What is a VPN tunnel, and how it works?

Ruheni Mathenge Last updated: September 11, 2022 Read time: 11 minutes Disclosure

A VPN (virtual private network) tunnel helps cloak some of your activities online by encapsulating and encrypting traffic between the VPN server and your device. How does it work? This article explains all.

Sneak peek at VPN tunnel

All the reliable VPNs available today employ some protocols for the online protection of internet users, known as VPN Tunnel. It is an encrypted link established between your device and your chosen VPN server as soon as you connect with a VPN. In VPN tunneling, the VPN will first encrypt your online traffic and then route it via intermediary servers with a newly generated IP before it reaches the destination. That’s how it provides an anonymous and secure route to your online stream, which no one can trace. Learn more about VPN tunnels in this guide.

The increasing regulations and censorship are threatening internet freedom around the world. At the same time, there has been a surge of technologies to protect people’s online security and privacy. One typical example is the Virtual Private Network (VPN).

This handy tool will encrypt your traffic and route it through an intermediary server before reaching its destination. The encrypted channel between your device and the server is known as the ‘tunnel’. So, as long as the VPN is active, your ISP and other third parties cannot see what you are doing online.

Read on to find out how VPN tunneling works, types of VPN tunnel protocols, best VPNs that use tunneling, and more.

What is a VPN tunnel?

A VPN tunnel is the encrypted connection established when you connect to a VPN server. It is almost impossible to crack without a cryptographic key, preventing your ISP and other third parties from accessing your data. This will hide what you are doing online and protect your connections.

Essentially, a VPN tunnel provides an anonymous route to the internet through intermediary servers. That is why you should consider using a VPN if you are cautious with your privacy.

How it works

In simple terms, VPN tunneling is a result of using a VPN service. So, explaining how a VPN tunnel works is the same as showing how a VPN works.

What does a VPN tunnel do?

  • Traffic encryption. Connecting to a VPN server protects your traffic with strong encryption to keep you safe from malicious third parties. 
  • Masks your IP address. Using a VPN will route your traffic through an intermediary server, hiding your actual IP address. As a result, it is impossible to trace your location.
  • Public WiFi protection. Free WiFi hotspots in public places like libraries, airports, and coffee shops are infested with hackers and other malicious actors. However, with a VPN, you don’t have to worry about your security and privacy when on these networks.

For VPN tunneling to work, you need to get a reliable VPN service. A VPN tunnel will be established when you connect to the VPN server of your choice. Without a VPN, your ISP and other third parties can see everything you are doing online. However, this will become impossible when you connect to a VPN server as it will hide your IP address and encrypt web traffic.

One of the crucial things to look out for when choosing a VPN is the logging practices. A reliable service should have a strict no-logs policy, which means it doesn’t monitor or retain personally identifiable data. So, confirm that the provider you choose has a long-standing reputation or is independently audited by known firms. For example, ExpressVPN and NordVPN are audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Cure53.

Is VPN tunnel the safest route for web traffic?

VPN tunneling

If a VPN introduces a secure connection to the internet, can it be hacked? Unfortunately, yes, but it is not that easy because of the encryption involved. In fact, this shouldn’t be your concern if you are a regular user, as hackers mostly go for high-value targets.

So, how can a hacker gain access to a VPN tunnel? Well, breaking the robust encryption is almost impossible, except if there is a known vulnerability. However, by stealing the encryption key, it is easy to infiltrate a VPN. That is why we encourage you to use a reputable VPN provider to minimize the risk. For instance, NordVPN uses a 4096-bit DH key cipher, protecting the key exchange in a VPN connection.

How to check whether your VPN tunnel is working

One of the easiest ways to know if your VPN tunnel is working correctly is by checking the ping rate. First, look at the ping before you connect to the VPN and after establishing the connection. Then, compare the results to see whether the VPN connection is successful.

Here is how to check the ping on Windows 10: