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October 17 2021 7:28 AM ˚

How VPNs became the modern-day fool's gold

VPN
There are thousands of VPNs on the market today – and none of them do you much good (Photo: Brendan Hesse)
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In the modern age, many people attempt to take control of their privacy, going the extra mile to ensure that their data is not logged or stored for businesses to use without their permission. Unfortunately, however, it is no simple feat, as going against the data collection flow requires both slight technical expertise and, more importantly, time. اضافة اعلان

Due to mass negligence from the public, most companies get away with the vast majority of their data collection practices as users are either careless or simply unaware of how these companies harness your data. Users don't see the problem with this because they are unaware of how priceless their data is and how it can be used to benefit companies of all scopes and sizes.

Therefore, for the layman, the only way to convince them of enforcing self-regulation in terms of data protection would have to be an easy and quick method that would not require any technical knowledge, and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) know this.

What is a VPN?

The literal definition of VPNs is that they extend a private network across a public network and enable users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

An example of that is you, sitting at home, decide to look up the latest trends in the fashion industry. So you open Google, search for what you want, and the results are presented to you.

Behind the scene, your computer, through your internet protocol (IP) connection to the internet, transmits the data through your personal network into Google's servers, which are then processed and transmitted from Google back to you through the same place you received it on your personal network.

However, what the VPN does is take the information sent by you, run it through its servers, which are hosted on virtual machines, send it to Google, receive data sent by Google in response to your search, and then send it back to your device.
So, in theory, you can remain anonymous while masking your browsing activity from a specific party.

The previous action sounds excellent in theory but doesn't address the original reason people choose to use a VPN in the first place — if securing their personal information was the priority, then all you've done is mask information outgoing to one source and handed it over to the other.

While their employer or the website they're trying to access won't be able to track their information, the VPN will. Interestingly enough, most if not all VPN's actively advertise that they do not store or use users' information — but how can one trust those statements?

Many governments globally have designated laws and orders that tech companies that deal with big data must abide by. Law enforcement actively uses information from the internet to assist them in pursuing justice, including subpoenaing companies that have access to information, including VPNs.

Therefore, even if not used for monetary purposes, VPNs are actively encouraged to store your data to protect their own interests.

Sadly, users are not only able to determine whether or not any data about them is being stored, but even if discovered, they cannot force a purge of said data because VPNs hold all rights over all data transfers that have occurred between them and their users.

VPNs themselves are vulnerable

In 2018 one of the largest VPN providers, Nord VPN was hacked in one of the most significant data breaches in modern-day history. The vulnerability was abused for over a month before Nord realized that they were hacked.

While we can never know if it was a potent hack or simply negligence on behalf of the company, tech experts have concluded that no system is invulnerable. In essence, tech companies are in a never-ending rat race. So while we would like to believe that companies are on the consumer's side and that they do everything in their power to ensure your data's security, the opposite is much more probable.

With the amount of information that goes through a VPN daily, it is arguably one of the best targets to hack to gain access to a large pool of data in one go.

Honeypots

VPNs are often used as honeypots, a mechanism that aims to counteract attempts of unauthorized use of information systems, which attracts a specific demographic of individuals who take advantage of honeypots.

While there are plenty of everyday users that simply need to access content online that isn't available through their Internet service provider (ISP) or would like to secure their data; there are people on the internet that use VPNs for illegal purposes.

Unfortunately, many users believe that this illegal use does not impact them, mainly because their main goal was to simply mask their online data usage.

However, that is not always the case. If enough criminal activity occurs on a specific VPN platform or one of their IPs, you, the user, can be put on the list of potential people involved in that criminality.

As a result, your information may be requested from your ISP, which will then be used to build a case against you — all without you even realizing what was going on.

Speaking of IP's

All VPNs, for the most part, use a set amount of IPs for their operations. As a result, you and thousands, if not millions, of people use the same IPs every day without them changing all too often.

Inherently, websites can recognize these IPs and, consequently, can ban certain connections from accessing their content.

As a result, if one of the many users happened to get banned while on a VPN IP while browsing one of your favorite sites, you would effectively suffer the consequences as well.

Additionally, most VPN IPs are already banned on several websites, particularly those that allow users to post comments or content visible to other users. This is used as a defense mechanism against trolls or highly offensive content being publicized and soiling the site's reputation.

So, in theory, through no fault of your own, you may discover that certain sites will now be inaccessible to you as a result of your continued use of a VPN.

Are there ways for users to secure their data?

Unfortunately, without a solid background in computing, users would have a difficult time creating a secure system.

There are virtual machines (VMs) that can be used to set up private VPNs for a fraction of the cost of a regular VPN while being able to select the IPs that you would like to deploy. However, the technologies behind setting up these VPNs require at least some shell knowledgeability before it can be used, therefore making it difficult for the everyday user.

Additionally, assuming that one could successfully set one up, the technology that drives these virtual machine VPNs has aged rapidly. With OpenVZ, a virtualization system in which 99 percent of all VPNs are built, had its kernel (core program of a computer's system) update in 2009 — with over 400 known exploits still existing to date, and since OpenVZ is container-based, it shares the exact same kernel with all of its VMs.

So, unfortunately, users are better off without a VPN browsing regularly than with one trying to use their services in order to maintain anonymity. However, users should, at all times, remain vigilant and maintain basic security hygiene such as not logging into unsecured networks, staying away from unsecured websites, and avoiding downloading anything from unofficial websites to avoid getting spyware that could harm your data.

In conclusion, stay away from VPNs. They may use stylish websites, promote great advertising campaigns, and parade their values of data security all day, but in the end, users are not gaining anything by using their services if their intentions are to remain anonymous and maintain a low profile on the internet.

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