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Common and Complicated - VPN terminology

There are many, many long and confusing terms used when referencing what a VPN is and how a VPN works. Below we have tried to simplify and define these terms in a way that’s hopefully more easily understood.


Protocols are a set of rules that determine how your information gets divided into smaller pieces (known as packets) Which get sent to or from your devices.

A common example of this is the OpenVPN (UDP) protocol. Which will divide your information into tiny packs of bytes and send it to the server in a random order. Alternatively, OpenVPN (TCP) will do the same thing while also assigning a number to each packet  so it might send them in a strict order. During the testing process we discovered that changing protocol on the Surfshark app achieved an improvement in connection speed.


These terms are used to describe how internal network communication works. To simplify this complicated process into basic terms: the client is continuously demanding information, the server delivers this requested information.

If for example you were to connect to a Surfshark server in Germany using the Surfshark app: then in this case the app is the Client and is requesting the information. The Surfshark server in Germany is a Server which delivers you the requested information.


What is encryption? Encryption is the process of encoding information. The Surfshark VPN uses a 256-bit encryption to encrypt (code) all information received or sent by your device. This is the highest level of protection available. 256-bit encryption means that no third parties, including your internet service provider, can see your online activity. Any individual or organization that intercept your data cannot read it. This is because Surfshark encrypted it, and the person who intercepted the data does not possess the encryption key.


Encryption key

The encryption key is like the combination to a safe. Used to decode your encrypted data much like a key opening a lock. 


Here’s a term you might be familiar with: The ping is a method used to determine if a server is available and how long the response time is. We also refer to this ping  as latency. To define it simply – when you ping the server you send a request to that server and wait for the answer. When you receive the answer it means the server is available. As a rule of thumb, the lower the ping the better the Internet connection you will have.


DNS is a fairly common term when referring to VPN’s. You might not know that you are using many DNS servers every day but you are.

A DNS server is used to translate the IP address to the domain name of the website and vice versa. The DNS is basically a directory where all the website names and IP addresses get stored.

IP address

Your IP address is a sequence of four sets of numbers divided by dots which looked like this ( These sequences of numbers are like your street address and can be used to locate you. When you Google a website, you might type in and then the server uses this nickname to locate the actual IP address for that website. Each website name is merely a nickname for the IP address that site operates from. 

DNS Leaks

When you’re successfully connected to a VPN server, you’re safe, secure and anonymous, However there is a possibility of DNS leaks.

Lost Packets

Not all your data reaches its destination, anything over about 750 miles increases your chances of losing packets and last package need to get sent again and this corresponds to slower streaming speeds. Even though we’re talking about milliseconds, here it can all add up.


The Internet is a series of interconnected smaller networks owned by businesses governments and organisations.

If your data needs to travel over a few these networks to reach its destination: You lose speed because of peering arrangements, which are how different networks interact with each other.

International Bandwidth Limitations

International bandwidth limitations are a strange thing, different countries are directly affected by the underwater fiber optic cables linking them to the major data port networks. These cables carry data over enormous distances and this causes the cables experience drops in speed and increases in latency. 

Bandwidth/Server Load

How much this depends on the server configuration and how big the flows transferring are. Some VPN services have bandwidth limitations and caps, and once you reach a a peculiar amount, they you cut off.

Server Load

The server load is the total amount of users currently using server divided by the bandwidth of that server. For example, using a 2000 mbps Connection with 100 active users: then each user has a 20 mbps connection.

Whereas if there were ten users connected to a 2000 mbps server each user would have a 200 mbps connection.

Smart Bandwidth

Smart bandwidth is a feature where a VPN gives you the most bandwidth. Because there’s extra bandwidth available among the shared users, the VPN can get you the “leftover” speed.


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