How VPNs Secure My Data?
Simply put, a VPN service enables secure access to a private network and allows users to share data remotely in a secure way while using public networks. What this means is that a secure VPN will protect and secure all your online communication and transfer of data over any available network.
A reliable VPN service features two basic layers of protection. First of all, it secures the connection between you, a server, and a destination website or computer. This is your protection against network snooping. Secondly, your data is being encrypted, so even if someone is able to sniff your connection, they will be unable to read the data.
Algorithms that hide your actual IP provide a further layer of protection, as your IP can reveal many details about you – even your physical location, for example. Whats more governments and online services use your IP to ban you from accessing certain online services and websites, even paid subscriptions services.
Hiding your IP or replacing it with a local one is relatively easy. You can do it with a number of free tools. A VPN is more about security and privacy, which means you need secure protocols for data exchange.
VPN Security Protocols
You must carefully explore what security protocols a specific VPN software is using before opting for it. Actually, there are a good number of VPN security protocols and each of them offers a different security level.
Let’s explore them in more detail.
IP security (IPSec)
IPSec is one of the most widely used protocol for securing Internet communications. It operates in transport and tunnelling mode where the transport mode encrypts the data message and the tunnelling mode encrypts the whole data packet. A decent VPN service provider will use it also in combination with other security protocols to boost the overall security.
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/IPsec
It combines features of the L2TP and IPsec protocols for enhanced security. VPN apps use the IPSec protocol to provide encryption, secure the communication channels, and achieve data integrity, while the L2TP generates the networking tunnel.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS)
The SSL and TLS protocols are in common use when the security of online retailers and service providers is concerned. In this case, the client always initiates an HTTP-based SSL connection while any URL starts with “https://” instead of “http://”. The secure communication between you and a website is authorized through digital certificates and all encryption keys and sessions are being performed over a secure connection.
It is becoming a standard after Google started penalizing websites that do not use HTTPS.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
PPTP is a universal VPN protocol you can use on different operating systems to create tunnels. It does encrypt data packets and your VPN app is using protocols like GRE or TCP to perform encryption.
Secure Shell (SSH)
SSH is a potent protocol that is able to handle both the VPN tunnel and the encryption of data packets. It also enables a client to redirect traffic from one computer port to another, thus bypassing certain networking restrictions. SSH is also able to initiate data traffic through ports that a firewall will typically block.
Any of these security protocols has its advantages and disadvantages and you cannot rely only on them to get maximum VPN protection. Of course, you should check if a VPN app is supporting all of the widespread security protocols but you also need support for encryption methods that are hard to break.
So, you need to evaluate what level of encryption a VPN service provider is offering and whether they actually perform such encryption.
VPN and Encryption Methods
You should not settle for anything less than AES-256 bit encryption ((Advanced Encryption Standard)) when encrypting data packets over a VPN connection is concerned. AES-256 bit keys are considered a safe bet for encrypting data unless you need a military-grade encryption.
A number of VPN service providers claim they offer such a level of encryption by using AES-256 bit keys but you should take these statements with a pinch of salt as government agencies and hackers might be able to both steal and break such keys. Breaking such a key is very unlikely but compromising your VPN connection is quite likely in case of a targeted attack. Also, we don’t know exactly know what computing power governments are hiding in their labs, so it might be possible that AES-256 bit keys are already decipherable.
That said, one of the best security protocols, when encryption is concerned, is OpenVPN, which supports many different encryption algorithms. Researcher are still unable to find vulnerabilities or weaknesses in OpenVPN. When combined with AES-256 encryption, it should be more than enough for an average user, either individual or corporate, to know the data transfer over a VPN connection is secure and private.
You should be aware, however, that your encrypted data transfer is as secure as safe the encryption key. So, keep any passwords and encryption keys away from prying eyes in case you use additional methods to protect your VPN connection.
What is Kill Switch?
You might be wondering what kill switch is and why so many VPN service providers mention it on their websites. Just like any other online connection, your VPN connection will freeze from time to time due to various reasons. Then, the VPN software will use the kill switch feature will disconnect you from the Internet altogether.
The functionality is aiming at preventing the network from leaking your real IP address. This feature is all about privacy but you should be aware that it is not 100-percent protection against IP leaks. Moreover, recent analyses have found that certain VPN apps, including leading VPN vendors, are leaking sensitive data during a very short period (milliseconds) when they establish an initial connection.
Killswitch is usually an optional feature you can activate and deactivate yourself.