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A virtual private network also known as a VPN is a private network that extends across a public network or internet. It enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

A virtual private network also known as a VPN is a private network that extends across a public network or internet. It
enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

VPNs can provide
functionality, security and/or network management benefits to the user. But they can also lead to new issues, and some VPN services, especially
“free” ones, can actually violate their users’ privacy by logging their usage and making it available without their consent, or make money by selling the user’s bandwidth to other users.

Some VPNs allow employees to securely access a corporate intranet while located outside the office. Some can securely connect
geographically separated offices of an organization, creating one cohesive network. Individual Internet users can use some VPNs to secure their wireless transactions, to circumvent geo-restrictions and censorship, and/or to connect to proxy servers for the purpose of protecting personal identity and location.
But some Internet sites block access via known VPNs to prevent the circumvention of their geo-restrictions.

A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunnelling protocols, or traffic encryption.

A VPN available from the public Internet can provide some of the benefits of a wide area network (WAN). From a user perspective, the resources available within the private network can be accessed remotely.

Traditional VPNs are characterized by a point-to-point topology, and they do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains, so services such as Microsoft Windows NetBIOS may not be fully
supported or work as they would on a local area network (LAN). Designers have developed VPN variants,

such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and layer-2 tunneling protocols, to overcome this limitation.

VPN systems may be classified by:

  • The protocols used to tunnel the traffic
  • The tunnel’s termination point location , e.g., on the customer edge or network-provider edge
  • Whether they offer site-to-site or network-to-network connectivity
  • The levels of security provided
  • The OSI layer they present to the connecting network, such as Layer 2 circuits or Layer 3 network connectivity

Security mechanisms

VPNs cannot make online connections completely anonymous, but they can usually increase privacy and security. To prevent
disclosure of private information, VPNs typically allow only authenticated
remote access using tunnelling protocols and encryption techniques.

The VPN security model provides:

  • Confidentiality such that even if the network traffic is sniffed at the packet level (see network sniffer and Deep
    packet inspection), an attacker would only see encrypted data
  • Sender authentication to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the VPN
  • Message integrity to detect any instances of tampering with transmitted messages

Secure VPN protocols include the following:

  • Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) as initially developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for IPv6,
    which was required in all standards-compliant implementations of IPv6 before RFC 6434 made it only a recommendation.
  • This standards-based security protocol is also widely used with IPv4 and the Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol.
    Its design meets most security goals: authentication, integrity, and confidentiality.
  • IPsec uses encryption, encapsulating an IP packet inside an IPsec packet. De-encapsulation happens at the end of the tunnel, where the original IP packet is decrypted and forwarded to its intended destination.
  • Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) can tunnel an entire network’s traffic (as it does in the OpenVPN project and
    SoftEther VPN project) or secure an individual connection. A number of vendors provide remote-access VPN capabilities through SSL. An SSL VPN can connect from locations where IPsec runs into trouble with Network Address Translation and firewall rules.
  • Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) – used in Cisco AnyConnect VPN and in OpenConnect VPN] to solve the issues SSL/TLS has with tunnelling over UDP.
  • Multi Path Virtual Private Network (MPVPN). Ragula Systems Development Company owns the registered trademark “MPVPN”.


Tunnel endpoints must be authenticated before secure VPN tunnels can be
established. User-created remote-access VPNs may use passwords, biometrics,
two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods. Network-to-network
tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates. They permanently store the
key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically, without intervention from
the administrator.


Tunnelling protocols can operate in a point-to-point network topology that would theoretically not be considered as a VPN, because a VPN by definition is expected to support arbitrary and changing sets of network nodes.
But since most router implementations support a software-defined tunnel
interface, customer-provisioned VPNs often are simply defined tunnels running
conventional routing protocols.

Provider-provisioned VPN building-blocks

Depending on whether a provider-provisioned VPN (PPVPN)[clarification
needed] operates in layer 2 or layer 3, the building blocks described
below may be L2 only, L3 only, or combine them both. Multi-protocol label
switching (MPLS) functionality blurs the L2-L3 identity.[citation needed][original research?]

RFC 4026 generalized the following terms to
cover L2 and L3 VPNs, but they were introduced in RFC 2547 More information on
the devices below can also be found in Lewis, Cisco Press.

Customer (C) devices

A device that is within a customer’s network
and not directly connected to the service provider’s network. C devices are not
aware of the VPN.

Customer Edge device (CE)

A device at the edge of the customer’s network
which provides access to the PPVPN. Sometimes it’s just a demarcation point
between provider and customer responsibility. Other providers allow customers to
configure it.

Provider edge device (PE)

OSI Layer
3 PPVPN architectures

This section discusses the main architectures
for PPVPNs, one where the PE disambiguates duplicate addresses in a single
routing instance, and the other, virtual router, in which the PE contains a
virtual router instance per VPN. The former approach, and its variants, have
gained the most attention.

One of the challenges of PPVPNs involves
different customers using the same address space, especially the IPv4 private
address space.[20] The provider must be able to disambiguate overlapping
addresses in the multiple customers’ PPVPNs.


In the method defined by RFC 2547, BGP
extensions advertise routes in the IPv4 VPN address family, which are of the
form of 12-byte strings, beginning with an 8-byte Route Distinguisher (RD) and
ending with a 4-byte IPv4 address. RDs disambiguate otherwise duplicate
addresses in the same PE.

PEs understand the topology of each VPN, which
are interconnected with MPLS tunnels, either directly or via P routers. In MPLS
terminology, the P routers are Label Switch Routers without awareness of VPNs.

Virtual router PPVPN

The Virtual Router architecture, as opposed to
BGP/MPLS techniques, requires no modification to existing routing protocols such
as BGP. By the provisioning of logically independent routing domains, the
customer operating a VPN is completely responsible for the address space. In the
various MPLS tunnels, the different PPVPNs are disambiguated by their label, but
do not need routing distinguishers.

Unencrypted tunnels

Main article: Tunneling protocol

Some virtual networks may not use encryption to
protect the privacy of data. While VPNs often provide security, an unencrypted
overlay network does not neatly fit within the secure or trusted categorization.
For example, a tunnel set up between two hosts that used Generic Routing
Encapsulation (GRE) would in fact be a virtual private network, but neither
secure nor trusted.

Native plaintext tunnelling protocols include
Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP) when it is set up without IPsec and
Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) or Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption

VPNs in mobile environments

Mobile virtual private networks are used in
settings where an endpoint of the VPN is not fixed to a single IP address, but
instead roams across various networks such as data networks from cellular
carriers or between multiple Wi-Fi access points. Mobile VPNs have been widely
used in public safety, where they give law enforcement officers access to
mission-critical applications, such as computer-assisted dispatch and criminal
databases, while they travel between different subnets of a mobile network. They
are also used in field service management and by healthcare organizations among
other industries.


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