From time to time over the past few years, I’ve been spooked enough by certain news articles and goings-on in the world of IT security to consider using a VPN service, but just how usable are they are, what are the pros / cons, and why should I bother anyway?
Security & Anonymity
So why would you want to use a VPN in the first place? Well, for a start, your entire internet access is far more secure. This is because once your connection to a VPN service is established, only a single, encrypted connection is used, all service / application traffic is then routed through that connection. This not only prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re doing, but it also prevents people from sniffing your WIFI traffic, either at a public WIFI hotspot or by someone else on your current network.
But I don’t Do Anything Illegal Online So Why Should I care?
Just because you’re not doing anything dubious, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take as much care as possible to secure your online activities. Not only from snooping ISPs but also hackers, why take the risk? If you make an online transaction at a public WIFI hotspot, and then find out several weeks later that your card details have somehow been obtained and someone has taken money from you, ultimately you only have yourself to blame.
If you would like more information on why online security is so important to everyone, please take some time to read the following links (as well as doing a little research for yourself if you still aren’t convinced)
I’m sure many of you have seen WIFI hotspots named “_TheCloud”, they are open and usually have a captive portal, which requires you to login to get your free WIFI. What’s to stop someone sitting in an internet cafe and making a hotspot from their laptop, titled exactly like that, with no captive portal, do you think anyone would notice? Unlikely. They will blindly connect to it, and use it, in fact if their device already remembers the SSID (name) “_TheCloud”, it will connect automatically anyway. Does this require special equipment? Nope, a laptop with 2 WIFI adapters will do it, or a WIFI adapter and a 3G/4G dongle will do the trick.
One thing I have noticed lately is that my phone, for some reason or another, connects to some public WIFI hotspots automatically, even if the SSID is unknown by the phone, not all, but some. Now I’m using a Lumia 930, and within the settings there is an option to automatically connect to WIFI hotspots provided by your operator, that all sounds very well but is that secure? How is a hotspot flagged as being provided by them? And is it the reason why my phone even automatically connected to some womans unsecured WIFI hotspot while I was on a train once? The only reason I noticed is my internet connection suddenly started to lag, so I went to flip it in and out of flight mode, like I usually do in order to re-establish a connection, but noticed some long unknown name in the WIFI connection button. There’s no way I had connected to it manually, then or previously.
Now if I had a VPN configured on my device, this wouldn’t even matter, connect away, as long as the bandwidth is good, they can’t see what you’re getting up to, and they can’t perform a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack on you either.
New UK Legislation On The Horizon
Before you continue, please read the following articles
Now again, some of you will say, well this isn’t a problem for me as I do nothing illegal on the internet. That’s a really bad way of looking at this sitation for a number of reasons. Aside from the thought of the council needing access to my internet history! How about they get on with policing the local streets, collecting the rubbish and doing what they’re paid to do, which doesn’t involve spying on us; believe it or not.
I also question their use of the term “End to End”, that would also suggest that strong key length SSL/TLS (currently unbreakable) would be deemed as not being allowed. That’s your bank, email, and any other secure service fucked then. Unless they are somehow silently hacking it already, in which case we have even more cause for concern.
Controlling Who Gets In Through The Backdoor
If a government agency puts a backdoor into the system, for them to catch criminals online, who do you think keeps the backdoor secure? It’s another hole for hackers to gain entry through, except this time, they have a much bigger and more profitable target. Making a system insecure for the government to gain access, also makes it insecure for you to use as this will inevitably happen. If it wasn’t an issue, why have the Governments themselves been hacked? And that’s using systems that are supposed to be the level of security we are demanding now, for ourselves. Noone is safe, especially the ones that claim to be looking after you. They are not always after your best interests.
One interesting point to note is that terrorists aren’t using commercial software, that’s total bullshit. Do you think Al Quaeda are using WhatsApp? Unlikely, they are more likely to be using custom software than is only run on their devices, the software isn’t purchased through the store, it’s side-loaded. Thus this whole premise of wanting to catch cyber criminals is nonsense, don’t believe it.
Will I Be Encouraging Terrorism By Being Secure Online
No, as I said above, terrorists aren’t likely to be purchasing their services commercially, they make them. Do you think drug drealers go to commercial wholesalers to stock up? No, they don’t. I’m not saying that from personal experience, just my knowledge of IT.
You are being scaremongered into believing you are doing bad, you aren’t, they are compromising the entire system by forcing these laws upon us.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) aren’t anything new, and they aren’t just used by people conduction dodgy dealings online, although they can well be. Think of it like this, when you go home and connect your smartphone to your WIFI, you are on a Local Area Network (LAN), you can’t access that externally without some kind of backdoor. Any traffic occuring internally doesn’t leave your LAN, it’s private, just the way it should be. A VPN sets up the same kind of privacy, between you and a bunch of computers that do not have to be local, they can be dotted around the world. In the case of what I’m referring to actually using a VPN for here, it would only be between you and another computer, the VPN server, that server will then relay your internet communications to the outside world for you. As mentioned above, all your ISP then sees is a single encrypted connection.
How Do I Get Access To A VPN Service?
There are many services available online, ones I have used are Strong VPN, Private VPN and also, IP Vanish. In fact, I’m using IP Vanish right now, I have signed up to a £6~ a month subscription that can protect 2 devices. My Windows Phone is already setup and I have been occasionally tapping at my phone from time to time to see if it’s still online, and working correctly.
Be warned that not all VPN services are the same, and some may collect logs of your activity, so when questioned by the relevant government officials, they will hand it over. Thus defeating the entire purpose of using a VPN.
Primarily, you will find that when using a VPN, your connection is slower, this will all depend on where the server is that you are connected to, how busy it is, and how powerful the machine is, as well as how much bandwidth it has available. All I can recommend is trying out several different servers to see which one suits you. VPN services generally offer a number of servers in various parts of the world, try and pick one that’s closest to you if speed is your primary concern.
Another thing I also noticed is that if you are connecting to a WIFI hotspot that requires you to interact with a captive portal before giving you access, you will still need to do that. Once you have access, connect to the VPN.