People use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) for lots of reasons, both legitimate and… less so. They are commonly required for remote access to workplace computers by employees. They are used by people who do their banking from public WiFi networks. They are used by people who can’t afford to pay for dozens of streaming and cable services and instead rely on still-considered-illegal downloads of copyrighted media. And some people use VPNs to get around ridiculous regional limitations on access to streaming media.
I myself fit into at least two of those general categories of VPN users. I won’t say which.
Because people want (and rightly feel they deserve) access to their culture, and because Big Media is willing to go after absolutely anyone who dares to defy their stranglehold on culture, savvy media consumers rely on VPNs to avoid costly (and absurd) lawsuits.
But sadly, some VPN services exist only to fleece gullible consumers. There are numerous ways in which a VPN provider can cause problems for its customers:
- Faulty service can leave the customer’s activity exposed.
- Logging customer activity, and being willing to provide those logs to Big Media’s law enforcement lackeys, essentially renders a VPN service pointless.
- Requiring installation of software that is then used by the VPN provider to route other customer traffic through the customer’s computer is just a horrible idea.
- Selling customer information to anyone who wants it.
- Poor security can lead to customer data being exposed.
Recently, a group of VPN providers, all owned and operated by one company in Hong Kong, was discovered to be doing many of the problematic things listed above. Needless to say, all of these VPN providers should be avoided:
- UFO VPN
- FAST VPN
- FREE VPN
- SUPER VPN
- Flash VPN
- Secure VPN
- Rabbit VPN
In general, VPN services should be carefully researched before using them. There are numerous VPN rating sites on the web, but many of them are maintained by the VPN providers themselves, and not to be trusted. TorrentFreak’s “Which VPN Providers Really Take Privacy Seriously” series is both trustworthy and comprehensive, and focuses on investigating the privacy claims of VPN providers.
There’s also a growing chorus of voices encouraging people to reconsider their reliance on VPN services for privacy, arguing that the way most of these services work provides little actual privacy for their customers. Techdirt has more along those lines.
There’s more on the welivesecurity site.
Brian Krebs recently investigated the extremely shady proxy service provider Microleaves (currently being rebranded as ‘Shifter.io’). This service uses a huge network of computers runing their software, often installed without the knowledge of their owners.