Any regular old network is dependent on networking hardware; servers, switches, cables etc. Especially nowadays, as working from home is quickly becoming the default, it is much more practical to have a virtual version of a network. It definitely beats some engineers having to draw cables from the office to each employee’s individual home to make sure everyone has access to the company network.
At the most basic level, VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a way to do this. They simulate a traditional network infrastructure. A VPN adds extra security to your connections and allows you to hide your IP address (the unique number that servers as identifier for any machine connected to the internet) and location. This makes it more difficult for anyone with ill intent to monitor and intercept your online activities.
They share some similarities with proxy servers, which you may have heard of. You connect to a proxy server somewhere in the world and the proxy server retrieves the websites for you. This way, any information you send to or receive seems to originate from, and stop at the proxy server’s IP address. Proxy servers mask an IP address and spoof your location. But there is something that a proxy server can’t do: encrypt your data. While someone with ill intent can still trace you when they’re connected to the same proxy server, doing the same with a VPN is definitely not as easy!
Imagine a tunnel through a mountain that is exclusively used by trucks use to transport valuables. The only way in and out of this tunnel is through the entrance and exit on either end. Once in the tunnel, the trucks are quite protected from anyone wishing to steal the valuables; the only way to steal from the trucks now, is to dig through thick layers of rock and earth. Not the most interesting and lucrative prospect for any criminals trying to snatch a quick profit.
VPNs work much in the same way; when you connect to a VPN server, you build a tunnel between your computer and that server. The only way in and out of that tunnel is from either your computer or the server. Any data that you send or receive goes through this tunnel and is protected from outside tampering. This makes the data you’re transporting a much harder target to intercept.
Let’s keep with the example of the mountain and the trucks. Company A is transporting valuable goods to Company B through the tunnel. All the goods are tightly locked in the back of the truck with a very elaborate and complex lock. Only -and only- the bosses of Company A and Company B possess the key to this lock. Company A locks the trucks and sends them through the tunnel. Only after they’ve gone through the tunnel, Company B’s boss can use the key to unlock them. So even if any potential thieves would dig an entire tunnel through the mountain to get to the trucks, they wouldn’t be able to unlock them and get to the goods inside.
A VPN server protects your data with what we call a ‘key’; a very long and randomly generated password. Only your computer and the VPN server you connect to know what this key is. Any data that goes through the VPN tunnel will be locked (or as it is formally called: encrypted) with that key. Once on the other side, the data will unlock. In short, it means that whatever data is sent from your device to the VPN server or the other way around is practically impossible to intercept and decipher.
By now it should be clear that a VPN is a very secure way to make connections between multiple devices in different places. The technique is mainly used in businesses to ensure that employees can log in to, and work with systems they’d normally used at the office. That’s the big benefit of a VPN: it allows you to connect to your company network from anywhere with all the security privileges that you would have on an office computer.
Due to the international pandemic, the way we work is changing. Working from home is gearing up to be the default. We believe that this trend is here to stay. Many companies are discovering that it is not only possible to work remotely, it can even be beneficial. In this new world of cloud services, Digital Nomads and working anywhere, a VPN is the first requirement to keep all your sensitive data traffic safe!