How does VPN security work?
Whether you’re thinking about using a VPN service or you already do, you’re probably wondering just how it all works to keep you secure. It can seem a complicated business, described in unfamiliar terms like “tunneling” and “encapsulation.” You know it protects you by providing security from hackers and spies. But how, exactly?
What is a secure VPN?
It’s there in the name: A VPN is a virtual private network. There are many such networks, like ExpressVPN. As with any private network, the information you send and receive on a VPN is walled off from other computers and the internet.
It’s a bit like your home or business network, which you use to share files between devices across your router. Nobody outside the network can see that data if your network is properly secured. That’s why a VPN gives you security.
The key difference is in the “virtual” part of VPN. Your home or business network is secure because it’s physically separate from the internet. (You could unplug the internet connection and still share local files on it, if you wanted to.) A VPN, on the other hand, is accessed through the internet and works to keep your online data and online identity secure.
How secure is VPN?
A VPN’s security depends on how it establishes private connections.
To use a VPN, both the network server (at the VPN provider’s side) and the client (your computer) need dedicated software. A subscription to ExpressVPN takes care of all these requirements.
Your computer connects to a remote access server (RAS) using valid credentials. These credentials are authenticated using any one of a number of methods called protocols. That’s the VPN’s first layer of security. Your computer also uses client software to establish and maintain a safe VPN connection. The client software sets up a tunneled connection to the RAS, as well as managing the encryption that secures your connection. Let’s have a closer look at what these are.
Secure connections via tunneling
A VPN sends data privately over the internet through a secure process called tunneling. To understand tunneling, we have to remember that all data transmitted over the internet is split into small pieces called “packets.” Every packet also carries additional information, including the protocol (such as HTTP, Telnet, Bittorrent and so on) it’s being used for and the sender’s IP address.
On a VPN’s tunneled connection, every data packet is placed inside another data packet before it is sent over the internet. The process is called encapsulation.
It’s easy to imagine how useful encapsulation and tunneling are in securing your data. The outer packet provides a layer of security that keeps the contents safe from public view.
Secure data encryption
It’s not enough just to tunnel data sent over a VPN. The next layer of security is encryption, whereby data is encoded so that packets can only be read by your VPN client and server, which are securely connected together.
VPNs can use a number of security protocols to encrypt data. The most common are IPsec (internet protocol security) and OpenVPN. They work by:
Encrypting each encapsulated data packet’s contents with an encryption key. The key is shared only between the VPN’s server and clients.
Using a sub-protocol called Encapsulation Header to hide certain packet information, including the sender’s identity, during transmission.
These two key features, along with others, maintain your online privacy by protecting your data and identity.
Why do you need a secure VPN?
Don’t let companies use your data against you
Corporations can track the locations that you visit their websites from and adjust their prices accordingly. They can also share your data with the government. Worse, the data they collect on you is vulnerable to hackers.
Protect your personal business from hackers
Accessing Facebook or your email from a public Wi-Fi hotspot? A hacker can hijack your Facebook account or email. Stop hackers from intercepting your personal data.
Stop nosy governments from spying on you
The NSA has built the world’s largest data center in Utah. It’s bigger than Google. It’s bigger than Facebook. And it’s going to be filled with data about you and your activities. Don’t be a part of the NSA’s data center.
Keep your internet free from censorship
Living or traveling in a country that censors the internet? Internet censorship is the supression of online content, which may be undertaken by governments to limit knowledge and suppress free speech.
Frequently asked questions
Are VPNs really secure?
Yes, if you use a high-quality VPN. When using ExpressVPN, your data is transmitted through a tunnel secured with AES-256, the same encryption standard adopted by the U.S. government and used by security experts worldwide to protect classified information. It’s impenetrable by attackers and other third parties, keeping your online activity private.
Can a VPN be hacked?
Vulnerabilities can weaken a VPN, but ExpressVPN takes your privacy extremely seriously and takes full measures to ensure the security of our service. As a safeguard, ExpressVPN servers do not store users’ connection or traffic logs, plus our proprietary TrustedServer technology ensures all data is wiped from servers with every reboot.
Meanwhile, using a VPN protects you from hacking methods such as packet sniffing and man-in-the-middle attacks. In fact, using a VPN is good practice for every type of connection, but can be particularly useful when browsing unsecured HTTP websites. Expats, travelers, and all kinds of on-the-go individuals should use a VPN whenever they're on an untrusted network like free public Wi-Fi.
Do VPNs really protect you?
High-quality VPNs such as ExpressVPN protect your identity, data, and privacy in various ways. Your online traffic is shielded in an encrypted tunnel so no one can see your activity or sensitive information (such as during online banking). At the same time, a VPN gives you a different IP address that is shared with thousands of other VPN users—this raises your anonymity and makes it virtually impossible for anyone to trace your activity back to you.