VPNs have become a norm. No matter who uses the internet, they would have come across the term at least once. We all know and recognize them to be the vanguard against online fallacies. Online surveillance, data mining, phishing attempts, or malicious ads are no match for VPNs that have proven to be beacons of reliability and safety. However, hackers are not to be underestimated. They have repeatedly tried to overwhelm this technology—sometimes in vain and other times successfully. Therefore, you can hack a VPN, after all.
A VPN is not foolproof against online threats and is susceptible to hacks and malware. Furthermore, a decently advanced hacker can easily render a subpar VPN moot. However, we still recommend you use one for your safety. Why? Because there is no generic technology optimum enough to prevent hacking 100%. Thus, today’s article will commend them even though they can hack VPNs.
How does VPN encryption work?
To learn more about hacking a VPN, we must first understand how a VPN works. You might remember when we have stated a VPN security protocol is at the heart of a VPN, as it dictates how it will function. The protocols define tunnels that connect clients to servers. They also employ encryption, which is the tunnel that prevents third parties from prying into data transfer inside.
Thus, theoretically, if a hacker can somehow access this tunnel, they can effectively render the VPN useless. To gain access to the tunnel, one has to overcome the security protocols established for a VPN. If you recall, not all protocols are equal. Thus, by manipulating the vulnerability of a weaker protocol, a hacker can find his way around the encryption, and once the encryption comes undone, it is game over.
But to undo encryption is not an easy task. Reputed vendors employ state-of-the-art encryption profiles to prevent hacking. Furthermore, the recent advancement in encryption techniques made it next to impossible to hack. To learn more about how VPN encryption works, give our article a read. However, here is a quick recap:
- First, the VPN will use the encryption key to convert your plain text data into a cipher.
- Then the VPN client will forward that cipher to the server.
- Now, depending on your encryption method, the server will either use a shared/exclusive or public/private key to decipher the text.
- Now, the server that holds your data will communicate over the public network at your behest.
- After that, the received reply will get subjected to another encryption, and the server will send it back.
- The client will use the key to decrypt it and present it to you in plain text format.
Common VPN weaknesses: Software
If VPN encryption is competent, then how come a person can hack a VPN? To answer that, we would like to remind our readers that no digital product is foolproof. There are several ways a hacker can manipulate the numerous weaknesses a VPN presents. Furthermore, there is human error in play, as VPN is ultimately a user-end service. Thus, the most common form of attack comes not from bugs and breaches but the utilization of your PII (Personal Identifiable Information). Still, listed below are a few common weaknesses a VPN software can have:
- Poor encryption – Encryption is the name of the game, and subpar encryption is easy to break. The current market standard is the AES-256 bit encryption. However, you can get an additional Diffie-Hellman key exchange with possible Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) for better security.
- Outdated protocols – Some protocols like the PPTP are prone to vulnerabilities. It is advisable to go for the latest WireGuard or at least the versatile OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPsec.
- Misguided authentication process – Authentication is the entry barrier of VPNs. If you employ a strict procedure, most threats will get neutralized. Therefore, try to get a VPN that offers SHA-256 authentication at the very least.
- Network management – The servers make a virtual network work. If your servers are compromised, everything else is up for grabs. Therefore, we recommend using a VPN that owns/controls its whole network.
- DNS public – Most VPN providers don’t have private DNS (Domain Name System). As a result, a hacker can employ methods via your public DNS to block your VPN.
- Data logging – Any provider that logs data is no good. Furthermore, if a hacker gains access to their database, they can have everything without attempting to hack you. However, the best VPNs are those that don’t keep logs. Learn more about data logging policies.
Usual VPN vulnerabilities: Hardware
Similarly, a VPN can have problems at the physical end. Let’s gander a few common hardware issues:
- Location of VPN vendor – The location of your vendor’s place of business decides the jurisdiction. If it falls under the data retention laws, it is unsafe for use.
- Server configuration method – A server needs to be RAM-only, as any storage can lead to exposure and leaks.
- Security at the data center – The safety of data centers hosting the VPN servers is paramount. If one gains access to physical servers, anything can happen. Destroying hardware is simpler than software.
How can you hack a VPN?
There are multiple ways a hacker can mount an attack on your VPN. Listed below are some conventional and unorthodox approaches to hacking, followed by the ability of VPNs in coping with them.
- Fake WAP (Wireless Access Point) – The hacker employs a fake Wi-Fi with a legitimate name. When you connect to it, they can access your data traffic and force malware onto your devices. However, a VPN can easily protect you against such attacks.
- Bait and switch – In this situation, hackers use fake ads convincingly to lure users onto a malicious link, and then they can initiate several attacks. Although some VPNs can prevent ad popups, your best bet would be a private browser and general awareness to stay away from such links.
- Credential reuse – A hacker can utilize an old data breach to learn some credentials and use them on multiple platforms, hoping they still work. But why is it a risk? Because most users don’t change passwords across numerous websites. But no, a VPN can’t prevent this.
- SQL injection – Hackers target vulnerable websites to inject fake fields asking for credentials. As soon as you enter yours, the hacker can learn it and use it against you. However, no VPNs can’t stop it.
- Macro malware in documents – In simple words, these are .doc/.pdf files that carry malware. Therefore, if you run them after a download, you will be at the mercy of hackers. One needs legit Antivirus software to prevent this, not VPNs.
- Cookie theft/side jacking/session hijacking – Cookies carry your online information. They are harmful if used against you. Luckily, a VPN can prevent this kind of attack.
- IoT attacks – IoT (Internet of Things) attacks can make your IoT devices into Botnets. A hacker can then use your IoT device to mount attacks on someone else. It is risky for you, both personally and legally. However, with a VPN router, an IoT attack can’t succeed.
- DDoS attacks – DDoS attack is a step up from IoT attacks. It works on the same principles. Thus, you can use a VPN to prevent it.
- Phishing – Phishing involves human error. Here, hackers goad information from the user directly via fake links or emails. Although a VPN can help, mostly you’d need a healthy awareness of the internet to prevent such attacks.
- Man-in-the-middle attack – It is a famous form of attack where the hacker inserts themselves between your device and the website and therefore monitors your data traffic. However, VPNs have rendered this moot.
- DNS spoofing – DNS lights the way forward for a connection. It dictates where the traffic will flow. By spoofing DNS, a hacker can lead you to a malicious website without your knowledge. But VPNs with SmartDNS can stop this.
- Watering hole attack – Someone may hack a VPN by employing a watering hole attack. In this case, the hacker targets the destination of the VPN user rather than the VPN itself, making it easier to upload malware onto the VPN network.
- Keylogger attack – Similarly, you can hack a VPN with a keylogger. A keylogger is malware that stores your keystrokes. Thus, a hacker can even negate your VPN with credentials, much less any other service.
- Brute force attack – Brute force is guessing your credentials. It may not sound sophisticated enough, but you can hack a VPN with it.
Hack a VPN can and can’t prevent:
|VPNs can protect you from||VPNs can’t protect you from|
|DDoS attacks||Malware or phishing attacks|
|Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks||Backdoor attacks|
|Evil twin attacks||Evil maid attacks (requires physical access to your computer/device)|
|DNS spoofing attacks||OS vulnerabilities (RDP hack, Wi-Fi Sense sharing, and more)|
|Wi-Fi related attacks||Watering hole attacks|
|ARP spoofing attacks||Browser fingerprinting|
|Bait and switch|
|Malicious external storage|