What is a VPN? An Introduction to Virtual Private Networks

May 10, 2023

What is a virtual private network (VPN)?

Whether you’re growing a company, streaming your favorite shows or simply trying to keep your data safe online, there’s a good chance you’d benefit from using a virtual private network (VPN) service.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that provides you with a secure and private internet connection, wherever you are in the world. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel to keep your data safe, hides your IP address to facilitate anonymous browsing, and allows you to remotely access your organization’s network. VPNs have many applications, from companies scaling their networks to individual users implementing security while connected to public Wi-Fi hotspots. In this article we introduce what VPN is and how it works; explain some of the more important uses for VPNs; weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN.

In this article, we introduce what VPN is and how it works. We also explain some of the more important uses and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN.

How does a VPN work?

Without a VPN, when you’re browsing the internet, your requests are received by your internet service provider (ISP), who then returns the data you need. For example, by loading a website.

When you use a VPN, things are a little more complicated. Instead of your ISP directing your internet traffic directly to your destination, the traffic first moves through a VPN server.

From your point of view, your public IP address changes to that of the VPN server, and your data is encrypted. However, there’s more going on:

  • When connecting to a VPN service, the server authenticates your client.
  • An encryption protocol is applied to make all data you send and receive private.
  • A secure VPN tunnel is created to transmit data between you and the desired destination.
  • Data packets are wrapped in an outer packet by the VPN to ensure a safe transfer.
  • The outer packet is decrypted once it arrives at its intended destination.

A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel through which all of your online data passes back and forth. This article explains what a VPN is, how it works, the different types available, and the advantages and disadvantages of using one.

Types of VPN

While we generally just use the term VPN, there are two types of VPN remote access and site-to-site access – each with its own unique benefits and drawbacks.

Remote access

Most of the time, when people refer to VPN, they are talking about a remote access VPN. This kind of VPN is designed to allow users to remotely connect to a computer network securely.

Remote access VPNs allow employees to connect to their office network and access files or applications from anywhere in the world. They are also known as virtual private dial-up networks (VPDNs).

Site-to-site access

A site-to-site VPN is a type of VPN that allows multiple fixed locations to share a single private network. This can be useful for organizations with offices in different locations, as it lets them access digital resources stored at any location securely.

This is the less commonly known kind of VPN, especially because it tends to be corporate rather than private. Nevertheless, it is widely used.

VPN Encryption Explained

When you use a VPN, your data is encrypted and safe from hackers. The encryption process works by wrapping your data in a special layer of protection that can only be decrypted with the correct key. This means that even if someone intercepted your data between the server and device, they would not be able to understand it without the proper key.

When the packet reaches your device, the VPN app on your device has the correct key to decrypt the layer of encryption around the packet. Even if the packet was intercepted between the server and your device, without the correct decryption key, it would look like a meaningless string of letters and numbers.

What does VPN secure?

VPNs are devices or protocols that create a secure tunnel between the user and a VPN server. This keeps users safe online by encrypting data, hiding IP addresses and locations, creating secure connections on public Wi-Fi networks, etc. However, it is important to remember that VPNs have some limitations and can be circumvented if someone is targeting you specifically. Additionally, free/cheap VPN providers may collect data on users themselves.

Be mindful, however, that even the most reliable VPN provider can’t promise you complete online anonymity and security.

Undoubtedly, understanding the shortcomings of a VPN can help you figure out which other security steps to take.

Should you use VPN?

A secure connection and private internet access may sound like something you’d want all the time, but VPN protocols aren’t suitable for all users all of the time. Whether you choose to use a VPN depends entirely on your needs.

VPN usage can provide users with a number of benefits, such as changing your IP geolocation and privacy protection on public Wi-Fi networks. However, there are also some drawbacks to using VPNs, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to use one.

Advantages of VPN

Before we introduce you to the drawbacks of using your own VPN, let’s explore some of the wonderful and extremely helpful reasons why a virtual private network might be right for you.

This is not a complete list of advantages; however, these are among the top reasons people use VPN software:

  • Network security
  • Private data protection
  • Network expansion
  • Access to geo-blocked services

Network security

One reason why network security is so important is because websites and web apps can track your activity while you’re using the internet. This poses a risk, as advertisers could harvest your data to personalize ads, or an insecure network could threaten your organization’s security.

But there are ways to avoid these risks! By connecting to the internet via a VPN server, you gain a secure connection that no one else can snoop on.

Private data protection

Think about the online banking, credit card, login credentials and other private details you use online every day. Without an encrypted connection securing your online data, all this personal information is at risk.

With so many malicious actors out there, it’s more important than ever to use a secure connection when browsing the internet. A VPN can hide your IP address and protect your personal information from prying eyes.

Network expansion

The vast majority of companies use a private network in their offices and official buildings. This ensures that the network traffic is secure and allows access to specialized virtual workspaces and applications.

However, the problem with running a local network like this is scalability – it can be expensive to grow the network. A VPN can save the day by allowing employees to remotely access the same secure network from anywhere with an internet connection.

Access to geo-blocked services

While the internet feels free and global, online services use your IP address to determine where you are in the world geographically. They then use that information to show or hide geo-specific content or services.

VPN servers can be used to change your IP address, which allows you to access geo-blocked content and services. This can be helpful when traveling or trying to get the best deals on flights and other items.

This leaves you free to access all the content and services you need.

Disadvantages of VPN

A VPN protects your data, encrypts your connection and gives you access to more content and services. It’s a win-win situation, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not.

As with all things in life, there are some drawbacks to using VPNs online. Here are some of the most compelling reasons not to use a VPN connection all the time:

  • Decreased internet speed
  • Blocked VPN connections
  • High costs

Decreased internet speed

VPNs can slow your internet speed, but this is usually negligible for the average user. If you’re doing bandwidth-intensive activities online, though, a VPN may restrict speeds to the point where it becomes inconvenient and annoying. This is the biggest complaint that many VPN providers receive from their customers.

Blocked VPN connections

VPNs offer freedom and security but are not accessible to all. While streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are incentivized to block VPN internet traffic, premium providers will usually allow access from another location. Some countries have made using a VPN illegal while others have taken steps to restrict use.

VPNs also disable ISP tracking, which stops your internet service provider from collecting data about your online activities. That said, your internet provider can see when you’re using a VPN.


Premium VPN services are premium because they can cost a fair amount of money. You can get a decent VPN for personal use for a few dollars per month, but if you’re running a business, a VPN subscription for all your employees can start to run up to a significant amount of money.

Naturally, the more you’re willing to spend on VPN services, the better, more dependable, faster and more secure they are going to be. Sure, free VPNs exist, but you need to ask yourself why anyone would give you anything for free. Perhaps, the free VPN service you’ve chosen either doesn’t work or poses a security risk?

Due to data collection, advertisements and download restrictions, you might find that using cheap or free VPNs is worse than not using them at all.


A VPN allows a user to connect securely to a remote computer network, most commonly for companies so employees can access company servers remotely. However, individual internet users often also use VPNs to increase security and bypass restrictions while browsing the internet.

VPN encryption helps keep data sent and received private, as well as hiding your IP address. This can enable you privacy when browsing or accessing content not available in your physical location. While VPNs have some downsides – such as decreased traffic speeds – they offer advantages like enhanced security that outweigh any drawbacks.