What is a VPN and why do I need one?

VPN

There is a lot of talk about VPN: at times it is going to be banned, at times it is recommended to use it. In this article we’ll tell you what a VPN is and why it’s needed

VPN is more relevant than ever before. Even in home routers began to appear not just VPN-servers, but also with hardware encryption acceleration. What is a VPN and what does it do? Let’s try to talk about it in simple words.

Somehow it happened that even the textbooks do not give an extended and in-depth definition of what it is, VPN. Like, everything is clear: the acronym for VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, that is, a virtual private network. And why else should we discuss it? What is a “network” is clear: at a very basic level, it is a union of two or more nodes in some form of communication, so that they can exchange information. Naturally, in the most convenient way and with the support of all necessary services.

What is “private” also seems obvious – not public, therefore private. That is, one in which there is not just anyone, but only allowed nodes. If you dig a little deeper, it is this component of the VPN that is the most important, as it defines a number of requirements for this very “particular”.

First, it is necessary to somehow label the participants of this network and the information that they exchange, so that it is not mixed with other people’s information. Second, it is definitely useful to protect this information from prying eyes. Well, at least encrypted, which again imposes the following circle of limitations related to the persistence of this encryption.

Thirdly, the integrity of this way of transmitting information must be maintained – no unauthorized persons are allowed into the private network, the source of the transmitted messages must be verified, and care must be taken to ensure that the information does not leak out in “naked form” anywhere. In general, it is like at the private parties of the high and mighty: they make noise all around, but it is not clear who and what is doing there. And harsh security at the entrance and exit arranges not only face control, but other places as well.

With the concept of “virtual” everything is a little simpler. It just means that such a network is abstracted from its physical component – it does not matter how many channels of communication it is laid through, because for the participants of this network it works transparently. Or, on the other hand, the physical network most often simply does not belong to the user of the virtual network.

For example, in serious organizations, employees are required to immediately establish a VPN connection to the office network when connecting their work laptop to any wired or wireless networks that are outside the walls of the organization. In this case, it does not matter through what wilderness will be established this connection, but you can not doubt that it will go through a public, foreign communication networks. Such a connection is commonly referred to as a tunnel, a term we will encounter more than once in the future.

The above example of connecting a remote user to the corporate network is one of the most typical VPN usage scenarios. The user feels at home – or rather, at home, on vacation or on a business trip he is able to feel like he is at work and can use corporate services without problems.

At the same time, an intruder will not be able to just sniff out what exactly this user is doing, what data he transmits and receives. Moreover, in companies concerned about their own security, all devices used by employees are forced to enable mandatory use of VPN connections anywhere. Even the use of the Internet in this case goes through the corporate network and under the strict supervision of security!

The second most common use case is similar to the first, only it is not individual users but entire offices or buildings that are connected to the corporate network. The goal is the same – to reliably and securely connect geographically dispersed elements of the same organization into a single network.

It can be as large corporate offices in different countries. Or even just cameras, alarms and other security systems. With such an easy way to create a VPN – and there is no need to pull a cable every time – virtual private networks can also be created within companies to connect and isolate certain departments or systems.

Equally often VPNs are organized between servers or entire computing clusters to maintain their availability and duplication of data. The frequency of their use is directly related to the growing popularity of cloud technology. Moreover, all of the above are not temporary solutions: such connections can be (and are) maintained for years.

However, now there is a transition to the next level of abstraction – SDN (Software Defined Networks), which will bring many more surprises, equally pleasant and not so pleasant. However, this is a separate and very extensive topic, which we will not touch now.

For the average user, however, another practical VPN option is much more important. Our Android and iOS security tips strongly recommend using a secure VPN connection to a trusted host (be it a home router or a dedicated VPN provider) when connecting to any public networks to protect your traffic from possible intruders!

Finally, the last option to use VPNs privately is to bypass a variety of network restrictions. For example, to gain access to resources that are blocked or do not provide their services in a certain territory.

In general, it is obvious that VPN is a useful, necessary and constantly gaining popularity. Of course, we told you about this technology and its capabilities in the most general terms – in real life there are many nuances associated with its use, including legislative, not just technical. And certainly our story will be incomplete without a description of popular VPN implementations and their development. This is what we will talk about in the next two parts of our series.

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