Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a crucial tool in challenging the monopolistic dominance of large Internet corporations and the surveillance state. While they do not provide complete anonymity, they are essential for a variety of privacy reasons.

Understanding VPNs

Originally developed for business use, VPNs provide secure remote access to corporate networks. We talk here about VPN applications for individual users which creates an encrypted connection, called a tunnel, from your device to the VPN server. This service replaces your IP address with that of the server, masking your online activities. Use cases are:

Protection on public Wi-Fi networks: A VPN provides an extra layer of security on public networks, protecting your information and identity.

Bypass Internet restrictions: In countries with Internet censorship, VPNs provide access to restricted content.
Bypass regional restrictions on content such as videos or online shopping.

Increase anonymity: A VPN can prevent your Internet service provider from tracking your online activities.

Trusted VPN Providers

Mullvad: A reputable VPN service from Sweden known for its transparency and security. The service offers open source clients for every platformand underwent its latest audit in December 2020 by Cure53.

ProtonVPN: A secure VPN provider based in Switzerland, operational since 2016, offering open-source clients for all platforms. The last audit was performed in January 2020 by SEC Consult.

IVPN: Another reliable VPN service known for its strong privacy policy and high security standards. Offers a no-logging policy and robust encryption.

Other notable services include NordVPN and ExpressVPN, which despite their popularity, don’t meet all the criteria of a trustworthy provider.

Some Use Cases Explained

Security on public Wi-Fi networks

In places like hotels, a VPN connection serves as an extra layer of security to protect your identity and data. Without a VPN, your data could be transmitted unencrypted, making it vulnerable to interception.

Navigation around artificial Internet barriers

Szenario A –  In authoritarian countries e.g. China, the Internet is heavily censored, limiting citizens’ ability to freely access information. Many services such as YouTube, Instagram or even Google are inaccessible. VPN services can help bypass these artificial, virtual walls and provide access to the wider Internet.

Szenario B – Another form of discrimination by the commercial sector is restricting access to certain Internet content, such as videos, websites, or online shopping, to users in certain geographical regions. This contradicts the original idea of a free Internet. For example, YouTube might restrict a certain music video to users in the U.S., or an online store in Poland might charge higher prices to people in France, regardless of shipping costs.

How do you use a VPN service in these cases?

In szenario A, if you want to avoid geographic restrictions, for example, connecting to a public Wi-Fi in Moscow will give you an IP address associated with the Russian Federation. If you try to access a website blocked by the Russian government, you’ll be denied access. However, if you use a VPN service and select a server in Germany, the VPN will establish an encrypted connection to that server, which will then replace your Russian IP with a German one, allowing you to access the censored content.

In szenario B, you want to access geo-specific content by activating a VPN server in the region where the content is available.

Increase the anonymity of your Internet use:

If you do not want your Internet service provider (such as Deutsche Telekom in Germany) to track which websites you visit, you can prevent this by enabling a VPN service. It ensures that your online activities are not logged or monitored by your ISP, thereby increasing your privacy.

VPN 101 for Beginners

A VPN service works for the entire device (PC, mobile phone, tablet). All programs (such as browsers, email, messengers) on your device communicate over the VPN connection and are “protected”. However, some VPN services allow you to exclude certain applications.

Your VPN service may have “hung” and needs to be restarted. If a VPN connection is left unused for a very long time (e.g. overnight), the provider may disconnect the connection. In my case, a “connect” / “disconnect” (possibly with another server) always solved the problem.

It is much more difficult to realize “at the beginning” that only the VPN service can be the cause of the Internet outage.

This happens, for example, if you use a server from Portugal as your VPN server and therefore surf with a Portuguese IP address. For everyday use, I recommend choosing a VPN server from your preferred language region. Alternatively, you can simply change the language in your web search (Google, Brave-Search, DuckDuckGo).

The two providers I suggested in BaseCamp are secure, fast, and stable 24/7 on all your devices. But they are not free.

When it comes to VPN providers, it’s important to understand that most providers rent out their servers to other Internet companies as virtual servers. This can work well if your provider also invests in performance as the number of users and Internet usage increases. Of course, the speed may also depend on the expansion of the Internet in your area.

Tip: If it gets too slow, just switch to a different country. Or look for a trustworthy provider in BaseCamp 😉.

I believe the Internet should be accessible to everyone. Worldwide, without virtual fences, paywalls, etc. But there is still a long way to go before that happens. VPN services are a way to temporarily bypass such censorship.

Let’s say a streaming service like Netflix buys a series and is only allowed to offer it in Australia (due to contracts). It would be worth trying to connect to a VPN server in Australia and bypass the censorship. If this works, you would be able to watch the series from Germany with an Australian IP address.

Let’s also assume that the producer of the show notices that people from other countries are watching his show in Australia. He is now rightly concerned that he will not be able to sell his show as successfully in other countries. Many people may have already watched it through VPN services.

So he might sue the streaming provider. And the provider will react and gradually block the IP addresses of the Australian VPN servers. A game of cat and mouse …

Tired of just scratching the surface?

If you want to learn how everything is connected and how to defend your digital freedom, take my free self-defense BaseCamp.