What is a VPN connection, what is it for and what are its advantages?
VPN connections are by no means an invention, but it is now that they are beginning to gain traction among the public. While traditionally their use was more common in the business environment, the great versatility of this type of connections and their multiple uses make them increasingly popular.
But what is a VPN and what advantages does it bring? Precisely this versatility we were talking about is the same that creates some confusion in this regard, as it is increasingly related to VPN connections with “the evil” (with large quotes), as some of its applications include the leap of geographical blocks, greater anonymity in the network or even blocking advertising.
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What is a VPN?
Let’s start with the basics. VPN is the acronym for Virtual Private Network, or virtual private network which, unlike other more cryptic computer words such as DNS or HTTP, does give us quite precise clues as to what they consist of.
The keyword here is virtual, because it is this property that generates the need for the VPN itself, as well as the one that allows VPN connections to offer you the multiple uses that we will see later.
To connect to the Internet, your mobile, PC, TV and other devices generally communicate with the router or modem that connects your home to your Internet provider, either by cable or wirelessly. The components are different if you are using your mobile’s data connection (which includes its own modem and talks to the telephone antenna) but the essence is the same: your device connects to another, which connects it to the Internet.
The most normal thing is that you don’t have one, but several devices connected to the same router: mobiles, computers, consoles… In this case each one will be assigned a local IP address, which is not visible from the Internet. This is a local network, a set of devices connected in such a way that they can share files and printers without having to go through the Internet.
A VPN connection allows you to create a local network without the need for its members to be physically connected to each other, but through the Internet. This is the “virtual” component we talked about earlier. You get the advantages of the local network (and some extra), with greater flexibility, because the connection is through the Internet and can for example be from one end of the world to the other.
However, it is another peculiarity of VPN connections that is making them so fashionable today: data tunnels. Normally, while using the Internet, your device contacts your Internet provider, which is the one that connects to the different web services to offer you, for example, YouTube videos.
When you connect to a VPN connection, this changes. All your network traffic continues to go from your device to your Internet provider, but from there it goes directly to the VPN server, from where it will depart to the destination. Ideally the connection is encrypted, so your ISP doesn’t really know what you’re accessing. For practical purposes, your IP address is that of the VPN server: in many ways it’s like you’re physically there, connecting to the Internet.