Weekly Shot 6 — What’s the fuss about VPNs?
Hola readers! This week’s weekly shot is an in-depth look at VPNs or Virtual Private Networks. The talk around VPNs has increased a lot lately, and mostly for the right reasons. After reading this article you will hopefully have a solid idea about what VPNs are, how they work and if you need to use a VPN.
Before we get into VPNs, let’s take a small detour and look at what happens when you try to access something on the internet (a website for example).
As soon as you request for a resource, the request is passed onto your internet service provider(ISP). Your ISP can see exactly what it is that you are requesting and this request is then forwarded to a Domain Name Service/System (DNS). The DNS translates the domain name address(for example www.google.com) to an IP Address (192.168.12.21) and your request data is sent to this IP address to be processed accordingly.
You probably already have an idea of where your data is going to be logged, blocked or snooped on. Let’s look at a few of those scenarios.
Since all requests you make are visible and go through your ISP, it can log your requests and sell the data to 3rd parties and even block requests if try to access content which is against the local law.
Lets say your request is passed on to a DNS. Even though most public DNS services “claim” to not log any data, a lot of companies probably do.
Let’s look at the most commonly quoted use case for VPNs — Public WiFi. Whenever you try to access the internet on your local café WiFi, all your requests pass through the router at the café. Someone with nefarious intent can snoop in and see all the websites you are trying to access and even manage to steal data if the website isn’t using a secure protocol.
Enter scene — VPN.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) in a nutshell, encrypts your data and sends the data to a VPN server. Your ISP can only see that you are sending some encrypted data to a VPN server with absolutely no clue regarding the actual service/website you are requesting. Similarly, a hacker cannot decrypt the requests you are making to the VPN server. Your VPN server, assigns you with a private IP address queries the private DNS.
At every step of the way, your data is encrypted to no entity other than the VPN service being able to see the data sent and the websites requested. So this comes without saying that you have to trust the VPN you are using since your data is visible to the VPN provider. This is also the reason to NEVER use a free VPN since most free VPNs, again, probably sell your data to 3rd parties.
Most VPN services allow you to change the location where the VPN server is, which means that to the internet, it seems as if you reside in that country and you can access all the content which is available in that country. For example, you can access shows available on Netflix USA outside USA and access websites which you don’t have access to in the country you reside in.
Since the DNS is a private DNS, all your requests are processed much faster than public DNS because there is much less traffic.
Having a VPN in my humble opinion, is an absolute necessity in 2021 with every company looking to harvest your data and collect as much tracking information as possible; not to mention the increase in cyberattacks in recent times.
We hope that this was an informative article and gained an insight into working of the internet and VPNs. If you have any further questions, be sure to leave them in the comments.
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