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Don't use VPN services.

Don't use VPN services.

No, seriously, don't. You're probably reading this because you've asked what VPN service to use, and this is the answer.

Note: The content in this post does not apply to using VPN for their intended purpose; that is, as a virtual private (internal) network. It only applies to using it as a glorified proxy, which is what every third-party "VPN provider" does.

  • A Russian translation of this article can be found here, contributed by Timur Demin.
  • A Turkish translation can be found here, contributed by agyild.
  • There's also this article about VPN services, which is honestly better written (and has more cat pictures!) than my article.

Why not?

Because a VPN in this sense is just a glorified proxy. The VPN provider can see all your traffic, and do with it what they want - including logging.

But my provider doesn't log!

There is no way for you to verify that, and of course this is what a malicious VPN provider would claim as well. In short: the only safe assumption is that every VPN provider logs.

And remember that it is in a VPN provider's best interest to log their users - it lets them deflect blame to the customer, if they ever were to get into legal trouble. The $10/month that you're paying for your VPN service doesn't even pay for the lawyer's coffee, so expect them to hand you over.

But a provider would lose business if they did that!

I'll believe that when HideMyAss goes out of business. They gave up their users years ago, and this was widely publicized. The reality is that most of their customers will either not care or not even be aware of it.

But I pay anonymously, using Bitcoin/PaysafeCard/Cash/drugs!

Doesn't matter. You're still connecting to their service from your own IP, and they can log that.

But I want more security!

VPNs don't provide security. They are just a glorified proxy.

But I want more privacy!

VPNs don't provide privacy, with a few exceptions (detailed below). They are just a proxy. If somebody wants to tap your connection, they can still do so - they just have to do so at a different point (ie. when your traffic leaves the VPN server).

But I want more encryption!

Use SSL/TLS and HTTPS (for centralized services), or end-to-end encryption (for social or P2P applications). VPNs can't magically encrypt your traffic - it's simply not technically possible. If the endpoint expects plaintext, there is nothing you can do about that.

When using a VPN, the only encrypted part of the connection is from you to the VPN provider. From the VPN provider onwards, it is the same as it would have been without a VPN. And remember, the VPN provider can see and mess with all your traffic.

But I want to confuse trackers by sharing an IP address!

Your IP address is a largely irrelevant metric in modern tracking systems. Marketers have gotten wise to these kind of tactics, and combined with increased adoption of CGNAT and an ever-increasing amount of devices per household, it just isn't a reliable data point anymore.

Marketers will almost always use some kind of other metric to identify and distinguish you. That can be anything from a useragent to a fingerprinting profile. A VPN cannot prevent this.

So when should I use a VPN?

There are roughly two usecases where you might want to use a VPN:

  1. You are on a known-hostile network (eg. a public airport WiFi access point, or an ISP that is known to use MITM), and you want to work around that.
  2. You want to hide your IP from a very specific set of non-government-sanctioned adversaries - for example, circumventing a ban in a chatroom or preventing anti-piracy scareletters.

In the second case, you'd probably just want a regular proxy specifically for that traffic - sending all of your traffic over a VPN provider (like is the default with almost every VPN client) will still result in the provider being able to snoop on and mess with your traffic.

However, in practice, just don't use a VPN provider at all, even for these cases.

So, then... what?

If you absolutely need a VPN, and you understand what its limitations are, purchase a VPS and set up your own (either using something like Streisand or manually - I recommend using Wireguard). I will not recommend any specific providers (diversity is good!), but there are plenty of cheap ones to be found on LowEndTalk.

But how is that any better than a VPN service?

A VPN provider specifically seeks out those who are looking for privacy, and who may thus have interesting traffic. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that a VPN provider will be malicious or a honeypot, than that an arbitrary generic VPS provider will be.

So why do VPN services exist? Surely they must serve some purpose?

Because it's easy money. You just set up OpenVPN on a few servers, and essentially start reselling bandwidth with a markup. You can make every promise in the world, because nobody can verify them. You don't even have to know what you're doing, because again, nobody can verify what you say. It is 100% snake-oil.

So yes, VPN services do serve a purpose - it's just one that benefits the provider, not you.


This post is licensed under the WTFPL or CC0, at your choice. You may distribute, use, modify, translate, and license it in any way.


Before you comment: Be aware that any non-constructive comments will be removed. This includes advertising for VPN providers (yes, even when you phrase the marketing claims like a question), trolling, harassment, insults towards other people, claims that have already been addressed in the article, and so on.

If your comment isn't a genuine question or a concrete counterargument supported by evidence, it probably doesn't belong here.

@LokiFawkes
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@M-um-p-i-t-z I can answer your entire response by answering your last sentence. You're not protecting your privacy. This is called the action bias.

But sure, if you think Firefox is protecting you by changing your fingerprint, go ahead and double check with the EFF.
No, it's not.

You have to set everything manually, make your canvas generic (thereby also limiting the screenspace in your browser or glitching certain graphics), and put every tab in a container. And even then, it's still not enough.

I'm a firefox user, with container tabs, strict privacy settings to the point that about:config is unrecognizable from the original, whole nine yards. And yet sites still find ways to worm cross site cookies across the containers. It's a neverending arms race, and the one thing they're not concerned with, is the IP address.

@LokiFawkes
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@nukeop Let's pretend you aren't the butt of the joke in this entire thread. Just for a second.
To what are you referring?

@LokiFawkes
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LokiFawkes commented Aug 6, 2023

@nukeop
You did not answer. To what are you referring?
Have you forgotten that it is you who knows less than nothing on the topic as you have proven multiple times in this thread?

Also, github gists is a discussion platform.

@vanderplancke
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@nukeop You did not answer. To what are you referring? Have you forgotten that it is you who knows less than nothing on the topic as you have proven multiple times in this thread?

Also, github gists is a discussion platform.

You know nukeop is a vpn shill right. Likes to attack anyone calling it out on it's grift. Ignore it and it will go away.

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ghost commented Aug 10, 2023

I agree. though I use one, because i trust it more, travel and torrenting

@M-u-m-p-i-t-z
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@LokiFawkes

@M-um-p-i-t-z I can answer your entire response by answering your last sentence. You're not protecting your privacy. This is called the action bias.

But sure, if you think Firefox is protecting you by changing your fingerprint, go ahead and double check with the EFF. No, it's not.

What is this supposed to prove? But I did it for you with the result that I double check on two days with 3 containers with different IPs from VPNs and I get 3 Yes in every single tab on both days. Tor Browser also. Seems like u have a mass of changes in about:config, that you look unique to the side. I am not. And your IP can be tracked, so they do so. Whether this is relevant or whether you do not want to believe it is irrelevant. So stop spreading such generalizations, they are not true.
Screenshot

@clippycoder
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clippycoder commented Aug 15, 2023

A few comments:

  • I think you are being to harsh on VPN services here. I understand that we cannot know for sure if a specific VPN provider is not logging you, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that none like that exist. It's a bit of a gamble, maybe, but sometimes that's better than nothing.
  • Additionally, I use a free VPN service to access geo-blocked content and to bypass network restrictions. I don't really trust it's privacy value, given that it's free, but for my purposes I'm content with that. And also, being a free tier of an otherwise paid service, it has an nice-looking and intuitive UI, much more than can be said for many open source projects.

Overall, given that VPNs provide benefits outside of privacy, and that privacy may very well be also provided, I think VPNs, even paid ones, have their place. But I don't think that this should detract from your argument that with no verifiability, VPN privacy may often be false advertising.

@tobx
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tobx commented Aug 30, 2023

I am pretty sure the main selling point of VPN services is to use IP ranges of foreign countries in order to circumvent being caught when doing illegal file sharing. Copyright holders work together with local authorities and local authorities can request user information from local internet providers. As long as the user's IP is from a country where there is no cooperation between authorities in this regard, copyright holders will not even try. So it does not even matter if there are logs or not. Even if, at one point in time, authorities would work together and if there are logs, chances are that the user's IP addresses are not stored anymore by the users actual internet provider or that the case becomes time-barred. Furthermore as long as there was not a single case of mass charges against VPN users, those users will keep using VPNs.

I think users that understand enough of IT to know what a VPN service is and that are able to use it and only use it legally for privacy and against tracking are quite a minority.

@douma
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douma commented Aug 31, 2023

I use VPN (OpenVPN with Pihole), with a private/ dedicated ip address, on a private VPS server, only to hide my traffic from my ISP (ISP's have the biggest share in selling data), to hide my true location for the websites I visit, to block ads and to block sites like facebook, google from tracking me... and to log my own network activities. In this way I have found a virus on my computer sending packages of information every hour to a certain host. Legally they could find out what websites I visit, but a VPN adds another threshold for them to find out. Don´t give them (legal agencies) any reason to track you down. Doing something illegal on the internet is extremely stupid, even with a VPN.

@eos1973
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eos1973 commented Sep 14, 2023

quite a lot of comments and discussions, apparently there is no complete solution.
Except acquiring a service from some server in a corner of Eastern Europe. XD

@nukeop
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nukeop commented Sep 14, 2023

Mullvad VPN is easily the best

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ghost commented Sep 14, 2023

Hello everyone.

These same questions that can be asked here about the cloud's open source. It is contradictory that open software works in cloud like sass (software as a service) or baas (backend as a service) etc. Because, in theory, we do not have access to any source code and the control of this server.

Some people have created the software license as AGPL for this. Although the company distributes the software to AGPL, you can never check which function is being performed. First, because we have a feeling of arrest, because you don't have the money to execute the software with your own infrastructure (hosting, physical server). And second, because we have the feeling of not knowing the future direction of the cloud product or service.

Just as we cannot trust VPNs, I don't think we should trust cloud services that uses open license as AGPL, MIT, GPLv2, GPLv3 etc. Does these concerns of mine make sense?

@panzer-arc
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This approach is parroted in various MSM articles but doesn't address all the potential concerns. I trust VPN providers more than my ISP. I see no evidence that I should trust my ISP by default even if they don't MITM me. They would know every single domain I connect to on all of my devices if I didn't tunnel my traffic. Why can't I find an explanation of how my data is used/stored on their site?
https://www.privacyguides.org/en/basics/vpn-overview/#should-i-use-a-vpn

@nukeop
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nukeop commented Sep 30, 2023

Yeah, it's a list of defeatist, often false or easily refuted bullet points written in a style of total confidence, which to some impressionable people may look like competence. Some of the bullet points are actually strawmen that nobody who uses VPNs would argue.

@Finoderi
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Finoderi commented Oct 2, 2023

Why can't I find an explanation of how my data is used/stored on their site?

Can you find something like that on the site of you favourite VPN service?
Have you actually read articles that short summary on privacyguides.org is referring to?

@rfc-2549
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rfc-2549 commented Oct 2, 2023

Mullvad is the only good VPN services
Either that or tor

@humanlyhuman
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humanlyhuman commented Oct 4, 2023

Mullvad is the only good VPN services Either that or tor

ivpn is pretty good too
check out https://www.ivpn.net/blog/why-you-dont-need-a-vpn

@sjorspa
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sjorspa commented Oct 13, 2023

A valid reason for VPN is by NOT want to hide your VPN but make sure you connect with a trusted one, IE if you have a dynamic IP and need to go to a firewalled site, this might be a very valid point. Another valid point can be Geolocation barriers, IE many content providers block based on your countries IP. The other points are pretty valid by the way. For real privacy use Tor and make sure that you don't login with accounts that you also use on your normal connection.

@sneer69
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sneer69 commented Oct 27, 2023

"A VPN provider specifically seeks out those who are looking for privacy, and who may thus have interesting traffic. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that a VPN provider will be malicious or a honeypot, than that an arbitrary generic VPS provider will be."

Can I see that statistic and your dataset?

@papahuge
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papahuge commented Nov 3, 2023

image
^
I'm pretty sure this is why most people need a glorified proxy service.

@5aturnius
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image ^ I'm pretty sure this is why most people need a glorified proxy service.

Precisely. I cannot believe the idiocy of morons on the internet with the idea that there is some way to outsmart intelligence agencies with the smartest people on the planet working together stacked against them. That there are thus conversely certain activities that "expose" one to said agencies. We need legislation to fight this battle on the same scale that this violation of user privacy operates on.

@nukeop
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nukeop commented Nov 29, 2023

Leaked NSA documents prove that they are powerless against TOR and have been since its inception.

@tobx
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tobx commented Nov 29, 2023

@5aturnius

Precisely. I cannot believe the idiocy of morons on the internet with the idea that there is some way to outsmart intelligence agencies with the smartest people on the planet working together stacked against them. That there are thus conversely certain activities that "expose" one to said agencies. We need legislation to fight this battle on the same scale that this violation of user privacy operates on.

The smartest people on the planet generally do not work for government agencies, because they pay less than private companies. The ones that do not care so much about money often have a problem with intelligence agencies and work for the science mostly at universities. Still, they have very good people and apart from probably not being the smartest people on the planet, they have money and power. That is probably not enough to hack security standards like VPN or encryption algorithms, but they can force companies to cooperate by legislation or pay companies to get into systems or pay to get software or hardware vulnerabilities to hack into systems.

That being said, you do not use VPNs to outsmart intelligence agencies that work together against you. If you are really so criminal or unlucky that you want to hide from intelligence agencies, then you use VPNs or better TOR in order to not draw any attention to yourself, so they won't even start to work against you.

@ahydronous
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Dumbest article ever. Completely glosses over the utmost mission to privacy Mulvad has, or the fact that Private Internet Access is court-tested.

@Finoderi
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Finoderi commented Dec 8, 2023

utmost mission to privacy

Someone can type that unironically. Fascinating.

@ahydronous
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Someone can type that unironically. Fascinating.

Someone can be this dumb unironically. Fascinating.

You can pay for Mulvad by sending in a letter with cash money. All you get back (and what they know) is an account number.

Private Internet Access has been audited too, btw : )

Anyway, I'm done here. Anyone reading this will realize how moronic this article is and just sign up for a good VPN.

Byee

@Finoderi
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Finoderi commented Dec 9, 2023

OK. For those who can read unlike that chap.
PIA is a US based company. It will obey US laws by definition no matter what. Furthermore the company still uses physical drives to store user data, and those drives can be ceased by authorities.

Mullvad is better in that regard. But Sweden is a member of 14 Eyes Alliance and not a completely safe jurisdiction for a VPN provider.

@tobx
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tobx commented Dec 9, 2023

Anyway, I'm done here. Anyone reading this will realize how moronic this article is and just sign up for a good VPN.

I cannot speak for everyone, but the aggressiveness in your writing makes me stay away from Mullvad.

Your arguments also make me trust less. „Sending a letter with money“ is trying to tell a potential customer, that you have no private data, so nothing could ever happen. But that only distracts from the fact, that you cannot prove that there is no logging. If Mullvad logs account number with real IP, „money in a letter“ does not help at all.

Even if there were court decisions in the past with no log files, or audits, that does not change the fact that a VPN is always able to implement logging in the future for all or specific customers. You can also disable logs for audits and turn them on afterwards. Also, how can we trust the auditor?

There is no way for a VPN provider to prove that there are no logs, so the article makes fully sense. The fact that you call it „moronic“ without providing good arguments, just makes the article even more convincing.

@maoydev
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maoydev commented Feb 21, 2024

@BrodyDoggo I can explain this. The purpose of a VPN is to provide a tunneled connection into a private network. It's like a proxy, except you can traverse firewalls and connect to devices over any port or protocol through it. In a proper VPN, you even get your own IP address in the private network. However, this is not how clearnet VPN services like NordVPN or ExpressVPN work. Even when they use real VPN protocols, they're just putting you into a NAT network and hiding you behind one IP address, their IP address. Essentially, the same as a proxy. They can control what ports you get to use, what protocols you get to use. Essentially, the same as a proxy. At best, with no restrictions on ports and protocols, you'd be looking at something called a SOCKS proxy. In many actual VPN setups, you might even set your virtual network adapter that's connected to the VPN, as a SOCKS proxy to prevent direct access to the clearnet. But these VPN services you see out there range from web proxies to SOCKS proxies, advertised as being more private than a proxy, and often come with proprietary apps that strip SSL so they can collect and sell your browsing habits. They even advertise this SSL-stripping function as virus protection, when in reality, their VPN cannot protect you from viruses even by stripping SSL (though if they're honest they can try), but it can make them money by collecting data. By stripping SSL, typically by replacing your root certificate so your browsing happens in an encrypted form that they can read but outsiders still can't, they not only can get your browsing habits beyond just IP addresses and DNS requests, but they can also harvest metadata AND the payload of the connection, including passwords and other personally identifying information that would have otherwise been transmitted without a man in the middle. So really the difference between a VPN and a proxy is the P in VPN - private. If it doesn't provide a tunnel to a private network, it's not a VPN, regardless of what protocol it uses or what its name is. VPN - Virtual connection to private resources like company servers Also a VPN - Virtual connection to your company or home's private network, doubling as a proxy for the clearnet Not a VPN - A tunnel to a web proxy, branded as a VPN, meant to look like you're browsing from the server you connected to rather than from where you are

If you still want to call these VPNs, the distinction would then be between Virtual Private Networks and Virtual Public Networks.

Is there any difference to them on a local perspective, like isp traffic protection and such?

@Finoderi
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Overquoting should be punishable by death.

@LokiFawkes
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LokiFawkes commented Feb 21, 2024

@maoydev Between not having a proxy and having one? Not really.
Without these services, most your ISP will know is what IP you're talking to, and currently between CDN centralization and Web2 "just trust the cloud" centralization, too many services share the same IP addresses with each other for it to really matter. Aside from that, if they're clever they may catch the SNI at the start of your connection. They still can't make anything of it if you have a bunch of ongoing sessions. Once ECH catches on (and browsers start supporting ECH while using a nameserver of your own choosing), that vulnerability will be dead too. You stand to lose more privacy than you stand to gain when trusting a Virtual Public Network.

@vanderplancke
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Hmmm the lone vpn simp is still at it. Almost like she gets kickbacks for each service sold.

Thinking logically, do you genuinely believe that the government would allow a means of hiding your ISP they themselves couldn't track?

@nukeop
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nukeop commented Feb 21, 2024

Can you keep unhinged conspiracy theories out of the thread? You're not making your side look sane

@vanderplancke
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vanderplancke commented Feb 22, 2024

Do you believe the government would allow a product they couldn't track? Yes or no? The likes of Tom Clancy and Richard Marcinko discussed communications security and spying. I would side with the experts over a shill who decries any criticism of VPNs.

@Aphexed
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Aphexed commented Feb 24, 2024

I visited IP vanish for coverage. I made it through paying for the first month then I was blocked because of Cloud flare and my email

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