Adam's Digital Garden

Thoughts on VPN

Personally I have two VPN use cases. Indenty protection on public networks and geographic relocation. Privacy from my internet service provider is not one of them, because unlike a foreign corporation I know which rules my ISP has to follow.

The first is to purchase a subscription to a VPN service, such as ExpressVPN, to protect my identity when connecting on public networks at airports, libraries, cafes, and trains. When connecting to a public network I don’t if the traffic between my computer and the router is safe. It’s a little like swimming a public pool. We are sharing the same signal space and may be looking into what I am sending and receiving to steal that information. A VPN makes the traffic unreadable between me and the wider internet minimising any risks on the public network. Like bringing my own kiddie pool into the main pool to avoid mixing waters.

The second is to obfuscate the link between my computer and the online services I am using or to geographically relocate where an online service thinks I am. This has several benefits such as getting google search results in a different language, to avoiding advertisers building a marketing profile based on IP (I have static IP). However advertisers have started to fight back. Google, among others, has started to give a “Proof you’re not a robot” tests every time I open their page and other services simply do not load. Finally geolocation is useful in find results that are more relevant to me. The specificity of the location from IP address is a key. I wouldn’t want my home address available to anyone online who know my IP. Using IP geolocation services my could belong to any one of 9 million addresses.

To satisfy my use cases I have setup my own OpenVPN server, that I can connect to from anywhere in the world without paying an subscription free. It solves my first use case, protection on public networks, without the disadvantages of the second, being suspected of being a bot.

Finally there’s the question of trust. By using a VPN provider I am trusting that they do not engage in all the data collecting behaviour I am trying to avoid. After all using VPN regularly, gives the VPN provider access to all my traffic. Trust here is difficult, because nearly all information on line is written or sponsored by VPN companies and how they behave in one country may different from another country.

Having written all that, I recommend using VPN, especially when traveling. My computer security policy is simple, do not be the easiest target. Online crime is often automated so with simple precautions you can protect your information from being used against you. Until someone makes a targeted attack, I am safe, with VPN and good habits you can be too.