VPN - another tool to use against "Big Tech" (Part One)


How would you feel about posting your home address in the comments section? My guess is that it gives you the willies just thinking about it. Using your IP address on the Internet is not as bad - but it should still give you the willies.

In this series of articles, I am going to describe what a VPN is and why you should use one. I'll break it into two main reasons - 'to hide from the outside world's bad guys' and 'to hide from your own Internet Service Provider (ISP)'

First, let's start with the origin of what most of us know as the reason you use a VPN - your employer. In the dinosaur-days, companies would only want you accessing company machines if you were in the building - that way no bad guys could get to the really sensitive stuff. But what to do about critical employees that HAD to get to those machines remotely? Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) were born. It looked like this:

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Let's say you had to go to an important meeting in Los Angeles, but all the corporate machines were back in Sacramento. You would use the hotel wi-fi for access, but use special software to build a VPN Tunnel between your hotel room and the Sacramento office. From that point forward, the only thing the hotel wi-fi could see was the outside of the tunnel.

On the far end, all the computers saw you as being in the building in Sacramento. This let you do your job. It should be noted that, when browsing the Internet, all of THOSE machines saw you as sitting in Sacramento also. This is important to understand for later.

So why would you need to do something like that now for anything besides what you do for work? Many reasons. This article has it laid out quite well (although they ARE trying to sell things, so take it with a grain of salt.) I am going to break down their bullet points with what I've seen actually happen in the real world.

Send you personalized spam - This does happen, but there are much better ways to target ads to you. I'd add this in as another bonus reason to use a VPN but not a main concern.

Learn your geographic location - This is absolutely a concern. If you've never done this before, you can see what you're broadcasting to the internet about yourself by going to this website. Now, if you recall the question at the top of this article - you may not be giving away your EXACT location, but you are giving away enough for someone to start to build a nice profile around you.

Restrict your access to certain services - I would say this is the main driver for VPN usage today. You may pay a service for specific content, but not be able to access it because you are sitting in a different region. Many use a VPN to virtually 'sit' in the correct region to view the content. Remember this item for later when we go deeper into your ISP watching and adjusting your connection.

Prevent you from playing online games - This is a stretch (and I suspect if you are banned from a game, MOST of the time there is a good reason), but the general concern applies. If you are using your OWN address, someone can ban that address and *poof* - no more for you. Doesn't matter if it is a game, social media, video, whatever. If your IP is banned, you would have to call your ISP and ask for a new address or start using a VPN.

Execute a DoS/DDoS attack - Without going in the guts of what Dos/DDoS attacks are - just know that if you use your home address, someone can use tools to make many many computers try to talk to you at once - effectively killing your connection. This doesn't happen often to the standard user but it DOES happen and it just one more item on the list that should be taking into account.

Discover personal information about you - from the article itself, it notes "if a hacker knows your IP address, they can track down your ISP. They could then use a phishing attack to try and convince the ISP to turn over whatever PII it has on you." Theoretically correct and a concern. I'd say a BIGGER concern is when you use an airport or coffee shop's wi-fi where your neighbors and coffee shop equipment can partially see everything you are doing. Absolutely use a VPN in this case.

Frame you for crimes - Not a huge concern, but technically correct. Usually gets sorted out once investigators get involved, but it's one more bad thing that could happen.

Track your activity - This happens a LOT, from your ISP, to your employer, to everything out on the net that knows they can resell your activity somewhere.

Sue you for copyright infringement - Please follow the laws wherever you are. However, I left this point in because if a movie studio or music label even THINK your machine was involved in downloading copyrighted material they have automated ways to take action against you

That's a lot to take in, yeah? Working under the assumption that 'Well, noone would ever want to specifically target me.' is starting to be naïve. It no longer has to be a highly-skilled hacker trying to turn a profit - but a computer-savvy kid that got mad at you for any reason.

 

Warning!: Often the VPN provider still stores information on you! So don't think that if you are using a VPN, you can do anything willy-nilly with no consequences. If a Federal Agency requests information, it's very possible they will hand it over to them. However, in this case, we are simply talking about 'vanilla' behavior but using a VPN to not leak information about ourselves.

This ends Part One - I think that's enough to arm you with reasons why using a VPN to mask your true address is a good idea when hiding from 'bad actors' on the Internet. As always, if you want to hunt me down and chat at me about any of this, I lurk in the BAT Brigade Discord here.

In Part Two, I am going to expand on the topic by digging into how your ISP watches what you do and what they do with it.

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BAT_Brigade_Griff
BAT_Brigade_Griff

Old-school geek making his way into web3 - one coin at a time.


Privacy Matters
Privacy Matters

An old-school geek's thoughts on cyber-security, privacy, and the future of the web - especially this new fangled thing called 'web3'. The Net is part of billions of lives and the evolution of 'Big Tech' is forcing individual users to have to learn how to protect themselves and their information. Your 'identity' is more than just data.

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