We all expect to have our private matters kept away from the prying eyes of strangers. Recent years have seen a flurry of wild reports on the grapevine, from federal agencies spying on telephonic conversations to personal data being stolen from the cloud and used for unintended means. As far fetched as they may seem to the average personal internet user, many of them are true.
The gravity of the situation truly came to light in 2017 when the US Congress and Senate approved the decision to remove privacy protection for internet users. This was no doubt backed by corporate powerhouses looking to sell and buy data. USA, the land of dreams, fell prey to prying and spying, and was criticized by many for selling out the privacy of its own citizens.
In the thick of things: Telcos
Telecommunication companies, or telcos, are right at the center of the storm. Increasingly under scrutiny due to the rapid increase in cellular users, these companies actively trade-off between the multipolar attraction of user privacy, revenues off data sharing, and network exploitation.
Verizon is one of four cellular service providers who have agreed to halt the selling of user location to data brokers. This is a direct result of increasing pressure from regulators to protect cell phone users.
However, regardless of the role that Telcos eventually adopt, users too are adopting safe measures for the protection of their data. The data security market is expected to be worth $22.85 billion by 2020. As for today, there are an array of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and personalised solutions to the classic problems of privacy.
With this in mind, we thought it would pertinent to give a 101 of the most popular option; one that helps create a virtual bubble to protect our privacy from prying eyes.
What are VPNs?
VPNs are rapidly gaining popularity with both corporations and individuals.
The term stands for Virtual Private Network and basically allows users:
- to access private networks securely
- remotely share data through public networks.
In other words, it allows an individual / firm to protect their identity, and data, from unauthorized users online.
What VPNs do
- They secure sensitive data online and during transfer/use.
- They encrypt data – even if data gets stolen, encryption makes it of little use to the average hacker.
- Bypassing of content filters becomes possible; this can be godsend in countries such as China, where whole stratas of the internet are blocked due to stringent internet policies.
- Data can be shared for an extended period.
- You can browse the web in complete anonymity. Continuing from the Chinese example above, you would not want the government to go through your ‘How to launch an Arab Spring’ reading list.
- Implementation of a VPN system increases bandwidth and efficiency.
Given all the benefits of VPNs, it does come to mind that the setting up and running of a VPN would be a complicated process. Surprisingly, with the help of COTS solutions, it is as simple as typing in a password and username. VPNs work on the basis of protocols that are constantly being upgraded and improved. The most common are:
PPTP stands for Point to Point Tunneling Protocol and has been around since the 1990s. PPTP works by encapsulating the data pocket rather than encrypting the information. This particular system owes its popularity to its adaptability towards almost every operating system. With the advent of stronger and more secure protocols, the credibility of PPTP has been called into question. It is still a strong VPN, just not the most secure option available.
L2TP and IPsec are actually two different protocols that are often used in combination. This is because pairing the two adds their most coveted properties together to form a reinforced security. L2TP is unable to encrypt data so it generates a secure tunnel, while simultaneously IPsec takes charge of encryption channel security as well as data integrity to ensure that the channel of communication remains uncompromised.
- Open VPN
Open VPN has gained immense popularity. This is largely due to the fact that it is freely available and thus the cost factor, which might otherwise weigh heavily, is completely eradicated.
Treasuring your Privacy
Data protection can be expensive: most good data privacy services cost a good deal of money. Here are some tips to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
- KillSwitch works to ensure that the data remains safe in case the connection drops.
There are two main types; one blocks internet traffic in case the VPN drops while the other shuts down applications.
- Use P2P servers to download torrents.
- Make sure the settings of the VPN are set to protect against any data leaks.
- Use the VPN service diligently on your mobile phones, especially when visiting countries with strict data theft records, such as China and the UAE.
VPNs have multitudes of benefits that have been mentioned above. However, like every other thing, they also have disadvantages.
- With rising awareness about the threats to personal privacy comes a larger demand for VPNs. Wherever there will be an increased demand for a particular service, it gives corporations the incentive to step in and exploit that demand through commercialization.
- Free VPNs are opted for by most – since they are free, of course. However, “free” VPNs that are used to access blocked sites and such often allow or fall prey to malicious third parties. Even more regrettable is the fact that many of these popular solutions may come with their own set of adware and spyware, thereby granting the developer access to sensitive information.
In the grand scheme of things, many individuals consider the loss of their data inconsequential: “what would anyone achieve by accessing our personal information?” Despite the growth of the privacy industry, this fatal error is not so uncommon. Businesses, on the other hand, with decades of lessons learned behind them, are unlikely to make the same mistake.