VPN for dummies: A tutorial for beginners

When you connect to a proxy server, it becomes an intermediary between your device and the internet. All of your internet traffic gets rerouted through the proxy server, making it appear to have come from the proxy server’s IP address.

How does VPN security work?

A VPN is an excellent tool for staying private online, but it also keeps you secure with encryption, tunneling, and some other advanced security features.

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What is a secure VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. We call this a secure VPN connection because it’s encrypted and protected against external attacks.

Without a VPN, your unencrypted traffic is visible to others and may be vulnerable to manipulation, especially on unsecured public networks. That’s why using a VPN is an easy way to instantly improve your online security, no matter where you are.

How does a secure VPN work?

A VPN works by establishing a secure connection between a client (like your device) and a server (like the ones provided by ExpressVPN).

Your device connects to a remote access server (RAS) using valid credentials. These credentials are authenticated using any one of a number of methods called protocols. That’s the VPN’s first layer of security. Your device also uses client software to establish and maintain a safe VPN connection. The client software sets up a tunneled connection to the RAS, as well as managing the encryption that secures your connection. Let’s have a closer look at what these are.

How VPNs use tunneling and encryption

Secure connections via tunneling

A VPN sends data privately over the internet through a secure process called tunneling. To understand tunneling, we have to remember that all data transmitted over the internet is split into small pieces called “packets.” Every packet also carries additional information, including the protocol (such as HTTP, Telnet, and so on) it’s being used for and the sender’s IP address.

On a VPN’s tunneled connection, every data packet is placed inside another data packet before it is sent over the internet. The process is called encapsulation.

What is a VPN? image.

It’s easy to imagine how useful encapsulation and tunneling are in securing your data. The outer packet provides a layer of security that keeps the contents safe from public view.

Secure data encryption

It’s not enough just to tunnel data sent over a VPN. The next layer of security is encryption, whereby data is encoded so that packets can only be read by your VPN client and server, which are securely connected together.

VPNs can use a number of security protocols to encrypt data. The most common are IPsec (internet protocol security) and OpenVPN. They work by:

  1. Encrypting each encapsulated data packet’s contents with an encryption key. The key is shared only between the VPN’s server and clients.
  2. Using a sub-protocol called Encapsulation Header to hide certain packet information, including the sender’s identity, during transmission.

These two key features, along with others, maintain your online privacy by protecting your data and identity.

Why do you need a secure VPN?

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To shield your browsing activity from third parties

ISPs have been known to share users’ browsing activity with data brokers and marketers who use it to serve targeted ads. By encrypting your traffic with a secure VPN, you can make your internet activity unreadable to your ISP and other third parties.

To protect against hacking

Using untrusted networks like public Wi-Fi hotspots can be dangerous. Using a secure VPN protects against man-in-the-middle attacks that allow hackers to intercept and manipulate your internet traffic.

To defeat censorship

Living or traveling in a country with internet censorship? Using a secure VPN allows you to break through firewalls to unblock websites and enjoy a free and open internet.

VPN security features

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Get to know how a VPN protects your online traffic from snooping

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Encrypt your data

Strong encryption protects your data and communication

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VPN for dummies: A tutorial for beginners

VPN for dummies book.

VPN stands for virtual private network. It is an encrypted tunnel between two devices that lets you access every website and online service privately and securely.

How does VPN tunneling work?

VPN tunneling creates a point-to-point connection between two devices, often the VPN server and your device. Tunneling encapsulates your data into standard TCP/IP packets and safely transfers it across the internet. Because the data is encrypted, hackers, governments, and even internet service providers cannot see or gain control of your information while you are connected to a VPN server.

What is a VPN? image.

Why do I need a VPN?

From enhanced security to saving money, there are many benefits that come from using a VPN. Check out these five amazing things a VPN can do for you and learn how VPNs work.

How is a VPN different from a proxy?

When you connect to a proxy server, it becomes an intermediary between your device and the internet. All of your internet traffic gets rerouted through the proxy server, making it appear to have come from the proxy server’s IP address.

Diagram showing the difference between a proxy and a VPN.

Connecting to a proxy server masks your IP address and allows you to access censored content. However, proxy servers do not encrypt your traffic, so any information that you exchange over the connection can be intercepted by others who are also connected to the server, such as hackers or identity thieves.

A VPN offers all the benefits of a proxy server but also secures and encrypts the data between your device and the internet, allowing you to go online without fear of having your information intercepted or stolen.

How is a VPN different from DNS?

In addition to its main VPN service, ExpressVPN also provides a way to change your DNS settings such that only certain content goes through its servers, leaving the rest of your network traffic to be handled by your regular ISP.

Diagram showing the difference between DNS and a VPN.

However, like a proxy server, this DNS service does not include secure tunneling for your network traffic, which makes it slightly faster but leaves it prone to third-party interference. Additionally, changing your DNS settings does not hide your IP address, since not all of your traffic is rerouted through the DNS server. If you want to remain anonymous and protect the information you exchange online, you need a VPN.

How is a VPN different from a firewall?

A firewall is a barrier that analyzes data packets from the internet that try to connect to your computer and only allows those that meet a predetermined set of rules to get through.

Firewall protecting device from dangerous incoming internet traffic.

Using a firewall is a great way to protect your device from threats such as virus attacks and worms. However, a firewall can only protect your device from dangerous incoming traffic. To secure and protect the network traffic leaving your device, you need a VPN. A firewall does offer complementary benefits to a VPN, however, and using the two together provides optimal online security.

VPN and firewall protecting device from dangerous incoming internet traffic, as well as securing and protecting outgoing traffic.

What is the difference between a VPN app, a VPN plugin, and a VPN browser?

VPN browsers or browser plugins only protect your web browser traffic. The rest of the network traffic from your device is still exposed to internet service providers and potential hackers. A VPN app will encrypt and protect all network traffic from your device.

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The ExpressVPN browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge is different. It works in partnership with the ExpressVPN app to protect your entire device.

Where can I get a VPN?

How to sign up for ExpressVPN

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Choose your plan.

Enjoy the internet with privacy and security!

ExpressVPN makes safe internet browsing easy

Learn more about using a VPN

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What is a VPN?

Get to know how a VPN protects your online traffic from snooping

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Browse privately

Change your IP address and mask your location online

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Unblock websites

Access your favorite web services and defeat censorship