What is a VPN? What is it used for?

You don’t know what a VPN is or what it can be used for? It’s time to correct these little deficiencies, because using a VPN will soon be as indispensable as an internet connection! Nowadays, there is no privacy on the internet, it doesn’t exist anymore. All our activities are spied on, analyzed, sanctioned, access to certain contents blocked. The time has come to react and the VPN is the perfect answer to this pressing need for anonymity and freedom of access. 

ou need a VPN, I’m sure. Using a VPN means becoming anonymous, it means being able to read and download freely and anonymously all the content made available on the web. We don’t care much about our privacy on the internet because we have nothing to hide. But as soon as we become victims of this espionage, the situation changes. You only have to see the reactions and decisions made by everyone after receiving an email from HADOPI following an illegal download to be convinced. By using a VPN, you will be able to use the internet as you wish, without worrying about possible sanctions for your actions today.

In the following lines, I will explain what a VPN is, what it’s for and why you should have one 😉.

The VPN for beginners

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. The purpose of a VPN is to connect two networks of devices (PCs, tablets, smartphones …) both geographically distant and connected to a public network (Internet for example), via a secure and encrypted tunnel technique.

What is the practical use of this?

Setting up a VPN means allowing access to a local network wherever you are on the planet! At home, you most likely have an internet box (Freebox, Livebox…) on which all your network equipment is connected (desktop PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV, printer…). You therefore have a local network at your home. It is the box that takes care of everything: it interconnects all this equipment between them. As you can see it on a daily basis, it is very easy to exchange data between your different equipments. To transfer a large file between your desktop PC and your laptop, a simple copy/paste from Windows Explorer is enough! To print a document from your tablet to the printer on the other side of the house, a simple click is all it takes! 🙂

Now let’s imagine you’re on the move on the other side of the united state and you absolutely need access to your hard drive to retrieve data. Impossible? Thanks to VPN, no! By setting up a VPN at your home, you will be able to connect securely to your local network wherever you are, as long as you have an Internet connection!  By configuring VPN access on your laptop while you are in Marseille and your local network (your home) is in Lille, you will be able to access all the connected network equipment of your local network: hard disk of your box, printer… In other words, the VPN allows you to act as if you were on the same local network, wherever you are. Convenient isn’t it? 😉

Setting up a VPN means being able to exchange data in complete confidentiality. Using the public network that is the internet to exchange data is very risky from a security point of view. The confidentiality of the exchanged data is not at all ensured, it is even non-existent. Anyone can “watch” the data packets that our two networks exchange. That’s where the VPN comes in. It allows to create a secure connection tunnel between these 2 networks within a public network. The data exchanged between the two networks will always be visible but as they are encrypted, they will be neither readable nor decipherable.

Using a VPN to hide your identity and become anonymous

I understood all the advantages of VPN but to hide my identity, to make me invisible on the internet, I don’t see how a VPN can help me?

Normally, when you visit a website, download a file or access an online service (streaming for example), the source of the request is your local network. In other words, if the website in question is trying to find out who is viewing one of its pages or is watching one of its videos, all it needs to do is look at the source of the request, i.e. your public IP address, i.e. your local network, i.e. you. It is very easy for a website to progressively trace back the source of the request to your local network, and then identify you clearly.

This is how governments can identify who is downloading movies or music (via a BitTorrent client for example). All they have to do is look at the list of IP addresses that download the file in question and trace it back to each one’s local network to pinch them! 

Today, companies are offering VPN access on networks all over the world. If you access the same website as before through one of these VPNs, the source of the request will no longer be your local network but the VPN’s local network. The website no longer sees your public IP address as the source of the request but the IP address of the VPN. As for your Internet Service Provider (ISP), it will only see one connection: the one between you and the VPN, which is fully encrypted. 

Thanks to this anonymity, you will also be able to bypass geographical restrictions. Have you ever been unable to play a video because it was only accessible from a particular country? Thanks to VPN, you will be able to bypass this restriction. If a website is only accessible to US residents, you just need to connect to a US VPN and you will finally be able to access 😉. In the same way, thanks to the VPN, you will be able to bypass censorship. If you are traveling in a country where the internet is controlled by the state, some websites may be blocked. By connecting to a VPN in a free country, you will be able to access the site again. In united state for example, the t411 site is blocked by the authorities. By connecting to a Swedish VPN for example, you will be able to access the t411 site again.

Advantages of the VPN

To conclude, here is a small summary of all the advantages of the VPN :

Access your local network when you’re on the go: access all the network equipment in your home as if you were on the same local network, even if you’re on the other side of the world.

Hide your activity on the internet: all traffic between you and your VPN is encrypted, nobody can see what you are doing. All websites and web services you access don’t see your IP address, they see the VPN’s IP address.

Access sites with geo-blocked content

Surf on public Wi-Fi networks in complete security, without the risk of being spied on by anyone (public Wi-Fi networks are very common places to spy, the level of security is very low)

Circumventing the censorship of the country in which you are located

Downloading files: we’re not going to lie to each other, many people use VPN connections to download files from the BitTorrent network.

Even if you are downloading files with totally legal content, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may be restricting the bandwidth for services like BitTorrent and make your downloads extremely slow. If you go through a VPN, you’ll find that downloads are fast, as the ISP only sees an encrypted connection between you and the VPN. This is also true for any other type of network traffic that your ISP would have to restrict.

For these reasons and many more, finding the right VPN for your needs is probably a good idea.