When the war in Vietnam broke out, the US air force began bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of paths and trails the guerrilla fighters used for moving combatants and supplies between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. When the US airstrikes targeted these trails, the guerrillas began using underground tunnels to continue their operations without being seen by the US Armed Forces. These tunnels played a decisive role in the war and were largely responsible for the defeat of the US armed forces.
It is not the perfect illustration but a VPN or a Virtual Private Network uses a similar concept. When using a VPN, you are creating a virtual tunnel across the internet. Everything sent across this electronic tunnel is encrypted and therefore invisible to eavesdroppers. VPN is a household name in Sri Lanka today owing to the government-imposed social media blackouts in 2019 April and April 2022. However, the widespread use of VPNs has given rise to many widespread myths also. In today’s post, I will consider four major myths about VPNs.
VPN alone can protect Me
In Sri Lanka, VPN cannot protect users to the same extent it does in other countries (Even in some of those countries with the right warrant, authorities could still request your data and the VPN provider will cooperate. Ex: PureVPN and the FBI investigation) If the Government of Sri Lanka could twist the arm of the ISPs to ban access to social media, it can force them to flag users accessing VPN services during a social media blackout. The point is we are living in a country where you can land in trouble for using a VPN itself. (There are at least 10 countries, where using VPN is illegal) Furthermore, by just monitoring the target social media profiles, the government can detect who is using VPN to access social media during a blackout.
On the other hand, what if someone known to you tips you off to the law enforcement authorities. The abduction of the social media activist Anuruddha Bandara definitely wasn’t a coincidence. He is the admin of the Facebook page that initiated the #GoHomeGota social media campaign. How did the abductors know Anuruddha is the admin? After all, there’s no convenient way to trace the Admin of a Facebook page. It’s very likely, that someone close to Anuruddha helped the abductors. You can bypass government restrictions with a VPN and protect your anonymity. However, there are external factors one must take into account and use common sense.
The Strictly No Logs Policy
It’s one thing for a VPN Service Provider to say they don’t log user activity but completely another thing to say they have a “Strictly No Logs Policy”. Truth be told all VPN Service Providers require logging at least some user data needed to keep the services functioning. How can a VPN provider for example limit the number of devices that can connect to the service at the same time? To enforce those constraints, you must keep track of connection activity. Some VPN providers may flat out lie. The aforesaid PureVPN for example on their website says the following:
PureVPN makes sure none of your logs are kept, shared, or stored. PureVPN is no-log certified by independent third-party auditors like KPMG and Altius-IT.PureVPN Website
Yes. They are certified by third-party auditors but the auditing was carried out after coming under fire for cooperating with the FBI in an investigation much earlier. PureVPN later reiterated that it never logs user activity except for the IP addresses of users accessing its service! What else do you want if you have a user’s IP address? So much for their strictly no-log policy. Forget about PureVPN but even if other VPN providers do not store user data, the owners of the third-party servers leased by VPN providers are likely to do so. The bottom line is there are no VPN service providers with a strictly no logs policy.
Not safe for Online Banking
In the wake of the social media blackout we suffered a few days ago, I saw several social media posts warning VPN users not to do online banking over VPN. Truth be told it’s safer to access your bank online through a VPN especially if you are using public WiFi. Besides every online banking session is encrypted. Your VPN provider cannot decrypt those sessions. Besides if VPN is not safe for online banking it isn’t safe for bypassing social media censorship either. There’s a catch, however. You must count the reputation of the VPN provider not the cost of its services. I recommend Proton VPN and the free VPN feature built into the Opera Browser.
How do you know whether your connection is encrypted or not? Web browsers usually display a padlock in the address bar to indicate a secure connection. If the connection is insecure the browser will indicate it with the same icon. In most browsers, the padlock turns green when the connection is secure. It turns to red when the connection is insecure. Almost all the major browsers will display a connection not a secure message if it fails to detect a secure connection so that you will not miss the warning.
VPN is an illegal Technology
Like any other technology VPN also can be abused but the technology itself is not illegal. Although home users often use VPNs to access websites restricted by the government and employees to bypass restrictions imposed by their network administrators, enterprises make use of VPNs to help employees securely connect to their corporate networks without being physically present on the office premises. The cost of setting up and maintaining a VPN is much lower compared to maintaining a corporate WAN. The bottom line is that VPN is a completely legal technology.
There are several other useful and powerful technologies people believe to be illegal. For example, Torrent is a technology often used to distribute pirated content. Such as pirated films, software, music, etc. Therefore, people think torrent is an illegal technology. It’s not. Torrent is used for serving many perfectly legal purposes. For example, Twitter uses BitTorrent for server deployment [source: TorrentFreak]. Just because a certain technology is abused doesn’t mean the technology itself is illegal.
A little knowledge of anything is more dangerous than no knowledge at all because insufficient knowledge in any area can mislead people into thinking that they are more expert than they are, which can lead to mistakes being made or cause inconvenience. It’s the reason I decided to share four major myths about VPNs with you today. Remembering these facts will help you have a better experience the next time you will use a VPN. By the way, if you are interested consider the hardware-based VPN featured in the video below.
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