Techdirt Podcast Episode 116: The Truth About VPNs

from the not-so-simple dept

For a long time now, "use a VPN" has been the default online privacy advice -- but is it really so effective? Following the recent VPN boom that came on the tails of Congress scrapping new ISP privacy rules, a few security experts have stepped forward to explain how VPNs aren't all they're cracked up to be, and choosing and using one isn't as easy as many articles and social media posts suggest. Among them are this week's guests, Kevin Riggle (who provided a quick and dirty primer with the key suggestion that most people are safer not using a VPN) and Kenn White (who assembled a list of VPNs he deems "terrible" and not without good reason, recommending a roll-your-own solution instead). They join us to dig deeper into the reality of VPNs and hopefully help some people make better choices.

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  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 4 Apr 2017 @ 1:31pm

    Roll your own

    Sounds good at first,
    but if you are the only one
    using it, eventually traffic
    analysis will reveal you.

    You need 'safety in numbers'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2017 @ 1:41pm

    Good source

    I found this to be a really good resource on VPNs: https://thatoneprivacysite.net

    I don't know how much it gets updated but there is a wealth of information on how to choose a good VPN provider as well as a lot of reviews for specific providers. One thing I took away from reading these reviews is it seems like they all suck in one way or another. Some of them are probably good enough though you might be better off rolling your own if you are so inclined.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Cowardly Lion, 4 Apr 2017 @ 2:47pm

      Re: Good source

      Thanks - good link, I've used that site before.

      My take on VPNs is that the more networking knowledge you can muster the more you can improve your safety. Kenn White's "short version" in the link above says everything...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2017 @ 3:40pm

    When the term "VPN" is thrown around in the context of security, which entity are we talking about?

    The wholesale provider that operates the servers?

    The reseller that puts its brand name on it?

    The datacenter owner that rents out servers and bandwidth to the wholesale VPN company?

    It's rare for a "VPN provider" to own and operate all aspects of the service, and just as rare for them to publicly acknowledge this, or to inform customers that their privacy can be infringed by multiple companies as well as by multiple countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2017 @ 4:58pm

    Of course, you can also set up your own VPN server, on your home computer, if your ISP allows servers.

    I have done that on road trips to avoid the outrageous charges that some hotels want to charge for their WiFi, if you want to use streaming services, such as Netflix or YouTube, and will block them unless you pay the higher fee.

    Signing on to the VPN on my home computer lets me avoid that, and the hotel cannot possibly find out what I am up to. They would only know that I was connecting to a VPN on a residential broadband connection, and there is no way they could ever find out what I was doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2017 @ 1:35am

    Great Reporting, but I'm a Little Disappointed

    Not with this podcast; this was the most informative discussion I’ve ever heard about VPNs and I always appreciate Techdirt’s efforts to educate your readers about tech security/privacy issues in ways others aren’t. My security/privacy practices are going to change a bit from here on out (for the better) and I have you guys to thank for that. This is why I support you guys on Patreon, via T-shirt sales, and other promotions and campaigns you run.

    However, for a year or two I’ve been seeing ads regularly on Techdirt for various VPN providers, some of which are on Kenn’s ‘terrible’ list. Many times, these aren’t just sidebar ads, but are Daily Deals that get prominently displayed in the main feed of Techdirt articles. I know there is a disclaimer that these ads aren’t endorsements, but I really don’t buy that (especially in regards to your partnership with PiA, which I’ve specifically used as my VPN for a while now because of that partnership, and in my opinion, your implicit endorsement of their services). In this one small way, I feel a little betrayed.

    I know you have to keep the lights on, and I’m aware of how hard that is for you with bottoming out of the online ad market, not to mention the legal battle you’re in. In general, I also don’t mind ads or partnerships. But when it comes to future partnerships regarding security and privacy products, I’d hope you could be a bit more careful about only working with companies whose products you can fully endorse.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Just felt like I had to get that off my chest. I’ll close by stressing once again how much I appreciate and support the work you do and, in particular, this latest episode of your podcast. It’s the kind of informative and honest reporting I’ve come to love and expect from you guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 3:13am

      Re: Great Reporting, but I'm a Little Disappointed

      Comments like yours are what help make things better. A while back someone (I believe Leigh) explained they try to deliver better ads but sometimes some trash goes through because they are not the ones that select the ads.

      I'll add my own 2 cents here: Troy Hunt went with some sort of curation model. He got rid of the ads altogether and now has a neat sponsorship bar with a text ad for the sponsor. Maybe TD could reduce the number of ads using a mixed system. Things like what you mentioned will still happen but at least random ads will not be the lions share of the mix.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Howard II, 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:04am

      Re: Great Reporting, but I'm a Little Disappointed

      Likewise, I'm surprised and a little bit disappointed that Mike's "regular VPN", "a great VPN" (his words) is apparently completely terrible and oughtn't to be used by anyone.

      Daily Deals / adverts are one thing but that was an endorsement on a personal level.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2017 @ 5:35am

    My 2 cents...

    There are myriad VPNs out there. It's only common sense, given the fact that the government doesn't like it's citizens evading their eavesdropping tactics, that at least *one* of these VPNs is actually a front for the government (very easy for any government to do). The question now is...

    Which one is it?

    If you can't determine that, how can you trust any of them? The feds lie their ass off about everything under the sun. This would be no different (meaning promises that VPNs make are basically worthless when it comes to trust).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 8:09am

    I appreciate Ken White's opinion, but, his VPN analysis is simply his opinion and is no more cogent than that of any other person. The fact that he stoops to denigrate other publication's analysis in order to prop up his own strikes me as petty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2017 @ 9:49am

    Misleading?

    Podcast ended 2 minutes in for me when you confirmed the ISP can't see what you are doing, you are just shifting that to the VPN provider... well, that is sort of the point for most users isn't it?

    I think you are missing the point of why most people use a VPN in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Brandon (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 11:07am

      Re: Misleading?

      I know, right? They could have at least tried to answer your question in the other 37 minutes of the podcast that you didn't listen to. Misleading indeed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:24pm

        Re: Re: Misleading?

        Actually listened until about 5 minutes left in the podcast and understand that they touched on this subject but to the average user it will appear using a VPN on your home connection is not a good idea which they say multiple times throughout, and this is nonsense. I have no idea what you are saying about answering my question, I had none.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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