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Introduction To VPNs

This guide is designed to act as an introduction to those new to VPNs. If you haven't used a VPN connection before and wonder what they are, or unfamiliar with what a VPN lets you do, then this guide is for you.

If you're already familiar with VPN connections, we recommend instead visiting the Viscosity page, which provides more information on the features Viscosity offers.

What Is A VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides a secure way of connecting through a public network (such as the Internet) to a remote network/location. This remote network is typically a private network, such as a workplace or home network, or one provided by a commercial VPN service.

A VPN can be thought to create a "tunnel" through the public network to your private network at the other end. All network traffic through this tunnel is encrypted to ensure it is kept secure and private.

What Does A VPN Let Me Do?

A VPN allows you to do a number of things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do connected to a standard network. This includes:

  • Network Security & Privacy: All network traffic through your VPN connection is kept secure. This allows you to use public networks (such as at hotels, conferences, coffee shops, etc.) and wireless networks knowing your network traffic is kept safe and secure. Otherwise it is relatively easy for other people to view your network traffic, such as see what you are viewing, steal your information and login details, etc.
  • Access Your Workplace Remotely: You can connect to your workplace's VPN and have access as if you were physically in the office. You can then do things like access file servers, computers, databases, email, internal webpages, and other services you might not have access to outside of your work network.
  • Access Your Home Network: Connecting back home using a VPN allows you to access your computers remotely. Access files on your computer, view iTunes shares, take remote control of your computer, and access other services.
  • Access Location Restricted Content: By connecting to a VPN server in another location you can make it appear to websites using geolocation that you are physically in the correct location for access. So when you're travelling overseas you can still view websites you would normally use at home, such as television, movie and music streaming websites.
  • Bypass Restrictive Networks: Some networks may restrict access to the web services that can be accessed, meaning that many applications like VOIP, instant messaging, video chat, and games will not work. However using a VPN you can tunnel through such restrictions and allow all of your network applications to work. Viscosity even allows you to tunnel through a HTTP or SOCKS proxies to establish your VPN connection.
  • Escape Censorship: VPNs allow you to bypass restrictive censorship and access websites and services that would otherwise be blocked. Some countries impose censorship on Internet access while in that country, and a VPN provides a way to still maintain access to the services you would normally use.

Why Should I Use A VPN?

Even if you have no desire to be able to access a private network remotely, a VPN is vital to ensure the security and privacy of your network traffic.

Public networks, and in particular public wireless networks, provide an easy way for hackers and malicious users to listen in ("sniff") on your network usage. This may allow them to see what web pages you are viewing, steal username and passwords, steal session information to be able to log into sites as you, and extract other private data. In addition, skilled hackers may perform a "man in the middle" attack. This allows them to not only monitor in depth your network traffic, but also alter your traffic or inject their own in an attempt to fool a user into revealing important data.

Using a VPN protects you from such attacks, as your network traffic is authenticated and encrypted, making it secure and private.

How Does A VPN Work?

A typical VPN consists of two components: the VPN client and the VPN server.

A VPN client is the software that allows a user to connect their computer to the VPN server and establish the VPN connection. It is installed on the user's computer and communicates with the VPN server to create a secure link for the user's network traffic. The VPN Client is what the end user uses to control their VPN connection. Viscosity performs the duties of a VPN client.

A VPN server is setup at the location users want to connect to, such as at a workplace or at home. A VPN Server usually configured and maintained by IT staff, however home users often set up their own VPN personal VPN server at home or at a remote location as well. End users rarely have to interact with the VPN Server. A VPN server will also perform authentication to ensure only registered users can connect to the VPN.

All network traffic through the tunnel created between the VPN client and the VPN server is encrypted to keep it private and secure.

What Is Viscosity?

Viscosity is a VPN client for macOS and Windows. As discussed above, it allows a user to connect to a VPN server and establish a VPN connection. Viscosity provides a clear and intuitive user interface for creating, editing, and controlling VPN connections, and makes it easy for users new to VPN to get started.

Viscosity supports the OpenVPN protocol (see below). Viscosity can connect to any VPN server supporting OpenVPN, including almost all popular free and commercial VPN providers. Viscosity allows connections to be completely configured through a GUI, without any need to know how to use the command-line or OpenVPN's configuration file syntax. Advanced users still have full manual control over configuration options if desired.

With Viscosity and OpenVPN you can securely connect to your home or company network from a remote location, protect your network traffic when using public or wireless networks, access websites with country restrictions, and tunnel through restrictive firewalls and proxy servers to give your computer full Internet access.

Why Should I Use Viscosity?

Viscosity is no ordinary VPN client. It has been designed to be simple and intuitive for new users, however customizable and powerful for VPN experts. We encourage you to visit Viscosity's Features page for a full overview. However, some notable features for new users include:

  • Viscosity allows connections to be fully created and edited through a graphical user interface, without any need to manually edit configuration files or use the command line.
  • Viscosity can easily import connection configuration files supplied by your VPN provider, giving you a ready-to-use VPN connection in a snap.
  • Viscosity has been designed to keep you secure in almost any network environment. It will automatically adjust to varying network conditions to keep your VPN connection active, warn you about changes, and automatically reconnect when network dropouts occur.
  • Viscosity makes it simple to monitor your VPN connection and network. Its global menu gives quick access to connections, and its attractive Details window allows you view traffic graphs and view other connection information.
  • Viscosity is cross-platform, meaning you can run it on any computer running macOS or Windows.

What Is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is a popular VPN protocol that is based on SSL/TLS encryption. Like IPSec and L2TP, OpenVPN handles the connection between the VPN client and server. OpenVPN is a popular VPN protocol thanks to its high level of security, customizability, and compatibility with most network environments.

Viscosity supports the OpenVPN protocol. Viscosity can connect to any VPN server that supports OpenVPN connections.

Getting Started

Viscosity makes it easy to get started using a VPN. However as we looked at previously, Viscosity is only one end of the VPN connection. A VPN consists of two components: the VPN client and the VPN server. To get started you will first need to determine who your "VPN Provider" is. Your VPN Provider is the company or person who provides the VPN server for you to connect you. You may already know who your VPN Provider is, you may want to be your own VPN Provider, you may want to subscribe with a professional VPN Service Provider, or you may still be unsure who your VPN Provider should be.

Your VPN Provider

Your VPN Provider is the company or person that is responsible for providing you with a VPN server for Viscosity to connect to. You may already have a VPN Provider that you want to connect to, you may be looking at setting up your own VPN server and becoming your own provider, or you may be looking at using Viscosity with a commercial VPN Service Provider.

It is important to identify who your VPN provider is and obtain the details you need to setup your connection. Your VPN provider may provide you with the settings and files you need to manually enter into Viscosity, or a configuration file Viscosity can automatically import. Typically your VPN provider falls into one of the following categories:

  • Workplace VPN Provider: Your workplace may provide a VPN server so you can remotely and securely access the work network and Internet. In most cases the person to contact for more information or connection details would be your IT/System Administrator.
  • VPN Service Provider: Many third party companies specialize in offering both free and paid VPN services to users. There are a number of reasons why you may want to subscribe to a VPN Service, including protecting your privacy and security while on public networks, accessing location restricted websites, and accessing blocked content due to restrictive censorship. Most VPN Service providers provide a webpage or support site where you can obtain connection details.
  • Personal VPN Provider: If you are familiar with VPNs you may have setup your own VPN server so you can access your home network, and/or to have the same benefits as using a VPN Service Provider.

We discuss these VPN Provider categories in greater detail in the following sections.

Connecting to Your Workplace

Most workplaces offer a VPN server so you can securely connect back to the office, allowing you to work securely while on the road or from home. If this VPN server supports the OpenVPN protocol you will be able to use Viscosity as your VPN client. Many workplaces provide customized versions of Viscosity that are bundled with all of your settings and VPN connections.

To determine whether you are able to connect to your workplace using Viscosity, along with the information and/or files you need to setup Viscosity, you will need to get in touch with your workplace IT staff or VPN administrator.

VPN Service Providers

There are many companies that specialize in providing a commercial VPN service. These companies are known as "VPN Service Providers". VPN Service Providers often have servers in multiple countries, allowing you to not only get the security and privacy benefits on a VPN, but also making it easy to access websites that restrict access to certain counties. Most VPN Service Providers charge a small monthly or yearly fee for access to their servers, however there are also a number of free service providers.

If you are looking for a VPN Service Provider please see our list of VPN Service Providers that provide setup documentation and support for Viscosity. Viscosity will be able to connect to any VPN Service Provider that supports the OpenVPN protocol (which is almost all of them).

Setting Up Your Own VPN Server

If you setup a VPN server at home you'll be able to establish a VPN connection back to your home network and access your resources while on the road. This is particularly handy for accessing home file and media servers, viewing security cameras, controlling home devices, or as simple way to act as your own VPN Service Provider. Many consumer routers and file/media servers have inbuilt support for acting as an OpenVPN server, making getting started easier than ever (please see the guides linked below).

You can also setup an OpenVPN server on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or dedicated server in a data center. Popular VPS providers include Amazon EC2, Digital Ocean, Linode, OVH and Vultr. This approach lets you act as your own VPN Service Provider, but with a server completely under your control. By running your own VPN server in a datacenter (as opposed to at home), you're also not limited by the VPN server's Internet connection when it comes to the maximum possible download and upload speeds.

We have put together a detailed Introduction to Running an OpenVPN Server guide, that covers everything from the basics to actually getting started. We recommend that as a starting point for anyone considering running their own OpenVPN server.

We have also written a large number of guides that cover the process of setting up your own OpenVPN server. These guides cover popular home routers and media servers (such as Netgear and Synology devices), enterprise grade firewalls (such as Sophos UTM, Ubiquiti EdgeRouter, and pfSense devices), and popular operating systems (such as Ubuntu and Red Hat). Please view the full list of guides by visiting the VPN Server Setup Guides section.

Using Viscosity

Once you have a VPN server you want to connect to you are ready to begin using Viscosity.

Viscosity enables this to be as simple as possible making it easy to import connections or create them from scratch. Please see the Getting Started Guide (for Mac) or the Getting Started Guide (for Windows) for a detailed setup guide and overview of Viscosity's features.

Many workplaces and VPN Service Providers who support Viscosity provide custom versions of Viscosity that are already bundled with everything you need to connect to your VPN. If you have been supplied with a copy of Viscosity by your workplace it may be ready to go as soon as you install it.