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VPN, Proxy and Their Alternatives

Posted in Technology on February 11, 2017

In this article we will focus on the technologies that allow building an individual network of computers that is independent from Internet. We'll talk more about that.

What is VPN

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. These technologies can provide one or several network connections. These connections run independently from other networks, e.g. Internet. The level of confidence of VPN does not depend on the level of confidence in the global network. Being a creator of one of the VPN, you can use a variety of data protection. Thus, the creation of a private network is beneficial to those who want to transmit information from one computer to another one, and you can be sure that data are protected much better than in the Internet. What is included in the arsenal of safety systems of VPN? There are different means of cryptography, such as encryption, authentication, public key infrastructure, the means for protection against repetition and changing of transmitted messages over the network.

The VPN is accepted to distinguish several types of these compounds:

  • Node-node
  • Network-node
  • Network-network

It should be noted that the level of security and anonymity of VPN depends on how it is implemented and configured. A high level of confidentiality can be achieved using special software and its correct implementation. Fine-tuning VPNs allow users to achieve complete anonymity in the virtual space.

Let’s talk a little bit about the structure of the VPN.

It consists of two levels. The first level is called "internal network". There can be several such networks. The second level is an "external network". It controls all internal connections. As a rule they use the Internet for connection. It is possible to connect the remote user to the virtual network. It uses a special server that is connected to both internal networks and the external ones. The computer needs to go through several processes in order to connect to a virtual network. Only after successful completion of the processes of identification and authentication, the user will be able to pass the authorization process. Authorization, in turn, allows you to gain full access to the network.

That's what VPN is.

Let’s make a conclusion.
VPN allows us to create a virtual network. The expression "virtual network" requires special attention. In fact, computers that are connected to one of these virtual networks are not connected to each other as during the local connection. Therefore, we must distinguish two kinds of these relations. VPN differs from a local connection. However, all the properties of a local network can be observed in VPN technologies. What is VPN useful for? You can create your "local" virtual network of several computers that may be located in different parts of the world. However, it should be noted that the virtual network is possible only if there is an Internet connection.

New technologies require new solutions every day. Sometimes a new idea requires the timely development of fresh technologies. In the world of ideas and progress all these things become possible due to those people who bring their ideas and imagination to life.

How does VPN work?

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a technology that allows combining computing devices in secured networks to provide their users an encrypted channel and anonymous access to resources on the Internet.

In the companies VPN they mainly use the same local network to merge multiple branches located in different cities or even parts of the world. Employees of these companies can use all the resources that are in each branch as their local ones. It is due to VPN. For example you can print a document on a printer located in another branch with just one click.

VPN is useful ordinary users of the Internet when:

  • the website is blocked by a provider, but you need to visit it;
  • you often use online banking and payment systems and you want to protect data from theft;
  • you want the visited websites not to track your data;
  • there is no router, but there is a possibility to connect two computer in a local network to provide both access to the Internet.

Virtual private networks work through a tunnel, which they set between your computer and the remote server. All transmitted information through this tunnel is encrypted.

It can be represented in the form of a conventional tunnel, which is found on motorways, but it is routed through the Internet between two points: a computer and a server. The data like the cars rush between points as fast as possible through this tunnel. At the entrance (on the user's computer), these data are encrypted and go in this form to the recipient (server), at this point there is their decoding and interpretation: there is the downloading of the file and the request is sent to the site, etc. Then the resulting data are again encrypted on the server and are sent back to the user's computer through the tunnel.

You need only a network of computer (tablet, smartphone) and the server for anonymous access to websites and services
In general, the exchange of data via the VPN looks like this:

- It creates a tunnel between your computer and the server with installed software to create VPN, e. g. OpenVPN.
- In these programs the key is generated (password) to encrypt/decrypt the data on the server and the computer.
- On the computer, a query is generated and encrypted using a previously created key.
- Encrypted data is sent through the tunnel to the server.
- The received data are decrypted and there is the execution of the query — sending of files, login to the site, and the start of service.
- The server prepares the response, encrypts it before sending and sends back to the user.
- The user's computer receives the data and decrypts them with the key that was generated earlier.

Devices in a virtual private network are not bound geographically and can be at any distance from each other.

For the average user of virtual private network it is enough to understand the fact that the entrance to the Internet through a VPN is a complete anonymity and unlimited access to any resources, including those ones that are blocked by your ISP or are not available for your country.

Who needs VPN and what for?

Experts recommend using VPN to transmit any data that should not be in the hands of third parties — logins, passwords, private and business correspondence, work with Internet banking. This is especially relevant when using open access points — Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, parks, etc.

It is a useful technology for those who want to freely go to any site and services, including those ones that are blocked by your ISP or open only for a certain circle of people.

Differences between VPN, TOR, proxy and anonymizers

VPN works on the computer globally and forwards through the tunnel the work of all software installed on the computer. Any query via live chat, browser, cloud storage client (dropbox), etc. before getting to the destination goes through the tunnel and is encrypted. Intermediate device "confuse marks" using encryption of queries and decryption of it just before sending to final destination. The final recipient of the request, for example, site, records not the user’s data — geographical position, etc., but data of VPN servers; i.e it is theoretically impossible to track which sites the user has visited and what queries have been passed via a secure connection.

To some extent the analogues of VPN are anonymizer, proxy and TOR, but they are worse than virtual private networks in some what.

What distinguishes VPN from TOR

Like VPN technology TOR involves the encryption of the queries and transfers them from user to server and vice versa. TOR does not create only permanent tunnels; the ways of received/transmitted data are changed with every treatment that reduces the chances of interception of data packets, but it does not affect the speed in the best way. TOR is a free technology and is maintained by enthusiasts, so you shouldn’t expect a stable operation. In other words you will be able to visit the site that is blocked by ISP, but the video in HD will be downloading for a few hours or even days.

What distinguishes VPN from proxy?

Like VPN technology Proxy redirects the request to the site, passing it through the proxy servers. But it is easy to intercept such requests, because the information is exchanged without any encryption.

What distinguishes VPN from anonymizer?

Anonymizer is a stripped-down version of the proxy that can work only in an open browser tab. Due to it you can visit the page, but you won’t be able to use the most of the features, and there isn’t any encryption.

Proxy has got the highest speed of indirect data sharing, because it does not provide encryption of the communication channel. VPN is on the second place; it provides not only anonymity but protection.  Anonymizer is on the third place, it has got limited work in the open browser window. TOR will be useful when there is no time and opportunity to connect to VPN, but you should expect high-speed processing of large requests. This grading is also valid for the case when we use not loaded servers that are located at the same distance from the tested one.

Dangerous Internet: where the computer viruses hide

Every year, people become more “advanced” and “technologically savvy”, and the overall level of  computer users literacy increases. However, the computer villains, hunting for the information and money online, also become smarter. They are increasingly using the techniques of social engineering to throw in the users spy software or virus. Moreover, the number of dangerous programs is increasing. Every day, 80-100 thousand of new modifications and types of the malware appears on the market. You can avoid them by regularly following our simple recommendations.
Ironically, the “habitat” of the computer viruses hasn’t changed much for the last ten years. In short, “malware” can wait for you anywhere on the Internet. However, the intruders’ approach to the users has changed over this time. They carefully mask the viruses and malwares so that the victim doesn’t suspect a thing and takes the bait. The number of infections with Trojan Encoders is also increasing. Now, almost one third of all attacks is accounted for the programs that block the computer, requiring the transfer of funds from the user.
One of the most probable ways of computer infection is an Internet surfing. Thus, you can catch a virus, simply browsing the websites (if these are “phishing”, i.e. fake websites). Such sites are specially created by fraudsters and contain a spyware, Trojan. Winlock or other dangerous software. In appearance, "phishing" sites can resemble the well-known online stores or online banking pages. In other words, the resources where the request of the bank card data won't raise the user’s suspicion. However, there are some signs that can extradite the "phishing" sites.
Usually, the fraudsters don’t especially care for the 100% copying the design of the original resource. Therefore, any lack of conformity of the colors, the use of different fonts on the same page must arouse suspicion. And most importantly, carefully check the address of the site you’re going to visit.

Have you decided to download music or such software as Photoshop, Adobe and Microsoft Office for free? Be careful. Apart from ethical issues, the use of spyware carries the risk of cyber security. Downloading the unlicensed software, you can get one or even a whole bunch of dangerous programs. The thing is that the downloaded file usually installs the program while opening. Before launching any programs or files from the Internet, you must test them for viruses. After all, you can name the file as you want, and the fact that the software is free is the best bait. The surest way to protect yourself against such threats is to use the licensed software.
Another comfortable place for finding victims is the public Wi-Fi. Apart from the possibility of hack and data interception in the Wi-Fi network of the café or metro, the fraudsters often replace such network with their own one. In this case, they have the upper hand, especially if the user connecting to this network, neglects the basic safety rules, i.e. uses his/her social network and e-mail account and makes payment through the client bank. Those who can’t live without Wi-Fi must remember that in the social network you can (conditionally) safely browse only the web pages. We recommend you to download something or enter the passwords only as a last resort.
Not to get on the hook of the fraudsters, avoid opening the e-mails from the unnamed recipients with the attached files and text documents. But if you’ve already opened such letter, don’t open the files or follow the links. It is better to delete such e-mail.
More advanced level of attacks are target attacks, which can include spamming, phishing and even hacking. The attack on the user or company server computers can be conducted both from the outside (through the vulnerabilities of the installed software) and from the inside (when the computer catches the virus through the infected flash card. Flash drives are often carrying the viruses, as the “malwares” can be recorded on the connected devices on their own. Unfortunately, the users rarely pay enough attention to the “cleanliness” of their personal USB flash drive. Moreover, most of them don’t use anti-virus software for testing the connected portable devices. But even the flash drives and other storage devices transmit the most dangerous and complicated viruses from one computer to the other.
And the last advice: regularly make copies of the important data, as it can be more difficult to restore data than earn back the money, stolen by hackers.

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