What are VPNs and When Should You Use One?

January 20, 2020

Since the creation of the Internet, security has been a major concern for many users. People desire to keep their information safe and out of the hands of those seeking to use it to their benefit. From this issue emerged services like anti-virus and eventually Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). According to GeoSurf, the VPN was developed in 1996 when a Microsoft employee was developing the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. This initial VPN was being created for use in businesses but would soon make its way onto the computers of users all around the world.

What is a VPN?

VPNs work by connecting a user’s computer or other Internet-active device to another server that is also on the Internet. This connection allows the user to access the Internet through that server’s connection to the Internet. By doing this, the original computer’s activity is masked by a secondary connection. In order to make this happen, all network traffic is sent securely to the VPN. The VPN then sends this data back to the original network and encrypts the data so that it is not viewable by others. When this happens, it is almost as if the user is accessing the Internet at the location of that specific server. This allows a user to roam the Internet without being tracked or regulated by any geographic boundaries.

Why use a VPN?

There are many reasons why someone might want to use a VPN, but some major reasons include security and the ability to bypass geographic restrictions. Since all data goes through a VPN while it is in use, browsing data and Internet activity will not be visible to anyone else on the network, as all that can be seen is the presence of a VPN connection. This provides a level of security if a user has hopes of keeping their activity private. In addition to this, there are many services, like Netflix and Hulu, that have geographic restrictions on the use of their service and the ability to view certain content. A VPN can be used to bypass this as it can mask network usage and make is appear as if the Internet is being accessed from a location other than the users.

In a society where public Internet connections lack security and data is being stolen on the regular, VPNs can provide protection and another level of security to users all around the world.


About the author

Michael Zanoff

Michael Zanoff is a freshman at Colorado School of Mines. His passion for the design process and robotics has led him to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He enjoys keeping up with new technology and learning about the world around him.

This article was contributed by a student member of Section's Engineering Education Program. Please report any errors or innaccuracies to enged@section.io.