VPN: The Brienne of Tarth for Your Privacy and Security

Loyal and Dedicated

Last time, I wrote about censorship in Thailand. In that post, I briefly touched on using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service like LiquidVPN to cover your tracks. While writing I made sure that I was using LiquidVPN’s browser given the aggressive nature of Thailand’s censorship laws. This post I’ll go into how and what a VPN service is and the basic gist of how services like LiquidVPN helps protect your privacy and security.

Simply put, a VPN is a body guard. You know in the mobster movies when the Boss talks to a big, beefy looking dude, who in turn communicates to a third person that the Boss would like to see him. Well that big, beefy dude is a VPN. Instead of the Boss (you) taking the risk of walking onto the club floor (the internet) and communicating with the person he wants to see (the ISP) himself, the bodyguard does this for him, taking the risk off the Boss’s shoulders. And also, like a good body guard, a good VPN won’t tell the cops what you’ve been doing.

Yea… But I’m Not a Mob Boss

Sounds a little complicated, eh? Why do you need a bodyguard on the internet? Well for starters, most governments are extremely curious to see what you are doing online. The National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S. and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK are always snooping on their citizens. They use large dragnets, like the program PRISM, to catch a staggering quantity of internet traffic. And often times working together to circumvent local data privacy and security laws. A strong VPN encrypts your internet traffic so that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can’t see what you are doing, only that you are connected. This is very important as all service providers in the U.S. are now subject to the Protect America Act and FISA Amendments Act that gives the government full capability to demand all tangible evidence from that ISP’s server. A VPN prevents your internet activity from being logged. So when your ISP (e.g., AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications) is subpoenaed, usually with a gag order as well, to give their logs to the government they’ve got nothing on you.

House of Cards for Everyone

Another use for a VPN is accessing blocked content. Many services like Hulu and Netflix use what is called geo-blocking that prevents people in other countries from accessing their servers. Also, specific websites can be geo-blocked by the country’s government. For expats like me living in another country, this poses a problem. Thailand is not shy about blocking websites; their blocked list is somewhere north of 120,00. Not to worry, a VPN takes care of that. Again, LiquidVPN blocks the ISPs here in Thailand from seeing what sites that I’m actually accessing. All they know is that I am on the internet. This means that I can look at the Kings Wikipedia page all I want, and watch my favorite movies and shows on Netflix. Furthermore, for those of you living in Canada, or any other country that would like to access the U.S. version of Netflix, or any other country’s Netflix, a VPN is the way to go.

VPN: Your Own Personal and Secure Internet

At this point you may say, well I’m not really doing anything illegal online, and I live in the good ol’ US of A where Netflix is easily accessible (as it should be). And you have a point: many Americans simply don’t care that they are being watched and logged, and I’ve never come across a blocked website in America. The UK, however, is a different story. But yet another great use of a VPN service is preventing hackers who are attacking easy targets from getting your personal information. Logging into a public WiFi network is actually very dangerous to your privacy and security. It makes you extremely vulnerable to external threats. Like your home WiFi network, your internet traffic is sent to an internet router via radio waves. But unlike your home WiFi, a public network is just that: public. Hackers use programs called “sniffer software” to intercept the information traveling from your computer to the router. Some hacker’s may even use a bogus WiFi hotspot set up by themselves in order to get your personal information delivered to them. Once either of these techniques is established, the hacker can see anything on your screen and anything you type. Including the passwords to any accounts you access while on the WiFi network. Think Facebook, e-mail, bank accounts, etc. A VPN creates a ‘secure tunnel’ that encrypts your information. But just like a home security system, if someone has malicious intent and wants in bad enough, they may be able to still get inside, but likely they will go to the next house that doesn’t have that home security sign out front.

There is No Proverbial Magic Bullet for your Online Privacy and Security

Unfortunately, even Edward Snowden readily admits that no amount of software can prevent the NSA from getting your internet traffic and figuring out your identity. Utilizing a VPN does, however, prevent your information from getting caught up in their large dragnet that recovers bulk information from the internet. There is no end-all for internet privacy: only layers of security that you can add. A VPN is one of the strongest layers you can have in your arsenal and getting started is incredibly easy.

featured image courtesy of undernews.fr