VPN FAQ

What is a VPN service?

Simply put, VPN keeps your data between you and the rest of the internet safe from hackers, thieves, prying eyes and so on. VPN also allows you to view websites that are blocked by public WiFi services, universities, overseas locations and so on. If you live outside the US, you will find many websites blocked from viewing. VPN will give you the freedom to unblock those services with the added benefit of extra security and privacy.

VPN Diagram

VPN Diagram

Ease of use

First, let it be known that DNS unblock services are far easier to set up than VPN. However, VPN also provides an extra layer of security and anonymity for those who are interested in that. Ease of setup varies from provider to provider. Some offer downloadable software and applications to connect and disconnect. Most allow setup through device specific VPN options and can be set up individually. Note that this process can be a little frustrating, but step-by-step instructions are usually available to get you through the process.

There are options of configuring a single VPN setup within a central router that will affect all devices that connect through it. Some companies sell routers pre-configured for use. Additionally for the do-it-yourself crowd, there are a few routers that allow VPN configurations to be setup. Lastly options exist to flash custom firmware like DD-WRT on some routers for the most intrepid techies.

Bottom line

Bottom line is that, if you want the ultimate in security, privacy and a bonus of freeing previously blocked websites, this is the option for you. If you simply want to view US Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, BBC iPlayer or other blocked service, DNS unblocking services are a far easier and often less costly option.

More info

VPN’s come in a number of different forms depending on the type of protocol they use, in other words the language they speak to communicate between the client and host. Most of the time this isn’t something you need to worry about but in case you see them mentioned the most common types are explained below:

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)

The PPTP specification was developed primarily by Microsoft and nearly all versions of Windows include built-in client support for this protocol. PPTP establishes the tunnel but does not provide encryption. It is used in conjunction with an encryption protocol to create a secure VPN. PPTP has relatively low overhead, making it faster than some other VPN methods. PPTP has been criticized in the past for various security flaws; many of these problems have been addressed in current versions of the protocol.

Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)

As a competitor to PPTP, L2TP was developed by Cisco and is implemented primarily in their products as well as recent versions of Windows. L2TP has several advantages over PPTP; it requires the use of digital certificates for peer authentication (confirmation that the user is who they say they are), provides data integrity (protection against modification of the data sent between the sender and the recipient), data origin authentication (confirmation that the user who claims to have sent the data really did), and replay protection (which keeps a hacker from being able to capture data that is sent). On the other hand, the overhead involved in providing this extra security can result in slightly slower performance than PPTP.

Internet Protocol Security (IPSec)

IPsec is actually a collection of multiple related protocols. It can be used as a complete VPN protocol solution or simply as the encryption scheme within L2TP or PPTP. IPsec supports peer authentication, data integrity, data origin authentication, data confidentiality (encryption), and replay protection.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

An SSL VPN is a form of VPN that can be used with a standard web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari etc.) without the need to install specialised client software. There are two major types of SSL VPN’s: portals and tunnels. The former provides access to pre-defined list of sites, while the latter provides transparent access to any site. The disadvantage of SSL VPN’s is that some web applications may not function correctly, depending on how they’ve been built, without installing a browser plugin.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is not a protocol but an open source (free) application that implements VPN techniques for creating secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections over the internet using SSL encryption. It has become popular since it has the ability to work through most proxy servers and is good at working through Network address translation (NAT) and getting out through firewalls. It is provided by many personal VPN providers as the client software which users must download and install to connect to their service.