Do VPNs Really Protect Privacy?

VPN protection for privacy

Interest in VPN providers has risen sharply in recent years. I suspect the reasons are, on the one hand, the increase in people who work on the go and, on the other hand, the use of streaming services such as Netflix or HBOwhich allow certain content only for users from selected regions.

Some users also use virtual private networks (VPN) to protect their privacy. This is possible because when you use the VPN you only leave its IP address and not your own. The question now is, does a VPN really help to protect your privacy while surfing the net?

How does a VPN work? And how does it protect against data octopuses?

Once you have a VPN installed on your Mac, you are basically using one proxy, which is switched in front of the Mac and in whose name makes the requests to other web servers.

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Every reasonable VPN also sets up an encrypted one so that nobody can read the data traffic in plain text. The connection between the user and the websites he visits remains hidden, as the calls to the websites can only be traced back to the VPN provider.

A request from my Mac to a website - once with and once without VPN - explained here in the diagram (diagram: Sir Apfelot).

A request from my Mac to a website - once with and once without VPN - explained here in the diagram (diagram: Sir Apfelot).

In practice it works like this: I want to go to the website Ganzgeheimedinge.de, for example. After entering the domain name in the browser, my Mac sends a request to the VPN and informs that it should request the website content from Ganzgeheimedinge.de. My internet service provider can now see the connection from my Mac to the VPN, but thanks to the encryption, he cannot see any further details.

The Internet provider of the VPN, in turn, could see that a request is being made to Ganzgeheimedinge.de, but it will not see that the request is from me.

Reading tips in between:

VPN users worry: the government is monitoring the internet

Why do people use a VPN? One of the main reasons is likely to be the (well-founded) concern that important parts of the Internet infrastructure are being monitored by authorities who collect data for the government - including the IP address of the user who accesses the website Ganzgeheimedinge.de.

If you now call up the website without VPN, a data logger - regardless of where it is on the way between my Mac and the website - can record which IP address this page has called up.

On the other hand, if I use a VPN (in my case a VPN for Mac systems), a data logger placed between my Mac and the VPN can only see that I am sending a request to the VPN. A data logger sitting between VPN and Ganzgeheimedinge.de can only see that the VPN is sending a request to the website, but it cannot see my IP.

Basically a VPN protects privacy more than no VPN - but how strong the protection is depends on the "threat".

Basically a VPN protects privacy more than no VPN - but how strong the protection is depends on the "threat".

Security is always relative - even when using a VPN

Anyone who thinks that using a VPN always protects against someone seeing which websites you visit or which messages you send via websites, you are unfortunately wrong.

There are always attempts to outsmart such a system and if you assume that authorities like the NSA have almost unlimited financial and technical resources, then it will be difficult to prevent them from being spied on.

One possibility that the NSA uses securely is, among other things, the operation of its own VPN service or cooperation with one. You could also imagine placing a data logger in front of and one behind the VPN infrastructure.

In most cases, the connections between your own computer and the websites you visit are now encrypted, but this should not pose a major problem for the law enforcement authorities either.

Question: who can a VPN protect me from?

A VPN makes sense if you want to protect yourself from "normal" attacks. If the goal is that you want your connection to the Internet to be encrypted and you want to avoid that the operator of a website can record his own IP address, then a VPN is a sensible thing.

A VPN is of course also useful if you want to “fake” streaming services or other websites that you are located in a different country. But that's something that shouldn't be covered in any further detail in this post.

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