09 Jun 2018

People are always looking for ways to increase their privacy online and one of the easiest and popular solution is to use a virtual private network. Using VPN all your internet traffic will be encrypted and tunneled through a third-party server so that you can’t be traced easily.

This is an effective method but one should remember that the main aim of any VPN provider is to make profit. No company would be so trusting to assume that a VPN is in it for purely generous purpose. It is important to think why the users should trust the VPN providers.

No software is safe from vulnerabilities

Normally when you visit a website from your system, you do it from your IP address. When you use a VPN, instead of sending the messages directly, the data first goes to the VPN server and then is routed to the final destination. So, the website which you are visiting sees the IP address of the VPN server instead of recognizing your IP address. So even your internet security provider, hackers or other authorities will not be able to trace back your online activities. So, the main aim of achieving web security through the use of a VPN is on keeping your original IP address hidden.

Hence, it was disturbing when a recent enquiry revealed that a vulnerability in three major VPN’s leaked their user’s IP addresses. However, every time a user uses a VPN, their IP addresses are not revealed but at certain situations it was possible for an attacker to divert the user’s traffic to his server instead of the VPN server and gain access to the user’s original IP address.

Vulnerabilities like this can happen at any time in the cybersecurity world. The companies must be active enough to identify and fix them. Luckily two of the providers exposed in the enquiry have created a patch for the updated versions of their VPNs.

Some VPNs hold onto your data

Besides maintaining security, it is important that a VPN provider provides transparency. The users who have used VPN’s must have noticed about a feature “no logs” which means that the VPN’s do not track your internet activity. But a no log means different thing for different VPNs. So, it is important to understand the privacy policy of the VPN you use. A good VPN does not trace the sites you visit, the duration of each sessions, or store your IP, though most of them keep track of your email IDs and payment reasons.

There are VPNs which might take note of the operating system which you are using or how much data you use etc. for providing better customer support While there are VPNs which do not do so for increasing the privacy of the users. If a provider’s privacy policy does not provide these details it is better to not use it.

Some VPN Mobile Apps contain malware

A research done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation reports that out of 283 VPN Android apps examined, 38% showed signs of being infected with some form of malware. When the researchers controlled for a high probability of false positives, they reduced that number to four percent. A major part of this malware was for advertising purposes.

Around 82% of the apps asked permission to access sensitive data, such as user accounts and text messages, and 18% used tunneling technologies that aren’t encrypted.

Most of the VPN users are not aware of the probable risks. VPN apps need permissions to change your phone’s web traffic and so Android sends users two warnings to notify the users of the changes in their device. Only few users can understand the full inference of granting such permission to a third party.

Steps to improve your security

It is evident that one of the main reason the VPNs put the users’ privacy at risk is for the benefit of advertisers. VPNs that provide paid services are more trustworthy than free VPNs as they do not need to depend on advertising for revenue.

Well there are some reputable free VPNs that does a decent job without selling your data. They make their money by openly displaying advertisements or by limiting features so that the users can upgrade to a paid plan.

For both paid and free VPNs, here are certain steps you can take to ensure your privacy and security:

  • Read your VPN’s privacy policy and ask customer support if you have any questions or if some problem occurs.
  • Install antivirus software on your device.
  • Find objective third-parties that test and review VPNs.

VPN users lack an awareness regarding security issues. So, it is necessary to know the reviews of qualified experts to identify potential threats. They can not only help the users choose the right VPN but also keep the VPN providers on their toes and enable them to fix vulnerabilities if there are any.

Technical Writer,  Blogger,

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