You think you should be using a VPN. After all, virtual private networks enhance your security, right? Well, yes… and no. There is a time and a place for VPNs, but they’re certainly not as secure, or as private, as you think they are.
VPN Providers Can See Your Destination Traffic
We’ve already learned in 2017 that VPNs are employing fake servers that can destroy privacy, especially if you’re using the web in an oppressive regime. But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You’re told by your VPN provider that they don’t keep logs. But consider this: 90 percent of VPNs are run from leased servers. Therefore, logs are being kept, at least by the owner of the server. And once your data leaves the VPN server, it isn’t encrypted.
Either way, your destination can be logged. So can your activity at the website.
But there’s no reason to believe that a company attempting to corner the market in VPNs is being honest. The practices VPN companies use to offer free VPN accounts can quite easily be replicated on paid VPN accounts. On the whole, the only real difference is that paid accounts are faster. You might be able to get good speeds on the BitTorrent network, or for viewing Netflix, but those logs, and other surveillance, can still take place.
After all, you just handed your personal data to a company that has the power to sell it, and log your internet activity.
It’s Not as Anonymous as You Think
Perhaps you think that using a VPN awards you complete anonymity. Perhaps it’s the security you’re after.
It’s simple: VPN services do not provide security beyond providing a ramped-up proxy service. Your data can still be tapped. Using a VPN doesn’t hide you from oppressive state surveillance, it just moves the observation point from your PC to your VPN server.
Then there is the curious case of the advertising trackers. You think that by hiding your IP address, the trackers can’t build a profile on your activity. But guess what? They can. They don’t even use your IP address any more. There is always a technique that can be applied to distinguish you online, track your actions, and present adverts.
And that anonymous payment you’re using? You connect using your IP address to make those payments. Come on, people: that’s not anonymity.
The Encryption Is Limited
VPNs use encryption, but they’re not the only way to protect your data. More and more websites are using HTTPS to protect transactions (whether submitting form data or making a purchase). Eventually, all sites will do this, encouraged by the prevailing culture (and Google).
Meanwhile, you may be using a social network or messaging service that employs end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp, for instance.
As mentioned above, once your data leaves the VPN, it can be read.
Only the connection between the VPN client on your computer or smartphone, and the VPN server, is encrypted. Beyond that, there’s no encryption, unless you’re using a secure connection for financial transactions.
VPNs Are Looking for YOU
Consider this: why are you using a VPN? Is it to circumvent region blocking on a video streaming site? Perhaps you’re using P2P networking. Or is it for online gaming? All are good reasons. You know it, and so do the VPN companies.
In fact, they know it. They’re looking for people with, shall we say, “interesting” online activities. Right now, they’re targeting you with their services. Each time a government closes access to a website or service, you’re an instant customer.
If there is a financial advantage to be gained from having your personal details and information about your logs… well, no business with aims of long-term survival is going to pass up on the potential to make money from government. Or it might be the guarantee of continued operations, or even a government contract.
Free or not, your VPN is making you the product.
Blocked IP Addresses
Another problem with VPN services — albeit not as bad as the issues above — is how the IP address is used. Remember, when you connect to a VPN, the IP address assigned by your internet provider is hidden by the VPN server.
This can lead to problems.
For instance, if the server is linked to an abusive account, the entire VPN server can be prevented from accessing a particular website. This can be circumvented, of course, by changing to a new VPN server, but that can be inconvenient. And not necessarily a solution!
There’s also targeted VPN blocking. This is when a website blocks known VPN server IP addresses from accessing them. It’s used by some online streaming services. For instance, in the U.K., you can’t access BBC iPlayer if you’re using a VPN, even one based in the U.K.
When You Should Use a VPN Service Provider
Everything discussed so far has probably blown your mind with regard to VPNs. Is the VPN subscription you’re using a complete waste of money?
No, not quite. There is a use for VPNs: protecting you from drive by Wi-Fi hackers and insecure wireless connections. You know the type: you’ll typically find them in shopping centers, and cafes. Perhaps someone is sitting with a Wi-Fi packet sniffer running on their laptop or tablet, waiting to capture your username and password. Or maybe they have some hardware posing as a router, performing a man-in-the-middle attack. On the other hand, the router may have been compromised.
Either way, this is the time to use a VPN. Protect yourself and your data from cybercriminals by encrypting your connection. In this scenario, then we’d suggest using one from our list of VPN providers, perhaps ExpressVPN.
You’re Expecting Too Much From VPNs
One solution to all of this is to employ your own VPN server. This would entail renting a VPS (unless you’re particularly wealthy, in which case you could build your own!), and using this as your own personal VPN provider.
While a practical solution, you’re still affected by the lack of privacy that your relationship with the hosting company introduces. You might not keep logs on your VPN, but the web host will be keeping logs on their VPS.
Ultimately, VPNs only help to partially obfuscate your activity and data. If there’s an unsecure website at the other end, demanding plain text data, then that data is going to be revealed sooner or later. Yes, you can hide your activity from your internet provider, perhaps engage in online activities that have been banned — but as soon as that VPN wants to cut you loose, they can.
By all means, use a VPN service. Just be aware that you’re probably expecting too much from it. You aren’t invisible.
Are you using a VPN? Were you aware of these issues? Perhaps you’re now reconsidering your use of virtual private networks. Tell us what you think.