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What Is a VPN Connection?

What Is a VPN Connection?

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Many people today know that a virtual private network (VPN) can conceal their internet activity and prevent hackers from getting their information. They also know that VPNs can change their location to stream the newest dramas from Spain, Cairo or Korea. But if you ask them, "What is a VPN connection and how does it work?" just a few of them may know the answer.

In this article, we explain how VPN connections work, including how to add a VPN connection to your device, the different types of VPN protocols and how to customize your connection.

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What Is A VPN Connection?

A VPN connection reroutes and encrypts your internet traffic, ensuring that any data you send or receive is protected en route. Secure VPN connections depend on multiple features, including:

  • Encryption: The process of converting data into code so that third parties cannot make sense of it without an encryption key
  • Tunnels: Connections that transport encrypted data as it reaches a server or network
  • Server network: The amount of available VPN servers that your provider has
  • Kill switch: A feature that will cut your internet connection automatically to maintain your security if your VPN stops working
  • DNS leak protection: An additional security feature that makes sure your information doesn't leak onto public servers despite having a VPN connection
  • Protocols: The rules and instructions of how data gets protected over a private network

How Does a VPN Connection Work?

The main point of using a VPN is to mask your Internet Protocol (IP) address. Your internet service provider automatically assigns you an IP address, which allows you to interact with websites (which have their own IP addresses).

This is all fine and dandy until you realize that anyone who knows your IP address can trace it back to you and use it to find your location, look into your online activity and potentially steal sensitive information. A reliable VPN internet connection solves this problem and provides an added layer of internet security and online privacy.

Here's how it works: Say you have a slightly embarrassing obsession with back scratchers and don't want the word to get out. When you go online to check out the newest makes and models, you'll connect your VPN to the internet. The following is what's happening behind the scenes with a basic VPN:

  1. You turn on your VPN and it connects to the nearest VPN server.
  2. Your VPN encrypts your request to view all the newest backscratchers into a complex code.
  3. Your encrypted data transfers to the VPN server through an encrypted tunnel, adding a second layer of protection.
  4. Your encrypted data arrives at the VPN server and is decrypted with the encryption key.
  5. The VPN server sends your request to view backscratchers to the website on your behalf. Thus, the website doesn't know who you are.
  6. The website sends back pictures of those sweet, sweet backscratchers and the entire process repeats in reverse until you get the data.

Types of VPN Connections

VPN connections vary based on the type of VPN and the transfer or tunneling protocol used. VPN protocols function differently and have various use cases.

Remote Access VPN

As its name suggests, a remote access VPN will allow you to join a private network from a remote location. The most common use case for this type of VPN is when your company has a private network with a lot of sensitive data. Imagine that you just got sick, but not so sick that you can't work from home. You may still need to access your company's data, which is where remote access VPNs come in handy.

Site-to-Site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs, sometimes called router-to-router VPNs, do not connect individuals to private networks. Instead, they establish a secure connection between two or more networks. These large networks may be company branches, offices or even college campus locations.

When your colleague starts a conversation about site-to-site VPNs, the terms "intranet-based VPN" and "extranet-based VPN" might come up:

  • An Intranet-based VPN connects multiple locations that fall under the umbrella of the same company or network.
  • An Extranet-based VPN connects offices, branches and locations from different companies.

Now, go ahead and flash that half-smirk with some subtle nods while your colleague explains this. They might get the hint that you are already familiar with what they are talking about.

Client-to-Site VPN (Reverse VPN)

Client-to-site VPNs connect an individual (client) to a larger network (site). You may ask how this is different from a Remote Access VPN. The truth is, it's not any different: Client-to-site VPNs, or reverse VPNs, are used the same way as remote access VPNs.


Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) was one of the first VPN protocols created, and because of this, it's somewhat outdated now. PPTP works through the basic process of sending an encapsulated byte of data through an encrypted tunnel from one point to another. Since it came out in the 1990s with much earlier versions of Windows, you can imagine why it's not in huge demand.

While many still use PPTP to transfer less important information, there are many better, more secure options available. Try Googling "how to crack a PPTP VPN" and you'll have a good idea why it's no longer popular.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) VPN

Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) creates a tunnel between two L2TP points that protects your data en route. It's an improvement on PPTP, but it's still lackluster. L2TP doesn't encrypt your data, so it's just a tunnel connecting your device and a VPN server.

Because of its security vulnerabilities, L2TP is often used side-by-side with another tunneling protocol that encrypts your data. For example, L2TP is usually paired with Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) for increased security.


IPsec is a protocol that authenticates and encrypts your data to ensure maximum privacy and security. While earlier protocols like PPTP and L2PT use a tunnel, some third parties can eavesdrop and see the data going through that tunnel. With IPsec, the encrypted data is unintelligible, and Joe Hacker can't make any sense of it even if he can see what's going through the tunnel.

IPSec can combine with other protocols to create an even more secure VPN connection.


Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols protect you when you're on a website. For example, if you shop online, the website will often use an SSL/TLS protocol as security to protect your information. Website connections that use SSL/TLS will begin with "https" instead of an unsecured website that begins with only "http."

TLS is the new-and-improved version of SSL, but many people don't know this — or think SSL sounds cool — and still say it when they actually mean TLS.

Mobile VPN

A mobile VPN is a secure private network that connects your mobile iOS or Android device to a VPN server. You can use this type of VPN to encrypt and send data over private or public Wi-Fi networks, but also with your cellular data. The most common mobile VPNs are apps you can download from the App Store or Google Play Store.


OpenVPN is an open-source protocol, meaning anyone can view its code, inspect it for issues and make changes to it. It's a tunneling system that runs on other VPN protocols and uses SSL/TSL protocol for key exchange, part of the protocol that protects the channel between the two communicating parties.

Many consider OpenVPN the best protocol for cybersecurity, as anyone can work toward improving it. However, it's also the most complicated VPN protocol to set up and use.

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How To Add a VPN Connection

How you add a VPN connection will depend on which device you're using.

To set up a VPN connection on Windows:

  • Click on Start.
  • Head over to "Settings."
  • Choose "Network & Internet."
  • Select "VPN."
  • Finally, choose "Add VPN."

Mac users can add a VPN connection, too. Just follow these steps:

  • Click on the Apple menu (the Apple icon in the upper left).
  • Select "System Settings."
  • Next, in the sidebar, you'll need to choose "VPN."
  • Click on "Add VPN."

To add a VPN connection for Android mobile devices, do the following:

  • Go to the Settings app.
  • Choose "Network & Internet."
  • Select "VPN."
  • Tap on "Add" in the top right corner of your screen.

Last but not least, iPhones and other iOS devices can also benefit from VPN connections. Here's what to do:

  • Head over to your Settings App.
  • Choose "General."
  • Toward the bottom, tap on "VPN & Device Management".
  • Select "VPN."
  • Finally, choose "Add VPN Configuration."

Why Is My VPN Connection So Slow?

Having a slow VPN connection can be a big letdown. Imagine you're all set to stream the championship game in your living room, but the only action you get to watch is the loading loop doing cartwheels in the center of your screen.

VPNs can slow down your internet connection because they have to perform several extra steps to secure your connection. Routing your internet traffic through a server in a faraway region may reduce the speed of your connection. A server packed with VPN users may also slow your connection.

So, how can you save the day and get the game on before your friend loses it and breaks your TV?

How To Speed Up a VPN Connection

There are several ways to improve your internet connection speed if it has been lackluster since installing your new VPN. It's important to first check your VPN connection and make sure the software is working properly. If it isn't working at all, you may need to reinstall the software, speak to a customer service representative or get a new VPN altogether.

The best solution for a slow VPN connection is to make sure that you have a top-notch VPN. Subscribing to a VPN like Norton VPN can keep your internet traffic moving at a high speed. If you're using a free VPN service, you're getting what you paid for: limited servers crowded with people.

A reliable VPN service will have a wide server network, which not only spreads out its users, but also gives you many more options. If one server is slow or you're unable to establish a VPN connection, you can just change to a server in a different city or country and see if it's better. Some VPNs will have recommendations for the fastest servers at any given point of the day.

You could also try out a different VPN protocol. Now that you've read about their benefits and drawbacks above, you can go into your VPN settings and see if that makes a difference.

Does a VPN Affect Your Internet Connection?

VPNs inevitably impact your internet connection because of the process they undergo to keep your data secure and your internet activity private. Without a VPN, you may be able to stream, play video games and surf the web faster, but you will stay exposed to having your online activity surveilled by third parties and potential cyberattacks.

If your VPN has a kill switch, your internet connection will drop when your VPN disconnects — even for a second. While this may be annoying, it keeps your IP address and DNS from leaking.

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How To Share a VPN Connection

Some of the best VPNs allow for multiple simultaneous connections. If you pay for one of these VPNs, you can install and use the VPN on more than one device at once. Sharing a VPN with multiple friends or family members is also possible.

Some VPNs allow for unlimited simultaneous connections, meaning you might be able to get around paying for a VPN if you make friends with someone already subscribed to one of these packages. As always, you or your friend should consult the terms of service to see if this is allowed. If two different residential IP addresses are using the account at the same time, it may look suspicious to the VPN provider.

Summary of Digg's What Is a VPN Connection

The different types of VPNs and protocols can affect your VPN connection in multiple ways. Making sure your VPN uses the newest and most efficient connection available will make the experience more pleasant, and you won't need to worry as much about stalkers and advertisers snooping on your personal or professional data.