Editorials

VPNs are Over Sponsored in Modern Media

It's hard to escape the VPN pitch, from YouTube to websites.
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Everything online right now is sponsored by VPNs and I don’t really understand it. You basically are glad handing another company your complete and total internet traffic instead of your home ISP, who now gets instead of mostly encrypted traffic gets all encrypted traffic. Every single tech blogger out there and now even gaming sites are just spamming it with VPN deals from a variety of VPN companies, who I assume are carting over buckets of gold.

Let’s talk about VPNs. So a “Virtual Private Network” is slang for “this thing that connects your PC to other PCs via encrypted tubes over the Internet protecting your privacy get one today.” Which is, really interesting to me. I mean, REALLY interesting to me. In a traditional setup with your current internet, all of your traffic is routed as naked as the day it was born through the tubes that connect the internet and into your ISP, who then with the magical power of silicon and some good ‘ol engineering works like an ancient telephone operator to sling your traffic back and forth across the Internet.

In this situation I’d guess about 80% of your traffic on the modern web is encrypted. The other 20% likely isn’t (blogs and random websites). Most major websites, most major application and anything else is often using SSL. GameTruth uses SSL to protect our traffic from our web server to your computer.

[wp_charts title=”mypie” type=”pie” align=”alignright” margin=”5px 20px” data=”80,20" labels”encrypted traffic,unencrypted traffic]

When you use a VPN, you do the same process but slightly differently. All of your traffic is encrypted on your PC before it’s sent out. Then all of your web traffic, assuming the VPN is setup (DNS leaks is a thing), is routed to your VPN provider. Your VPN provider then unencrypts everything you sent to them (effectively hiding the traffic from your computer to the VPN) then acts as your ISP would in sorting and connecting the traffic. On the reverse, traffic back to your PC is filtered through the VPN, encrypted on their end, sent to your computer where it’s decrypted.

This entire process means that your ISP can’t see what you’re doing, unless they can decrypt the traffic (not outside of the realm of possibility, especially if salt hashes or the keys themselves were shared by the VPN provider). Websites you visit see the IP of your VPN instead of the IP of your computer. Your VPN provider sees all of your traffic, including the unencrypted traffic like random blogs out there.

Your traffic is now completely exposed to the provider you’re paying, including which websites you’re visiting and anything that isn’t encrypted via HTTPS. The traffic remains exposed from the output of their VPN network through the tubes to its destination and back again. You basically are paying for two things:

  1. Hiding your traffic from your ISP and your IP from websites / apps.
  2. Giving a VPN provider complete access to your internet traffic including DNS requests.

The advertising would lead to believe your traffic is more stable and secure, but you’re introducing extra complexity into visiting the internet and in the US, a VPN isn’t needed for anything that you would be doing legally online and, within illegal pursuits, most consumer VPNs are going to not help as they often are caught giving away personal information and leaking data.

So why would so many influencers and other websites promote such a dangerous product? I don’t know outside of the money is probably good, but look at the comments in regards to any VPN guide. You’ll see a ton of “fellow Humans” working the beat to provide “personal feedback on how amazing XYZ VPN is.”

My best advice is if you’re in the mood for some extra online security, invest in some knowledge about how the Internet works and avoid scams like these. VPNs are bad news unless you have a specific reason for one, like you live in a country with an oppressive regime and you’re trying to avoid them snooping on your traffic (hint: the mere act of using a VPN is extremely visible to the ISP still) and even then, who is to say the VPN isn’t snooping?

At the onset of the Internet, it was scary to just understand other Humans were existing in this virtual world. Now, our lives are interconnected – from our careers to our personal time. You don’t want that information seeping into the hands of a major corporation to sell your data off anymore than the big companies are already doing.

Bonus: When a VPN Makes Sense

Now this wouldn’t be a Game Truth rant without some extra education. A good time a VPN may be worth it is when using untrusted public wifi, like within a hotel. While you do risk handing your information over to the VPN, at least with a trusted and well researched VPN or as an alternative, just use your mobile internet if you get good reception in the hotel and that way you don’t touch the hotel’s public Internet.

To counter that it appears more and more the public wifi networks are becoming smarter and segregating users on the network better than ever before. You’re probably far more at risk from someone hijacking a USB charger in public to download your phone’s data than from the wifi network, assuming that the hotel or public wifi hotspot is a newer model.


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