Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

@joepie91
Last active April 11, 2024 09:28
Show Gist options
  • Save joepie91/5a9909939e6ce7d09e29 to your computer and use it in GitHub Desktop.
Save joepie91/5a9909939e6ce7d09e29 to your computer and use it in GitHub Desktop.
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.

@ahydronous
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

Overquoting should be punishable by death.

@LokiFawkes
Copy link

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
Copy link

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
Copy link

nukeop commented Feb 21, 2024

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

@vanderplancke
Copy link

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
Copy link

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

@ipkpjersi
Copy link

VPNs are shared, VPSes themselves (not the host) are not, so your VPS gets tied to you - not great for privacy, is it? VPNs are great for bypassing censorship in countries like China with censorship problems and you don't need to setup your own to do that, it's kinda overkill.

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

It doesn't touch on bypassing censorship in restrictive countries either.

@Finoderi
Copy link

Finoderi commented Mar 22, 2024

so your VPS gets tied to you - not great for privacy, is it?

You get an external IP or IPs from a pool of that VPS-provider. I don't see much difference.

VPNs are great for bypassing censorship in countries like China with censorship problems...

It can be done with limited success and the result is far from great.

@ipkpjersi
Copy link

You get an external IP or IPs from a pool of that VPS-provider. I don't see much difference.

Sure, I can explain with difference. With a VPS, that IP is specifically tied to you for as long as you are renting that VPS. With a VPN, there is a shared pool of IPs where any individual IP can be used by multiple people at the exact same time - that's the difference. IPs are shared, not dedicated/unique.

It can be done with limited success and the result is far from great.

I guess we just disagree on this, then. VPNs are very important to these types of countries.

@Finoderi
Copy link

IPs are shared, not dedicated/unique.

Well, it's possible to choose another IP from the same pool after a while. I don't think a smaller pool compromises your identity that much but may be I'm wrong.

VPNs are very important to these types of countries.

I live in such country. The connection speed of VPN is tolerable most of the time but sometimes it slows to a crawl. And from time to time all VPN traffic, including wireguard protocol, is blocked for several hours for some reason. And there is nothing I can do on my end. Choosing another VPN provider doesn't make any difference. In these cases shadowsocks proxy with the server side on VPS works slightly better but not by much.

@ipkpjersi
Copy link

ipkpjersi commented Mar 22, 2024

Well, it's possible to choose another IP from the same pool after a while. I don't think a smaller pool compromises your identity that much but may be I'm wrong.

You aren't understanding my point. Two or more people can have the same IP address at the exact same time with a traditional VPN service, whereas rolling your own VPN via a VPS means that public IP address assigned to you is only used by you and not anybody else (since you are the only one using the VPN and you are also the one responsible for hosting the VPN). That's part of why traditional VPN services claim "anonymity", because multiple people can be using the same public IP address at the exact same time, you don't know "who" is really using it. In theory, with a traditional VPN service, you could have dozens or hundreds of people using the same public IP address at the exact same time.

@zefir-git
Copy link

zefir-git commented Mar 24, 2024

Well, it's possible to choose another IP from the same pool after a while. I don't think a smaller pool compromises your identity that much but may be I'm wrong.

You aren't understanding my point. Two or more people can have the same IP address at the exact same time with a traditional VPN service, whereas rolling your own VPN via a VPS means that public IP address assigned to you is only used by you and not anybody else (since you are the only one using the VPN and you are also the one responsible for hosting the VPN). That's part of why traditional VPN services claim "anonymity", because multiple people can be using the same public IP address at the exact same time, you don't know "who" is really using it. In theory, with a traditional VPN service, you could have dozens or hundreds of people using the same public IP address at the exact same time.

Most hosting providers will sell you additional IPs for your VPS at €1/mo and you can rotate your IPS all you want (and get completely new ones every month). And you can share your VPN with as many people as you like. So for the cheapest €13/mo N**dVPN plan you can get a server with like 10+ IPs, share with all your friends and even sell it if you want.

When multiple people use 1 IP, the service you are connecting to doesn't know that. So if it tracks an IP, it tracks it the same way regardless if it's from a VPS or VPN. Your VPS could as well be a VPN host used by thousands of people. That's why no service identifies users by IP. Even your home network IP will change (unless you're paying for one that doesn't). I won't even start talking about mobile data IPs.

If you want 1000% anonymity, you can't get that with anything online. If someone really really wants to know who you are, they can. "No log" VPNs have proven to have logs in the past, and if you don't control the VPN yourself to know for sure, are you willing to risk your 1000% security requirement based on trust in a corporation? And if you have a VPS, authorities can always find who you are through the VPS hosting provider. You can't get a new internet subscription without the ISP knowing who you are, so that's out of the options as well.

Furthermore, any service that really wants to, can easily block access to all VPS or VPN etc IPs. How? Every IP belongs to an ASN and all ASNs are publicly registered. Is the ASN a residential ISP? Or is it an ISP for data centres?

Don't waste money on VPN. Waste significantly less money on VPS.

@dxgldotorg
Copy link

dxgldotorg commented Mar 24, 2024

Except that many VPS providers are very stingy on IP allocations and will require you to provide justification before they sell you any more IPs. Linode for instance even calls out certain reasons like multiple website domains as not valid excuses because virtual servers and SNI allow multiple sites to share an IP.

They are a lot more generous with IPv6 but of course that cannot connect without a proxy to IPv4-only endpoints.

@ipkpjersi
Copy link

Most hosting providers will sell you additional IPs for your VPS at €1/mo and you can rotate your IPS all you want (and get completely new ones every month). And you can share your VPN with as many people as you like. So for the cheapest €13/mo N**dVPN plan you can get a server with like 10+ IPs, share with all your friends and even sell it if you want.

Hosting providers can be pretty strict about this actually, you'd be surprised.

When multiple people use 1 IP, the service you are connecting to doesn't know that. So if it tracks an IP, it tracks it the same way regardless if it's from a VPS or VPN. Your VPS could as well be a VPN host used by thousands of people. That's why no service identifies users by IP. Even your home network IP will change (unless you're paying for one that doesn't). I won't even start talking about mobile data IPs.

Sure, that's fair, but a VPS is much less likely to be used as a VPN host than an actual VPN host itself with it's own rented/purchased dedicated hardware. A VPS is much more likely to be a 1-to-1 type of situation.

"No log" VPNs have proven to have logs in the past

Except for the ones that have, you know, literally been tested in court. Of course, that's not to say that they won't change it in the future, but still better than having it not tested at all.

Furthermore, any service that really wants to, can easily block access to all VPS or VPN etc IPs. How? Every IP belongs to an ASN and all ASNs are publicly registered. Is the ASN a residential ISP? Or is it an ISP for data centres?

Sure, but a lot of companies will avoid this because they realize there are countries with horrible censorship and don't want to punish legitimate users from those countries.

One thing I agree with you 10000% on, if you want 1000% anonymity, don't go online - it really boils down to that, it's always possible to find out who you are if someone really wants to.

Ultimately, VPNs and VPSes have different use cases and provide different functionality. I feel like people want to hate on VPNs because it's cool to do so (although I admit there are legitimate criticisms of VPNs), but they actually do have legitimate uses like easily avoiding censorship in countries with heavy censorship and they can work pretty well for this because people do use them for this.

@zefir-git
Copy link

Hosting providers can be pretty strict about this actually, you'd be surprised.

No reasonable providers are. Especially if they don't give you port 25 by default (used for SMTP and sending mail). Hosting providers would only be hurt if you use their IPs to send spam mail and get them into blocklists and unusable for other clients for mail.

Sure, that's fair, but a VPS is much less likely to be used as a VPN host than an actual VPN host itself with it's own rented/purchased dedicated hardware. A VPS is much more likely to be a 1-to-1 type of situation.

That's true, but the target service doesn't know whether you're using a VPS or not. And I'd recommend sharing your VPS-installed VPN with friends who would rather trust you than a corporation.

Except for the ones that have, you know, literally been tested in court. Of course, that's not to say that they won't change it in the future, but still better than having it not tested at all.

The only objective of VPN companies, as all other companies, is to make money, forever if possible. You can never trust a company wants what's best for you. And if you truly want security/anonymity, you don't want any trust in the equation.

@ipkpjersi
Copy link

ipkpjersi commented Mar 24, 2024

I agree with what you just said, with the caveat that if you are the owner of the VPS then you become responsible for what your friends do via that VPN, rather than the responsibility falling on the VPN host company itself when using a traditional VPN service. That's one way I would think traditional VPN services would still be superior (and also ease of use since with VPN services you just download an app vs setting up your own VPN server).

@Finoderi
Copy link

...they can work pretty well for this because people do use them for this.

People use them because they have no other choice, not because of their sheer greatness.

On a side note , have tried to use Linode for a week, hated everything about them. From at least 5 fucking minutes to restart a tiny server to their retarded political activism.

@zefir-git
Copy link

On a side note , have tried to use Linode for a week, hated everything about them. From at least 5 fucking minutes to restart a tiny server to their retarded political activism.

And it's expensive. For under €4 Hetzner cloud gives you a better server with 20TB transfer. OVH currently has a promo at $1/mo for a year (but only 100 Mbps bandwidth, but I think it's unmetered). For around €5 Contabo has 4 core 6GB RAM and 32TB traffic in case you want to put something more on it. Atlantic.Net gives you a free VPS for 1 year (3 TB transfer).

This is not an endorsement for any of the companies or their services.

@nukeop
Copy link

nukeop commented Mar 25, 2024

What political activism?

@dxgldotorg
Copy link

What political activism?

Probably not supporting hate/discrimination or something like that.

@nukeop
Copy link

nukeop commented Mar 25, 2024

What political activism?

Probably not supporting hate/discrimination or something like that.

And without a passive aggressive tone that translates to...?

@dxgldotorg
Copy link

What political activism?

Probably not supporting hate/discrimination or something like that.

And without a passive aggressive tone that translates to...?

I do look at their TOS and it could be this clause that is grounds for termination:

be excessively violent, incite violence, threaten violence, or contains harassing content or hate speech;

Of course many hosting providers have had something similar for ages.

@nukeop
Copy link

nukeop commented Mar 25, 2024

That doesn't mean it's desirable. IMO that clause is there just to give them grounds to ban anyone they want if there's pressure on them. "Hate speech" is meaningless and arbitrary.

@Finoderi
Copy link

They sent me several e-mails about the importance of 'hearing black voices' or with similar cheap corporate bullshit.

@dxgldotorg
Copy link

They sent me several e-mails about the importance of 'hearing black voices' or with similar cheap corporate bullshit.

And you decided to politicize it.

@nukeop
Copy link

nukeop commented Mar 25, 2024

Sounds like they did.

@Finoderi
Copy link

It looks like you are this ideologically captured. Well, my condolences.
First, I don't live in US and it's not my problem Americans can't figure out why Marxism is bad for everybody. I was born and raised in USSR and it's pretty obvious to me.
Second, the only voices I care about are the ones in my head. They have some interesting ideas.

@LokiFawkes
Copy link

I have a feeling Godwin's about to take over any moment now.

@nukeop
Copy link

nukeop commented Mar 25, 2024

Godwyn the Golden?

@Finoderi
Copy link

Godwin's law.

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