The State of VPN Security Today

Today’s post is authored by Christopher Nichols from, who gives a quick insight of some of the main threats of surfing without protection in today’s Internet, and gives some valuable information on the advantages of, probably, the main countermeasure: Virtual Private Networks. Please enjoy.

No one should log onto the internet without the added protection of a virtual private network (VPN). Personal and financial information transmitted over the web needs protection against snoopers, hackers, and spies. Those snoopers also include the user’s own government as well as the internet services provider, who collects service fees as well as free information from their users.

How a VPN works

Simply stated, a VPN secures a user’s web traffic. A VPN is a virtual tunnel with encryption. The user’s internet traffic goes through the tunnel, safe from prying eyes. The VPN provides a masked “return address,” keeping the user’s identity and location masked.

When the user’s data exits the VPN server onto the public web, the data stays secure, provided the website has the telltale “S” after the “HTTP” header on the web address. Even if site is open to surveillance, spies have a higher level of difficulty tracing the user. The data appears to originate from the location of the VPN server from a location other than the user’s.

Threat Scenarios and how VPN Defends

The state of VPN security today, then, resides in its ability to protect the online anonymity as well as respond to current threat scenarios. So, a VPN must also protect against a variety of threats, which include:

A. Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks

Many cybersecurity experts recommend against ever using a public Wi-Fi network. The term “public” equates to “insecure.” Using a public network could compromise passwords, credit card data, and private messages. Users are also exposing message recipients to phishing or “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that the public network is legitimate. Scammers have set up fake networks, which mimic authentic public sites. Unsuspecting users log on and everything they do is intercepted, read, and recorded by the fake network.

A VPN guards against public Wi-Fi dangers by encrypting the user’s connection. Even the network operators —legitimate or otherwise— are unable to intercept user’s data on the public network. It is the power of encryption, which even if intercepted displays unusable gibberish.

B. Geo-blocked or government censored websites

Geo-blocking restricts access to a website based on geographic location. Businesses use geo-blocking, for example, to charge different prices for specific markets. Also, some governments engage in net censorship to keep their citizens from accessing controversial or political websites.

Posing as local shoppers, users can use a VPN to do comparison shopping as well as uncover unscrupulous pricing tactics. To bypass net censorship, citizens can access banned or restricted sites anonymously through servers in countries that do not censor political thought.

C. Making government surveillance and activity tracking more difficult

A VPN is the first line of defense against surveillance and tracking. However, a VPN cannot make a user completely invisible to technologically powerful government agencies like the NSA and FBI. The user’s traffic can be tracked. Nevertheless, a VPN and growing adoption of the web HTTPS protocol has made mass surveillance more difficult than in the past (but not impossible).

That difficulty has applications in thwarting even the less sinister trackers. The user’s own ISP for example can compromise the user’s privacy. With the rollback of net neutrality rules, ISPs are swooping in for a slice of monetizing all that big data that helped Google and Facebook emerge as leviathans of advertising and web commerce. ISPs can now bundle all that anonymous user data and sell it. They do it without user permission, and the cookie crumbs litter everyone’s email in-boxes.

A VPN with a “no-log” feature hides the user’s net activity from the ISP. The ISP cannot disclose, sell or even respond to a court order for any user’s data protected by a VPN.

D. Securing encrypted cryptocurrency transactions

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin rely on the anonymity and security of blockchain technology. Blockchain provides a secure distributed ledger that safeguards the ownership and value of the finite number of bitcoins in circulation. While blockchain provides encryption, access keys of individual users can be stolen through Trojan hacks, fraudulent trading, and owner carelessness.

With blockchain, there is no way to make Bitcoin addresses —the key to ownership verification— completely anonymous. Once thieves get their hands on those addresses, they can target an individual with malware that marches in and steals the key to a bitcoin owner’s account.

Once a bitcoin is stolen, it is gone forever. Its only insurance policy is VPN. VPN provides the secure transaction method for bitcoin traders. All trading data is encrypted and anonymous.

E. The challenge of the Internet of Things (IoT)

Web users employ Chromecast and other streaming protocols on local networks. Such devices detect streaming data from smartphones and computers on the same network, rather from a distant VPN server. Then there are home devices connected to the internet that gather data about the user, which the user would rather not have intercepted. The problem is that those devices are not configured to run VPN.

The solution for both the foregoing problems—streaming on local networks and safeguarding smart home devices—is elevating VPN to the router.

The Bottom line

There is no perfect, foolproof tool to protect the user from every possible cyber threat. The plain truth is that if a government agency or cyber expert targets a user and has the technology and knowledge they can succeed.

Nevertheless, using every security tool—antivirus software, password management—in partnership with a VPN plan makes the user a moving, difficult target, who can avoid being scooped up in today’s dangerous environment of mass surveillance and hacking threats.

In other words, no one is really secure online, but we can take steps to tighten security around our personal data and privacy. One of your options is to use a VPN