Incognito mode: why it’s time to stop paying for a VPN



For over a decade, security experts have recommended using a VPN to protect your internet traffic from bad actors trying to spy on you. But just as tech gadgets get obsolete over time, so do some tech tips.

The reality is that web security has improved so much over the past few years that VPN services, which charge monthly subscription fees as expensive as Netflix, provide unnecessary protection for most privacy-conscious people. some security researchers said. Many of the more popular VPN services are now less reliable than in the past, as they were bought by larger companies with shady track records. It’s a breakthrough when it comes to using a VPN service, which intercepts our internet traffic. If you can’t trust a product that claims to protect your privacy, what’s the point? “Trusting these people is really essential,” Matthew Green, an IT scientist who studies encryption, said of VPN providers. “There’s no good way to find out what they’re doing with your data, which they have enormous control over. “

For several years, I subscribed to a popular VPN service called Private Internet Access. In 2019, I learned that the service had been acquired by Kape Technologies, a security company in London. Kape was previously called Crossrider, a company that had been called by researchers at Google and the University of California for developing malware. I immediately canceled my subscription. Over the past five years, Kape has purchased several other popular VPN services, including CyberGhost VPN, Zenmate, and, last month, ExpressVPN under a $ 936 million deal. This year, Kape also bought a bunch of VPN review sites that give top marks to the VPN services it owns.

A spokeswoman for Kape said the long-shutdown Crossrider was a development platform that was misused by those who distributed malware. She said Kape’s VPN review sites maintain their independent editorial standards. “It sort of sets a disturbing precedent from a consumer perspective,” said Sven Taylor, founder of tech blog Restore Privacy. “When the average user goes online to search for product information, does he know that what he is reading may have been written by the company that owns the end product? “

One caveat: VPNs are still great for certain applications, such as in authoritarian countries where citizens use technology to make it appear as if they are using the internet in other places. This gives them access to web content that they normally cannot see. But as a mainstream privacy tool, this is no longer an ideal solution.

Not that long ago, many websites lacked security mechanisms to prevent bad actors from listening to what people were doing when they were browsing their sites, opening the door to their data being hacked. It has helped VPN services become a must-have security product. VPN providers have offered to help hide browsing information from users by creating an encrypted tunnel on their servers, through which all of your web traffic passes. But over the past five years, the internet has undergone immense changes. Many privacy advocates and tech companies have pushed website builders to rewrite their sites to support HTTPS, a security protocol that encrypts traffic and fixes most of the aforementioned issues.

Chen is a technical reporter at NYT © 2021

The New York Times

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