Before we address the future, let’s revisit the past to make things a bit more clear. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s a service offered by too many providers to count. This application or software gives a cover of protection to your internet connection, affords you access to geo-restricted content, and helps you bypass internet censorship.
While VPNs are a fairly simple tool, there are many technicalities under the hood. Here’s a simple way of describing how a VPN works and what it actually does:
- Hide your browsing activity on public Wi-Fi: If you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection, your browsing activity is visible to everyone nearby, if they know how to look. You can connect a VPN and hide your browsing activity for complete privacy.
- Access geo-blocked websites: Whether you’re trying to access Pandora or Hulu while travelling out of the country, you’ll be able to access these region-restricted services with a VPN.
- Bypass internet censorship: In censorship-heavy countries like China and Iran, news, social media and other entertainment sites are blocked. A VPN will help you avert censorship in these and similar countries.
- Makes you invisible to your ISP: A VPN will also make it impossible for your ISP to see your digital activities since your requests do not go to the server of your ISP, instead the VPN server takes care of them.
I asked a panel of Cybersecurity and privacy experts for their expert opinion on the future of VPNs. Here’s what they had to say:
Mikko Hypponen ,CRO at F-Secure
“Encryption works. That’s a fact. But it only works if people use it. And they only use it if it’s easy to use. That’s why a VPN isn’t enough. It has to be easy to install and easy to use. Hybrid VPNs that also block tracking cookies and similar elements will actually be able to make web surfing faster with a VPN than without. That’s the future.”
Paul Bischoff, Privacy Advocate at Comparitech
“While it’s difficult to predict where any technology industry will be 10 to 15 years from today, I foresee two possibilities. The first is that everyone will have a VPN, and they will be connected all of the time on all of our devices to ensure privacy and security. Just like we all once used antivirus programs, we will all use VPNs.”
Mike Baker, Founder and Managing Director at Mosaic451
“VPNs offer total privacy to roam the Internet freely without being tracked, monitored or having data collected and stored. VPN networks are designed to encrypt information before it goes through a network, thwarting potential attacks and making online purchases safer. Your Internet activity cannot be tracked by anyone seeking to monitor websites you visit, see what you download, or monitor whether you use services such as Skype or other applications. With a VPN your origin IP is hidden from potential hackers and identity thieves. We expect use to continue to escalate in the future making them a necessity rather than a nice to have.”
Rising Trend of Security and Privacy
The main reason behind the steady growth of VPN services is the unprecedented rise in cyber crimes, including cyber stalking, hacking, and data and identity theft. However, with mass surveillance being legalized in the US, and Australia and the UK on the brink of following suit, the demand for VPNs has skyrocketed like never before.
If you have been paying attention to today’s world, you would know how most governments are tightening their grip on the internet and are becoming involved in censoring information and monitoring the online activities of their citizens. This action of governments has caused the demand for privacy protection services like VPNs to surge. The number of VPN subscriptions went through the charts after Trump passed the highly debated anti-privacy broadband bill. This Bill has authorized ISP’s to snoop on their consumers and use their data as they deem fit. This was a direct attack on the privacy of internet users in the US and it caused many individuals to fear for their privacy. So, they rightfully decided to protect what needed to be protected – their privacy!
Australia recently passed a new metadata retention law, according to which all the Telcos and ISPs in the country have been authorized to store users’ metadata for up to 2 years. The metadata being logged and recorded by the SIPs include who a user is calling, from which location, and what he’s browsing on the Internet. But that’s not all. This data can also give a detailed insight into a user’s personal life, his behavior and his financial standing.
Australians took this law as a direct attack on their privacy and retaliated in an interesting way. The day this bill was put in effect, Digital Rights Watch, a privacy advocate group, called on every Australian to mark this day as “Get a VPN Day.”
The Domino Effect
Just as feared, other first-world countries are itching to follow suit. The anti-privacy actions by some countries have also given other countries like the UK, Germany, and France the excuse they need to go down a similar path. Other countries in the 14 eyes have also taken notice. 2017 is shaping up to the year when internet privacy goes completely extinct, or is at least driven to the brink of it.
The situation has been worsened since now people are not only worried about protecting their financial information from hackers; they are worried about their ISPs getting a hold of their intimate searches, images and videos.
Moreover, Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS attacks are regularly making headlines, websites are getting defaced, tech-giants are getting hacked and the data of millions of internet users is up for sale on the dark web. Businesses and individuals have become increasingly conscious of the threats that exist on the “free” Internet. These threats range from malware to rogue Wi-Fi hotspots, fake websites setup to dupe users into submitting their details, corporate espionage, and taking entire network downs to name a few.
The present is turning out to be a real present for VPN companies. Not just that, the future of VPNs looks promising as well in the age of surveillance. Governments have clearly made it their duty to get user data, by hook or by crook; hackers will be hackers; advertisers and marketers will continue to track people and search engines will continue to serve them ads. All this is turning out to be the exact catalyst the VPNs wanted, and they got it without spending a dime of their own.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.