A virtual private network (VPN) service provides a proxy server to help users bypass Internet censorship such as geoblocking and users who want to protect their communications against data profiling or MitM attacks on hostile networks.
A wide variety of entities provide "VPNs" for several purposes. But depending on the provider and the application, they do not always create a true private network. Instead, many providers simply provide an Internet proxy that uses VPN technologies such as OpenVPN or WireGuard. Commercial VPN services are often used by those wishing to disguise or obfuscate their physical location or IP address, typically as a means to evade Internet censorship or geo-blocking.
Providers often market VPN services as privacy-enhancing, citing security features, such as encryption, from the underlying VPN technology. However, users must consider that when the transmitted content is not encrypted before entering the proxy, that content is visible at the receiving endpoint (usually the VPN service provider's site) regardless of whether the VPN tunnel itself is encrypted for the inter-node transport. The only secure VPN is where the participants have oversight at both ends of the entire data path or when the content is encrypted before it enters the tunnel.
On the client side, configurations intended to use VPN services as proxies are not conventional VPN configurations. However, they do typically utilize the operating system's VPN interfaces to capture the user's data to send to the proxy. This includes virtual network adapters on computer OSes and specialized "VPN" interfaces on mobile operating systems. A less common alternative is to provide a SOCKS proxy interface.
In computer magazines, VPN services are typically judged on connection speeds; privacy protection, including privacy at signup and grade of encryption; server count and locations; interface usability; and cost.
In order to determine the degree of privacy and anonymity, various computer magazines, such as PC World and PC Magazine, also take the provider's own guarantees and its reputation among news items into consideration.
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