If you’re looking at subscribing to a VPN service, you may be overwhelmed by all the technical terms that so many companies use to sell their products. Take all the complexity out of it by reading our jargon buster which will help you fully understand the products you are potentially buying. Use this mini dictionary alongside our reviews and you’ll ensure that you are buying the right VPN product for your needs and requirements.
The following list is not exhaustive - there will still be a number of other terms that you come across that may confuse you. However, these are the ones that will explain the very basics of VPNs so that you can be sure you are purchasing a solid, dependable piece of software.
This standard is how you can tell how strong the encryption on your chosen product is. It’s a form of ‘cipher’ which can encrypt and decrypt data that is transferred over an internet connection. You can tell how strong the cipher is that your potential company uses by looking at the key length. You may see that some companies use an AES-128 which means that it encrypts data with what is referred to as an 128-bit key. However, we like to see companies use a 256-bit key. It’s so much stronger - with the US government using this key to encrypt even its most top secret documents.
Geo-blocking is one of the reasons that many people use a VPN. Geo-blocking is when you can’t access online content due to where you are in the world. As, in certain countries you can access certain content, while in others, you can’t. Through using a VPN, you are able to make yourself look like you are in the country you need to be to access the content you want. You’ll see this term referred to alongside VPNs when companies assert that their product is a way ‘around’ geo-blocking.
Your IP address is the unique identifier of the device you are using, by location. Every single person on the internet, every website and every server has an IP address. It’s one of the ways that devices connect with one another - by giving the IP address, they tell the other device where they are located. It’s crucial for how computers, tablets and smartphones communicate with one another.
An IP leak is when your true IP address is revealed. You’ll often be using a VPN to ensure that your IP address is not revealed to anyone, so if your potential provider has a history of IP leaks, it could well be a good idea to go elsewhere - unless they’ve materially changed their technology and security procedures since the leaks occurred. There are a number of online tools where you can test whether your IP address has been leaked before.
A kill switch is another way to improve your security online while using a VPN. A VPN’s main job is to encrypt your data and mask your IP address when you are connected to the internet. However, every so often, the VPN you establish may drop out, meaning that your data is no longer encrypted and your location can be revealed as you’re still connected to the internet.
A kill switch is an extra bit of security therefore as if your VPN does drop out, a kill switch immediately cuts your internet connection too. You can’t inadvertently transfer readable, interceptable data or expose your location.
Latency is a term used for the time it takes data to cross a network from the start point to the end user. A bigger latency means a longer time taken for that data to be transferred. Due to the extra connection that an established VPN adds to your data’s transfer across a network, the time it takes for that data to be transferred can increase. It’s good to look at latency times for your potential VPN provider given that the best ones will keep it to a minimum - so much so that when you have established a VPN, it’s imperceptible. Less effective VPNs will cause a big, noticeable lag, slowing down your connection speeds.
It’s crucial to know what logging is when it comes to VPNs and what your potential provider’s approach to logging is. Logging is when a provider records your online activity - in terms of when you connected to the internet, what type of device you are logging in from, what version of a provider's VPN you are using, which server you connect to, the bandwidth you are using and what your IP address is. The majority say they do not record the sites you visit or any downloads you may carry out.
Governments and regulatory authorities often want to know which people are using VPNs, particularly in countries where censorship of the internet is common. Plus, not all internet service providers or websites like the use of VPNs given that they can mean users can get around geo-blocks and data usage limits. For that reason, many sites or ISP providers have been trying to identify VPN usage so that they can minimise their usage. Obfuscation is a way to make it harder for ISPs or websites to tell that you are using a VPN.
A protocol, when it comes to VPNs, is a process that an app or server uses to establish a VPN connection for a user. You could call it a set of instructions, that both use, so that they can “talk” to each other to set up that connection. Different protocols are used by different companies and can impact how secure the VPNs they establish are, and how quick they are too - both in terms of initial connection and general speed once set up.
This is an example of a protocol that many companies use in the design of their VPN. It’s popular as it’s very secure while still easily customised for a provider’s intent or purpose. Some commentators say that VPNs that use OpenVPN as a protocol aren't the fastest, but it is widely regarded as being one of the safer ones out there.
Ping time is a term often used when talking about latency. A ping time is how long it takes for data to be transferred. A longer ping time, the bigger the latency and the slower the connection you are using. It’s good to look at ping times of your VPNs before signing up to their services, as a longer ping time can impact your experience when online. If it’s too big and, therefore, too slow, you will be hesitant to use the VPN or worse, not use one at all.
Split tunnelling is a phrase that many of the best providers will offer. It’s a feature which allows apps to use a device’s regular internet connection as opposed to being routed through a VPN connection. It’s essentially like having two internet connections. You may want to use it if you find a number of your apps don’t ‘get along’ with the VPN you use.
Throttling is commonly carried out by ISPs who are trying to limit the speed of your internet connection. VPNs are great at stopping this from happening as your VPN connection will prevent your ISPs from detecting what sites you are trying to access or content you are trying to download.
Tor is short for The Onion Router. It’s an open-source project that provides a secure way of transferring data by encrypting it. However, it encrypts it several times over, and then runs it through many different other servers. As a result, it’s similar in a way to VPN technology. It hides your IP address by using another server.
A VPN server is a server that your provider uses to offer its service. It connects you to the wider internet when you connect to your provider’s VPN server. It's your connection to the VPN server that is encrypted. When researching VPN providers, it’s a good idea to see how large their server network is. And the locations that the servers are in. The more countries, and the more servers, the better.
There’s no doubt that if you are not technically minded, the language behind VPNs can be confusing at times - making choosing one that is right for your needs harder. Our reviews are a jargon free zone which fully explain the advantages and disadvantages behind every VPN and its tech. It’s by doing so that you will understand how that technology keeps you safe online.