VPN: what it is, how it works, types, installation and costs

The request to block ChatGPT in Italy by the privacy guarantor, news of a few days ago , is making the rounds on the web. Many then, are trying to get around the problem by relying on a VPN connection. In fact, more and more blogs in the sector have published tutorials to allow users to access the AI ​​service through this method. But whether paid for or integrated into a browser for free for example, a VPN offers much more than just access to ChatGPT. So what is it in detail and how does a VPN connection work?

What is VPN and what does it mean?

In Italian, it means Virtual Private Network, a translation of Virtual Private Network. In essence, it is a method that "puts" a closed group of computers online in encrypted form, while using the Internet as a physical infrastructure. So it is through the physical connections of the Internet that the transfer of data packets typical of network communications takes place. In fact, the latter, once encrypted and sent in small groups (packets) are then sent to the recipient. Once they reach the other end of the communication, they are decoded and transferred to the address of the computer that will receive them.

With a closed group of computers we obviously mean what could be all the PCs of a company, for example. A VPN can therefore be considered as the geographical extension of a local area network (LAN) but in a private and secure form . The VPN therefore connects internal sites to the LAN but located more widely over a more or less vast territory. All this by exploiting the routing through the IP protocol for the transfer of data on a geographical scale. Thus finally leading to the creation of the equivalent of a real private and virtual wired LAN (with wires and physical connections to be clear). But all on a larger scale and using internet connections.

VPN connection

It must be said, however, that the term VPN is quite generic and does not indicate a brand or a standard. In fact, as anticipated, VPNs were originally a way to securely connect corporate networks to each other; or allow access to individuals from home to the network itself . But their use has evolved, as we shall see, far beyond that original purpose. Which we remember to be, in the first place, that of having private data transit on public networks.

How do VPN networks work?

When you access a site on the Internet, you are making a connection from your device to your ISP, whether it's a smartphone, tablet or PC. The service provider (ISP such as TIM, Vodafone etc. for example in the Italian case) then transmits the signal to the site you are visiting. In this scenario, both the ISP and the site know where you are and can track your whereabouts on the web.

To prevent the tracking of the IP belonging to the user, the VPN works in two ways. First, as already described, it redirects the connection and then encrypts it. Instead of going from your ISP to the site, the VPN redirects your connection through one of its servers . This changes your IP address to that of the server, making it appear as if you are in another location. All of which makes it harder to keep an eye on you and helps you circumvent regional restrictions (such as those imposed on ChatGPT).

The Concept of "Tunneling" and encryption

VPN connection

To explain the term Tunneling, and therefore how a VPN works, someone makes use of an automotive analogy. Basically, when you're driving on an open road, anyone can see you. The moment you enter a tunnel, it becomes much more difficult. To further the analogy, in the case of a VPN, the tunnel has guards at each end and some sort of anti-surveillance protection inside.

As a result, when you connect through a VPN server, all you can see of your activity is a gibberish . This is the only telltale sign for your ISP to tell if you're using a VPN, although they're unlikely to care.

To encrypt the connection, a VPN uses a so-called protocol, a kind of agreement between two machines on how to "talk" to each other using specific rules. In the case of a VPN protocol, this establishes some requirements, such as the type of encryption used and the ports to route the traffic.

Usually, the most commonly used encryption option is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). It comes in two flavors, 128-bit and 256-bit , with the latter often advertised as "military-grade encryption." In practice, though, there doesn't seem to be much difference in terms of security. Both variants will take a long time (think millions or billions of years) to decipher.

As if you were local, but from another place: the magic of redirection

VPN connection

When you connect your computer to a VPN, your computer behaves as if it's on the same local network as the VPN . You essentially send your network traffic to the VPN over a secure connection. Since the computer behaves as if it were local, it is possible to securely access local network resources even remotely. And you can even use the Internet as if you were in the VPN headquarters.

In regards to browsing the web, while connected to a VPN, your computer contacts the site through the encrypted VPN connection. The latter forwards the request for you and also the website's response via the secure connection. Parallel to what was said in the previous paragraph, an example can clarify everything. In fact, by accessing ChatGPT via US VPN, the AI ​​bot site will think that the connection comes from the US.

What are the advantages of a computer system that uses VPN, the point of view of companies and that of individuals

But then, after summarily explaining how it works and only hinting at what it can do, what could be the reasons for using a VPN? There are advantages for both companies and individuals who use it.

For normal users, using a VPN brings significant benefits. Starting with their primary purpose: to mask your IP address and make you believe you are in a place where you are not. In this way it is possible to bypass the geographical restrictions imposed by the country of origin . Let's say you have Netflix enabled and want to access your Netflix account while traveling outside the country; or that you want to use American media sites like Netflix, Pandora and Hulu. You will be able to access these regionally restricted services if you use a VPN connection.

Many people also use VPNs to avoid connection bottlenecks to download services like a torrent client. This is also useful if you download torrent files legally. For example, if your ISP interferes with BitTorrent, you can use a VPN to increase the speed of your internet traffic. Same thing goes for other services with which the provider interferes.

In addition to extending the company's network geographically and ensuring transmission security, there is also an economic return. For those who need the two basic requirements provided by VPNs, it is in fact important to contain operational and transport costs. The companies that make these services available, in fact, offer solutions at a lower price. And the company saves money compared to managing a WAN connection , for example. Ultimately, therefore, workers can access the local area of ​​the corporate network even when they are traveling. Ensuring the security of resources thus avoiding exposure to the internet.

What are the various types of VPN connections to prefer?

Among the various options made available by the providers, there are different solutions and types of VPN networks. In fact, depending on what you want to do there is some confusion about it: torrents, privacy, censorship bypass, online anonymity. Or again, circumventing geographical restrictions or simply moving your location, let's try to clarify. One thing is certain however, whatever the type, the protocols used have very specific characteristics.

To start, it would be better not to consider solutions based only on the old and dated PPTP protocol, acronym for Point to Point Tunneling Protocol . In fact, this technology is now considered cryptographically weak so that its use is no longer recommended by Microsoft. The US company developed it as a network protocol with encryption to secure data, authenticate it and compress it.

Evolution has led Microsoft to develop L2TP which in combination with IPsec technology provides both authentication and encryption . While there have been improvements in this regard, the duo lacks the speed and open security checks of better solutions like OpenVPN.

In fact, the latter , OpenVPN, uses OpenSSL libraries to encrypt (which include the above AES algorithm) both the data channel and the control channel . It provides various authentication methods for communicating computers and concentrates all data traffic on a single port. It can use hardware acceleration for better performance in encryption OpenSSL choose from various options. In essence, in addition to providing remote employees with secure access to the internal network, the service offers superior security and management performance .

What are the possible disadvantages of a VPN service

First of all, no matter what a VPN provider tells you on their homepage, no VPN can guarantee you complete anonymity online. The thing is, VPNs essentially do one and only one thing: spoof your IP address. And then make you believe that you are in a place where you are not. This way you are theoretically safe from anyone trying to figure out who you are by tracing your IP address.

But there are other ways you can be tracked , such as through browser fingerprints or your Facebook and Google accounts. A VPN does not prevent these types of tracking, as they are not dependent on knowing your location.


Secondly, using a VPN will not protect you from “hackers” no matter what some VPNs or dodgy advertising sites claim. Whether or not your credit card information, and other information is stolen doesn't depend on whether or not you use a VPN. The only type of hackers a VPN will protect you from is Wi-Fi Hijacking . In these specific cases, a VPN will protect you so that attackers will only see the VPN connection and nothing more. Without consequently being able to steal your data while you are connected to the Hotspot of your favorite café.

Finally we come to overcoming regional restrictions, especially those on streaming services. Most VPN services will make you believe that if you give them some money, you can access bookstores in other countries. However, streaming services have a vested interest in making sure people don't jump borders with their VPNs . You can try using a VPN to access them, but the result is not guaranteed.

The best solutions for a VPN connection

Today's landscape is dotted with providers who provide different options to guarantee their customers security and anonymity. For example, this is the case of NordVPN, one of the most used and well-known services worldwide. Indeed, NordVPN guarantees all-round security as a virtual private network, with an encrypted connection and highly recommended network protocols . In particular, it makes use of the Open VPN standards and the IKEv2/IPsec protocols . These two combined together work to secure Internet traffic without taxing the CPU. Also, the presence of OpenVPN makes it less likely that firewalls will block it.

NordVPN's latest ace up its sleeve is the so-called NordLynx solution . In detail, it enhances the entire security package and above all the user's privacy by implementing a double NAT system. In fact, this acronym stands for network address translation , a technique for obscuring the IP in the packet headers by modifying them.

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Beyond its technologies , what amazes about NordVPN is its disarming ease of use . Once downloaded and created an account, you just have to decide on which devices to install it. Whether they are tablets, smartphones or PCs of any kind.

The nice thing about NordVPN is its low price, especially compared to everything it offers. In detail, the subscription includes three price ranges that vary according to the type of services offered and the assistance period . If you choose NordVPN for two years, the standard option costs 3.29 euros per month, the plus 4.49 and the full 5.99 euros. Shorter periods have higher costs: respectively 4.59, 5.79 and 7.29 euros for one year; the monthly subscription, on the other hand, settles at 12.99 for the standard, 14.19 for the plus and 15.69 euros for the complete package.

The other recommended providers

There are possible alternatives to what we described in the previous paragraph. For example, let's talk about Surfshark and ExpressVPN, to name a few of the most famous and reliable . Indeed Surfshark is currently equipped with more than 3200 servers distributed in 100 countries of the world. For the first two years, it offers its services for €2.30 a month, including numerous bonuses. These include unlimited installation on devices with one subscription, 24/7 support, and two-factor authentication. Furthermore Surfshark has adopted the no logs policy: it will not collect any browsing information in your sessions. To this, add a private DNS on each server, to ensure greater security and you will have an idea of ​​what it offers.

For its part, ExpressVPN is no different. Also this VPN solution does not keep any browsing data or logs, and does not save anything on the hard drives. Noteworthy is their new Lightway protocol, designed to ensure considerable speed and be very light . In fact, this solution eliminates what is unnecessary for the average user and you will hardly notice the use of a VPN.

The prices reflect an excellent quality/price ratio. We therefore start with the best offer which covers a period of 12 months currently at a discount of 6.37 euros. Even for ExpressVPN, shorter terms mean higher subscription prices, again with a 30-day refund option. Despite the less accessible cost compared to its competitors, the Lightway protocol is truly exceptional and the advice is not to underestimate ExpressVPN.

The article VPN: what it is, how it works, types, installation and costs was written on: Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .