only YOU can access it- as if you were driving with the top-up on your convertible!

The best way to keep prying eyes from knowing your movements and destination is to take a route through a tunnel. Using a VPN means others will have no idea where the tunnel exit is.

The resolution process begins immediately when you enter a web address (the domain name), such as "itsmything.com," into your browser. The DNS (domain name system) is a phone book that matches text-based website addresses to IP addresses linked to a website's server. If someone wanted to monitor your activities, they could track DNS requests and see which websites you visit.

A VPN can protect you from snooping by your ISP, hackers, and even large corporations. DNS requests (for example, when you type in a website address) will look like they're coming from the VPN service instead of from you. This way, your ISP can't see everything you do online unless you use a secure, encrypted connection through a VPN.

What Are the Different Types of VPN Protocols?

To put it simply, VPN protocols are rules governing how data is transmitted over a VPN. The most common protocols are SSTP, PPTP, OpenVPN, IKEV2, and L2TP. Here's a brief overview of each:


PPTP is one of the oldest protocols in use and was designed by Microsoft. 

Reasons to consider using it: it works on old computers and is easy to set up because it's built into Windows Operating Systems. 

Reminders that PPTP might not be ideal today: security standards have changed and improved since this protocol was created, meaning PPTP isn't as secure as newer options. If a VPN service only offers this option, look elsewhere.


Although the L2TP/IPsec protocol is sound in theory--it uses keys to ensure data tunnel security on each end--the execution leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, the addition of IPsec only marginally improves security. Reports abound of NSA's ability to break this protocol and see transmitted information, even if those reports are unverified. If there is any truth to them at all, it should be enough to steer clear of this option.

Reasons to consider using it: L2TP is more secure than PPTP and it's available on most devices.


SSTP, the newest type of VPN developed by Microsoft, uses SSL/TLS encryption to establish a connection. This technology's strength rests on symmetric-key cryptography, which only allows those two parties involved in the transfer to access decryption keys for the data.

Reasons to consider using it: SSTP is only available on Windows Vista, Server 2008, and later versions. It's very secure if properly configured.


Another Microsoft-created protocol is IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange, Version 2). It's an upgrade to Microsoft's previous protocols and is much more secure. It is the most up-to-date standard, which works effectively when adequately implemented. This protocol also has a user-friendly interface with many options for personalization. When your connection is lost due to your router or home network being overburdened, this technique reconnects promptly or if your connection is disrupted owing to insufficient bandwidth on your side or a faulty cable.

Reasons to consider using it: Faster and more secure than SSTP.


OpenVPN is the best of both worlds, melding the strengths of other protocols with few, if any, flaws. Using SSL/TLS as a base, OpenVPN also draws on the power of open source projects, giving it hundreds of regular developers working to make it better. Lastly, OpenVPN assures security by using keys that are only known to the devices on either end of transmission. Considering all factors, this protocol comes out ahead in versatility and protection.

Reasons to consider using it: OpenVPN is the most secure protocol and it's available on most devices. It can be tricky to set up, but it's very reliable once you get it going.

In general, most VPNs let you decide which protocol to use. The more secure the protocol (OpenVPN, IKEv2), the safer your entire session. 

While all devices can theoretically use these protocols, some will have more limitations than others. Microsoft products tend to work best with one another, while Apple devices may have some trouble connecting. For example, L2TP/IPsec is the go-to protocol for iPhones. And as anyone who has tried to connect Android devices knows, they often don't play well with others.

VPN for Personal Use

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, not only has business applications but can also be used for personal use. Its functions include protecting your online activity from being spied on, accessing geo-restricted content, and providing security and privacy when using public WiFi networks. Your actual IP address and location will be hidden when you use a VPN service. There are many providers of this service available, each with its unique features and advantages. It would help if you considered aspects such as the encryption levels and speed, among others, before selecting one provider over another.

What are The Different Types of VPNs?

VPNs are an essential tool for both personal and business users. When it comes to security, there are many different types of VPNs out there. For this article, we'll discuss three types.

Remote-Access VPNs

A private network may be remotely accessed using a remote-access VPN to secure it. An example is an employee who needs access to the company's intranet while travelling but isn't able to connect directly because of restricted connectivity or firewall issues at the host machine or between their device and the company's servers.

Site-to-Site VPNs

A site-to-site VPN benefits companies with employees working remotely or in multiple offices. This VPN allows these individuals to securely connect to the company network and share files, data, and other resources.


A VPLS is a layer 2 VPN that uses MPLS to provide a point-to-multipoint topology. Service providers commonly use this to offer customers a private, secure network connection. It is a secure and private network that helps big businesses stay connected. VPLS uses existing infrastructure, such as the internet, to connect multiple sites quickly and reliably.

Whether you want to boost your security, privacy, or access to geo-restricted material, there is a VPN for you. There are many VPNs to choose from, and it's critical to pick one that works best for you.

Benefits of Using a VPN

A VPN service will provide you with several benefits, including:

It Prevents Your ISP from Seeing Your Online Activity

This will make it more complicated for government surveillance to take a large scale, and websites cannot access your actual IP address or information about your internet service provider. The only thing they can see is the IP address of the VPN server, which many other VPN users often use in order to protect each person's identity.

Regrettably, most ISPs keep records of your activity, which they can later use to identify you and charge for the same. Regrettably, many VPN services have no such policy. Indeed, several privacy-focused VPN companies go further by making a point of erasing all metadata connection logs. This ensures they maintain nothing that might connect customers to their online activity.

It Encrypts Your IP Address So That Other Websites Cannot See It.

Your Internet Protocol (IP) address is what identifies you online. When you use a VPN, your actual IP address is changed with the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to, making it more difficult for websites to identify you.

When you're online, your IP address is the unique identification number assigned to your device by a server on the internet. This provides essential privacy protection while you're online, making it more challenging for advertisers to show you targeted ads.

You Can Use It to Subvert Government Censorship.

If you live in or are travelling to a country with oppressive internet censorship laws (such as China), then using a VPN can help you get around these restrictions. Connecting to a server in another country allows you to bypass government filters and access the internet freely.

A VPN can also help if your ISP has imposed bandwidth throttling on your internet connection. This is often done to discourage users from streaming video or downloading large files, as it can take up a lot of bandwidth. By connecting to a VPN server in another country, you can bypass these restrictions and get full speed for your connection.

The Ability to Watch Content from Different Streaming Services

A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to access foreign streaming services that are prohibited or region-locked in your country, regardless of where you reside. Simply connect to a VPN server in a different country and you'll appear to be there!

A VPN server connection can do more than you might think. For example, did you know that by connecting to a US-based VPN server, you'd have access to otherwise blocked Netflix content? The American version of Netflix contains way more movies and TV shows than any other country's catalog. That's why using a VPN with Netflix has become popular among streamers.

You can also use a VPN to access Netflix content unavailable in your region, including YouTube videos and several other things. This allows you to pretend to be in a country where the video you want to watch is not prohibited from circumnavigating regional limitations.

Keeps You Safe from Cybercriminals

You can never be too careful when it comes to your online security, especially when using public WiFi. Even though free WiFi is convenient, it also opens you up to potential cyber threats. A VPN (a virtual private network) can help keep your data safe by encrypting it while using public WiFi. This way, even if someone did manage to intercept your data, they wouldn't be able to read it.

A VPN will protect you from being snooped on by your ISP or government. With a good quality VPN service, your traffic will be encrypted so that only you and the VPN server can see what you're doing online.

It Protects You from Being Tracked When Using P2P Torrents.

If you enjoy torrenting and P2P file sharing, you know how important it is to have a good VPN service. Not only does a VPN protect your identity and keep your activities private, but it also helps to prevent others from being able to track or spy on you. Your actual IP address is hidden from other peers downloading the same torrents as well as any malicious attackers who may want to compromise your system or steal your information when you utilize a VPN for torrenting. 

Torrenting can be a great way to download movies, music, games, and other files quickly and easily, but it's essential to do so safely. A good VPN will help ensure your connection is encrypted and secure so that no one can see what you're doing or where you're going online.

Which VPN Provider Is The Best for You? How Do You Choose One?

With the dozens of VPN providers now on the market, it can be tough to decide which one is best for you. Here are a few key things to look for:

Cost Vs Security

The price of a VPN service is usually directly proportional to the amount of security it provides. For most users, an affordable and well-known VPN provider that offers excellent service in the $4.99-$12.99 per month range will suffice. Although researching different VPN providers fall outside this article's scope, reading reviews and going with a provider with a history of protecting its users is always advisable before making your decision public enemy number one for hackers by not utilizing any form of protection. One helpful Reddit user even compiled a comprehensive list evaluating various VPN providers available today.

No log Vs Log

There's a lot of confusion surrounding this topic. Is it better to have logs or not? There are two options: having no logs and having them. One factor that sets apart providers is whether or not they keep records of user data and activity. If they don't, you gain an additional layer of anonymity. If they do, those records might be used to trace you down if someone put in the effort.

IP Sharing

IP sharing is when multiple users use the same IP address. If you're particularly concerned about anonymity, some providers will allow multiple users to share the same IP address; if a VPN service provider does this, it's more challenging to pinpoint one user because of many surfers from the same IP address. Some service providers offer this additional level of protection. 

Server Location

With how frequently we use WiFi, it's easy to think the internet doesn't have physical wires anymore. A VPN site that offers a broad range of options can come in clutch for these moments. If you want to stream UK content but live in Kansas, for example, check if your provider has servers on both coasts of the US as well as London. And depending on what you need, server location might be critical, too--if an IP address from Japan would help somehow, make sure your provider will let you connect there.

Number of Servers

The number of servers a service offers can also be significant. More servers mean that one is more likely to be close to you, which often results in better speeds. It also provides more options if you need to get around, particularly pesky geo-restrictions. A larger VPN server count means that you won't be crammed onto a crowded server, where your connection times will be slowed down.

Unbounded Accessibility

If you connect to the internet from several devices, make sure your VPN provider can handle all of them. Many providers restrict the number of devices that may be connected at once. It varies depending on the supplier, but it might range from two to six devices. Some also have various offerings for different numbers of device connections. If you want to use a VPN service on multiple devices, check how many the provider allows before signing up. Most providers let you connect five devices at most.

IP Leaking

A free trial is one of the most straightforward methods to assess a VPN service. If they do, join up, tunnel in, and then go to this website. It will tell you whether you have an IP leak, which implies that your actual position is being revealed. If your ISP or physical location is shown on this page, you should look for a different, more secure VPN service.


Finally, inspect how a VPN company's software looks and works. Is it simple to use? Is it simple to switch between locations? Is it easy to alter where you're tunnelled without much effort? While you probably won't be using your VPN software very often, it's reassuring to know that when you need it, you won't mind using it and will have the control you desire.

Is My VPN Working?

If you're not sure whether your VPN is turned on, you may contact your provider or attempt a test to see if your IP address has been changed. To do so, go to WhatIsMyIP.com and compare the IP address that was supplied by your VPN provider to the one listed on the site. If they match, then everything's fine; if they don't, consult your connection or contact your VPN provider for help.

What Is a VPN Leak and How Does It Happen?

A 'leak' occurs when your VPN exposes personally identifiable information (PII). This usually refers to your IP address, DNS records, or geographical region.

On the other hand, Leaks leave you open to hackers since they reveal your identity and activity to your ISP, government, and any other monitoring entity that may be watching your connection. As a result, a leaking VPN is entirely useless.

VPNs know you want to keep this information safe, so they position themselves based on that. The fact is that most VPN protocols were not designed with privacy in mind.

Most protocols, by default, send DNS queries to designated servers. When they are forced to reconnect, they leak IPv4 traffic and are typically utterly oblivious to IPv6 traffic. Only VPNs created with these issues in mind will provide you security.

Types of VPN Leaks

IP address leaks: When your VPN fails to conceal your IP address with one of its own, IP leaks occur. Because your ISP and any websites you visit will be able to link your activities back to you, this is a significant privacy concern.

DNS Leaks: 

Your VPN is supposed to send your DNS queries through its own DNS servers. A DNS leak occurs when your VPN routes these requests to your ISP's DNS servers rather than yours. This exposes your surfing habits and any sites you visit other snoopers. To find out which servers you're using, try our tool. 

WebRTC Leaks: 

Despite a VPN being on, WebRTC has ways of finding your actual IP address. To avoid this problem, the best VPNs block any WebRTC requests. 

IPv6 Leaks: 

IP leaks: Because IPV6 is a new IP address that few VPNs support, it may be exposed through your personal IPv6 address if you're on an IPv6-enabled network. 

How to Test for VPN Leaks?

Maintaining the security of your data is crucial, and one way to do so is by regularly checking your VPN for leaks. However, it's important to remember that developing a privacy solution like a VPN is complex. Much like the Windows operating system, many factors must be taken into account. If even one element related to internet browsers, firewalls or third-party applications is overlooked during development, it can cause problems with VPN connections.

Here are some essential tips to help you check your VPN for leaks.

Although you can download and install VPN software to get started, ensuring the connection is secure requires extra effort. To properly test security, you need certain technical skills and knowledge to deploy the right tools. 

In other words, anyone with enough knowledge to get on the internet can find and use a testing website that discovers leaks related to your DNS, IP address, and WebRTC. Though no testing site is 100% accurate in detecting all types of leaks, there are still useful for someone without extensive experience or technical expertise.

You can test for active VPN leaks easily. Once you turn on your VPN, go online and visit a testing website. The site will automatically run a series of tests, the results of which will tell you if any leaks were found.

After your VPN runs, the next step is to break off the connection. This can be done either by unplugging the ethernet cord or killing the WiFi signal. Once that's been completed, wait ten seconds and reconnect before visiting different testing sites for leaks. These tests will show if any DNS, IP address, or WebRTC leaks are present. Although this isn't a foolproof way of seeing how secure your connection is, it's better than having no test at all. This method won't give you a definitive answer as to whether your security has been compromised, but without any other tests available, it will have to do.

Steps to Fix a VPN Leak

It's very important to understand IP, DNS & WRTC VPN leaks and how they can expose your privacy online. Luckily, you can take a few easy steps to prevent these kinds of leaks.

1. Use a VPN with DNS leak protection.

2. Set up your operating system to use a secure DNS server.

3. Use a VPN service that offers IPv6 leak protection.

4. Test your VPN for leaks regularly.

5. Keep your software and firmware up to date. If you suspect that you may be experiencing an IP, DNS or WRTC VPN leak, you should first run a leak test. 

Several online leak testers can help you identify any leaks. Once you know that you are leaking, take steps to fix the problem.

Is a VPN Going to Slow Down My Internet Connection?

It's tough to say for sure. Most VPN services experience a little slowdown,  but it generally won't be very noticeable if you go with a reputable provider.

If your Internet service provider (ISP) slows down speeds, a VPN could help improve those speeds. Some of the best VPN providers use top-level bandwidth from tier-1 providers. Any disparities in speed you detect would most likely be somewhat more significant the farther away the server you choose to connect to is.

Is it Legal to Use a VPN?

The fact that the internet has no single authority to regulate it may appear odd to some people. Because YOU are governed by the laws of YOUR nation of origin, check to see whether a VPN is legal in YOUR country before signing up for one.

Internet usage is highly regulated in some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If you're caught using a VPN in the UAE, you might face fines totaling from $100k to $500k.

China just passed a law that limits the use of unapproved VPN services, as many people would guess. This is said to "control" unlawful cross-border operational activities by VPNs. We all know it's only another extension of China's Great Firewall, but nonetheless, the government wants us to believe they're doing something unique.

If you use a VPN to try and circumnavigate your organization's censorship firewall, you could get fired or removed from your job. 

What Makes VPNs Illegal in Certain Countries?

The answer to this question largely remains unknown. However, based on current observations, countries that ban VPNs often have a firmer grip over their citizens' lives. By prohibiting VPNs, these nations can more easily monitor every digital move their citizens make.

The main reasons can be divided into three buckets:

1. Moral Reasons (e.g. Singapore)

2. Political Stability (e.g. Jordan, Libya)

3. National Security (examples India, Russia)

4. All the Above mentioned countries have significant problems in these arenas (North Korea, China).

The Drawbacks of Using a VPN

  • Your internet connection might become sluggish. Your data must be protected and sent via a VPN server, which may be far from your physical location. Opting for an ultrafast service like ExpressVPN can significantly decrease the effects of these dips in speed.
  • While some VPNs may not work with certain sites, the best ones on the market quickly replace any blocked servers. This makes it hard for these sites to keep up with the demand.
  • VPNs may collect personal data, even if they are free or low-cost. Because your data travels through the VPN provider's servers, there's always a chance they'll be keeping it. To reduce this danger, make sure your provider has a no-logs policy and that it isn't located in a country where data disclosure is required by law. Always read the privacy policy to see how your information will be handled.
  • Although VPNs are blocked in countries like China, Turkey, and Iraq, you can still use them if you're willing to risk dealing with the authorities. Always check the local laws before using a VPN. You could get hacked. Although it's rare, it is possible for your data to be intercepted while it's routed through the VPN server. This is more likely to happen if you're using a free or cheap VPN service with dodgy security features.
  • Free VPNs are available, but they typically have limited features and higher security risks. For less than $10 a month, you can get a great VPN worth its price for its many benefits. Even with a VPN, you could still face legal trouble for certain activities, such as downloading copyrighted material.
  • Free or cheap VPNs might log your personal data. Your data is always at risk of being stored through a VPN provider's servers. To make sure this doesn't happen to you, find a provider with a no-logs policy and check that the company isn't based in a country where authorities require businesses to share customer data. Be sure to read the privacy policy to know exactly how your information will be used.
  • In some countries, VPNs are banned. If you use a VPN in an illegal country, you risk getting into trouble with the authorities. China, Turkey, and Iraq are examples of nations where VPN use is prohibited. Always verify whether or not using a VPN is legal in your area before proceeding. You may be hacked. Although this is unusual, your data may be intercepted while passing through the server of the VPN. This is more probable if you use a free or low-cost VPN with sketchy security features. To decrease
  • Low-quality VPNs have a small number of IP addresses and servers. Users are connected to each server, so your IP address will appear to be the same as others. If someone behaves badly while using the VPN, their IP address may get blocklisted by various sites, causing you trouble. Effectively, you might be held responsible for someone else's bad actions. Choosing a VPN with dedicated IP addresses will help you avoid this situation.
  • You can't install a VPN on every device. It might be tough to come by applications for antique platforms or operating systems that aren't as popular. In these cases, you'll have to set up the VPN manually, which can be tricky.

Is my VPN Service Vulnerable to Being Blocked?

Some countries have gone to the brink of blocking VPN services in order to prevent people from using them to access blocked websites. Although they can't decrypt the data, VPN blocks in those nations have been observed to effectively block VPN access by preventing access to ports typically used by common VPN methods.

The Great Firewall of China is one example of the country's many methods to ensure public safety by constantly monitoring information systems.

Are You Looking for the Best VPNs? 

Here's a brief overview of our top selections in the VPN market: 

NordVPN - A powerful option with military-grade security features and a strict no-logs policy.

ExpressVPN - A fast and reliable VPN with strong security features and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Surfshark - An affordable VPN with advanced security features and a user-friendly interface.

CyberGhost - A user-friendly VPN with good security features and a 45-day money-back guarantee.

IPVanish - A fast and reliable VPN with robust security features.

Hotspot Shield - A fast and reliable VPN with a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Choosing the right VPN can be difficult, but we hope this list has helped make your decision a little easier. Remember to always check the terms of service and privacy policy before signing up for any VPN service.

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Haseeb Awan
CEO, Efani Secure Mobile

I founded Efani after being Sim Swapped 4 times. I am an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the crypto and cybersecurity industry. I provide Secure Mobile Service for influential people to protect them against SIM Swaps, eavesdropping, location tracking, and other mobile security threats. I've been covered in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Hulu, Nasdaq, Netflix, Techcrunch, Coindesk, etc. Contact me at 855-55-EFANI or haseebawan@efani.com for a confidential assessment to see if we're the right fit!

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