Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

@joepie91
Last active November 30, 2023 17:10
Star You must be signed in to star a gist
Embed
What would you like to do?
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.

@eos1973
Copy link

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
Copy link

nukeop commented Sep 14, 2023

Mullvad VPN is easily the best

Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

rfc-2549 commented Oct 2, 2023

Mullvad is the only good VPN services
Either that or tor

@humanlyhuman
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

papahuge commented Nov 3, 2023

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

@5aturnius
Copy link

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
Copy link

nukeop commented Nov 29, 2023

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

@tobx
Copy link

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.

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment