What Is VPN Encryption and How Does It Work? (The Ultimate Guide)
When you’re using a VPN, it allows you to surf the web without anyone tracking your online activities. But what do VPNs do to ensure your privacy? The method they apply to protect your traffic is known as VPN encryption. When your data runs through the VPN tunnel, it’s turned into a ciphertext so that no snoopers can read it.
For instance, let’s say you’re sending a message to your friend saying, “Hi! How is it going?” When it’s encrypted, nosy third parties will only see gibberish like “fh! tsm dg lv hpetj?” Makes no sense, right? That’s the point! Thanks to encryption, only you and the person you’re writing to will be able to read the message.
Of course, VPN encryption is a bit more complicated than that. There are many technical details to consider when exploring this concept. But do not worry. In this article, we will talk about what VPN encryption is, how it works, and how to test its efficiency using no hard words – plain language only.
What is encryption?
Let’s start with the basics and explore the general meaning of encryption.
Encryption is a method of creating a secret code that hides the real meaning of certain information, making it available only to authorized parties. Today, this concept is mostly associated with computing cryptography, as most digital services, platforms, and apps use encryption to protect confidential information that is stored or transmitted on the web. For instance, WhatsApp, a world-famous messaging app, uses end-to-end encryption to ensure secure communication between users.
The encryption methods have changed and evolved over time. In the 1970s, IBM introduced DES (Data Encryption Standard), a cipher algorithm that encrypted data quite effectively at that time. However, it became vulnerable and was replaced with AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) at the beginning of the 21st century. Today, it’s used by most powerful security systems and services, such as VPNs (virtual private networks).
Now, without further ado, let’s talk about VPN encryption.
What is VPN encryption?
When a VPN runs your traffic through a secure tunnel to keep it invisible to third parties, it hides your data so that nobody can compromise it during transit. VPN encryption is the process of encoding information at both ends of this tunnel. It turns plain text into ciphertext, the complexity of which varies depending on the type of encryption used by a certain VPN service.
VPNs use different ciphers, some of which, like AES-256, are much more effective than others. We will soon discuss it in more detail. But first, let’s clarify a bit more why you need VPN encryption.
The importance of VPN encryption
Encryption is an essential component of a VPN. The main functions of a virtual private network majorly depend on the effectiveness of the encryption standard behind it. If it’s reliable, a VPN becomes an ultimate solution covering the following aspects of your online activities:
- Enhanced online security. If a VPN service carefully encrypts your traffic, hackers won’t be able to steal your data or spread viruses on your device. In particular, strong VPN encryption can protect you from man-in-the-middle attacks, DDoS attacks, malware-infected links, and phishing websites.
- Untraceable browsing. Apart from hackers, many other third parties may compromise your online privacy. VPN encryption won’t allow ad agencies, snoopers, and Internet service providers (ISPs) to track your activities and use your personal information for their own profit or apply Internet throttling.
- Access to the free Internet. With an encrypted VPN traffic, you can address any limitations on the web. In particular, it helps avoid strict Internet censorship imposed by governments in many countries, including China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and more. Besides, when traveling abroad, you will be able to stream media and access your favorite content blocked due to geographical limitations.
All these benefits make VPN encryption a must if you strive to feel safe and free when going online. But how exactly does a virtual private network secure your traffic? It’s time to look under the hood of VPN encryption.
How does VPN encryption work?
Reliable VPN services provide end-to-end encryption. It means that your data is protected at every stage of the communication process. Even when the message or request is decrypted along the way, it’s still guarded from potential cyber threats. How? To begin with, let’s have a look at encryption keys, the core component of the VPN encryption process.
What are VPN encryption keys?
An encryption key is a string of information needed for encoding and decoding data. Simply put, thanks to the encryption key, only the person or device that has it can access encrypted data by decrypting it.
There are two main types of encryption keys, both widely used by VPNs: symmetric and asymmetric.
- Symmetric encryption keys. This type of encryption provides both parties of the communication process with the same encryption key. Imagine you are sending a message to your friend. With the symmetric encryption method, your plain text is converted into ciphertext with the help of an encryption key, and then your friend can “unlock” it with a similar key. However, this approach isn’t suitable if the data sent from your device has another destination – a VPN server. And here, asymmetric encryption comes on stage.
- Asymmetric encryption key. With this approach, instead of a similar key, you and your friend will have to use two different encryption keys – a public key to encrypt the message and a private key to decrypt it. This way, the public key helps turn the message into code and then sends it to the owner of the private key, the only one who can decode it.
Most VPN services adopt both symmetric and asymmetric approaches when encrypting users’ data. While communication is based on the principles of asymmetric encryption, the keys are exchanged with the help of symmetric encryption. To better understand how it all works, let’s take a closer look at this process.
The stages of VPN encryption process
Let’s say you want to enter a website while using a VPN. Here is how it defends your data along its journey.
- When you’re entering a website, your request is sent to your VPN app or browser extension.
- Once your request arrives, the VPN app creates an encrypted tunnel that leads to a remote VPN server. That is where your data is encrypted so that no third-party trackers can access it.
- Next, your request moves to the website you want to access. When accepted, it returns to the VPN server.
- At this point, your data is encrypted once again and sent to your VPN client app.
- The VPN app decrypts the data and delivers it to you.
It may look like a complex, multi-level process. But in fact, all these steps take just a few seconds. The encryption occurs directly in the tunnel created for your data. In general, it consists of four essential stages. Let’s consider each in more detail.
Stage 1. Public and private key exchange. When your VPN app is connected to a VPN server, the encryption of your data starts with a handshake (the verification of secure connection between your device and a server). During this process, a private key and a public key are created with the help of the asymmetric exchange method. Your public key is sent to the requested server to encrypt your data so you can decrypt it with the private key.
Stage 2. Symmetric key exchange. After the asymmetric key exchange is over, the new key is created via the symmetric exchange. This adds an extra security layer, so even if your data was compromised during the previous stage, it’s still carefully protected.
Stage 3. Algorithm of encryption. The symmetric key adopts the encryption algorithm that is responsible for a safe journey of your data.
Stage 4. Final checkup. At this stage, integrity algorithms are used to verify if there are no mismatches in the information communicated via the encrypted tunnel and make sure no one has compromised it.
These four steps are the essentials of VPN encryption. However, the efficiency of this process is defined by the encryption standard used by a certain VPN service. This standard is a block cipher that splits your data into a particular number of blocks. Let’s discuss the most common types of ciphers and learn which one is the most secure.
Main VPN encryption types
The following types of VPN encryption ciphers are the most widespread, but not all of them are equally powerful. In particular, there are ciphers that use 64, 128, and 256 bits. Here, it’s worth noting that the more bits a cipher provides, the more secure it is. So when choosing a VPN service, make sure to consider what kind of encryption it applies.
Blowfish is the oldest VPN encryption standard with 64-bit blocks. The latest version of Blowfish enables 128-bit encryption. However, it still has many vulnerabilities and is more likely to be cracked than its more modern alternatives.
Camellia is a quite powerful block cipher available with the OpenVPN security protocol. Today, Camellia supports 64, 128, and even 256 bits encryption. However, it hasn’t been tested as carefully as the next encryption standard on our list.
AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the most famous block cipher and a golden standard for modern VPN solutions. It is considered the most secure and powerful method to encrypt data and transmit it without the risk of being hacked.
Here are two main types of AES encryption.
- AES 128-bit encryption. AES-128 doesn’t require many resources and is faster than other encryption methods. However, 128 bits may not be enough if you prioritize your Internet privacy.
- AES 256-bit encryption. Today, this encryption standard is the most secure. It splits 256 pieces of common text into 256 blocks, making it simply impossible for hackers to steal your data with the help of a brute-force attack. Why? Because it would take them years to decrypt a single message or request. That is why all trustworthy VPN providers, including VeePN, use AES-256 encryption.
So this is it, now you know what VPN encryption is and how it works. But can you impact the way a VPN service encrypts your data? While you don’t directly participate in the encryption process, you can define its efficiency, as well as other aspects of VPN connection, by choosing a suitable VPN protocol.
VPN encryption protocols explained
A VPN protocol is a set of rules that define how your data is transmitted between your device and a VPN server. VPN protocols cover many aspects of the VPN connection, including its security, stability, and speed. And most importantly, the encryption type applied to your traffic also depends on the chosen protocol.
VPN protocols vary due to these and other factors. Some of them, such as PPTP, are outdated since they support only 128-bit encryption. Others have certain security vulnerabilities or may significantly slow down your connection speed.
Here are the three most effective and secure VPN protocols you can benefit from with VeePN. All of them are stable, fast, and work with 256-bit encryption. Each of them may suit you depending on your personal needs.
- OpenVPN is considered the most secure VPN protocol. It’s perfect for users who need to protect confidential information, perform money transactions, or stay safe when using public Wi-Fi.
- WireGuard is the fastest VPN protocol, so it’s perfect for online gaming and streaming media.
- IKEv2/IPSec is the most stable VPN protocol. You can use it to switch to mobile data trouble-free.
If you want to learn more about VPN protocols, read our recent blog post.
As mentioned above, VPN encryption is a sophisticated technical process that takes place behind the scenes. However, you can still track how well it functions to make sure it won’t let your personal information end up in the wrong hands.
How to check if your VPN connection is actually encrypted
The following tools will help you check how effectively a VPN encrypts your data.
Glasswire is a free tool enabling users to get quick reports regarding the performance of their VPN encryption. Here is how to use it.
- Download and install Glasswire on your device
- Open and start the program
- Open your VPN app and turn it on
- Start any browsing activities (play a video on YouTube, search for something on Google, and so on)
- In Glasswire, select Usage and head to the Apps menu
- Find the VPN protocol you’re using
- Verify the type of traffic and get the results of your test
Wireshark is a more advanced tool that allows you to check if your VPN provides reliable encryption. It’s worth turning to it when you’re using a free VPN or a service you do not fully trust. Here is how to run a test with Wireshark.
- Download and install Wireshark on your device
- Start the program
- Select your network type (it should be wireless if you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network)
- Click on data packets to test the encryption. If the result looks like an unreadable set of characters or gibberish text, the VPN encryption works properly.
Looking for a VPN with the strongest encryption? – Try VeePN!
VPN encryption may seem like a complex process at first. But in fact, it doesn’t require any manual effort or deep tech knowledge from you. All you need to do is pick a virtual private network you can trust, install it on your device, turn the VPN on, and there that is it! You can surf the web, remaining confident that your online privacy will not be violated.
Need a VPN tool that adheres to the most powerful encryption standards? Check out VeePN. It’s a trustworthy VPN provider that protects users’ personal information and prevents potential data leaks thanks to top-rated AES-256 encryption. Besides, VeePN offers many other essential cybersecurity features, including NetGuard, Kill Switch, and Double VPN. Get VeePN now and take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee.
How does a VPN encrypt data?
VPN encrypts your data by turning plain text into ciphertext. When your traffic runs through a VPN tunnel, it’s encrypted with the help of a public key that protects the transfer. Once the data returns to your device from the VPN server, you can decrypt it with your own private key. Besides, reliable VPN services apply the most up-to-date and secure AES 256-bit encryption standard, splitting your data into blocks. For more information, read this article.
What is the best encryption for VPN?
AES-256 is the most reliable encryption type used by all trustworthy VPN services. Thanks to this encryption method, your data is split into 256 blocks, forming a number with 75 zeros. As a result, hackers cannot compromise your privacy, as it would take them ages to crack such a code.