Personal VPNs in a CDN World

I wrote about personal VPNs back in 2011.  Going on vacation, I wanted to avoid insecure wifi.  The best way to do this is through a personal VPN product.  This is still true today even with the increased use of SSL.  I still think this is a great use for these products.

Interest in encryption and personal VPN products has skyrocketed since the Snowden “revelation” that the government snoops on you (and lets not forget about Google).  People are interested in always on VPNs to restore a bit of privacy.

Do VPNs meet this goal, and what is the cost??

The VPN provider I use, has a page “Why Do I need a Personal VPN?”  Their list is a good summary of why you might use a personal vpn, but it has one example of why it sometimes isn’t so easy.

“You don’t want search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, AOL, and Bing recording and storing every Internet search you perform…..potentially forever.  Just like your ISP, Internet search engines record every search you do and tie it to your IP address.” 

Search engines are using cookies to track you.  Even if you dont log in, which they encourage you to do, they use cookies to know who you are.  IP address isn’t granular enough for them.  Shared computers, multiple computers behind an IP address.   You would need to take additional steps such as incognito mode to prevent all tracking.

“You live in, or are visiting, a country that engages in Internet censorship or monitoring of content.”

Fair enough, but people who employ encryption could find their themselves under suspicion just for that.

And there is also the case of Eldo Kim.  He sent a bomb threat to get out of a final exam.  He thought he covered his tracks using TOR.   But he used the campus wifi, so they were able to track who was using TOR at the time of the threat.  Are you going to think of everything when covering your tracks.

In general VPNs meet the goal of providing privacy.  But like anything you need to be aware of some gotchas.

There are also costs to using a VPN.  This is particularly true when used in a every day , always on method as would be necessary to avoid governmental, ISP and corporate snoops.  When just using a VPN to protect when on a hostile network, the speed impact may not be so noticeable.   But when at home, you have a big pipe.  50+ Mbps connections are becoming more common place.   The FCC is thinking of defining broadband as faster than 10 Mbps.  So why does my VPN pipe max out at 5 Mbps.   That’s quite a hit.  I haven’t asked my provider if that is a QoS per user, or an element of saturation.

There is also the issue of the CDN.  Content Delivery Networks move content to the ISP data center to provide faster response.   Netflix SuperHD was originally available only to users on their Open  Connect Network (CDN).   YouTube’s ISP rating system reports my ISP has tested HD quality and my VPN pipe doesn’t have HD quality.   My traffic through the VPN bypasses the locally cached content.  Performance is lost in the name of security.

Is this enough to keep you from using an ‘always on’ personal vpn?


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