VPN Encryption: Types & Protocols

Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) encryption is used to ensure secure communications over data networks. In this lesson, we'll look at some of the different protocols that make up a VPN and the types of encryption that are used within a VPN.

What is VPN Encryption?

In order for basic communications to happen, there have to be some ground rules. When two people have a conversation, they typically begin with a greeting. During the discussion, one person talks and the other person listens. If they don't want an eavesdropper understanding what they're saying, they can speak using code words. If they're really concerned about privacy, they can go somewhere private.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows for a private connection through a public network like the Internet. The network devices on either end of the connection build a shielded tunnel which limits access to the communications session and they also encrypt (think scramble) the data, so only the two parties involved in the conversation can understand what's being said.

Types of VPNs and Functionality

Here's a real world example: you're a business person, sitting in the airport after a long week on the road. You use the airport wireless Internet connection (which may not be very secure) to file your weekly report with your company. You have VPN client software on your laptop so when you log into your company network via the airport wireless connection, your data is transmitted safely and securely. This type of VPN setup is known as a remote access VPN. Another type of VPN configuration is a site-to-site VPN, used to allow two remote company sites to securely communicate with each other via the Internet.

Back to our conversation example, when two people talk, they will often begin with a greeting and in VPN terminology, that's known as authentication. Within VPN authentication, the identities of the two parties in the session are verified so that the secure conversation can begin. The other main element of a VPN is encryption, which is translating plain text into a secret code which can only be understood using the proper key. Authentication and encryption are used together in VPNs because encryption without authentication is unsecure (imagine handing your secured package to the wrong person because you didn't check their ID). To sum up - we make sure we know who we're talking to, we set up a private channel for our conversation, and in case somebody is listening in, we speak in code.

Eavesdropping the old school way
Old time eavesdropping

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