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I travel for work a lot and need to use a VPN on my personal laptop over open hotel wifi. I have a browser based VPN extension as well as a network based VPN with a connection to my university's network.

What are the differences between a browser based VPN (in the form of extension for example) vs a network based one. I know the browser based solution only works for information sent through your browser, where the network based option will work for any application sending or receiving data. Is that the only difference or are there others?

Thanks.

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Correct, the main difference is what is sent trough the VPN. The browser based one obviously just covers the browser data, whereas the network based VPN should cover all network activity (depending on the VPN and its configuration.

Don't forget that with the browser plugin DNS requests may very likely leak, partially revealing your activity.

Other than that, the encryption itself and therefore the security of the tunnel may widely differ, depending on the type of VPN. If your browser "VPN" is for example the Opera VPN, it's more of a proxy than a VPN.

The third party, aware of your activity also changes. With the browser plugin, the providers of said plugin may have insight in your activity, whereas with the university VPN, they probably know what you're doing.

A "network based" VPN very much depends on the configuration, you can have a VPN active and connected and nothing is sent over the tunnel, because it's not configured that way. It's a question of routing and default gateways, as of what is sent over the tunnel.

There are quite a few differences and one could go into detail on every single attribute, but I think the vital point is, what do you want to protect and against whom. Starting from there, you can decide what makes more sense for you.

  • Actually Opera was what I was referring to when I was writing this question. Could you go into more detail what you mean by your answer on how it refers to Opera's VPN? – CS2020 Jul 19 '17 at 22:40
  • It is crucial that you understand the difference between a proxy and a VPN. Someone did a writeup on how the Opera "VPN" works here: gist.github.com/spaze/… In summary, with the Opera VPN your requests are relayed over an Opera server. With a VPN all traffic is tunneled through a VPN server. But in the end, it really depends on what you want to protect yourself from. – SaAtomic Jul 20 '17 at 5:02

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