With all the news circulating about Facebooks new VPN feature, I thought it would be a good idea to give a quick overview of what a VPN is and how it can be useful to users. This write-up will also touch on some limitations VPN’s face and lastly my thoughts on Facebooks new VPN service.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, VPN’s allow access to private networks such as a users home or office, through a public network like a hotel or coffee shop. VPN’s take it a step further and add some pretty strong security on the data the user’s are sending and receiving, so attackers can’t access the user’s private networks as well. The goal for a VPN is to make the user feel as though they are plugged directly into their local area network (LAN) and add extra security for the data being sent. A VPN achieves this by establishing a Point-to-point connection virtually by using tunneling protocols to a server and adds encryption to the data as it transmits.
What are some uses?
I touched on some uses in the previous section, but VPN’s can assist in so much more.
- Like I stated earlier, a user could access their company’s intranet from the comfort of their home, or from abroad. Accessing their company’s intranet can allow access to most of the companies resources like documents or some applications. VPN’s can also help companies connect offices that are separated geographically, creating a cohesive feeling network. (fig. 1-2)
- A user can use a commercial VPN service to encrypt data as they browse the web. This could protect a user from someone trying to sniff sensitive traffic in a public network like a coffee shop. Commercial VPN’s can also protect a user from their internet service provider logging what they browse.
- In countries where the internet is restricted, users can use a commercial VPN to circumvent their countries internet policies by connecting to a server outside of their country. This allows for those users to freely take part in accessing and exchanging data, without the fear of government repercussions.
- There are of course some more uses for a VPN but they go beyond the scope of this write-up.
What are the limitations?
Everything can’t be all roses and rainbows, right? That holds true to VPN’s as well.
- Just because data is encrypted when traversing public networks, doesn’t mean that same data is encrypted when a user connects to the endpoint server. Once connected to the company network they can monitor what the users have accessed just like they can monitor what the user access when sitting inside the office So, all company policies should be followed when accessing a company VPN. This limitation holds true when using a commercial VPN, that is why it is vital to do research on VPN providers to make sure they follow practices that are important to the individual user. I will provide a link to a great resource that compares commercial VPN’s at the bottom of the article.
- Some sites block access to known VPN technology rendering its features useless.
- Since VPN’s use a point-to-point connection they do not support broadcast domains so layer 2 networking may not be supported fully.
- Some commercial VPN services may comply with government requests to access logs. Again, that is why it is important to do research on VPN’s.
- When signing up for a commercial VPN service a user will have to give up credit card information, this may be more information that a user wants to give out. so, consider a prepaid card.
Now that we went through what a VPN is and what some uses and limitations are, we can now get into why Facebooks new VPN service is causing such a buzz in the technology community.
Recently Facebook snuck in a “protect” feature in its app, this redirected the user to an app called Onavo. This company was purchased by Facebook in 2013 from an Israeli firm. Unlike most VPN’s where you choose when you want to use it, Onavo wants to be on all the time. Like Facebook has proven through their many endeavors they want to know what their users are doing on their platforms at all times, and this is a natural extension of that practice. Unlike the good VPN providers, Onavo will be logging the user’s data and will be using all that browsing data in any way they see fit.
The tech world is swirling around Facebook’s release of a VPN service, Onavo. Instead of following the practices what most users want to see out of their VPN provider, like data security. Onavo will be collecting the users browsing data at all times and analyzing that data to use as they see fit.
Link to VPN comparison by That One Privacy Guy: https://thatoneprivacysite.net/