A virtual private network (VPN) gives you the freedom to access Netflix from anywhere in the world, avoid government restrictions, or just browse the web anonymously and securely.
Whether you're actively in the market for a VPN or simply curious about what the hype is about, you've probably come across the terms “VPN tunnel” or “secure tunnel”. But what are these tunnels, and what makes them so crucial?
What are VPN Tunnels? VPNs & VPN Tunnels Defined 🚇
A virtual private network, or VPN, encrypts data sent between your device and another network.
Using a network tunnel, you are able to hide part of your web traffic from prying eyes. Your smartphone, laptop, computer, or tablet essentially browses the web anonymously and securely through a virtual, encrypted network tunnel to another network.
You can use this to prevent websites, companies, governments, hackers, and other snoops from monitoring your online activities and seeing your IP address (which, like your physical address, identifies your location) by connecting to them using a virtual private network.
Using a virtual private network tunnel is helpful when connecting to the web from a public location like a hotel, cafe, or library.
ISPs: This encrypted channel between your device and the VPN server means your Internet service provider (ISP) and the websites you visit will be unable to monitor your activity.
That’s unless they are able to break your encryption, which is almost impossible. Many virtual private network providers present their encrypted tunnelling services as the pinnacle of internet security. It's not quite as simple as that, of course. The whole explanation requires some background on how the internet works.
Normal Connections 🔌
Let’s start with the Internet:
Normally, a user connects their device to their internet service provider, which then sends the user's request to the desired website. Both your Internet service provider and the site in question will be able to monitor your online activities and habits in this case.
VPN Tunnelling 📡
By comparison, a virtual private network shields your online activity from prying eyes by encrypting your data and rerouting your connection. It reroutes your connection via its own servers instead of directly through your ISP to the destination website.
By switching your IP address to the server’s IP, you can avoid being tracked and access content that is restricted to certain regions.
One useful analogy for understanding VPN tunnels is the act of driving. When you're out on the highway, everyone can see you. Driving becomes far more challenging as you enter a tunnel. In a virtual private network, the tunnel features security at both ends and anti-surveillance technology inside.
Thus, when you connect to the internet using a VPN server, your ISP will be able to detect you're using a VPN since all it can see is a bunch of meaningless nonsense.
Other Tunnelling Services ⛑️
In addition to VPNs, proxy servers and the Tor browser network can also be used to mask your online activity. Nevertheless, VPNs are distinct from these two in that their connection is encrypted via a secure tunnel. The encryption has the benefit of keeping your browsing activity private, both from the site you're visiting and your internet service provider.
Tip: Try NordVPN which is our number-one recommended provider.
Understanding VPN Tunnels — Encryption and Protocols ⏺️
Virtual private networks employ something called a protocol to obfuscate your connection.
A protocol is essentially an agreement between two computers on the best way to communicate with each other using a set of rules. In the context of a virtual private network, this specifies details like the encryption method and the ports via which data should flow.
AES: This is the most used encryption method among several others. It's available in 128-bit and 256-bit varieties, with the latter commonly being marketed as “military-grade encryption”. In actual use, however, it seems that there is little to no difference in terms of safety. Either version will be very difficult to decipher, requiring millions or perhaps billions of years.
If you have “heavier” encryption, your connection speed will suffer. As a customer, you should make sure that OpenVPN is supported by the VPN service you choose. The vast majority of times, this method should be chosen.
Top VPN Tunnel Protocols — Top Encryption Types 📂
Different VPN protocols provide varied degrees of privacy and other benefits.
The top VPN services in the world all support the most popular tunnelling protocols, including OpenVPN. Let's have a more in-depth look.
1. PPTP 🥇
Fast but insecure.
VPNs still employ some of the earliest protocols, like Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP).
Microsoft's PPTP, included in Windows 95, encrypts data packets before sending them over a virtual tunnel. In order to connect to these servers, you need just enter the server's IP address, username, and password. And due to its low encryption level, it is one of the quickest VPN protocols.
There is a catch… PPTP is one of the least secure protocols you may employ to safeguard your data, despite its rapid connection rates. Government agencies and authorities like the NSA have been able to breach the protocol's encryption, and there are documented weaknesses going back to 1998, therefore you should avoid using it if you require reliable online security and anonymity.
2. L2TP/IPSec 🥈
Cutting-edge security but a bit inflexible…
In order to provide a more secure tunnelling protocol than PPTP, Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP) is combined with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). Data packets travelling via a tunnel are protected from prying eyes thanks to L2TP encapsulation and further encryption provided by IPSec.
When it comes to encryption, L2TP/IPSec offers one of the most cutting-edge options available: AES-256 bit. However, it is somewhat slower than PPTP because of its double encapsulation. These connections may also be more difficult to block due to the protocol's reliance on fixed ports. Thanks to its high degree of security, L2TP/IPSec is a widely used protocol.
3. OpenVPN 🥉
Robust and fast…
OpenVPN is an emerging open-source tunnelling technology that protects data packets using a 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) key. Since the protocol is freely available, the security community may examine the source code whenever they want in search of vulnerabilities.
Although the protocol may be set up on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, it can be difficult to set up and requires third-party software. However, once set up, users may benefit from OpenVPN's robust and varied encryption methods, which protect their online data and enable them to traverse firewalls quickly and easily.
4. SSTP 🎖️
Widely-used for websites.
The Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol (SSTP) is natively supported on Windows, making it simple for Windows users to set up. SSTP gets its name from the fact that it tunnels data across the internet using SSL. The SSL encryption used by SSTP makes all sent data over the internet very safe, and the protocol's flexibility in choosing a port makes it less likely to encounter problems with firewalls than L2TP.
(SSL is also used with Transport Layer Security (TLS) in browsers to encrypt the connection between your device and the website you're viewing. All secure websites use a 'https' prefix rather than a 'http' one.)
Since it is a Windows-only tunnelling protocol, SSTP has not been subjected to an independent audit to check for hidden backdoors.
Conclusion — OpenVPN is State of the Art 🛰️
What protocol should I use for a tunnel?
PPTP may be the quickest, but if you care about your data's security on the internet, you should avoid using it.
While its 256-bit encryption is impressive, L2TP/IPSec's fixed ports make it sluggish and vulnerable to firewall blocking. Although extremely safe, SSTP is platform-specific to Windows and cannot be tested for hidden vulnerabilities.
Because of its robust encryption, ease of use, and ability to tunnel around firewalls, OpenVPN is the most reliable tunnelling technology for protecting your online data. The OpenVPN protocol provides the most secure VPN connection to the internet, but it needs additional software that isn't compatible with all platforms.
In conclusion? VPN tunnelling is essential for protecting one's anonymity when surfing the web. A reliable VPN provider should give you the option of using at least one of these four tunnelling protocols. Once you've signed up for a VPN service, be sure to put it to good use.
⭐ Possible best VPN choices
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to selecting a service. However, if you're strapped for cash and would rather not pay any more than necessary, a trial of the best inexpensive VPN might be an option. Have even less money to spend? Alternatively, you might use one of the many available versions of the best free VPN.
Choosing a free VPN service usually means sacrificing some functionality compared to a premium alternative. Furthermore, security is of paramount importance while using a VPN. A lesser-known provider may not provide as much security as industry leaders like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, or IPVanish.
FAQs — Using VPN Tunnels for More Privacy 📚
Benefits of VPN tunnels
VPN tunnels are useful, but imperfect. The main drawback is that it will reduce your network speed. Adding extra tunnels, like in a double VPN connection, will only serve to further impede performance.
However, this is a negligible cost compared to the benefits of enhanced privacy and anonymity when browsing the web. A solid VPN service can shield you from monitoring and other sorts of intrusion, however, you should still use incognito mode to further conceal your digital footprints and take other common-sense measures like avoiding questionable links.
Using a virtual private network is, overall, the key to successful tunnelling. If you don't connect to your VPN provider first before accessing the internet, the VPN won't be able to hide your online activity or encrypt the data you transmit and receive.
Keep in mind that every device you use to access the internet in a public place should have VPN protection enabled on it if you care about your privacy. Even if you use a VPN on your laptop at home, it won't assist if you access the internet from your smartphone at the local cafe.
Why do I need a VPN?
Many people worry that our internet freedom and security are being threatened by increasing censorship and stricter rules. The good news for internet users is that more and more services are appearing to safeguard their online activity from eavesdropping organisations.
VPNs have become more popular as a means of increasing internet safety. In recent years, the lowly virtual private network has risen in popularity due in large part to its use in evading governmental censorship and geographically restricting access to online content and services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu. Even better, with a reliable VPN, you can conceal your identity as you evade restrictions.
To do this, the VPN will establish an encrypted connection between your device and the VPN server. If you do this, no one—not even your internet service provider, hackers, or the government—will be able to see what you're up to online.
Is PPTP the most efficient tunnelling method?
One of the earliest protocols currently in widespread use is Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol, or PPTP for short. This protocol's greatest strength is its lightning-fast connection speeds.
However, this quickness does not come free. PPTP's speed comes in part from the fact that its data encryption is so inadequate in comparison to other protocols. This indicates that the security offered by this protocol is more vulnerable to attacks from outside sources. If you're concerned about your safety, you should look into a more robust procedure.
Is L2TP/IPSec the top choice for secure tunnelling?
When used with IPsec, Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol provides superior protection than PPTP. This is because there are two layers of security built into this particular tunnelling protocol: The L2TP and IPSec components of this protocol independently develop their own secure communication channels. The result is double the security of your digital belongings.
What's the catch? Having two levels of encryption will slow down your internet connection while using this tunnelling technique. Sometimes firewalls will even prevent L2TP/IPSec from connecting. This is because this particular VPN tunnelling method makes use of hardcoded ports.
Is OpenVPN the top choice for tunnelling?
Using a VPN service that operates on the OpenVPN protocol is a good idea if you want the highest level of security when connected to the internet. This protocol is compatible with Android and iOS as well as the other main desktop and mobile OSes (Linux, Windows, and Mac).
Perhaps you feel more comfortable with a standalone OS. OpenVPN might be the answer as it is compatible with a wide variety of operating systems. When it comes to VPN tunnelling protocols, OpenVPN is presently top dog. That's due to the fact that its encryption is so robust. It can also easily breach security barriers.
Is it safe to use the SSTP tunnelling protocol?
SSTP is unique in that it is only supported by Microsoft's Windows platform. Because of its high level of safety, this tunnelling technique should be used. SSTP can more easily bypass firewalls since it does not rely on a predefined set of ports.
The catch, of course, is that this protocol only works on Microsoft Windows. Many would-be customers are excluded as a result.