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VPN Server Security and Privacy: Why Even the Best VPN Services Have Problems Providing Real Online Privacy

Submitted by on July 30, 2010 – 4:53 am2 Comments
VPN Server Security and Privacy: Why Even the Best VPN Services Have Problems Providing Real Online Privacy

There are two aspects to server security and privacy for a VPN service:

The first is whether the VPN provider’s server network is secure and cannot be hacked into by criminals trying to sniff data and personal information or get information about the overall network configuration and principal server. This can be independently tested with the permission of the VPN provider. If the permission to test for this security is not granted, we downgrade that VPN provider on that very important issue.

The second is the location of the servers. If all the servers AND the VPN provider’s location are in cooperative regions such as the United States and Europe, the security is about as good as using your local ISP. If none of the servers are in non cooperative or off shore locations, then data retention laws apply to that VPN provider just as if they were your ISP. A recent criminal investigation involving the encrypted email provider, Hushmail, which is based in Canada, is a case in point. Unbeknown to one of its users, Hushmail (against its stated privacy policy) logged and cached data about the user for months and delivered that information to government authorities in another country pursuant to court orders (this was a run of the mill criminal- not terrorism or human trafficking). Had Hushmail been located in Panama or some other off shore location, it is less likely that Hushmail would have acted on behalf of the police authorities. Let’s be clear, we are not condoning criminal activity, but privacy is either absolutely protected or not. In cooperative jurisdictions where all the VPN’s servers are also located, your information can never be secure and private. The VPN service will ALWAYS provide any legal authority, even on the flimsiest requests, all the data and logging requested. They would have to or be in contempt of court.

So choose your VPN provider with care based on location of the provider and its servers.

If the VPN provider is physically located in a cooperative jurisdiction but has servers in non cooperative jurisdictions like Panama, Russia, China, then this is better security and privacy. But the highest security is if BOTH the physical location of the VPN provider and at least some of their servers are in non cooperative off shore locations. Then data retention laws cannot be enforced and the VPN provider is far less likely to breach its stated privacy policy to log, cache and hand over your data/information/IPs.

You may think that you have nothing to fear because all your actions are legal, which they may well be. But keep in mind that people are going to jail because of ID fraud in which their IDs are used by criminals and the government has been snooping on their data believing they are part of some criminal organization. Or the government is surreptitiously checking on your online activities as part of a tax audit. Or your ex or business partner is gathering data on your activities to support a legal claim against you. You can never know what the future will bring so keeping your privacy is always wise even if you have nothing to hide. Anyone that breaks this rule, sooner or later, regrets it.

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