Contributor, Benzinga
February 13, 2023

Virtual private networks (VPN) are a robust online security and privacy protection tool. They're also helpful for bypassing censorship, unblocking geo-restricted content, eliminating bandwidth throttling by ISP and speedy torrenting, among other benefits. 

VPNs work by establishing a secure-encrypted private connection between an internet-enabled device and public internet networks. In the digital Wild West of limited privacy and increased cybercrime, they present a golden opportunity for companies and individuals to access the internet without worrying about data leaks and privacy infringement. 

However, not all VPNs provide universal utility — of the several types, each has its own set of underlying protocols and operating frameworks. Benzinga reviews the various types of VPNs and their use cases, providing a better understanding of the VPN variants and the best services for your specific needs.

Types of VPNs

Various types of VPNs are available to satisfy various user-specific requirements. Here are some of the popular types of VPNs.

Remote Access VPN

Remote access VPNs, otherwise known as client-based VPNs or client-to-server VPNs, allow you to securely connect to a private network, such as your workplace's local area network (LAN), via the internet. It acts as an encryption hub, connecting the user's device to the target network.

Suppose a company employee wants to access company resources from a remote location using the internet via a public network, such as a cafe Wi-Fi. The remote access VPN accepts data from the employee's device and encrypts the connection to protect data as it travels over the internet, thereby effectively securing all traffic between the client end (the employee) and the company server.

To use a client-based VPN on your smartphone or PC, you install the VPN's client software or configure your operating system to connect to the VPN as needed. Keep in mind that the VPN provider may require you to provide relevant login credentials, such as a password or biometrics, to authenticate client access for each session. 

Personal VPN

The most common type of VPN is a personal VPN, also known as a consumer or commercial VPN. Most VPNs available on your electronic device's app store (Apple Store, Google Play Store, Microsoft Store) fall into this category.

Personal VPNs connect you directly to the internet via a proxy VPN server. It provides a private server that encrypts the internet connection between your device and the online services you're looking to access.

A personal VPN service, as opposed to a remote access VPN, does not provide access to a private network. Instead, the proxy server — the middleman — hides the client device's IP address and spoofs your location. In other words, the server scrambles your internet footprint.

To get started with a personal VPN, download and install the app or software from your device's app store. Nord VPN, Express VPN, IP Vanish and Surfshark are among the leading providers of personal VPN services.

Site-to-Site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs or network-based VPNs operate similarly to remote access VPNs.

However, instead of facilitating a secure connection between a single client device and a target network, a site-to-site VPN connects two or more local area networks at different sites.

For example, suppose a company has two branch offices in different states. In that case, a site-to-site VPN can connect the branch office networks into a single centralized private network that allows secure communication and resource sharing.

Site-to-site VPNs are typically implemented at each site with VPN gateways or routers. These gateways encrypt data as it travels between sites and manage user authentication and authorization. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NordLayer sell site-to-site VPN platforms.

Mobile VPN

Mobile VPNs are a versatile alternative to remote access VPNs. Remote access VPNs operate on the assumption that the client device is stationary and that the internet connection is stable. To put it another way, if the user disconnects, the IP tunnel closes.

In situations where the user's internet connection is unstable over the private network connection, a mobile VPN might be more practical than a remote access VPN.

Suppose you're connected to a local network with a mobile VPN for a session. In that case, the secure connection is immutable throughout that session. Immutability implies that the secure connection will persist even if your device disconnects from a Wi-Fi or cellular network, loses connectivity or loses power.

You can use a mobile VPN with any device and connection; a smartphone and a mobile network are not prerequisites. Examples of this type of VPN include Bittium SafeMove Mobile VPN and Radio IP software.

Cloud VPN

A cloud VPN is a type of VPN that provides a secure private network connection between a client device and a cloud-based infrastructure or service.

To ensure that the data transmitted over the VPN is secure, they employ the same encryption and security protocols as conventional VPNs, such as IPsec or SSL. Usually, cloud storage service providers like Microsoft Azure and AWS offer cloud VPN services.

How to Choose a VPN

Many VPN service providers offer excellent products and can be considered the best options because of their numerous security features. A few providers offer products with limited features, making them unideal for specific usage. Here's how to choose a good VPN.

Look for a VPN with excellent speed: Fundamentally, every VPN impacts your internet speed to some extent. That's because encrypting your web traffic and rerouting it to the VPN server before sending it to your intended website puts extra steps between your device and the website. 

Some of the fastest VPNs leverage modern servers and robust encryption protocols like WireGuard to minimize such speed loss to the point where it is unnoticeable. As a rule of thumb, look for VPNs with WireGuard encryption protocols. The OpenVPN UDP also offers excellent speed.

Check the available encryption protocols: Security and online privacy protection are at the core of every VPN, and the available encryption protocols determine this. While most providers allow you to choose between 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, the 256-bit AES-GCM encryption offers a more secure cipher and is the industry standard. 

Many modern VPN protocols, including the OpenVPN protocol, use this military-grade encryption algorithm. The WireGuard protocol uses ChaCha20 authenticated encryption, a new form of encryption that delivers even more robust security and speed. Besides powerful encryption, look for features like leak protection, an automatic kill switch and a strict no-logs policy when choosing a VPN.

Ensure your VPN is easy to use and set up: Check for a VPN that supports mobile apps for most modern or smart electronic devices. That way, you can easily install and set up the VPN on all your devices, including Android, Windows, iOS, Mac OS and others, without hassle. Setup challenges may arise if your VPN has no supported device app.

Additionally, your VPN should have an intuitive user interface and come pre-configured and ready to use. These features enable near-instantaneous connectivity and a seamless user experience. 

When to Use a VPN

VPNs can be useful for diverse purposes and situations. It can especially come in handy when:

Using a public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi networks, like those found in coffee shops, airports or hotels, are highly vulnerable, and using them to access your social media accounts or certain sensitive information online may expose you to data theft or breach. A VPN encrypts your connection and protects your privacy, eliminating such threats.

Bypassing censorship and surveillance: Suppose you're browsing the internet from an authoritarian state with strict internet censorship and surveillance like China or the UAE. In that case, a VPN can help you unlocks access to content otherwise blocked by national firewalls. It also hides your web traffic and browsing history from state surveillance systems.

Accessing geo-restricted content: Streaming platforms (like Netflix and Hulu) and certain websites restrict access to specific content in specific locations. To successfully access these geo-restricted contents, you'll need a VPN. The VPN will hide your device's IP address and spoof your location.

Working remotely: As tech evolves, malicious cyber actors advance their skills to meet up with their craft. So generally, the internet is relatively insecure. A VPN can help secure your internet connection when accessing your company's workspace and resources remotely.

Compare the Types of VPNs

Benzinga compares the various types of VPN and VPN service providers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What type of VPN is best?

A

The best type of VPN depends on your individual needs and requirements. You can choose from several types of VPNs, including remote access VPNs, site-to-site VPNs, personal VPNs and mobile VPNs, each with unique features and benefits.

Q

Should everyone use a VPN?

A

The need for a VPB depends on an individual’s personal preference and circumstances. As part of good privacy and security practice, check Benzinga’s list to determine when you’ll need to use a VPN.