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Privacy and Security on the road- Part 4 VPNs

February 7, 2016
WIFI Pineapple

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself while travelling around is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your traffic.  VPN’s do a number of things to protect you:

  1. Encrypt all data between you and another end point like your work. This will protect data flowing between you and work only when using public WIFI.
  2. Make your traffic appear to be coming from another location to hide your tracks or to appear to be coming from another region (ie to circumvent geoblocking of regional content on the internet like Netflix).
  3. circumvent restrictive filtering policy like in China or at work or school.
  4. Protect you from a man in the middle attack when using public wifi

Why do you need a VPN?

There are a number of good reasons to use a VPN.  But the primary reason is that while travelling and relying on free WIFI like Starbucks or your local KOA, there is an increased risk to your privacy.  Free WIFI services are just that free.  There are no guarantees to protect your privacy from hackers who steal your passwords, or identity.  When doing sensitive tasks like online banking, applying for government services or connecting to work there is an increased risk of harm if the WIFI does get hacked.   Using a VPN will make it more difficult for someone to hack you.

There are a number of types of VPN services

  1. Free Web: these are special sites on the internet that you can go to and the will allow you to anonymously surf the net.  The problem is that they are free and there are literally thousands of these sites and they change almost daily and are all have an Ad based revenue model.  So the primary question should be can you trust a free fly by night service with your private data.
  2. Onion network (TOR): Onion networks have been around for a while and they are where the dark net resides.  People setup sites and services such as selling drugs and guns that are only accessible from inside the Onion network.  The premise of an onion network is like an Onion, there are layers of protection.  Anyone who uses the onion network can become a Node in the network.  So on the one hand it will bounce your traffic thru many different nodes secured and encrypted until you come out the other side with no way of tracing traffic back to you.  No node knows anything more about your traffic than the last node it came from.  The problem with that is that other people’s traffic also goes thru you .  Because of this there have been several legal cases where people have been arrested for crimes they did not commit because the traffic was traced back to their home network, but because it was attached to an Onion network, anyone on the Onion network could have been the source of the crime.
  3. Enterprise VPN client to connect to a specific service (your work).  These are customized VPN connections are used for a single purpose.  They will use a VPN client such as the Cisco VPN client to connect to one service only.  These are very secure and use leading edge encryption.  They are one of the safest ways to use public WIFI, but may be limited to what you can do while connected to them ie you may be able to connect to work servers but not able to surf the net.
  4. Free and Paid VPN clients (like Cyberghost).  These services are probably the most practical options for general purpose protection while surfing on public WIFI.  There are free services and paid services.  Some free services run into the same trust issues as the web based VPN’s.  If you want a free option the best choice may be to go with a paid service that offers a limited free service ie time restrictions or bandwidth restrictions in exchange for free use of their trusted VPN service.  The paid options would give most flexibility as they have less or no restrictions to their use and most of these services can be trusted.  Some services like Cyberghost offer multiple tiers of service from free, to basic to top tier solutions with varying prices, speeds, number of exit nodes you can choose from, and levels of service.  They also offer easy to use apps for various platforms like Windows, Apple, Android etc.

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