What is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be used for multiple purposes. People have become more familiar with the term VPN due to working from home as a result of COVID-19. Services like NORD VPN, Private Internet Access and others are also more familiar as they sponsor a lot of YouTube creators, and people are worried about privacy on the internet.
These two types of VPN uses are quite different, or at least their purpose is different.
The purpose of one is to create a tunnel from your home network to your company's network, allowing your device to access servers, storage, and other things on your work network.
This post will focus more on the other purpose of using a VPN service, such as NORD VPN. Very briefly, let's get a high level outline of how the internet works.
What is The Internet?
Essentially it is just a whole bunch of computers all accessing the same network... That's it...
Some computers are servers, some are clients - the way it works is quite complicated but from an internet users point of view that's all we need to know. It's just one computer talking to another computer.
It may be helpful for reading the next few paragraphs to imagine a familiar concept, such as street addresses. People live in apartment buildings which have street addresses, and they go to businesses and other central locations (shopping centres, parks etc) which also have street addresses. These days if you know the name of someone or a business or place, you just search for the address online, but in the past you would look up the name of something in a phonebook.
How does web surfing work?
Step 1. When you type in the address of a website in a web browser, your computer asks a Domain Name Server (DNS Server) what the address is of the computer that hosts that website.
(Every computer on the internet has an address, for example 126.96.36.199.
A website, just like a program on your computer, lives on a computer somewhere.
While computers are happy to remember a bunch of numbers, humans don't want to surf the internet by typing in numbers, so DNS servers have lists of names and addresses.)
Step 2. The DNS server looks at it's list of names and tells your computer what address that website name currently lives at.
Step 3. Your computer visits that address and the web server serves the website to you.
If every individual computer and internet-connected device had it's own unique address, believe it or not we would run out of addresses! So what the IT Overlords did was invent Network Address Translation (NAT). You may have seen addresses like this: 192.168.1.1. This is a Local Area Network (LAN) address. It is not uncommon for even a home user to have 50 devices on their network. Of course large companies can have thousands of devices on their network! Instead of every device having it's own publicly available address, they all share one Wide Area Network (WAN) address. This way your multitude of devices can have their own private network to talk to each other on, but only present themselves to the internet with one shared address, thus saving hundreds of millions of addresses. To refer back to our previous illustration, it could be likened to a large apartment complex with many apartments, but only one street address. The NAT is handled by your router. It's job is to remember what device on your network sent or asked for data to the internet, and facilitate communication between them.
Your WAN address is assigned by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). And with all of that information, we finally get to the point.
You don't want certain people to know your actual 'street address' (WAN address). Your WAN address is the gateway to your network and should be protected!
What a VPN service does is create an encrypted tunnel between your device or router and send your internet traffic out through one of there servers, using their WAN IP address. Your ISP can see certain details of your data connection to the internet, and they can see that your devices are talking to a VPN server, but the data itself is encrypted so they cannot see what you are doing or where your final destination is, communication-wise.
Benefits of using a VPN Service
There are two main benefits to using a VPN service.
It prevents your ISP from seeing 'who' your device is 'talking' to and what they are 'saying' to each other. But they can see that you are using a VPN service and how much data you are using.
It masks your true WAN IP address. So if you start 'talking to someone' on the internet and 'someone' is able to 'listen in' on that 'conversation', they cannot easily follow you home. (We're referring to devices sending and requesting data from each other, communicating.)
Both are very valuable benefits! But you should also know what the limitations are when using a VPN. We highly recommend reading our post: Why you SHOULDN'T use a VPN Service
In The Machine is based on the Gold Coast Australia, and services all of South East Queensland including Brisbane. If you would like a consultation or to use our services, please visit our website at www.inthemachine.com.au, or get in contact with us by email, phone or filling in our contact form.
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