How does a VPN work

Posted by Todd Anderson

Todd Anderson writes about the internet, hardware, and new technologies. He has covered mobile devices, cameras, medical devices, and health and wellness products in emerging spaces. Todd hasn't had cable in over ten years.

Why should I use a VPN and how does it work?

September 1, 2021

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. Essentially, it is a network of servers in different locations through which internet traffic can be routed to provide privacy and security.

How does a VPN work?

When a device of yours goes online, it is assigned a unique IP address. That IP address is owned by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and can be used to identify you on the internet. For example, when you send an email, the email headers show which IP address that email came from. That IP address can be looked up using an IP locator tool which will show someone the city, state, ISP, and even latitude and longitude of the IP. This does not mean that your personal home address is revealed but it is enough information to concern the privacy conscious.

A VPN routes your signal through another server and IP layer (and sometimes multiple layers) to obscure your personal IP address and secure your connection. Usually, these layers are nearby or in the United States but most VPN applications allow you to select another country through which to route your traffic. For example, I can select to send my traffic through a server in Albania. This would show anyone reading my email headers that my sent email originated from Albania. 

Why should I use a VPN?

The most common use of VPN is to connect a remote device to a corporate network. Using a VPN to connect to a corporate network protects sensitive data that may be sent or received by the remote device. 

When a secure connection is set up over the public internet between the VPN client and the VPN server in the corporate network, then the data transferred over this secure connection cannot be decrypted by any eavesdropper in the public internet. From the point of view of the device, it is as if it is directly connected to the corporate network.

Another reason to use a VPN is to obscure your activity from your internet service provider (ISP). Your ISP will only be able to see the first point of a VPN connection, not your ultimate destination.

Finally, many users choose a VPN in order to surf the internet as a native user of another country. Because most VPN applications allow you to choose which country through which to connect, web browsers and other applications will see you as being in that country. This can be useful for shopping, streaming, or simply browsing as a native speaker.  

How to use a VPN

Using a VPN is as simple as installing an app on your computer or mobile device. Once you’ve installed the app, you’ll create an account for that VPN service. Once you sign in, you’ll be able to choose what server you would like to connect through. 

Pro tip: Pay for a VPN. If someone wants to give you a free VPN, they are probably selling your data. Remember the internet adage: if you don’t pay for a service, then you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Be aware: When you connect through a VPN server in another country, you may not be able to view all websites and apps you use. For example, your banking app may disallow a login from another country believing it to be a hack attempt.

Which VPN should I use?

Of the top VPN services, you largely have your choice of which tool works best for you. Surfshark, NordVPN, TunnelBear, CyberGhost, and ExpressVPN all receive high marks from reviewers. To make your decision, think about a few factors: 

  1. How many devices do you want to protect with VPN?
  2. Do you need a mobile app as well as a desktop app?
  3. Do you want month-to-month service, a yearly subscription, or a lifetime purchase?
  4. How many server options do you want? (i.e. is that Albanian server a dealbreaker?)

Then, check out PC Mag’s The Best VPN Services for 2021 article to see how they assess the competition. 

Using a VPN with Sail Internet

At Sail, we are already focused on your privacy. We don’t track you. We are net neutral.  We don’t throttle your signal based on the services you use. 

When using a VPN with Sail, you don’t need to worry about anything. We won’t change your signal based on VPN usage. Simply install the app of your choice and connect.

Some things to remember

Every IP layer through which you route your traffic, slows your signal. In addition, the farther a signal has to travel (e.g. to Albania), the slower it gets back to you. This is why (speed-wise), it is best to choose a VPN server in your country.

Important note: While a VPN layer spoofs your location, it does not make your activity anonymous. To browse anonymously, you can use a tool like TOR. TOR (The Onion Router) sends your signal through several layers of servers to completely obscure its origin. It is a tool used to defeat online censorship.Learn more about Sail’s features for residential and business service. Have any questions? Check our FAQs.

*Pricing may vary based on your location. Internet upload and download speeds are not guaranteed and may vary based on connection type and other factors outside of Sail Internet's control. Free standard installation applies to all residential orders. However, any custom wiring requests may result in a custom wiring fee which will be communicated prior to installation. Sail promotional offer includes a $150.00 virtual Mastercard. Offer only available to new residential customers using promo code CYBER150 at time of sale. Customers must be active and in good standing after 90 days to be eligible for Gift Card redemption. New Sail Internet customers not active or in good standing after 90 days of service will NOT BE ELIGIBLE for this $150.00 virtual Mastercard offer. New customers will not have had Sail Internet services within the past 60 days. Limit one offer per household. Offer expires 12/23/2022.