The VPN industry has made some extraordinary progress over the years and nowadays these tools are more complete than ever. In fact, not only do they provide great protection against all kinds of menaces while allowing the user to circumvent geo-restrictions placed on websites and apps, but they also deliver a handful of extra tools and fully customizable settings as well. Among some of the most popular of these are NAT firewalls, for instance, but port forwarding is also gaining ground lately. These two are inherently connected and while the former is becoming more common, the latter is still surrounded by certain doubts.
At the end of the day, VPNs and port forwarding are comparable to one another and can even be used in conjunction, though the latter ultimately ends up a superfluous tool for general VPN users. However, it’s not useless and can be important for dedicated torrenters and gamers.
How Port Forwarding Works
To put it simply, port forwarding is a method of implementing a remote network connection, just like VPNs. It’s a useful technique for frequent travelers and companies that have their employees working remotely as it allows people to access a private Local Area Network (LAN) from geographically separate locations. However, fully understanding how port forwarding works can be a challenge as it involves a high level of technical know-how.
First off, it’s important to know that the internet is, essentially, comprized of data packets that flow between two ports, which are the channels of communication between two computers. There are thousands of ports and, in reality, they are no more than a number that identifies each side of that connection. When sending and receiving data packets over the internet, what normally happens is that a network router will examine the header (port number) of a packet and then send it to the destination that’s specified in that same header.
Port forwarding, therefore, changes the rules of this system because instead the traffic is redirected to a different destination. For this to be possible you have to access your router settings and manually configure it to forward the ports to the recipient computer. This same computer also has to be configured to allow the receiving of the forwarded data packet, and once everything is properly set the information in the header is noted by the port forwarding software – in this case the router – and rewritten before being sent again to another computer or server.
Torrents, Game Servers, Security and Speed
All this of course resembles the essence of a VPN. In this case, the secondary host destination is usually the providers’ servers that mask your original IP address. However, the difference between the two is that port forwarding leaves traffic vulnerable while VPNs don’t. The reason for router configuration when port forwarding is because the NAT firewall on the device will block any unknown connections, which means as a result you’ll basically be shutting down this protection with this method.
Port forwarding is mostly useful when it comes to speeding up torrents and setting up gaming or other servers in which speed needs to be prioritized. For instance, creating a game server using this technique allows other players to join it freely, which poses the same vulnerability as when file sharing. NAT firewalls will prevent others from initiating unsolicited new connections, but the essence of torrenting is seeding – allowing other torrent users to connect to your client and download files. As such the more you seed, the faster downloads will be, but because incoming connections are permitted there is a risk that a wrongdoer might use that to their benefit.
From the moment you allow others to join your game server or connect to your torrent client, the NAT firewall won’t be able to determine between connections for the correct purpose or hackers and other intruders. As such it won’t be able to prevent anyone from easily scanning for open ports and exploring vulnerabilities to break into internal systems. Therefore, this method should be avoided except for when absolutely necessary.
VPNs, on the other hand, work via protected tunnels and this brings with them multiple levels of security that are hard to beat, such as tunneling protocols, encryption and password verification, for instance. This means that traffic is much harder to intercept and even if someone manages to they will have a hard time deciphering it given that it’s encrypted and ultimately looks like gibberish. As such, VPNs are a much safer method and should always be preferred.
VPNs With Port Forwarding Techniques
Though it’s still not very common, some VPN providers already have their own port forwarding techniques implemented that work in conjunction with NAT firewalls, which are often also built in. This way the software knows whether or not to trust a connection so the two features work in conjunction with one another and you’ll be able to easily prioritize speed while still maintaining decent protection without the need to configure anything.
However, with this in mind it’s important to pay attention to which provider is chosen since in 2015 Perfect Privacy launched a report called “Port Fail” in which it was explained how some VPNs that enabled port forwarding had a flaw that exposed the real IP address of other VPN users. Many of them have already fixed this flaw and can be trusted nowadays, but it’s always recommended to read our complete reviews and check carefully before subscribing.
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