Virtual Private Networks

VPN (Virtual Private Network) F.A.Q.

What does VPN mean?

VPN is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network.

What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A VPN is a secure, virtual point-to-point network connection between two devices, located remotely from one another, across an IP network. These devices are typically two hosts, but VPNs can also be created between two routers. "IP" means Internet Protocol.

When and Why are VPNs used?

VPNs are used to mask the origin and/or content of network traffic. A VPN may only be used for outgoing connections; that is, a device capable of outgoing connections must initiate it. They cannot be initiated by a device designed to only receive unsolicited connections (e.g. a web server).

What is the purpose of a VPN?

VPNs mask both the data contained in a transmission and its true source. Thus, they are frequently used to protect privacy, provide anonymity, and/or encrypt data that might not normally be encrypted.

VPNs provide the following primary benefits:

  1. Protecting non-encrypted data - encryption of formerly non-encrypted data, protecting it from Man-in-the-Middle attacks
  2. Privacy - concealment of your data transmission's true origin (IP address, physical location), and who you are

How do they work? When and why are they valuable?

A VPN establishes a secure "tunnel," and inside this tunnel is your network traffic between the computers or routers on either end of the tunnel. It's called a "tunnel" because your data simply passes through. It goes inside one end of the "tunnel" and emerges out the other side. Your data is wrapped in an encryption layer during transport. On the other end of the "tunnel" (the VPN server), the data is decrypted and passed along to its original destination, in its original form. To the device at its ultimate destination, the data appears to be received from the IP address of the VPN server, rather than from the originating server (which is the data's true origin). This process affords the benefits mentioned above.

At times, you may hear a VPN referred to as a tunnel, STunnel (Secure Tunnel), or Virtual Tunnel Interface (VTI). You may also hear the term "tunneling." VPNs can be thought of as creating a secure wrapper or “tunnel” that protects data traveling through it.