VPN, Privacy, Encryption but at what cost?
In light of recent revelations from the likes of Edward Snowden the abbreviation “VPN” has now entered the consciousness of many intermediate computer users. As time progresses the chance and the ability to understand the technology by the layperson increases with advances such as custom software and other avenues of explanation such as guides, articles and the like in terms which non technical users can understand.
One of the most important aspects moving forward for VPN use is to dissipate the understanding to the widest areas of our online community so not only can we, the lucky ones who understand how to connect using OpenVPN or custom software but also to increase the understanding to the every day man so the likes of your parents, or even grandparents can understand the reasoning behind its use and how it can help us protect our privacy, something that many of us in the western world take for granted and those in less fortunate locations fight for on a daily basis.
Never before have we been in a situation where we understand so much about what is being recorded about our online lives but with this also comes the opportunity to take back our freedoms and privacy and protect them in a way which is suitable and dictated by ourselves. The world is full of crack pots and conspiracy theorists who assume every action they do online is of interest to the government or spy agencies, the truth is, the majority of what we do is mundane and uninteresting, as much as we like to think we lead an interesting life the simple fact is that there is no real interest to any of the above and unless you’re someone of importance if you’re looking up kinky bondage gear or exposing your hairy rear live over webcam, no one really cares.
That said, just because you are of little importance to the powers that be doesn’t mean that just because they may not be interested in your intimate details that they should be allowed blanket access to your life to be stored away and pigeon holed in a box baring your name. I recently saw a small cartoon strip which highlighted this fact in which a man is repeating a conversation he had the day before with his friend online about all the recent revelations and that he has no concern because he has nothing to hide, a spy sat close responds with “I know” and here is a prime example of why protecting your privacy is a paramount concern even if you aren’t of interest, food for thought…
A huge misconception is that a VPN can protect you from everything and anything and time after time we see providers being berated for falling fowl of the unwritten rule of what should not be done by a VPN provider. I am all for privacy and I do understand there is a very thin line between what is acceptable for a VPN provider to do and what is not. Many “fiascos” have been reported from HideMyAss, to Proxy.sh, EarthVPN and more recently even LiquidVPN. When you take a step back and look at some of these from outside of your rose tinted glasses there are those that could be avoided and fall fowl of what the provider promised to provide and those that are unavoidable and should be considered a necessary evil.
There is never going to be a one size fits all solution that is not only completely anonymous with the highest level of encryption but also open and accessible to the mass. Services range from too basic to too complicated and those that fall in to the latter become an exclusive club that dissuades the “VPN uneducated” from taking a look and in turn ignore the huge requirement to make use of such a service.
Further consideration should be given to the ill conceived theory that regardless of what you do that a provider should and can protect you from all sorts of repercussions. There are two camps of thoughts, one that the service should be provided to all regardless of their use and intentions with no questions asked and another train of thought that a service should be provided to protect the privacy of the honest and law abiding citizens but not enable criminals to carry out heinous crimes. Both theories have their merits and in an ideal world it would be the first thought process that would win, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world and I can guarantee I wouldn’t be comfortable with a system that not only protects my privacy to the n’th degree but also as a byproduct allows the likes of terrorist acts to be planned without retribution.
When most people sit down and seriously think of the consequences of such a situation most sane people will come to the conclusion that privacy needs to be upheld as a most important aspect of a service but not at the detrimental possibility of another 9/11, or <insert other terrible terrorist act here> being carried out in the name of “privacy”.
Luckily while a VPN service can protect your privacy and obscure linking your personal actions from being associated with yourself there are plenty of ways and means which any spy agency could track you down if they so wanted and the possibilities are near endless from basic bugging of your physical location to you tripping up when connecting to a service. If they can catch DPR who was accessing the internet via a library then very few people are actually capable of completely removing themselves from the relationship to what they do online and personally I see this only as a good thing. When systems exist to improve the privacy of the honest user we must also realise that these systems are also available to those less than desirable people in the world.
I applaud VPN providers who uphold our privacy and stop blanket recording unnecessarily of our data, it is unjust and unwarranted, however do I want the extreme of living in a world in which no one is protecting me from the wrong doer’s I’m just not sure I’m ready to take that chance in the name of privacy…