The internet is a wild place for an ignorant user. From governments to business enterprises, it is hard to know who is listening in on your surfing. It is even harder to know which of your data has been taken, and for what purposes. According to Avast, nearly all the companies you interact with online, mine your data, in order to personalize your experience with them.
So, Big businesses collect your data for advertorial purposes, governments collect your data for whatever covert reason they may have, and threat actors collect your data to achieve one criminal end or the other. This indiscriminate collection of data without the consent of the owner is what necessitated the development of a system that has the capability of cloaking your online identity, and shielding your data from prying eyes.
That technology is called the Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Every device that connects to the internet has an Identity, called the IP address. What these devices do is to transport data, to and fro, between a user and a server, using paths established by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). In doing this, the identity of the device, and the data it is transporting, becomes susceptible.
VPN mitigates this issue by creating a private tunnel, through which the device can bypass the ISP established paths. By doing this, the device's identity and data is cloaked.
Think of your device as a butler in a particular uniform (IP address), and your ISP as a customs official. What a VPN provider does is to take your butler, dress it up in new clothes, and smuggle it across the border and back, without the customs official being able to identify your butler as your butler. The only people who know the true identity of your butler are you and the VPN provider. It is really something of a Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad.
VPN helps in two ways:
It hides your IP address
This not only ensures your anonymity, but also gives you access to content online that is restricted from people in your geographic location. An example of this was seen during the Nigerian government's ban of Twitter in 2020. Nigerian citizens were only able to access it with the help of VPNs.
It encrypts your data
This means that you can securely retrieve and transport data, without worrying about who may be watching. The encryption ensures that the data is unreadable to any other party except you and the VPN provider.
Yes, inasmuch as your consideration is data in transit. This means that when accessing and retrieving data from a remote server, VPN can guarantee secure transport of data.
However, VPN cannot safeguard data in storage. Solutions like the XDR are more suited for safeguarding data in storage.
You're not the only person privy to your data. The VPN providers also have access to your data. So the risk is proportional to the trust you have in your provider.
The best VPNs have an absolute no-log policy, which means that they keep no record of the transmitted data, or of your overall behavior and activities online. This ensures that you're the only person who has access to that data in a particular session.
It is also important to note that some VPNs are set up by threat actors to harvest data from unsuspecting users. These VPNs keep a record of all your activities, and a copy of your data.
Therefore, It is important to use only VPNs from known companies which you trust. Using an obscure VPN is a sure way of handing your data to cyber criminals, on a platter of good Chinese food, with a chilled bottle of Lambrusco to wash it down.
The short answer is YES and NO.
Communist countries, like China and Belarus, places an outright ban VPN- most likely in an attempt to censor the media and by extension, the people. Other countries like Iraq and UAE, also ban VPN for the reason that it aids terrorism, and the distribution of content that is considered immoral.
VPN, however, is legal in every other part of the world with the exception of 10 countries, some of which are mentioned above.
There are two ways in which VPN can be regulated:
Regulation of VPN providers' use of Data.
There's no regulation that backs the no-log policy, or sets down penalties for the violation of the policy.
Regulation of VPN providers
India will presently be able to regulate VPN providers. The law is rumored to mandate the provision of all user data by VPN providers, for a period of 5 years.
Apart from India, no other country regulates VPN providers.
So whether you're an individual who wants to surf the internet safely, while avoiding compromise in data; or a business with remote workers, in need of a secure way to connect them to your organization's network, without endangering your data; VPN is the best way to go.