What is a VPN and how it works

More and more often we hear about network security, how labile it is and how our sensitive data can travel and be channeled into areas we do not like. The risk of this happening occurs when we're outside our home environment, especially if we happen to connect to an external Wi-Fi network: whether it's that of a coffee shop, a studio or another business, the controls are often very minimal. In cases like this, though, there's no need to worry: VPN is an incredibly good solution to make sure this doesn't happen!

But how do you use VPN, and what exactly is it? As we anticipated just above, VPN is a tool capable of protecting your connection by disguising your IP address and hiding your identity in both incoming data traffic and outgoing traffic. In this article by Libero Tecnologia we'll see together specifically how a VPN works, what a VPN is for and its main purposes. It sounds like a complicated system, but thanks to these indications you can easily understand the use and value of a VPN.

VPN: Virtual Private Network

The Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a revolution in the field of virtual protection. It is a personal network capable of masking your IP address once you log on to the Internet. What does this mean in a nutshell? It means that your data traffic and personal information will be protected from external attacks, cybercrime and shady systems. Exploiting the tunneling system, a VPN network has particular and different characteristics depending on the type, it doesn't need cables or connections - being a completely virtual system - and it brings considerable advantages to those who use it.

A protected connection bridge

Substantially then, a VPN network creates a sort of connection or virtual bridge, through which you can access with your own private credentials (username and password). Why do we talk about a bridge? Because your secure connection will connect to one of the main VPN servers, which will then act as a filter and a bridge allowing you to connect to the connection you want. A VPN network is always confidential, anonymous and accessible.

When to use a VPN

A VPN can be used in a variety of settings. The most common one is probably in offices, where it allows employees to work anywhere without being physically in the office (useful in case of travel or working from home), but connecting to the same files and folders that are present in the workplace. Furthermore, a VPN connection breaks down the so-called "geographical barriers", allowing you to access any content without the restriction related to the country of origin. An example? If you want to browse the entire Netflix catalog (not just the Italian one), a VPN can allow you to do so. Similarly, residents abroad who want to see streaming content reserved exclusively for the Italian market, will be able to do so easily: all this, thanks to VPN networks.

Use a VPN: free or paid?

Let's start with the (few) sore points: which VPN to choose? Yes, there are many networks that you can turn to in order to be sure to surf safely. Let's start right away by saying that each VPN has different specifications, and therefore you will find yourself choosing based on the use you need to make of it. However, it is important to point out and warn you about the free VPNs that you may run into. The latter, in fact, have no guarantee of security and indeed, sometimes they are "lures" that aim precisely to steal your personal data. It follows that a good VPN is difficult to find with a free system.

How is your data protected

How does a VPN work in simple terms? We have already mentioned tunnelling, which possesses this non-random name. Tunneling is in fact a real "tunnel" of communication between the two nodes of the network, which in some VPN is pure and in others adopts instead a hybrid system, even more secure. Why, however, do we need this tunnel? Data on the network travels in packets of information defined from one point to another using an encrypted mode, but these packets are visible to anyone and - consequently - accessible.

Imagine your packets travel along a road that is not straight, but has branches and junctions: from those openings can come prying eyes, which could steal your data. This explains the importance of tunneling: a linear, straight and closed path, without branches, that takes your packet from point A to point B making the transit of information invisible.

Why VPNs were born

Is it really so important to protect this data, after all? The answer is obviously yes, which is why VPNs were first born. Queste connessioni criptate consentono di proteggervi da spionaggi di qualsiasi tipo, e si rivelano particolarmente efficaci in una realtà aziendale che ha bisogno di trasmettere informazioni di un certo peso tramite la rete. Utilizzare una VPN, inoltre, significa anche garantire a sé stessi un livello di privacy davvero alto, dal momento che il vostro indirizzo IP non sarà mai visibile. Verrà visualizzato al suo posto l’indirizzo IP del server della VPN, che verosimilmente potrebbe trovarsi anche dalla parte opposta del vostro paese di provenienza.

I protocolli di una VPN

La VPN fa uso di diversi protocolli di cifratura, alcuni molto comuni e altri più particolari. Generalmente i maggiori protocolli della VPN si individuano in:

  • PPTP, protocollo by Microsoft, probabilmente il più conosciuto nel mondo delle VPN. Per quanto conosciuto, oggi ci sono scelte decisamente più sicure da poter effettuare;
  • OPENVPN, un protocollo open source tra i più complessi ma, al contempo, anche fra i più sicuri. Supporta diversi algoritmi di cifratura e permette di scaricare anche programmi pre-configurati atti a supportare l’utente nell’installazione;
  • SSTP, un protocollo buono e affidabile basato su Windows;
  • IPsec;
  • IKEv2.

I vari tipi di connessione VPN

Ora che abbiamo incamerato molte informazioni sulle VPN, passiamo a parlare della divisione di reti ad accesso remoto e reti con accesso site-to-site. Le connessioni VPN ad accesso remoto consentono di entrare in un server di una rete privata semplicemente attraverso la rete di internet. È possibile quindi, come accennavamo prima, utilizzare il proprio PC di casa per connettersi con il server della propria azienda e ritrovarsi quindi tutti i dati, file e cartelle che si avrebbero sul luogo di lavoro. A sort of private and secure connection that will allow you to work anywhere safely.

Differently from the remote access VPN connection, the site-to-site VPN connection allows you to connect to a private network through a customized and private router. In a nutshell, by placing the VPN router in the locations you want, you will be assured of a secure connection at multiple points in the world.

How to access VPN

So let's get down to business: how do you access a VPN network? Actually, the process is very simple, although a lot depends on the type of protocol adopted. Let's say that, in general, it is necessary to authorize the access and ensure the transmission, which happens more or less in this way: the client contacts the server, which in turn notifies the presence. At this point, the client asks the server for identification, and the server verifies the authorized connection attempt. Then, the server responds positively authorizing the client to the communication, and at this point there is the real "dialogue" between the two poles.