Once known as a web of information, today’s Internet is a social and business platform. Every business knows the importance of having a presence online to reach their more tech-savvy potential customers. Though this innovative technology has eased our lives, it has also made a hole in our personal space.
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As we browse web pages, our personal information is collected bit-by-bit by people interested to know our likes and dislikes, people like advertisers, marketers, analytic services, market researchers etc.
To get an idea of the type of private information we’re talking about, let’s look at an example. You may have noticed many ads saying things like "Alice wants to chat with you. Join our network and chat with girls of New York" (or whatever your location is).
How did they know where you were to begin with?
Recommended Reading: Golden Rule to Internet Security
Track and Steal
Well, these companies collect info about your browser, platform, IP address, searches, browsing habits, products you buy, your location (tracked from your IP address) etc. Based on the information they get, they can actually build profiles of you and of other groups of people, then manipulate the information for their own gain.
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What’s more, the Internet is a source of many other threats like viruses, malwares, trojans, spam etc, which will infiltrate your computer system if you are not careful. There are also treacherous people who hack and phish your information when you go online on the Internet. Protecting your online identity is so important that it is a business in its own self.
Sensitive information and VPN
There are many security solutions like antiviruses, anti-malware, firewalls etc. which can protect our system but it is a totally different thing when it comes to preventing the theft of our personal info.
On browsers, the Private Browsing mode (Incognito for Chrome users) and Do Not Track provide some solutions but also come with limitations. VPN, however, is one foolproof solution for such privacy problems.
The Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The VPN creates a (virtual) encrypted ‘tunnel’ between your computer and your VPN provider’s server. This tunnel ensures that the data passing through public Internet is secure from hackers and spammers. Though the technology behind VPN is complicated, the feature basically blocks people from peeking into your data, and helps protect your identity by hiding your IP address.
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Using and connecting to a VPN is as easy as accessing your email account. At the time of buying a VPN package, the vendor will provide you a username and password (or authentication files/certificates in some cases). You can create a VPN connection in your operating system (as per guidelines given by the vendor) and connect to it using your credentials.
Alternatively, you can use VPN client (a software to connect to VPN) provided by the vendor (if it provides) to connect to VPN easily, after authenticating yourself.
Levels of Security
VPN has multiple protocols, each with a different level of ease and security. It’s like making your way to your workplace: some people take the train, while others prefer to drive themselves there. Similarly, there are many ways for a VPN to create tunnels (what we will call protocols here).
Protocols differ in platform support, retail prices and other properties. Once you’ve decided to use VPN, you have to decide further what VPN technology (protocol) to use or subscribe to. Different protocols cater to different requirements.
By far the most popular one, Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol or PPTP provides a weak 128-bit encryption but is comparatively faster than the rest because of the low encryption overhead. It supports most platforms like Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Linux, DD-WRT routers, etc. and requires no software installation as operating systems have built-in support for it.
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It is easy to use and deploy, and is compatible with Dedicated IPs. It is usually the cheapest of all protocols and is the best choice for basic users who are not looking for too much security.
Reasons to choose: Support array of platforms, easy to use, good support for mobile devices like Android and iOS.
Reasons not to choose: Weak encryption means low security, no support for alternate VPN port, easy to detect and block.
Layer Two Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP) uses Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) for encryption of data. It provides high 128-bit or 256-bit encryption and supports Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android oper
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It also needs no software installation and is compatible with Dedicated IPs# but is preferred over PPTP because of better security. It is best for people looking for high security but can’t opt for OpenVPN for any reason.
Reasons to choose: High security, better than PPTP
Reasons not to choose: No support for alternate VPN port.
OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol and can work in places like colleges and corporate offices where other protocols are blocked. It provides secure 256-bit encryption and is usually the costliest of the protocols.
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OpenVPN needs its client to be installed on the system. It is compatible with Dedicated IPs# and works on multiple ports, making it very difficult to detect and block. Thus, it is the best choice for advanced users who need high anonymity and security.
Reasons to choose: High security, Work where other protocols don’t function, Support for alternate VPN port.
Reasons not to choose: Need software installation, Works on iOS and Android with difficulty (in some cases).
Further Reading: Comparing VPN Protocols
VPNs are an effective tool to protect sensitive data from the prying eyes of hackers and snoopers. Blocking off your data stream from deliberate eavesdropping gives you a higher level of anonymity and security, giving your data the security it deserves.
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