By Bram Jansen
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are a very cool innovation. They allow you to remain anonymous online and bypass restrictions imposed by media giants to let you access an unimaginable amount of content and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that VPNs are a tool with the power to do incredible things, however, not a lot of people really understand the details about their functioning.
If you’re a common VPN user, then you must be familiar with the term ‘encryption’. But do you really know what it means in terms of computer systems? The answer to this is not very short, but we’re more than pleased to illustrate this process so that everyone can get the most out of it and really understand what’s going on when they hit the connect button on their VPN clients.
What is Encryption?
Simply put, encryption is a process in which you rearrange and modify the contents of your data so that it becomes unreadable by anyone who is not allowed to its access. The digital encryption used by VPNs depends on something called a “key” (sometimes many of them) that tells the user’s computer how to modify the data so that the VPN server can understand it and decrypt it later. Most modern VPNs use symmetric encryption algorithms, which rely on a single key to encrypt and decrypt as opposed to asymmetric encryption which requires a different one for each action.
Encrypted data is then transmitted through the network making use of protocols. These contain instructions for the computers involved about how to handle, encrypt and divide the data to be sent as well as some other more specific directives regarding the keys and other metadata. The best protocols ensure your data is as well-protected as possible and that all your communications are as fast as you require them to be. There are many VPN protocols and encryption schemes in existence, so let’s discuss some of them to know which ones are best.
First, let’s talk about ciphers. These represent the specific method in which your data is encrypted. Each variant as its benefits and downsides. The key things you have to look for are robustness, known weaknesses and speed. The most common encryption algorithms these days are the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and another one commonly known as Blowfish. Security adepts agree that AES is currently the most secure option, which is made evident by the fact that almost all VPN providers use it.
When it comes to protocols, there exist a few more commonly known options but, in the end, it all comes down to a showdown between IPSEC (also known as L2TP), SSTP and OpenVPN. The first one is strong enough to be trusted by the majority of the experts in the area, however, it is far slower at its job than its peers. The second one, SSTP, is also very strong, but it is only available for Windows PCs, which makes it inviable for mobile VPNs.
Now the real deal starts with OpenVPN. This protocol is as secure as IPSEC and much faster at the same time. It is open source, meaning it’s got a big community behind it constantly trying to improve it and make it faster and safer for everyone. This is the most recommended protocol, although not all VPN providers support it. I recommend you use the availability of OpenVPN as a critical factor to consider when deciding which VPN provider to hire.
Benefits of Encrypting your Traffic
Making your online traffic unreadable saves you from many risks that lurk out there. Governmental agencies, hackers, big companies, these all have one thing in common: they are constantly gathering data about your online habits. By encrypting it, you can prevent it from being sold to advertisers or having adversaries using it against you. This is particularly important if you are in charge of a business or if you have a very important position in a company. Using encrypted communications can save you from a disaster.
This is not, however, the only feature found in a VPN that can protect you and those important to you. Proficient VPN providers like NordVPN offer you a lot more layers of security that ensure your identity and all the information about your online navigation is always hidden when you’re connected to their network. Just remember that your privacy is one of your most valuable belongings and only you are really responsible for its protection.