VPN Tunnel: What Is It and How Does It Work?

By Jayden Andrews. May 30, 2020

Lately, there has been a huge increase in regulations and censorship limiting internet freedom. Due to these restrictions, many services have been developed to help protect your web browsing and let you access any kind of content you want.

One tool that you can use to help boost online privacy is a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. In this article, we’ll help you understand one of VPN’s major features that makes it reliable and efficient, which is VPN tunneling. Keep reading to see what it’s all about.

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So, what is a VPN tunnel, and how does it work?

A VPN tunnel is an encrypted connection between your mobile device or computer and an external network that’s created without compromising your privacy. Therefore, tunneling VPN mostly involves protecting your crucial data by rearranging it into different forms.

Basically, a VPN tunnel is nothing physical and your data has to pass through the same routes as any other data on the internet. So, to help your data traffic stay private and secure, a VPN employs techniques like encryption and encapsulation. Encapsulation helps to disguise the data from other data passing through the same route. Encryption, on the other hand, enables you to make your data invisible and unreadable to cybercriminals and surveillance agents.

What is split tunneling?

Split tunneling refers to the routing of some data through a VPN tunnel while you access other online resources directly via your ISP. You need a VPN to help you keep your data secure, but not everything needs to go through the tunnel.

For instance, there are times when you want to watch some foreign movies, but you also need to keep accessing other web services simultaneously. If you do these two activities at the same time using your VPN tunnel, then you might experience a slower connection.

Another good example is when you’re accessing blocked online content through a VPN, then find that you need to log in to your bank account portal. You need the split tunnel VPN to be able to keep viewing that restricted content, but using it on your bank portal can cause you some serious issues. Why? The bank will notice that your account is being accessed from a different location, which may raise suspicion and give them a reason to invade your privacy and discover what’s happening.

So, VPN tunneling can be of great help in such circumstances. Applying split tunneling will give you access to the web services that need a VPN, while maintaining direct access to other sites. That way, you don’t have to keep switching your VPN on and off while on the internet. Also, VPN tunneling allows you to save lots of bandwidth since not all of your internet traffic passes through the same server.
Luckily, many high-quality VPNs on the market today have the split tunneling feature. You, however, have to be careful, since not all of them deliver what they promise on their websites.

VPN Protocols

If you are using a high-quality VPN, then it will undoubtedly allow you to choose from different tunneling protocols. A VPN protocol is a set of agreed-upon rules for data encryption and transmission. So, the quality of service that you’ll get from your VPN is highly dependent on the protocol you choose. Here are some questions you should ask yourself to help you pick an excellent VPN tunneling protocol:

  • How much privacy does it offer?
  • Is it fast?
  • Is it easily accessible and usable?
  • How good is it in getting through blocked content?

So, it’s vital that you conduct some research to get a clear understanding of different protocols that you can use. That way, you’ll know what features each has and will be able to choose the most suitable one. Here are some of the most common VPN protocols that you should be aware of:

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)

PPTP is among very popular protocols as it was developed by Microsoft. This protocol has been used in Microsoft operating systems for many years now and supports remote and site-to-site access VPN when browsing.

Also, PPTP is the fastest and most used VPN around the entire planet at the moment. In addition, this protocol is easy to use, which has allowed it to gain many users worldwide. PPTP is seamless to configure, as it only needs a username, password, and a server address to help you establish your tunnel VPN.

PPTP is usually fast, as it doesn’t have complex encryption, thus making it a great option for people who consider speed more vital than security. Therefore, if you want to use PPTP, but you need excellent security, then you should consider applying extra measures. However, doing that might mean that you won’t enjoy all the benefits of using this protocol.


L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)/ Internet Protocol Security (IPsec)

The L2TP has to be used with another protocol to help it cover your data better, since it can’t do that independently. Doing this creates two encryptions hence ensuring proper security when the data is passing through the tunnel.

Since you can’t use this protocol alone, you are mostly advised to combine it with Internet Protocol Security (IPsec). Doing this will help you achieve better tunneling compared to using PPTP. The combination of these two protocols is referred to as L2TP/IPsec.

L2TP/IPsec might offer you quality connection, but it’s usually slower than PPTP. This protocol also struggles a lot to bypass some restrictions as it uses fixed ports that are easily detected by VPN blocking software. So, using this combination might make it harder for you to access a site like Netflix, as it has some VPN blockers.


IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange)/ IPsec (Internet Protocol Security)

To start with, IKEV is not an actual tunneling protocol. However, it works like a protocol, which is why it’s on this list. IKEv2 is considered a huge improvement of the L2TP protocol, because it uses some of the most recent and complex encryption tricks. Also, it functions faster and enables you to reconnect easily after any service interruption, which proves its reliability.

IKEv2 and L2TP are quite similar, as they are both used with IPsec and can be easily blocked by some websites. Most people love this protocol as it’s very stable and user friendly, which makes it a favorable option.


SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol)

SSTP is another major protocol from Microsoft that you can use to help boost your online privacy. What makes this protocol unique and popular is how it’s supported on Windows 7,8 and 10 by default. So, you can easily set up SSTP on your Windows device without experiencing any issues.

The Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol uses SSL (Secure Socket Layer), the protocol that helps ensure websites are secure to transport data. SSTP is known to use complicated encryption methods hence placing it among the most secure VPN protocols that you’ll find today.

Most professionals prefer using this protocol as it can’t be blocked easily because its traffic is always transmitted through the excellent HTTPS web connection. Therefore, if you are a Netflix fan and you want a VPN protocol that can help you access more content, then SSTP is a great option. However, since this protocol is owned by Microsoft, it’s difficult to examine it further to help expose any hidden faults.


OpenVPN

This VPN protocol is developed with open-source software, which means that it can be inspected by anyone. OpenVPN uses SSL encryption to secure the data traffic between you and other computers.

Open VPN is always fast and can easily get through blocking software, which is what makes it an excellent protocol to use. Due to this protocol’s open nature, professionals all over the planet have been trying to polish it and make it more effective and reliable.

Although OpenVPN is not included on Windows, it’s supported, and you can even use it on Mac and Linux systems. However, you might need another software client to help you configure it first.

It is always advisable that you buy your subscription from a well-known private tunnel VPN provider. Why? Doing that enables you to get all the configurations already included in the app, hence eliminating all the hassle of configuring it.

Which protocol should I choose?

Although PPTP is known to be the fastest protocol, it’s not the best option if you want to keep your data extra secure. L2TP/IPsec has great encryption, but it’s usually slower and might not be very helpful when it comes to getting through VPN blocking software.

SSTP provides excellent security, but you can only use it on Windows hence making it not an option if you are on Mac. OpenVPN is usually recommended by experts as it offers strong encryption and can easily bypass blocking software on major sites while keeping your data safe.

Which are some of the best VPNs that offer quality tunneling? Here are the ones that are especially worth checking out:

You now know every vital detail about a VPN tunnel, including how it works and the different VPN protocols involved. So, remember that the tunneling protocol you choose will determine the amount of speed and efficacy you achieve with the VPN when browsing. Therefore, it’s crucial that you first consider the exact reason why you want a VPN tunnel. That way, you can analyze all the above options properly, and see which one will work best for you.

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