Have You Been Thinking About a VPN Service?

By | May 9, 2017
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Have You Been Thinking About a VPN Service?

Don’t forget! Please take our VPN Poll after you read this article. The poll is at the bottom of this page.

It’s not a secret that the government is letting ISPs and big telecom wrest control of the Internet from government agencies and take control of it themselves. There are scary rumors that ISPs may soon sell you personal info, including your medical records to the highest bidder. Well, we’re not so sure that’s going to happen, but allowing ISPs and big telecom to police themselves is like letting a skulk of foxes guard the hen house.

ISPs (know and have always known) everything you do online – and we mean EVERYTHING –  until recently they were very limited with regard to what they were were allowed to do with that data. Recent actions by the federal government and FCC boss Ajit Pai seem to suggest that ISPs can pretty much do anything with your data they want to do – including sell it to third parties.

If you don’t want your ISP to know what you do online, the best way to “hide” from them is to use a good VPN. [ If you don’t know what a VPN is, read this.] However, choosing a VPN is not easy. There are dozens and dozens of VPNs, and now that the government is allowing ISPs more latitude with your data, VPNs are springing up all over. Be careful when choosing a VPN.

  1. Make sure the VPN you choose does not keep logs.
  2. Make sure the VPN you choose has a wide selection of VPN servers and you can switch between them quickly.
  3. Do your homework. A VPN does you no good if it logs your activity. Even if it promises not to log your activity and sell you data – remember promises are cheap. Verify.
  4. Make sure the VPN you choose does not keep logs (and make them prove it). Yes, we mentioned this three times now – because it’s important. If  you choose a VPN that keeps logs, you may as well use your ISP. VPNs who log your activity collect everything you do on the Internet. And they can sell your personal data just like your ISP. So, it’s important – verify  that the VPN you choose does not keep logs.
  5. Make sure your VPN is not going to substantially slow down your Internet speed. Many do. Do your homework – find out what others are saying about the VPN you’re considering.
  6. Make sure the VPN you choose uses 256-bit encryption.

We have been on the prowl for a good VPN service we can stand behind and recommend. But it will take more testing and then more testing before we make a choice of a VPN or VPNs to recommend.

And finally remember, that it doesn’t matter if you have something to hide or not – that’s not the discussion. The discussion is whether you want your ISP to collect and sell your personal data to the highest bidder without your permission and without your knowledge. Only you can decide that.

Please take our poll!

Give us your thoughts on VPN services. If you don’t know what they are, read this article.

 

Thanks!

7 thoughts on “Have You Been Thinking About a VPN Service?

  1. Carole

    What about Opera web browser? Could you please give me your opinion as to the validity of this being a VPN ? I’m not sure that all I read about it is 100% true. I trust your opinions and recommendation. Thank you for all you have done, past, present and future!

    Reply
    1. Daniel

      Hi Carole, I’m not infoave but let me explain. From a technical point of view: no it’s not a VPN, from a practical point of view: the effect is mostly the same *within the browser* but pay attention to the details I will explain next. Sorry if this is a long reply, but there are details and intricacies that need to be mentioned.

      A real VPN creates a securely encrypted network tunnel between your computer (or your router if it supports VPN connectivity and is set up that way) and an VPN server that can be anywhere on the Internet. Unless otherwise configured, it takes *all* the incoming/outgoing network traffic from your personal computer and forwards it to said VPN server, before your traffic is then distributed to wherever it needs to go.

      So what can a VPN do for you? It stops your ISP from having even the theoretical access to your interests and contents you look up, but that ISP can still create a general usage profile of you. Those are for example, who is the account holder, where do you live, when are you active, how much data do you transfer. It also stops any server or IP address in general you directly connect to from knowing some basic data about you: what’s your IP address, which ISP do you use and because of that, you can mask not only the estimated geographical location of your home but even the country of origin. Since commercial VPNs are used by more people than just yourself, this mixes up your own Internet traces amidst those of other users. That’s an upside when trying to remain anonymous, but on the downside some services may link the VPN IP address to someone else’s bad behavior and you could end up locked out or being associated with that unrelated person by dint of using the same VPN provider.

      While a VPN can protect your privacy from both your ISP and in some ways from the general Internet, never forget that you will still be tracked in other ways. There is a lot of money in doing that, many companies use cookies that make you identifiable if you ever use the same browser(profile) both with and without a VPN, which is a favored way of advertising networks tracking user behavior across all websites they serve ads to. There is also a non-zero possibility that you may be identified based on the browser you use even after you have taken care of cookies. Since there are so many combinations and possible customizations to a browser identification (operating system, browser, some extensions, screen resolution/window size, etc) it is possible that your browser may be the only one in existence with that particular fingerprint.

      Now we take a closer view of the Opera browser. Although there are some similarities in its privacy protection, it is NOT a VPN, it does NOT work like a VPN and (most importantly) it likely doesn’t offer significant privacy improvements at all. There is one thing it will do however, it’s going to stop server operators on the Internet from seeing your real IP address. Lets deal with the privacy implications first before I go into technical details: Opera has sold its browser and privacy division to a private equity investment management fund behind which stands a group of Chinese investors. If you are sceptical of China then this browser is a no-go for you anyway, but even if that is not the case, then you must be made aware how consumers end up paying for free content on the Internet anyway.

      So, how are free things on the Internet financed or do they just exist out of the goodness of some peoples’ hearts? While there is definitely some of that, it deals mostly with open-source software. Services such as a free web-proxies or VPNs are different, because they have high running costs. The first method a regular user would think of are ads, because they require direct contact to the visitor. Well, there are no ads with Opera VPN. Behind the scenes however, everybody gathers their own data and makes a profit from selling it on to analytics companies or they let third parties do the gathering directly. This happens with a growing number of commercial products too, but you can be assured that it is one of the biggest ways to defray operating costs (and even make a profit, in fact) of the vast majority of free services.

      Finally, my condensed technical opinion on Opera’s “VPN”: I already mentioned earlier that Opera does not use a true VPN but only a set of proxy servers that in large part have the same effect (any website you visit will only know you by your Opera VPN IP address, unless they can track you outside of that, see above), but the devil is in the details. Because browser VPNs (Opera VPN works the same as browser extensions like ZenMate, Hotspot Shield, Hola and others do) are all technically web-proxies, any unencrypted request to a website with the http:// protocol may not be invisible from your ISP at all, if the proxy instead of the target server receives the unencrypted request instead. Furthermore, not the whole process of accessing a webpage is contained to within the browser. Every modern operating system has its own implementation of a local DNS lookup and cache, which means that any domain that’s not found within the cache is then looked up directly by the operating system, which likes outside the scope of VPN solutions that are limited to the browser. Almost nobody uses encrypted DNS requests, which makes part of the information (we’re talking the big intelligence database word “metadata” here) available in an unencrypted manner.

      What does this all mean for you? Well, if you intend to use a VPN because you want to stop your ISP from invading your privacy, then by using a free VPN you’ll only end up switching the entity that you give your data to, while using a (free or non-free) browser VPN will never be able to protect you totally. It doesn’t really matter if your personal data is analyzed and sold by your ISP or by a third party company that runs a VPN or proxy service. In the case of browser VPNs, somebody with access to large-scale traffic interception technology (meaning: ISPs, backbone providers and finally intelligence services) may only know that you’re visiting YouTube to presumably watch videos, or they may know you visited the domain donate.senatorjohndoe.us instead. We can all agree that the former is much less of an issue, but the latter will make things look very different. The technical weakness of browser VPNs is the unencrypted metadata which is not protected and this is the one major weakness that would lead to an intelligence service unraveling all the protection you thought you had.

      The next step is finding a VPN service that does what you want. Do you want privacy for privacy’s sake, are you a bittorrent user who wants to avoid receiving copyright notices from your ISP or are you paranoid enough to see intelligence services as the biggest evil? Well, if we for a moment disregard the fact that state-sponsored actors have unbelievable capabilities (both financially, technically and legally) then it is a decision in which jurisdiction a VPN should be based and what features it supports. Some VPN servers filter peer-to-peer traffic in some or all of their server locations for example. With the growing popularity of video streaming services such as Netflix, it also has to be said that VPN servers are increasingly getting blocked/excluded due to pressure from rightsholders.

      A word of warning: you have to take a VPN operator at their word that they don’t log or otherwise use/sell your personal data, because there’s no way for you to know the truth (until after the fact). At the very least you need to contribute to the system’s operating costs with a subscription or you WILL end up paying with your data. VPNs also add one more point of failure to your connection, but the tradeoff is the option to switch servers and avoid bad routing.

      Reply
  2. Arthur Brown

    I use Private Internet Access VPN and find it very good.
    You may want to check it out in your search for a VPN
    to recommend.

    Reply
  3. willy

    Great idea keep working to find a reputable VPN .Thanks for your concern and help. Cheers.

    Reply
  4. Rose Cantalini

    Does having more than one computer in the home make a difference with the payment or use of the VPN that is chosen?

    Reply
  5. Mr. Wilson

    You said to make VPN prove that they do not keep logs. How can we make them prove? I use Ivacy VPN and believe that they do not keep logs because they say so, how can I make them prove it?

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      There is no way to take them to court – the “prove” was not meant in judicial terms. I would suggest you search the reputation of the VPN and see what users say.

      Reply

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