What is a Virtual Private Network | How VPN works and why VPN is not all you need for privacy
What is a Virtual Private Network? And why using a VPN is not enough to protect your online privacy? We’ll look at how virtual private networks work to understand why they are not all you need to protect your privacy. VPN will hide your IP address, but websites will still be able to track you using cookies, tracking scripts, and analytics tools.
Guide to choosing a VPN on
What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
VPN is a private network that makes “virtual” connections routed through a public network, which could easily be and in most cases even was the Internet.
There is no single standard for building a VPN. Each provider has its own structure and protocols, which offer different features, and not all of them are privacy.
How does a VPN work?
Basically what a VPN does is that it takes packets of data that would normally run through an insecure network, like Internet, encapsulates them in an entirely new packet, and puts its own VPN header on top of it, masking the original source of information. This process is called tunneling and it is how VPNs mask your IP address.
This is why you can trick websites to having a different IP and bypass geolocation censorship. But this is not what guarantees the confidentiality of your data. For that you need encryption.
VPNs achieve that by encrypting the traffic between a client and the VPN server. This means that a company VPN client can encrypt data coming from their employee’s laptop working out in the field and connected to a local wifi.
Encryption doesn’t necessarily mean privacy.
The reason why VPNs work to protect corporate privacy but fail at guarding consumer privacy is the fundamental design of VPN technology. VPN server is always going to know some personally identifiable information about you. Whether it’s your real IP address, information you submitted upon account creation, and information taken from your payment method. The process of collecting this information is called logging, and there is not much you can do to verify what a VPN company really does with user logs.
Are VPNs useless for general Internet consumers? For vast majority of VPNs out there yes. But for a trusted few, and for specific threat models, VPNs can offer some protection from your ISP, advertisers, and non-state hackers.
So how do you choose a VPN provider? Well you need to do two things – you need to evaluate your threat model. We will go over that on my channel in the future. And you need to do a lot of research and educate yourself about the topic. Never trust a single source. Don’t even look at torrentfreak or Pcmag reviews. Look at what the community is saying about VPN providers. One good source of reviews of a lot of features from a lot of VPN providers is at thatoneprivacysite.net. Reddit is an excellent source of customer reviews and you can browse those without having a Reddit account.
How can websites track you even if you use a VPN?
Let’s say you find and buy your monthly subscription at a renowned VPN provider. And then you do something like this.
You successfully configure your VPN connection, then you open your favorite web browser, which should NEVER be Chrome, but statistically it most likely will be. You login to your Gmail, which Chrome takes as if you are logging in to the browser itself for syncing, and then you browse the web for all kinds of purposes – education, work, entertainment, shopping, travel…
You just handed over ALL of your private information to the most privacy-violent corporation in the world. China doesn’t have the surveillance capabilities of Google. And Google will sell your privacy to every website and retailer you visit. If you want to know more about how websites and advertisers track you everywhere on the Internet, I recommend that you watch my video about Facebook surveillance and another video on How to use Facebook anonymously.
If you don’t block trackers properly, you are just wasting your money. You need to re-assess your threat model. You need to ask yourself: from whom are you trying to protect your private information? Your Internet Service Provider, vendors of software and applications connecting to the Internet, website operators, advertisers, governments, and hackers.
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