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VPN’s: What Are They? Do They Work?

Friday, May 10th, 2013 by | Filed Under: I've Always Wanted To Know...

I Always Wanted To Know:

What is a VPN Service? Do They Work?


VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, is a method of encrypting and securing a connection over a public or untrusted network to a secure and trusted network. VPN connections are commonly used by businesses to provide a secure connection into a corporate network or by people using public Wi-Fi or foreign internet access who are worried about someone eavesdropping on their communication.

How does a VPN work?

A VPN connection is set up using either Windows/Mac built-in VPN software or using third party software such as OpenVPN, LogMeIn or others. Each VPN set-up is slightly different, but the core aspects are the same. You’ll need the internet address of the server you’re connecting to, the protocol it’s using and a username & password. Once you initiate a connection, the encryption begins and all internet traffic goes over this secure connection. If you type a URL of a website into your web browser, the request is sent to through this secure connection.  The server seeks out the website and forwards the information back to your computer. If someone used a packet sniffer to monitor what you’re sending on an unsecured network, all they would see is encrypted data not the website information.

Is a VPN secure and does it work?

The security of the communication has a lot to do with the protocol being used, and the security of the server you’re connecting to. PPTP is the least secure of the protocols, with some known exploits. L2TP/IPsec and OpenVPN are the most secure. In general through, most VPN services are considered to be very secure. It is important to know though, that just because your information is secure from third party eavesdropping, doesn’t mean that the VPN provider (your company or third party) doesn’t log usage. Your computer can also contain security vulnerabilities, and if a hacker takes over your PC they will have access to information before it is sent out over the encrypted connection.


P.S. Thank you to Dave from Buffalo, NY for this weeks “I Always Wanted To Know” question.

Do you have a general technology or electronics question you always wanted to know like “How does a Microwave work?” or “Why do LED’s last so long?” Write us by clicking here.

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One Response to “VPN’s: What Are They? Do They Work?”

  1. K.Vee.Shanker. says:

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for your information. I particularly like your cautioning about the likely viruses in both computers that are not affected by the VPN. Just because we have the secure VPN connection for important transactions, doesn’t mean that we can be careless during browsing and downloading too.

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