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Common VPN Terms and their meanings

Let’s try to understand VPNs a little extra. Here are some common VPN jargons and their definitions for beginners.

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AES (Advanced Encryption Standards) is an encryption algorithm that ensures your digital data reaches the intended destination safely without getting compromised by intruders.

Ad Blocker – It is a VPN feature that blocks advertisers that are trying to snoop through your data.

Bitcoin – It is an anonymous payment method that uses cryptography and not institutions or banks. It is a payment method over which no one has control. The bitcoin payment method allows for anonymous payments.

BitTorrent – It is a peer-to-peer transfer protocol used to quickly share and distribute large files. This protocol is most often used to download movies and other copyrighted material. BitTorrent users prefer to use VPNs as their IPs can easily be tracked. With a VPN, they may not be tracked. But the VPN they use must allow P2P traffic.

Censorship – Internet censorship poses restrictions on what can be viewed and accessed on the internet. DNS poisoning, Deep Packet Inspection, and DDoS attacks are few ways through which censorship is often deployed.

Cipher – This refers to the algorithm used to encrypt the internet connection between the server and the client. AES, Twofish, and Blowfish are common ciphers.

Connection logs – It is a record of connection times and locations kept by VPN companies. This is not similar to activity logs where more information like the web pages visited by a user etc. will be recorded.

Cryptocurrency – It is a digital form of money that deploys a powerful cryptographic technique to secure your financial transactions. Bitcoin is a popular cryptocurrency.

Dark web – The dark web also known as the darknet is something that is offered by networks like Tor and I2P and that is not indexed by search engines. The dark web cannot be easily accessed and it needs special software that hides the identity and location of the user.

Data retention – It is a policy followed by companies that retain data of users using their services. In many places, ISPs are required to store the browsing history of the users for a certain number of months.

DD-WRT – It is a Linux-based firmware or operating system for wireless routers and access points. Routers that run this type of software can be easily modified for VPN connections. Many VPN providers have software for these types of routers.

DDoS Attacks – Distributed denial of service attack is a method of flooding a system with requests and other data at the same time from multiple compromised systems so that is can no longer function.

Deep Web – Is it the invisible or hidden web that is not indexed by search engines like Google but can be accessed if there is an address. For eg. Google Drive, Dropbox, etc cannot be accessed without a specific URL, ID, password, etc. But you can access it if you have a specific address. The deep web is used to store confidential information of the government or any organization. The deep web is often confused with the Dark Web, which is mostly used for illegal activities. But the deep web is important to protect the privacy and personal information of internet users.

DNS – Domain Name Servers abbreviated DNS is nothing but a naming system and more like the Internet’s phone book. It maps domain names to IP addresses. When you visit a website, your device will use the DNS to convert the human-readable web address to an IP address that only machines can read. Without DNS, you will only be able to visit a website with its IP address that will consist of just numbers.

DNS leak – A DNS leak is a security flaw that reveals the true IP address of your connection to your ISP and the websites you visit.

DNS Poisoning – Also known as DNS spoofing is an attack where the attackers fraudulently redirect users to fake websites by attacking the DNS.

Encryption – The process through which information is encoded so that only those who are authorized to view it can access it. In this process, spreadsheets, text files, etc. will be turned into codes that include secret numbers, primes, etc. This will prevent unauthorized access. Strong encryption is important for online security.

Encryption key – This is an unpredictable and unique secret key that will allow an authorized person to encrypt or decrypt information. These keys are created with algorithms and the longer the key, the harder it is to crack it.

Encryption key length – It is the length of the encryption key, which is the number of bits in an encryption key. 128, 256, and 512 bits are common key lengths in AES symmetric systems. 1024 to 4096 bits are common key lengths in RSA asymmetrical systems.

End-to-end encryption – This is one of the most secure ways to communicate online where only the parties involved in a conversation will have access to the encryption key. This is a system of communication where only the communicating users can read the message and no one else. End to end encryption prevents eavesdroppers from reading personal conversations. This includes ISPs, telecom providers and the communication providers, as well.

Firewall – It monitors incoming and outgoing traffic and decides whether to allow or block certain traffic based on specific security rules. It usually blocks suspicious connections. It comes as software or hardware. It is generally used to protect infrastructure and to access and censor content.

Firmware – Firmware is a piece of software that controls hardware to work how the manufacturer intended it to work. It is usually stored in flash memory to ensure it doesn’t get removed.

Five Eyes – ‘Five Eyes’ is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, The United Kingdom and The United States. These 5 countries spy on each other’s citizens’ and exchange information with their allies, as they can’t spy on their own citizens.

Geoblocking – The mechanism that restricts access to the Internet content in certain geographical locations is known as geo-blocking or geoblocking. YouTube, Netflix, and BBC iPlayer use geoblocking to limit access to their content. One of the main reasons people use a VPN is to disguise their locations so that they will be able to access geo-restricted content.

Geo restriction – If you are geo-restricted, it means you can’t access a particular set of content available in the Internet due to your geographical location.

Geo spoofing – If you are geo-spoofing, it means you are faking your location to unblock geo-restricted content.

GFW Great Firewall – The Great Firewall of China abbreviated GFW is a part of the Golden Shield, the system used to monitor the internet in China. GFW is China’s internet censorship system that restricts access to foreign websites and slows down internet traffic. The GFW is the reason why Facebook, Twitter or YouTube are not accessible in China.

HTTPS – Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure abbreviated HTTPS, a variant and the secure version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), provides SSL encryption to a website. This protocol is used to secure the communication that happens between the users’ web browser and the server. The padlock symbol in the address bar indicates that the web page you are visiting uses the SSL protocol.

IP address – IP addresses are used to uniquely identify a device in a network. Here, IP stands for Internet Protocol.

IP leak – An IP leak is when the real IP address of the user it exposed despite using a VPN. When a VPN fails to route the traffic properly, some traffic might go around the VPN tunnel. This way, the traffic will reach the service or website the user is accessing directly, thereby revealing their real IP address.

IPSec – Internet Protocol Security commonly known as IPSec is one of the encryption methods used in VPNs. It encrypts each packet individually. It is generally used as a VPN tunneling protocol.

IPv4 – Internet Protocol version 4, the first version of IP is one of the most commonly used IP versions. It has a 32-bit address length.

IPv6 – IPv4 is being succeeded by IPv6, one of the most recent versions of IP. IPv6 is 128-bits. It gives an unbelievable number of IP addresses thereby assuring us that we may not run out of unique IP addresses for new devices in the near future.

ISP – Internet Service Provider abbreviated as ISP is a company that provides internet service.

Kill switch – A VPN kill switch is a safety feature which automatically shuts off your internet connection when your VPN gets disconnected. It ensures that your data and privacy don’t get compromised accidentally.

Kilobit / Megabit / Gigabit – These units generally used to measure internet speeds. These units are abbreviated as Kbps, Mbps, and Gbps respectively, where p and s stand for per second.

Kilobyte / Megabyte / Gigabyte – These are the common units used to measure sizes of files.

L2P – Invisible Internet Project abbreviated I2P is a hidden service very similar to Tor. It allows for peer-to-peer communication and allows us to bypass censorship.

L2TP – Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol is a secure and stable VPN tunneling protocol. It is better and faster than PPTP.

Logs – It is a procedure that keeps track of your online activities when connected to the Internet, including your IP address, the websites you visit, data usage, etc.

Man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) – Commonly known as MitM, is a well-known online attack where an unauthorized party eavesdrops the communication between two parties. The two parties could be you and your friend, you and the organization where you work or you and your internet banking. Attackers would eventually steal your personal information like your credit card number or your login credentials. To combat MitM attacks, SSL certificates are used.

NAT Firewall – NAT firewall acts as a layer of security between the protected internal network and the unprotected external network, like the Internet.

Obfuscation – It is a technique that masks VPN traffic, tricking websites that your connection is an unencrypted one.

OpenSSH – Open Secure Shell abbreviated OpenSSH is a set of tools used to protect the privacy of communications between devices. OpenSSH is used as a VPN tunneling protocol.

OpenVPN – It is one of the most commonly used and trusted open-source VPN protocols. The technology it uses is similar to that of HTTPS connections. It is one of the most potent methods to bypass censorship as the traffic looks similar to regular web traffic.

P2P Network – Peer-to-peer network refers to a group of computers that are interconnected to each other through the Internet. With P2P network, file sharing process is simple, as every computer on this network acts as a server as well as a client.

Port Forwarding – Port forwarding is a network optimization technique that uses a single gateway for all outside communications on the Internet.

PPTP – Point-to-point Tunneling Protocol is an older protocol that does not have security features like encryption. However, those who require high-speed connections and low ping time prefer to use this protocol.

Proxy – Proxy is used to hide your true location while you use the Internet. When you are connected to a proxy server, your internet traffic will go through the proxy and not directly. The website you visit or the service you use will see the IP address of the proxy and not your original IP address. It is similar to a VPN, where you can connect your device to a proxy server before you access the Internet.

Router – It is a hardware device that routes data between computer networks. It is generally used to connect a LAN or WLAN to the open internet. If the router’s firmware supports DD-WRT VPN protocol, it can be configured to connect a LAN to a VPN service.
SHA – The secure hash algorithm abbreviated SHA is a cryptographic hashing function.

Simultaneous connections – VPN services use this term to define how many devices a user can connect to the VPN service using one single VPN account at the same time. This could be mobile phones, laptops or TVs. You may have to be aware of the number of simultaneous connections only when you are connecting the VPN through a device. It does not matter if you are connecting via a VPN router.

Smart DNS – Smart DNS is a proxy server that allows a user to unblock streaming applications and websites due to geo-restrictions.

Split Tunneling – It is a technique that allows you to decide which part of the Internet traffic needs to be routed through the VPN gateway while routing other traffic through normal unencrypted gateway.

SSL – SSL that stands for Secure Sockets Layer, helps send and receive information securely online. It is one of the most commonly used security protocols used to encrypt sensitive information sent across the web.

SSTP – Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol Service abbreviated SSTP, is a protocol that establishes a secure tunnel between the VPN client and the server so that the traffic that passes through this tunnel is encrypted. It is one of the most commonly used VPN protocols.

Tor – The Onion Router abbreviated TOR gives anonymity to its users. It is for anyone who wants to keep their online activities private and stay away from ISPs and advertisers. This web browser will anonymize your web traffic through the Tor network so that your identity will remain private while you surf the web.
VPN Cascading – With VPN cascading, you can connect to two different VPN servers simultaneously. It is also known as double VPN, as it offers two-fold security while accessing the Internet.

VPN Protocol – VPN protocols are nothing but a set of instructions or rules that include encryption standards and transmission protocols. VPN providers rely on these instructions to provide their users with a secure VPN connection. Different VPNs use different protocols based on their users’ needs and the devices they use. PPTP, IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2/IPSec and SSTP are examples of VPN protocols.

VPN Router – A VPN router will have a VPN installed into it. When you connect your devices to a VPN router, you need not install the VPN all the devices you use. This way, you can connect all your devices like laptops, mobile phones, TVs, etc to the VPN network through the VPN router without installing the VPN on all those devices separately. A VPN router can protect multiple devices.