A virtual private network (VPN) is created when a private network is extended over a public network allowing remote access to the private network as if the remote access point was directly connected to the private network.
Many companies maintain a private network, such as an intranet or local area network, that provides authorized users with access to software, tools, and data. The private network typically contains information that the company does not want to be shared or accessed publicly. However, with the increasingly global nature of business, and the rise of the mobile workforce, companies need to provide a way for branch offices and remote workers to access critical private network systems and information.
VPNs provide a way for geographically distant locations to securely access a private network using the Internet. VPNs may connect an individual user, such as a remote worker, to a private network, or they may be used to tie together two or more private networks. In the case of multiple private networks being connected by a VPN, the resulting network is a Wide Area Network (WAN).
In addition to corporate use, over the last few years VPNs have grown in popularity for personal use and are used as way to add a layer of security and anonymity to online activity.
VPNs work by using the VPN provider's IP address rather than the VPN users IP address, and by creating an information tunnel and encrypting the data that passes through the tunnel. The result is that VPN connections are considered to be very secure and anonymous.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I consider using a VPN for personal web browsing?
There are two primary reasons to use a VPN: to secure the data you transmit over the internet and to use the VPN providers IP address.
One place virtually everyone should use a VPN, but very few people actually do, is when connected to a public Wi-Fi signal, such as the one at your local coffee shop. An inexperienced hacker can snoop on you when connected to a public network, and using a VPN will provide data security. VPN service is also a critical piece of privacy protection if you're worried about government snooping, no matter what country you live in. VPNs are also commonly used to give web services the appearance that you are located somewhere other than your actual location, a feature that will come in handy if you're traveling internationally but still want to have access to your Netflix account, or want to use Skype in a country that bans the use of VoIP services.
How secure are VPNs?
There are several different encryption technologies used to secure VPN communications, and not all technologies are created equal. Seek out providers with the strongest encryption technologies. In addition, some VPN providers take user privacy more seriously than others. Some VPN providers keep logs of user IP addresses and web activity for several months. If you are really concerned about privacy you will want to avoid providers that keep logs.