Virtual Private Networks

For a lot of people, Virtual Prive Networks, or VPNs, are their first introduction to any type of privacy or security tool. Some people get introduced to the concept because of remote work, or to get around location restrictions in content viewing. Whatever the case, VPNs are a farily well-known and common tool.

For those who don't know, a VPN is an encrypted connection from your device to a server. All your internet traffic is routed through that server. A VPN is different from a proxy in that a VPN is system-wide. Generally speaking, proxies tend to only apply to a specific browser or app, while a VPN applies to entire device. A VPN would not only protect Firefox, for example, but the Netflix app, your mail client, and even any system telemetry that your OS might submit.

From a security perspective, a VPN provides you protection from local hackers. While most of the internet is encrypted, not all of it is, and sadly important websites like government are typically the worst offenders for expired certificates. Even at home, your Internet Service Provider can see your traffic as well. A VPN encrypts your traffic, hiding this from local spies.

From a privacy perspective, the VPN makes your traffic appear to be coming from your provider's server, making it hard to trace the traffic back to your actual, unique IP address. Your traffic has the potential to blend in with the traffic of many other users and add to the anonymity.

As of 2018, Net Neutrality is dead in the United States. This means that Internet Service Providers are legally allowed to block or slow down any website they want with or without any justification. Abuses of this nature have happened in the past, but now they are no longer illegal and are happening again. The best way to prevent this is to not let your provider see your traffic, then they won't know what to block.

The most important thing is to look for when picking a VPN provider is a provider who doesn't keep logs. A provider who logs your activity is no better than your current internet provider. Your traffic can be sold, censored, or spied on just as if you weren't using a VPN. All you've done at that point is move the abuse to someone else.

Depending on your threat model, you may want to consider a provider who is located outside the jurisdiction of the Fourteen Eyes Gloabl Intelligence Community. A government attempting to access your VPN traffic will potentially have a harder time when dealing with a company outside their surveillance network.

Make sure to see how the provider makes money. Running an VPN server is expensive and requires great technical knowledge. "If a product is free, you are the product." Make sure the company has a viable business plan or else assume they are likely logging and selling your data, or worse.

Note that there are literally thousands of VPN providers out there. Some quality, many not. The handful I've selected below are the ones that seem to consistently be promoted within the privacy community as reputable and more desirable than most mainstream companies. These companies seem to have a vested interest in the cause of privacy. If you want a detailed breakdown of a specific VPN provider, please visit ThatOnePrivacySite.

Product/Service Pros Cons

ExpressVPN
  • Available on all operating systems
  • Zero-Knowledge DNS
  • Offers split-tunneling
  • Audited

IVPN
  • Open source
  • Available on all operating systems
  • Based in Gibraltar
  • Supports Wireguard (cutting edge new VPN protocol)

Mullvad
  • Not available on all operating systems, requring a little bit of technical know-how to set it up for mobile.
  • Based in Sweden

Proton
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