A virtual private network, or VPN, provides those with access to it a secure and encrypted connection to a network. This network could be the internet or a local area network. The security and encryption applied starts at the device and ends at the point wherein data is transmitted into another network.
VPNs use encryption to make data unreadable to those who have no authority to access. Unauthorized access cannot open or process the data through programs that could normally open it in unencrypted form.
In VPNs directly connected to a server, the protection usually extends from one point to the other. This is often the case in VPNs used for providing remote access to a local area network.
In VPNs connected to a public network, the encryption only start from the device and only up to the point where a server sends data into the public network. This is how most users of virtual private networks use it. Common uses for this approach include IP address masking, online gaming, accessing geo-blocked content, bypassing firewalls, P2P file sharing, streaming support, and anonymizing identities.
VPNs can be acquired through a service provider or by manually setting up servers and IP addresses. VPN providers often offer this with bundled features such as browser extensions, dedicated IP addresses, double VPN, kill switch, and dedicated gaming servers.
Although these are legally offered in almost every country, some countries and government agencies are actively creating ways to block and track VPN traffic. Some have even created developments in the decryption of encrypted data. This caused some groups to develop new technologies for encryption and privacy, which also prompted the same reaction from the other party.