J. R. Swab

VPNs Are Awesome (When Used Correctly)

Categories: [Technology]
Tags: [security], [privacy], [encryption]

Internet Service Providers can see the sites you visit, log them, sell them, or slow you down when using a specific website. All of this is the focus of net neutrality which may or may not be a good thing for the internet. I'll avoid my strong urge to blast my politically educated opinion on net neutrality in this post. If you want my opinion, please get in touch with me and no I will not answer the question in the comment section. However, even if the government's hands can not stay out of the internet, there is one thing you can do to help keep your browsing habits private.

Enter the VPN.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It is virtual since the computer acts like it is on another network when on your regular connection. The private part is where this matters to you. The VPN has end-to-end encryption so while you are connected to the VPN, the data is jumbled and unreadable to any onlooker. The onlookers may be your internet service provider, a criminal, or the coffee shop offering free WiFi. The snooper can see you sent data to another address and that the same sent data back. They cannot view what the data is or the site you are requesting.

The reason your internet service provider can slow down the speed at which you access Netflix is that they know you are connecting to, sending, and receiving data from Netflix. Even when we access sites using HTTPS/SSL (the green lock in the address bar) the provider can still log what site we view. This could be due to the domain name being used in the SSL certificate.

The more likely reason is that unless you tell your router to use a different Domain Name System (DNS) server, you will use your internet service provider by default. What this means is that when you type in jrswab.com to head to my site, your ISP will first look in their database of domain names to find the correct IP address to connect you too. They are doing the routing for you and if they wanted could give you 'YouTube' when you ask for 'BitChute'.

In that case, it is best to change to the OpenNIC DNS servers. They are foss (free and open source), respect your privacy, and will not censor you like your internet service provider can and may. Once you have the IP addresses for OpenNIC, all you need to do is search [your router model] + change DNS Servers. Keep in mind that if you unplug your router to move it or reset the router, you may have to go back and change the DNS again.

Upon connecting to a VPN, you create a tunnel of sorts to the VPN provider. When you ask for a site like opennic.org, the request is sent through this tunnel to the provider. Once it gets to the VPN provider, the server retrieves the site you asked for and sends back the information. This is a simplification of the process just to understand how a virtual private network operates. If you changed your DNS, there is a tiny chance that your ISP or the cybercriminal can see what you are doing or even connecting to.

What to look for in a VPN

I will start off this section by saying I trust none of the free VPN services. Nothing that is not F.O.S.S in nature can be truly free. No organization can maintain the servers needed to run a virtual private network for free without making money in some way. If there is a free and open-source VPN out there, please let me know, I would love to check it out.

No Logging

This should be your first feature to look for when choosing a VPN. Logging is when the company saves everything your account does through their VPN. This is a huge no. We are looking to get away from that kind of practice not kick the can further down the road. If the provider keeps logs, they can build profiles and sell the information to the highest bidder or hand it over to some rogue government looking to spy on everyone.

Multiple Gateways

The more servers to connect to in more countries the better. This will give you more choices when looking to browse the web and let you choose a server with fewer users for better speeds. Let's say there is content that is region locked to a country you want to view. All you need to do is to connect to the VPN server in that country. Then the site thinks you are there. This is also useful if you are traveling and need access to a site that the country blocks.

Unlimited Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of speed behind your connection. The higher the bandwidth, the better for browsing the internet. The last thing we want is to connect to a VPN and see our speeds get cut to a trickle. When we pay for 25, 50, or 100 Mb/s we expect to get at least close to those speeds. This is important to all of us and is often not a feature on the free VPNs. If the bandwidth is limited, you risk having a much slower internet experience. High bandwidth is easy to get used too and hard to go back from.

The VPN I Use Currently

The provider I use is Mullvad, operated by Amagicom AB out of Switzerland. Their "goal is to make Internet censorship, and mass surveillance ineffective" and "privacy is a universal right." What I like most about this VPN provider is that Mullvad stores no activity logs and requires no personal information to get a connection. You can pay with Bitcoin/Bitcoin Cash, and they give you an account number.

No name, address, credit card, or email address needed.

All that said, your VPN is not enough!