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What is a VPN?

VPN stands for “virtual private network” — a service that protects your internet connection and privacy online. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel for your data, protect your online identity by hiding your IP address, and allow you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.

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VPN benefits

Using VPN apps makes your digital life safer, easier, and smoother.

VPN used for a secure and private network connection through the public internet
Worldwide VPN connection coverage
Virtual Private Network creates a secure connection that protects you when shopping online
Fast connection with full VPN protection and security

Why do you need a VPN?

No one likes to be watched or tracked – even if they have nothing to hide. That’s why it’s important you step up your privacy game. Here’s when you need a VPN:

While using public Wi-Fi

VPN is used to secure your connection on public Wi-Fi, so you can browse in full privacy. Hackers have many methods to steal your data on public hotspots, but with a VPN your online traffic is invisible to them.

While traveling

If you want to access your home content while traveling around the world, a VPN can help. Install NordVPN on your device and never miss a friend’s post on social media.

While browsing

Government agencies, marketers, and internet service providers would all love to track and collect your browsing history, messages, and other private data. Best way to hide it? Using a VPN to keep your data to yourself.

While gaming

Like gaming online? You can forget about DDoS attacks and bandwidth throttling with NordVPN. Use our Meshnet feature to set up secure virtual LAN parties with your friends.

While shopping

Avoid targeted pricing, fake websites, and bait and switch attacks with a VPN. Shop securely, knowing your credit card details are safe from snoopers even on public networks.

While streaming

Watch your favorite TV shows without slowdowns. NordVPN can save your movie night by preventing your ISP from throttling your connection.

What does a VPN do?

A VPN reroutes your traffic through a remote server, encrypting it in the process. Typically, when you try to access a website, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) receives the request and redirects you to your destination. But when you connect to a VPN, it redirects your internet traffic through a remote server before sending it over to your destination.

First of all, a VPN hides your data from snoopers — encryption is important when you want to protect your internet traffic and minimize your online footprint. This way, your internet service provider won’t be able to sell your entire browsing history to the highest bidder.

Your IP (and, therefore, your virtual location) is also hidden and you get a new one that belongs to the VPN server you’re connected to. This ensures extra security and significantly increases your privacy online — no one knows what city or country you’re browsing from.

These are common VPN functionalities, but NordVPN aims higher. We want to protect not only your data but your devices as well. That’s why we’ve developed the Threat Protection feature to keep your devices safe from common internet hazards: malware in downloaded files, web trackers, flashy ads, and malicious links. You don’t need to be connected to a VPN server to use it — just turn it on, and it will guard your device 24/7.

How does a VPN work?

A VPN works by creating a secure encrypted connection between your device and a remote server. This way, your data can travel in secrecy instead of through your internet service provider. A VPN hides your real IP address and encrypts your internet connection to make your browsing safer and more private.

Device securely connects to VPN through encrypted tunnel, ensuring enhanced privacy and security
Device connects directly to ISP, without additional encryption or privacy safeguards
It’s worth finding out how a VPN works so you can make use of its full potential. Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes:
  1. Authentication. When you connect to a virtual private network service, it authenticates your client with a VPN server.
  2. Encryption. The server then applies an encryption protocol to all data you send and receive.
  3. Tunneling. The VPN service creates an encrypted “tunnel” over the internet. That secures the data traveling between you and the VPN server.
  4. Encapsulation. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through encapsulation. That is the core element of the VPN tunnel, keeping the data safe during transfer.
  5. Decryption. When the data arrives at the server, the outer packet is removed through a decryption process.

How do VPN servers operate?

After the VPN tunnel is established, your device sends out encrypted information (like the website you want to visit) to the VPN server. It decrypts it and forwards the information to the designated web server. It also hides your real IP address before sending the data out. Instead, you will appear to have the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to.

When the web server responds, the VPN server encrypts the data and sends it to you through your ISP. Your VPN client will decrypt the data once it reaches your device.

How does VPN tunneling work?

The VPN tunnel is created by first authenticating your client — a computer, smartphone, or tablet — with a VPN server. The server then uses one of several encryption protocols to make sure that no one can monitor the information traveling between you and your online destination.

Here you should remember that before being sent and received over the internet, any data needs to first be split into packets. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN service wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation.

This exterior packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and it is the core element of the VPN tunnel. When the data arrives at the VPN server, the outer packet is removed to access the data within, which requires a decryption process.

Types of VPN

There are many types of VPN, but the vast majority of them fall into three main categories:

a shield symbolizing the OpenVPN encryption protocol keeping your network and devices safe.

Personal VPN

Most consumer-grade VPNs are classed as personal VPNs, including NordVPN. They are very similar to remote-access VPNs in operation, but instead of connecting to a proprietary restricted network (such as your workplace), you connect to your VPN provider’s servers for protection and privacy while you explore the internet.

IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocol

Site-to-site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs are mostly used by businesses — large corporations in particular. They allow users in selected locations to access each other’s networks securely. It’s a great way to connect all offices and enable different branches to safely share resources and information.

NordLynx VPN technology

Remote access VPN

A remote-access VPN allows users to connect to a remote network, usually by using special software. If you ever needed to log on to your office network, you most likely used a remote access VPN as well. It makes working away from the office safer and easier, as employees can access data and resources from anywhere.

VPN encryption protocols

What is a VPN with weak encryption? Just a surefire way to slow your connection down. When people use a VPN, privacy and speed are their main concerns. Different types of VPN protocols have different advantages, so most VPN providers offer at least two. NordVPN allows users to choose between OpenVPN and NordLynx protocols in its apps, and they can also opt for IKEv2/IPSec protocol for manual configurations.

an online avatar holding up a shield as code runs across its visor, free to safely explore the web.

OpenVPN is the most popular encryption protocol, currently used by the majority of VPN providers in the world.

One of OpenVPN’s biggest strengths is that it is highly configurable. It also offers a nice balance between speed and security, as you can use it on both TCP and UDP ports. While the TCP port is a more stable option, UDP is faster, and many users prefer it for a seamless online gaming and live streaming experience.

NordLynx VPN technology

If you’re looking for both privacy and speed, NordLynx is the way to go. It’s our default protocol, a unique tech solution based on WireGuard — the fastest tunneling protocol out there. What makes WireGuard so fast? The secret lies in its code — all 4000 lines of it. Compare that to the tens of thousands of lines in other VPN protocols, and you’ll see why it’s so mind-blowingly quick.

To make it as secure as possible, we combined WireGuard with our custom double NAT system. It allows users to enjoy fast internet connection without compromising their security.

Encryption protocols for VPN connections

L2TP/IPSec. Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) is a method for transmitting data from one device to another. As L2TP doesn’t offer any kind of encryption, it almost always comes together with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), which negotiates the cryptographic keys to create a VPN-like environment. It’s a highly secure protocol but can be very slow because it encapsulates data twice.

PPTP. It is the most commonly used protocol that supports thousands of operating systems and devices. It’s also easy to set up, without the need to install additional software. However, PPTP is decades-old and not as secure as other protocols available today.

SSTP. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is a suitable alternative to standard protocols in areas where VPNs are restricted because it can bypass most firewalls. SSTP is similar to OpenVPN but it is owned by Microsoft, which means it is not available for independent auditing.

IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocol

IKEv2 is a tunneling protocol, which is usually paired with IPSec for encryption. It has the ability to restore a secure connection after the internet drops and adapts well to changing networks. This functionality could be useful to smartphone users who often switch between home Wi-Fi and mobile connections or move between hotspots.

What should I look for when choosing a VPN?

a rocket representing encrypted data flying through a padlock and being decrypted in the process.
Evaluating different VPN qualities

Setting up a VPN connection

There are a few different ways you can set up your NordVPN account. Have an encrypted connection wherever you go, join the VPN protection trend:

a hand holding a smartphone with the NordVPN logo, signifying that it is protected by a VPN app.
VPN technology allows for instant set-up and manual configuration
An option to set up the VPN connection on the router

Learn more about virtual private networks and how VPN connections work

Frequently asked questions