With the expansion of the Internet, the general awareness amongst users has seen a steady improvement. More users are thinking about their online safety. As such, the demand for methods and tools to aid in online privacy and security has never been so high. One such product is the VPN. It has been gaining widespread support due to its multi-faceted features and easy-to-use approach. At the height of its popularity, the VPN industry broke records by quadrupling itself. VPNs aren’t new; they have been around for almost three decades now. Yet are VPNs really what they claim to be? Can a VPN be a one-stop solution to all things online safety? This article will explore the various factors of a VPN professing to be the best bet against online threats and answer the question, “is VPN foolproof?” If not, then why use a VPN?
A quick recap on VPNs
They are virtual networks and can work as a LAN (over remote access). They not only ensure privacy but also secure your traffic by using end-to-end encryption. A VPN is essentially a tool for online safety and security, as discussed in our other articles. But is VPN foolproof? Of course not. However, there are always two sides to a story. A VPN may not be a fail-safe, but it can be your best bet against online threats. To glean into this, we will have to understand how a VPN functions. Then what are the actual benefits and detriments associated with it?
- How a VPN works?
- Things to know before using a VPN
- Is a VPN safe to use?
- Myths and detriments surrounding VPNs
- Why do we still recommend a VPN?
How does a VPN function?
A VPN works as a tunnel between the client and the internet. The VPN client sends encrypted data from the device to a remote VPN server. The server then decrypts the data and communicates, instead of the user, to the Internet. After receiving a reply, it sends back the result, encrypted, to the client, which then decrypts it and presents it to the user. It all works according to a VPN protocol. A VPN thus effectively ensures the safety of your data by relying on end-to-end encryption. It also helps you remain anonymous on the internet since it allows you to remote access the web on external servers.
As you can see, a VPN does help with your online safety, but is VPN foolproof? NO, it isn’t. Even when it hides your actual IP address, there are ways to identify you, such as your browser fingerprint. And while your ISP may not know much about your online traffic, the VPN (you are using) certainly does. Despite all this, a VPN is generally a better choice for those concerned about their safety online. But before you make your selection regarding a VPN service, there are a few things you should know.
Things to know before using a VPN
The first thing for a user to remember is that there are a lot of commercial VPNs out there. Out of which, a majority of them aren’t necessarily the right fit for your security. Take android VPNs, for example. A study back in 2016 revealed that out of 283 VPNs monitored, at least 67% had a tracking library in their code to track user activity. It didn’t stop at that 84% of the studied apps were unable to encrypt data. It is false advertising. Just because a VPN claims to do its job doesn’t necessarily mean that it will – more so for free VPNs. Not all VPNs are created equal but we are here for the technology, not the product. As such, there are a few things to keep in mind before you select a VPN.
Beware of malware
There are VPNs (often free ones) that have malware on them. Be it voluntary or not, such VPNs are not safe for use because a VPN is supposed to work against malware.
VPNs can use embedded tracking
It is considerably funny when you think of how a VPN is supposed to protect you from tracking, but here it is tracing your actions instead. As a user, you should avoid using such VPNs. Try to research a bit and use only reputable providers.
No guarantee to bypass restrictions/censorship
While most users prefer to use a VPN for its advanced features that aid in privacy and security. There is a rising base of users that solely rely on this service for unblocking restricted content. However, many VPNs fail to do so, quite spectacularly at that. So if you want a VPN to watch TV shows from around the world, select an accomplished VPN provider.
Almost often slow you down
Since a VPN has to ensure double encryption/decryption, it will always have a lower speed. But what concerns connectivity most is the number of servers a VPN has its location and bandwidth allowed on it. All of it affects the latency.
Is VPN foolproof? Well, the government doesn’t think so
The purpose behind a VPN is to stay hidden, not only from your ISP or cyber criminals but also from the government’s eyes. But the fact is that a VPN will almost always hand over your data to officials. The only exception is cases where it doesn’t have our data on hand. While a no-logs policy tries to prevent authorities from accessing your data, it is safe to assume that a VPN is never foolproof.
Is VPN safe to use?
VPNs claim to be the best at online security, and some of them are. However, with the surging popularity and an influx of commercial vendors, the pool of selection has grown so much that a user can’t be sure the VPN he has subscribed to is the right one or not. VPN works to shield online activity from prying eyes. Its only job is to protect your traffic from spies and snoops, but it fails to account for the various imaginative ways an attack can happen.
Reasons why a VPN is not safe
People expect a VPN to be foolproof but it is a limited tool. It can only safeguard your data and traffic on its network. By no means is a VPN one-all solution for everything on the Internet. The reason behind this is a traditional networking model such as the VPN puts blind trust in users. Henceforth, a user is in complete control of the network once he gains access through VPN technology. Not only that, a VPN has an over-simplified authentication process as it is limited to remote access. It translates into no proper security against on-site users. But if you want a VPN only for what it can do, which is better security and greater privacy, there are almost no better alternatives available.
- High risk of security breaches. VPNs expose whole networks to attacks such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), sniffing, and spoofing.
- Hard to scale. VPNs are to address a small percentage of the remote workforce. When it comes across something on a larger scale, it becomes a bottleneck instead. Especially when it’s delivering traditional resource-hungry client-server applications.
- Access through ‘unmanned’ devices. VPNs provide access through remote servers, which are automated. It introduces risk, as a machine has no insight into the health of personal computers and unmanaged mobile devices. These devices may be under the attack/control of a keylogger or screenshot malware, which attackers can use to exfiltrate sensitive data, and none would be the wiser.
- NOT designed to detect danger. VPNs aren’t designed to recognize and stop attacks. They are simply a tool that effectively encrypts data on a network. However, if someone gains access to your login credential and snoops around the VPN, it won’t do anything at all to stop it. Simple because it doesn’t know how to.
- Can compromise privacy. Your data is in the hands of the VPN provider.
Some VPNs, though not fail-safe, are worth using. If your VPN has the following features, all may not be lost.
Redeeming features of a VPN
- IP address leak prevention. The main objective of a VPN is to hide your IP address. This prevent anyone from tracing and or tracking it and thus, a VPN with leak prevention is your safest bet.
- Strict no-logging. A VPN with a strict no-log policy will not collect your data. As such, even when questioned, it won’t have anything to hand over to the authorities. Many VPNs claim to have a no-log policy, but there is always a glaring loophole or two. With a strict zero-log policy in place, even the VPN provider won’t have your data stored. The best way to ensure a no-log policy’s effectiveness is to check whether the VPN allows for an independent audit or not.
- Kill switch. In case a VPN suddenly stops working, all of your data is left vulnerable. A kill switch ensures that in the event of a VPN failure, the online connection will terminate. In essence, a Kill switch assures that a user isn’t online without a VPN in place.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). A VPN should be as secure as possible so that only an authorized person can gain access to the network. MFA allows a user to prove their credibility.
Myths and detriments related to ‘Is VPN foolproof?’
VPNs aren’t foolproof. NEVER use a VPN with the mentality that it is the ultimate solution to cyberattacks. It is not. Yes, VPNs are excellent security and privacy tools, but not a one-all solution. Before selecting a VPN, make sure to go through all its legal clauses to ensure that it doesn’t steal/sell or store your data. Don’t go for FREE VPNs.
Some myths regarding Foolproof VPNs are:
‘100% Anonymity’ It doesn’t exist
VPN providers charge you for ensuring your online privacy. The recent popularity of VPNs has made users believe in its indomitable might regarding anonymity. But is it such? No one on the internet can be perfectly immune to scrutiny. Yes, a VPN indeed hides your IP by spoofing it from a remote server. While this method may sound sufficient, there are actual ways to circumvent these, particularly when the problem can be on the client’s end. However, not all VPNs are good at what they do. If you want anonymity, not complete but sufficient, I’d say go for respected VPN providers.
‘VPN foolproof: No-Log policy’ It helps but is not a complete solution
Every VPN provider claims that they do not track user activity, though it is untrue. The VPN server is incapable of troubleshooting connections based on their subscription in lack of logs. You should not trust VPNs that do not ask for signup and provide direct access to servers. Such servers are unreliable. While it is true that you cant control the log files of a VPN, you can at the very least choose VPNs with strict no-log policies that went through independent audits. For sure, this doesn’t make for a foolproof VPN, but from a privacy aspect, it is more than enough.
‘VPN can protect from every online threat’ Sorry, but no VPN is foolproof
A VPN is a powerful tool but not without limitations. You can not treat it as a one-stop solution to everything online. A VPN can help you if:
- You voluntarily give your personal information to scammers. They will easily access your device even if you are anonymous.
- You think that it can prevent attacks. A VPN can not recognize/understand a security risk and then act accordingly. It can only ensure that your device gets access to remote servers and your traffic remains encrypted.
A VPN only helps users under the defense-in-depth methodology. After it fails, other security tools will have to take over.
‘Privacy is ensured when using VPNs’ Digital fingerprints exist
As we discussed above, there is no such thing as 100% anonymity. A VPN can, of course, hide your IP address, which is good in the scheme of things, but don’t expect that to make you either invisible on the internet or invincible. There are ways to identify you on the internet, even when on a VPN.
One such way is browser fingerprinting. When you use your VPN for everything daily, or when you visit particular sites daily, trackers can take note of your habits to track you.
Do we still recommend a VPN? Well, yes!
We’ve proved this already, but we’ll repeat ourselves and state bluntly that a VPN isn’t foolproof. Yet, we still recommend users to get a VPN, albeit a decent one. A VPN may not provide 100% online protection though it does enough of what is expected. You have to understand that VPN is not a stand-alone solution to every online problem. It is more like a supplementary tool that can aid you with privacy. A VPN is your best bet regarding online security; however, don’t be too dependant on it.
VPNs can allow users to enjoy the internet with greater freedom and anonymity. Online privacy has become a myth, but with a VPN, you come closer to achieving it.