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What Is A VPN?

VPNs: Why, What and How – Part Two

Break In Online Security If you read my previous article ‘VPNS why should I get one’ then you are no doubt reading this article because you are a concerned internet user and you are after a little more information.

The subjects in this article are verging on the technical side and I’ll only be trying to give you a basic understanding here. For most people it isn’t vital that you fully understand the inner workings of these things if all you need is to find a VPN Provider. However it’s my opinion that a little bit of knowledge is always preferable so you can be more informed when you embark on your quest for online security and anonymity.

There are many different types of VPNs available; they use different methods (or protocols) to achieve similar goals. There are also different types PROXYs available which can provide the same if not better results as a VPN – depending on what you are looking for.

What is an IP Address:

Before we go any further it’s important that you understand what an IP Address is. An IP Address or Internet Protocol Address is a series of 12 numbers which is a unique code that is assigned to each device. (Laptop/PC/Mobile)

The purpose of an IP Address is to make your device identifiable online and also your current location. This is a major vulnerability when seeking security and online anonymity.

What Is a Proxy?

If all you are looking for is online anonymity from using certain sites (like torrent sites) then a PROXY might serve your purposes more simply and effectively than a VPN.

A PROXY is a server that acts as a filter for any of your activity on your web browser. You connect to the internet via a PROXY and once in use, you will adopt the speed/security/GEO location and IP address of your chosen PROXY server.

Once your online activity is managed by the proxy, you will become anonymous as your IP Address will become that of the PROXY and your online activity will pass only through the PROXY.  PROXYS can be a faster and cheaper solution over VPNs if all you are looking for is online anonymity.

  • PROXYs will only filter sites that are accessed via a browser (firefox/chrome etc) that you have applied the PROXY settings to and they aren’t always compatible with certain web pages that use-non browser technology.
  • PROXYs also don’t use particularly strong encryption and are most effective when used to target particular sites like Bit Torrent. If you are concerned about online security then a VPN is a safer option for you.

Diagram of Proxy Server

What is a VPN?

Both a VPN and a PROXY server will re-route your internet traffic and change your IP address. As with a Proxy, you will also adopt the speed/security/Geo location and IP Address of your chosen VPN server. Aside from these two factors a VPN operates very differently from a PROXY.

  • A VPN encrypts ALL of your traffic including programs and applications, bypassing your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and routing all traffic via the VPN server.
  • VPNs use tunnelling protocols to actually tunnel a secure point to point corridor inside an unsecure network (the internet) offering a twofold layer of protection.

Diagram of VPN tunneling protocal

Not all VPNs and Proxys work in the same way and some aren’t as effective as others. Here are a few examples to help you understand some of the many confusing acronyms out there.

  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS):

    SSL and TLS are used extensively in the security of online retailers and service providers. An online shopper should never purchase from a site if it does not implement SSL or TLS. You can look for this in the web url like in this example. A site wishing to implement this protocol will have to submit points of identification and verification before being allowed access. Once approved the SSL or TLS is established and all information from this site that is passed to a server is encrypted and secure.

Example of SSL Website

  • Site-to-Site VPN (S2S):

    Site-to-site is much the same thing as PPTP except there is no ‘dedicated’ line in use. This is a connection to two sites which encrypts all data passing between the two.


  • Socks 5 Proxy (SOCKS5):

    There are two different types of Proxy, HTTP and Socks. HTTP is the protocol used to transfer website data. It is designed for a specific protocol and while it does this very well, you will run into problems when trying to use this for any other applications. The SOCKS5 Proxy technology is designed to be an all-purpose proxy accommodating any programme, protocol or type of traffic. While there are many different types of Socks Proxy – SOCKS5 is the best one for torrent use offering support and faster downloads.


  •  Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP):

    PPTP is an age old VPN protocol. This is also the most common and widely used. PPTP simply tunnels and encapsulates the data. There are concerns regarding the security of this type of protocol as it doesn’t encrypt the data it encapsulates.  A secondary protocol in conjunction with this can provide a powerful combination.


  • IP security (IPSec):

    IPSec is often used to secure Internet communications and can operate in two modes. Transport mode only encrypts the data packet message itself while tunnelling mode (L2TP/IPsec) encrypts the entire data packet.


  • Secure Shell (SSH):

    SSH creates both the VPN tunnel and the encryption that protects it. This allows users to transfer information unsecured data by routing the traffic from remote fileservers through an encrypted channel. The data itself isn’t encrypted but the channel its moving through is. SSH connections are created by the SSH client, which forwards traffic from a local port one on the remote server. All data between the two ends of the tunnel flow through these specified ports. SSH tunnels are the primary means of subverting the government content filters and allowing access to torrent sites that might otherwise be blocked by the HTTP network.

SADAH-VPN-logoIf you are considering a VPN or Proxy provider there are a few things to keep an eye out for. Be aware that many providers still log your information and while another user may not be able to view or access information on your activities – the information is still there.

Look for providers that offer non-logging services. Free providers are particularly guilty of this and they have also been known to on-sell your online activity to marketing giants for targeted advertising.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding on the different types of VPNs and how they work. In my next and final article on VPNs: WHY, WHAT AND HOW- Part Three I will show you how to set up a real VPN for three different user scenarios:

  • How to safely download torrent files using a PROXY
  • How to use a VPN to access NETFLIX in America
  • How to use a VPN to browse the web anonymously and securely

If you have any further questions please feel free to comment or give us a call on: 1300 266 936 or send us your enquiry.


Toby Hazlett. Director of Computer Zen Brisbane. We make IT happen for your home or business. We have been Providing Computer repairs, Managed IT solutions and business IT support for over 10 years in the Brisbane Area. Need IT Help? Reach out to us on 1300 266 936.