Virtual Private Networks

Category: Networking

In the past, I've written about anonymizer services that effectively act as a buffer between your computer and the rest of the Internet, concealing your IP address so that Web sites, email servers, and other things with which you interact cannot identify you. That is one way to protect your privacy online, but it is incomplete. With a virtual private network, your online security is greatly enhanced...

Virtual Private Network - VPN

What is a VPN?

The information you send and receive is still vulnerable if only your location is concealed. It's possible to "eavesdrop" on the unencrypted data that flows through major Internet pipelines, identifying small packets of data that belong to a larger stream and assembling them into something coherent - such as your bank account login data and transactions. Most financial websites today use the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to encrypt traffic between them and their customers so it cannot be read if it's intercepted. But you may want such protection for all of your online destinations and interactions.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a privacy solution long used by businesses, government agencies, and other large entities. A VPN is a group of computers joined in a network by encrypted Internet connections called "tunnels". To become a member of a VPN, you must use specialized software to connect to the Internet and receive credentials from the VPN's administrator.

A VPN is called "virtual" to distinguish it from a hardwired network in which only computers physically connected to each other by cables can communicate. The tunnels that connect VPN clients are streams of data traveling on the Internet right alongside other people's data. All that makes the VPN data private is the encryption of it.

Windows 7 has VPN client software built into it. If your organization has a VPN gateway server, you can establish a secure VPN connection to it with these steps:

  • Open Control Panel-> All Control Panel Items->Network and Sharing Center. Click on "Set up a New Connection or network link."
  • Click on "Connect to a workplace."
  • Type in the IP address of the device to which you want to connect, and a name for it. This would be the VPN gateway server whose IP address you were given by the VPN administrator.
  • Enter the username and password you were given.

You can now access other resources on the VPN. The catch, of course, is that you need a VPN gateway. These are sold by network gear providers such as Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, etc.

VPN Software and Services

A VPN is useful for accessing your workplace from home, as discussed above, but you can also use a VPN to securely access your home computer while travelling or using public wifi in a coffeeshop. Here are some free and low-cost offerings to create your own VPN gateway:

Monthly rental of a VPN connection is offered by Invisible Browsing VPN. After installing the company's client software, you can create a private VPN connection to its Internet proxy server. Then your Internet activity is anonymized and encrypted. This service starts at $4.95 per month.

Astaro Essential Firewall is free security software that includes VPN gateway functionality. It comes in a business version and a home use version. The home version is limited to 50 users while the business version supports unlimited users.

You might also consider using the free version of Hamachi, or a remote desktop application like Logmein or CrossLoop. Get the scoop on these and others in my companion article Free Alternatives to GoToMyPC.

Got something to say about virtual private networks? Post your comment or question below...

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This article was posted by on 17 Jun 2010

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Most recent comments on "Virtual Private Networks"

Posted by:

18 Jun 2010

Bob, Just out of curiosity... several months ago I submitted a question about whether or not you ever tested Hotspot Shield (a free VPN from AnchorFree) and how it stacked up with other VPNs. You never responded. Now in this article there's still no mention of Hotspot Shield. Is your silence about this product your way of NOT recommending it for some reason?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not at all. I just can't possibly review every product. Here's a review from CNET, which gave it 2.5 stars:

Posted by:

Michael Kraft
30 Nov 2010

Does this mean that if I have access only to a public network and use my LogMeIn connection, I am protected from hackers with respect to what I do on my host machine? Does a hacker have access to the remote machine nonetheless?

I'm not clear on the differences between LMI and Hamachi. I use LMI all the time. What benefits are there in using Hamachi instead?

Posted by:

02 Dec 2010

Hamachi has been criticized because they were squatting on unallocated IP addresses, where they had no right to be. The address block has recently been officially allocated, so I don't know where that leaves Hamachi, out in the cold?


Posted by:

09 Jun 2011

I use WiTopia, a vpn provider. They have 77 internet access portals to choose from. If I live in Florida, I can pick a portal in LA or London. I have checked it with SheildsUp at GRC. It shows all my portals as stealth and my IP address in London. Their service starts about $40.00 a year.
Very user friendly. I went to support with a question and got a responce the next day. I looked for something like this for several years
and found it in the comments section.
Thank you very much

Posted by:

k james
24 Mar 2013

Hi Bob

I have been using 'Identy Cloacker' for many years they many servers in about 16 different counties.
You can which server you use and swap between servers as you wish.

Usually no apparent speed drops.
Great support with nearly all my questions being answered with in minutes, (Amazing)

Is not the cheapest but the ease of use and support offered I highly recommend.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2014

Great article. VPN is a great software to use to protect our internet security. I have used Bucklor VPN for a long time. They will offer a 31 days free trial, check it here:

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Virtual Private Networks (Posted: 17 Jun 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved