#TechStaff: What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks such as Wi-Fi Hotspots and the Internet. VPNs are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

Privacy is increased with a VPN because the user’s initial IP Address is replaced with one from the VPN provider. This method allows subscribers to obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in Harare, but with a VPN, you can appear to live in Cape Town, Durban, or any number of gateway cities.

VPN Security

Security is the main reason why corporations and many other companies have used VPNs for years. There are increasingly simple methods to intercept data traveling over a network through the current increasing hacking methods. WiFi spoofing and Firesheep are two easy ways to hack information. A useful analogy is that a firewall protects your data while on the computer and a VPN protects your data on the web.

VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers. Most savvy computer users wouldn’t dream of connecting to the Internet without a firewall and up-to-date antivirus. Evolving security threats and ever increasing reliance on the Internet make a VPN an essential part of well-rounded security. Integrity checks ensure that no data is lost and that the connection has not been hijacked. Since all traffic is protected, this method is preferred to proxies.

Setting Up a VPN

Setting up a VPN is a straightforward process. It’s often as simple as entering a username and sever address. The dominant smartphones can configure VPNs using PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. All major operating systems can configure PPTP VPN connections. OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec protocols require a small open source application (OpenVPN) and certificate download respectively.

VPN Protocols

The number of protocols and available security features continue to grow with time. The most common protocols are:

  • PPTP – PPTP has been around since the days of Windows 95. The main selling point of PPTP is that it can be simply setup on every major OS. In short, PPTP tunnels a point-to-point connection over the GRE protocol. Unfortunately, the security of the PPTP protocol has been called into question in recent years. It is still strong, but not the most secure.
  • L2TP/IPsec – L2TP over IPsec is more secure than PPTP and offers more features. L2TP/IPsec is a way of implementing two protocols together in order to gain the best features of each. In this case, the L2TP protocol is used to create a tunnel and IPsec provides a secure channel. This makes for an impressively secure package.
  • Open VPN – OpenVPN is an SSL-based VPN that continues to gain popularity. The software used is open source and freely available. SSL is a mature encryption protocol, and OpenVPN can run on a single UDP or TCP port, making it extremely flexible.

VPN Providers

There are many choices when it comes to VPN providers. There are some VPN providers who offer free service and there are some which charge for VPN service. We have found that the paid VPN providers such as VyprVPN are preffered to the free service providers. They offer robust gateways, proven security, free software, and unmatched speed.

The battle for relevance continues…follow Shingie Levison Muringi our Technology Research Specialist and Sub Editor on Twitter @ShingieMuringi1, Email [email protected] or direct Cell: 0775 380 652 for all the latest trending technological issues in and outside Zimbabwe. 

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