If you’ve been baffled by the VPN slang, we have a list of commonly used VPN terms and their meanings. We will continue updating the list, so if you find a term that you’d like to to have explained, don’t hesitate to drop as a line in the comment section below 🙂
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that encrypts your data as it goes on the internet. When your data is encrypted, any hackers lurking on the network will not be able to read it. Also, your internet provider or the government will not be able to read it either.
Apart from encrypting your data, a VPN will also reroute it through its own servers. This means your real IP address will not show on the internet. Instead, the website you visit will see the IP of the VPN server you connect to.
You get the option to choose the server you want to connect to. So for example, if you want to appear that you’re browsing the web from the US, you can connect to a US-based server of the VPN network.
You might have noticed ads when you visit websites. Sometimes full-blown large ads that cover the entire webpage, making it difficult to view the contents of the page. Ad blockers are just software tools that block these pesky ads so you can have a smooth online experience.
When you install an ad blocker, you can visit a webpage without being shown any ads. And you don’t have to do anything for it. Just install the ad blocker and it will work automatically.
For instance, one of the Surfshark’s features CleanWeb™ blocks ads, trackers and protects from malware and phishing attempts. Usually, if you want a similar feature, it costs extra, but with Surfshark it comes for free.
When you connect to the internet, your device sends some data to the online world. Without encryption, that data can be easily read by hackers. Advanced Encryption Standard or AES is a technology that many VPN companies use to prevent such hacks and make your online communication more secure.
Encryption methods like AES use certain “keys”. These keys are basically strings of characters and are used to “hide” the original message in such a way that it cannot be intercepted and read.
The longer the key, the stronger the encryption.
While 128-bit length in computer terms is considered strong enough for individual use, we still offer 256-bit encryption at Surfshark to make sure your data is safe even from seasoned hackers.
Bitcoin gained recognition when its values sore to about $20,000 in 2017. It was viewed as a great investment option back then. But how does it come in the VPN scene?
Bitcoin provides a higher degree of anonymity than other payment options. If you pay someone using your credit card, your name and bank details will be disclosed to the receiving authority. However, when you pay using Bitcoin, your details will not be revealed.
This is why privacy-conscious people want to pay using Bitcoin. When you pay with it for VPN services, the VPN company does not get to know your real identity.
There are other privacy-based currencies similar to Bitcoin. All these are called cryptocurrencies.
As explained earlier, Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency. There are other cryptocurrencies as well, such as Ethereum and Litecoin.
Cryptocurrencies are often used to pay for VPNs (other payment methods include credit cards and PayPal) because they provide anonymity.
When you pay using cryptocurrency, your VPN provider will not get to know about your real identity and location, which is what makes them so attractive to privacy-conscious people.
BitTorrent is a way to download movies, shows, games, and a lot more. With BitTorrent, downloads don’t take place in the traditional way of downloading from a single location. Instead, the file is available at multiple locations and you download a bit from each place.
“Torrenting” is the process of uploading or downloading a file using this method. It is widely viewed as illegal but BitTorrent is not illegal in itself. It becomes illegal only when you download or share a file that’s copyright protected.
Imagine the scenario: You want to download a movie. Instead of downloading one whole file from one computer, you download a bit of the movie from several different computers that have the movie on their hard drives.
The technique used by BitTorrent is called P2P (peer-to-peer) sharing because instead of downloading from one central location, you download it from several peers.
Even if you take precautions to hide your IP when you go online, the internet can get to know about your real location through other means such as browser fingerprinting.
It is a technique that studies different behaviors of your browsers and creates a fingerprint to identify them uniquely. While you can change your IP and hide your identity online, browser fingerprinting isn’t very easy to block.
It reads the different characteristics of your browser. If you use a lot of add-ons on your browser, it becomes easier to track it uniquely.
For example, you have Chrome 74.0 and have three specific plugins on it, it can easily be distinguished from another Chrome browser that is version 72 and has a different plugin.
Cookies are small files that a website leaves on your device. Earlier, websites did that without your knowledge or consent. But now, thanks to the cookie law, as you visit a new website, it might show you a notification that you need to allow cookies.
You can deny their request but then the website might not load. This is why some people just click on accept. These cookies stay on your device and let the website know if you’re visiting it the first time or are a regular visitor.
Just like browser fingerprinting, cookies also help websites keep track of you.
A cipher is a collection of (specific) steps that encrypt and decrypt any kind of data that can be represented with a computer. Ciphers are generally complicated and are designed in such a way that they cannot be easily cracked. Reliable VPNs encrypt your data using strong ciphers so that even if a hacker gains access to your data, they cannot decrypt it.
For example, you’re sending a message to your friend and you substitute an alphabet by another (it’s called Ceasar cipher).
So if you want to send “I have a crush on you” and you substitute A with B, B with C, and so on, this will be written as “J ibwf b dsvti po zpv”. When the recipient receives it, they replace each alphabet with the one preceding it and get the plaintext decoded version.
This is just a basic example to show how encryption and cipher work.
This is something every VPN company will claim they don’t keep. A connection log is basically a record of things that you do when you connect to the VPN. If a VPN keeps connection logs, it means they record certain movements you make online.
While some types of logs are essential for quality services, others are just an invasion of privacy. For example, crash logs tell the company how their app is performing. However, keeping track of which websites you’ve visited lets the VPN provider spy on you.
At Surfshark, we don’t keep track of your browsing history, IP addresses, or even connection timestamps. Hence, we follow a strict no logs policy, and we’ve also been audited.
Dark Net/Deep Web
Often considered a dangerous place, the dark net isn’t as criminally glamorous as it is often assumed. It basically consists of websites that do not appear on search engines.
Since people mostly find websites through search engines like Google, this dark net stays hidden from the public eye.
These websites and forums don’t have to be illegal. You can access them using services such as Tor. While some people might think that the dark net is a place where pedophiles, terrorists, and drug dealers often lurk, the deep web has all types of people, including those who just want to place their opinion while being anonymous.
As more and more people get aware of the threats to their online privacy, they join the dark net to access a freer version of the internet.
You might have heard that a particular VPN is compatible with DD-WRT. DD-WRT is an open source firmware that can be installed on the router so you can have greater control over it. A firmware is a software that’s almost permanently installed in hardware.
When you connect to a VPN, you are given another IP address and your own IP becomes hidden. This new shared IP assigned to you might be used by other users as well.
When one VPN IP is assigned to a single user, it is called a dedicated IP.
A dedicated IP might cost you extra but you’ll get an IP address that’s exclusively for you. However, with shared IPs, several users will connect to one server, making the real IP address difficult to trace back.
If you’re looking for anonymity, shared IPs are better than dedicated ones.
Deep Packet Inspection
When you connect to the internet, you send data through your device to the online world. This data is sent in groups called packets. The network administrator can use methods like deep packet inspection to examine the packet and to remove any malicious content from it.
Edward is the guy who blew the whistle on NSA in 2013. He made people aware of the way government agencies keep track of people and their online activities.
Edward Snowden used to work for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) of USA. He was also a contractor for NSA (National Security Agency). Ever since the revelations, he has been absconding and hasn’t returned back home to the US.
When you go online, your internet provider can see what you’re doing. Whether you’re looking for a cake recipe or stalking the profile of an ex, your internet activity is open for the government and hackers to spy on.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, you can use encryption. Encryption is just a way to encode data so it appears to be garbled to hackers and other entities that are not supposed to read it. It can be done by tools such as VPNs.
End-to-end encryption means when the entire communication is encrypted from the sender to the receiver so that there’s no weak point in between from where the data can be intercepted.
Five Eyes is an organization of spying countries. It consists of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The governments of these countries hold mass surveillance programs and share the data among themselves.
Many people avoid getting VPN services that are located in these countries. However, if a VPN does not keep any logs, it’s safe to use it, no matter where it’s located.
If your VPN provider does not store any data, the government cannot force them to hand over anything. After all, you cannot give something you don’t have in the first place.
Similar to the Five Eye countries are Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes. Nine Eye countries include all Five Eye countries plus France, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands.
14 Eye countries include all countries in the Nine Eyes plus Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Sweden. The original Five Eye surveillance agreement extends to all these countries as well.
It’s a legal document that stops a company from telling others about receiving the order. For example, if a VPN company receives a gag order from the government, it means they are not allowed to alert their customers that they have received it.
If the government asks for a certain user’s browsing details from a VPN company using a gag order, the company cannot let its users know that the government is inquiring them.
However, several VPN companies keep warrant canaries to let their customers know that they have received a gag order.
A warrant canary is a way to let users know that the VPN company has not received a gag order from the government. Since they cannot publicly announce they have received a gag order, instead of displaying the gag order information, the company will stop updating their warrant canary or take it down. This signifies that they have received a gag order.
Basically, a warrant canary is a webpage whose presence means that the FBI hasn’t been there.
Ever come across a YouTube video with a note that says, “This video is unavailable in your country.” That’s one example of geo-blocked content that has been purposely made unavailable in your geographical location.
You can bypass most geo-restrictions. Just change your IP address using a VPN and you’ll be able to watch geo-blocked YouTube videos.
Great Firewall of China
The Chinese government runs a massive censorship program to make sure its citizens are not allowed to access certain content. This is called the Great Firewall of China.
The people of China cannot access Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Gmail etc. While geo-restricted content can generally be accessed using VPNs, the problem is that VPNs are also banned in China.
Since China is very strict with its online censorship, not all VPNs are able to bypass the Great Firewall. If you’re planning to travel to China, you can depend on Surfshark as our servers are able to bypass the online restrictions of the country.
But for that, you need to install the VPN on your device before you land there. Because once you’re inside the Great Firewall, you won’t be able to install a VPN.
HTTP stands for the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. It’s the set of rules that was used to build the web. HTTPS is just a more secure version of HTTP.
When you open a website, you’ll notice that the address of the websites starts with http or https. The web is now moving towards https and you’ll see a padlock icon next to the website address.
Simply put, when you open an https website, a hacker monitoring your traffic will be able to see that you opened that website but they won’t be able to view the information you share with that website (such as your credit card details).
When you connect to the internet, your device is assigned a unique number. This is your IP address and it reveals your location to the website you visit.
To hide your real IP address, you can use a VPN and become more private on the internet.
Just like a DNS leak, an IP leak is when your details are revealed online. If you’re connected to a VPN and yet a website is able to see your real IP address, it means your VPN is leaking your real IP.
A killswitch is a tool to protect you from IP leaks. Let’s say you’re using the VPN and the VPN connection suddenly stops. Now your data is going on an unencrypted channel and you’re not protected anymore.
A killswitch will not let this happen. It will drop the internet connection instantly so that no data goes on the unsecured network. This will bring your browsing to a halt but will protect your online anonymity.
Not all VPNs provide a killswitch so make sure you get a provider that offers this feature. Surfshark VPN apps come with an inbuilt killswitch.
You’ll see that almost all websites have privacy policies and most of us don’t read them. However, with a VPN company, it becomes important to read what’s in there since the main purpose behind using a VPN is online anonymity.
A proxy is a tool that helps you hide your IP address from the websites you’re visiting. It sits between you and the web. When you try to open a site, your traffic goes to the proxy server and from there to the web server. So the website you’re on can see only the IP of the proxy server and not your real IP.
A VPN is better than a proxy because a proxy will secure only what you do on your browser. Other applications that are running on your device will not be covered by it. However, a VPN will secure all the activities on your device.
When you turn on a VPN software, your real IP gets hidden and you are assigned a new one. This is the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to at that time. When a lot of users connect to one VPN server IP, it’s called a shared IP. This is in contrast to a dedicated IP address where one IP address is given exclusively to one user.
Shared IPs are more secure than dedicated ones because they cannot be easily traced back to the exact user who was using it.
Tor is a global network of servers that lets you access the web anonymously. When you send some data on the internet, it passes through several servers until it finally reaches its destination.
While Tor helps you stay anonymous, it also slows down the connection, which is why it cannot effectively be used to stream content. To use Tor, you just have to download the Tor browser and start using it.
A tunnel is an encrypted channel between your device and the VPN server you connect to. A tunnel is established as soon as you click on “Connect” on your VPN app.
There are several tunneling protocols such as OpenVPN, L2TP, IPSec etc. OpenVPN is known as the most secure tunneling protocols of them all. You can read more about the different protocols here.
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