Stay safe online with VPN

VPN is vital for your digital resilience. A tunnel to free information. Find the basics in this article.

Stay safe online with VPN
VPN Tunnel offers safety, privacy and an entry to local content

VPN is one of the best ways to secure your internet traffic and protect your privacy. It also gives you access to lots of protected information. Let me explain.

Understanding VPN

To better understand VPN, I had to experiment and play. The breakthrough for me came when I was able to install a VPN server on my own network server (a NAS from Synology).

The promise of that VPN is that I could access my own network, our business' network, from anywhere. That meant we could then access our files and internal web server from anywhere. That's what I wanted, that means easier work when we're somewhere else, without having to put everything in the cloud right away. More independent.

I watched some videos, started tinkering, and soon I had the VPN server working. And then the VPN clients, configured programs that you switch on when you use them. Worked fine too.

Two stages of a VPN connection

An initial insight was that VPN worked in two stages:

  1. Create VPN connection once (get a secret key)
  2. Use VPN connection.

The first step involves sharing a key that is used to make the connection encrypted. Once you have that key in your possession and installed in your VPN client, the second step is easy, and that is connecting to the server.

When I now am on the road, I can connect to my business network and enjoy the benefits of a private network while on the internet. That is the virtual part of the Virtual Private Network.

For content engineering, there were three options to choose from. PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP with encryption via IPSec. The first one fell off as outdated and a must have. OpenVPN is easier to set up but slightly less integrated into MacOS and iOS. L2TP didn't work right away so I naturally chose OpenVPN.

Personal VPN for security and privacy

In addition to this VPN connection to a private network, there is a very different and perhaps more familiar use. Using Personal VPN to secure your connection and have more privacy. With a VPN connection like this, you make an encrypted connection (a tunnel) to a server, and then you continue on the web from there. No one can then see that it is you because the traffic then appears to come from that VPN server.

This form is very practical if you are using a connection that you do not trust. For example, a free and open connection somewhere on the road. Then it is a very smart thing to use this VPN connection.

Another important use of the VPN is if the government (or your employer) decides to shut down certain things. Something like this happened again recently in Russia. There they shut down Twitter and so you had to use a VPN connection.

List of foreign connections optimized for streaming
Personal VPN on iPhone. I am using CyberGhost. 

VPN connection for more access

Another aspect of VPN, which is interesting for many people, is to use a Personal VPN to consume content which is actually limited to a certain geographical area. You then create a tunnel to a server in that protected area. That's how you get around the restriction. I myself also have such a service that I use for more security and sometimes to access the web from another country. That's also handy if you want to check Google for another area, for example, or stream content on Netflix in the US.

List of foreign connections optimized for streaming
List of foreign connections optimized for streaming

Stay safe

So there are basically two different sorts of VPN's and different goals for use. One to safely work with a local, non-internet network and a personal one to protect your data, be more secure and to be more independent of geographic location. I hope you learned that VPN will mean something different to a business owner or IT manager, to someone working with sensitive data like a journalist, and to the consumer who wants more or cheaper access to content.

VPN Services review

On (review site on online tools for small business) you find a helpful VPN services review. They put in 40 hours of research on 120+ VPN companies from across the web. These reviews and the VPN guide help small businesses and startups find the best VPN service for their business.