Just when we started to think of security, privacy, and freedom of expression as a bygone concept in the digital era, virtual private network (VPN) stepped out of the shadows to rekindle hope for a safer and open cyber experience. By offering a secure passage that penetrated through local and regional barriers set in its path, VPNs sure has been making the internet look a lot like its former self, i.e. safe and open.
In a day and age where online security, privacy, and freedom find themselves bruised and battered on a routine basis, a technology that allows multiple birds to be killed with a single stone is indeed a godsend.
Software companies have already taken notice of the strong demand for a free and safe internet, which has led to an explosion of paid and free VPN apps on Google Play, App Store, and other digital distribution platforms. The ripe market has brought VPN apps into the mainstream, making them increasingly accessible and perhaps more advanced than ever.
If you’re celebrating this trend as a significant stride in the right direction, then you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Danger Granted a Safe Passage
As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we’re living in dangerous times. There are a lot of bad people who’re threatening our peace of mind due to their obsession with spreading fear and mischief across the globe. Our governments, security agencies, and intelligence agencies are working around the clock and actually doing a great job of keeping us safe by making it hard for the malicious elements to hatch their plans.
Intelligence gathering through surveillance and interception of communications is an integral part of detecting and thwarting threats. What VPNs do is they strip the people responsible for keeping us safe of a core strategic advantage. Now they’re forced to put in more work into deciphering communications flowing through secure VPN channels in encrypted form.
From an average internet user’s perspective, encrypted communications are great. However, from a security point of view, it’s a huge risk as the same secure channels may be catering to people with ominous motives. With easy access to a VPN service, they’d find it a lot easier to keep their plans hidden from the prying eyes of those committed to stopping them and keeping us safe at all costs.
Armed through Anonymity
Another huge problem stemming from the entry of VPN apps into the mainstream is that it allows people with malicious intentions to act on those intentions with little to no fear of facing the consequences. To be held accountable for their actions, they would need to be traced and apprehended first.
That is easier said than done due to privacy features of VPN apps. Allowing internet users to change or hide their virtual location at will almost makes it impossible for anyone to get to them and this is a huge problem.
Completely anonymity on the web can aid dangerous people to use the internet as a tool to spread falsehood, extend their outreach, and recruit people to their cause without facing any real risk of getting traced or caught. Even if security agencies manage to block their access to a certain platform or region, they’d just have to change servers to quickly get around the digital barrier.
Arming malicious people with VPN apps is certainly going to create an even greater security threat than the one that already exists.
Increased Susceptibility to Propaganda
Online censorship has been attracting a lot of attention lately, with governments and tech giants frequently attracting criticism over their alleged attack on freedom of expression. Every time someone tries to obstruct the free flow of information in the digital space, voices of dissent follow.
You may be harbouring similar sentiments as far as online freedom is concerned and therefore see VPN apps as a viable workaround to the problem.
What you probably don’t realise is that the internet is often used as a propaganda tool by mischief makers or hostile countries to wage intellectual war by disrupting calm and giving rise to perceptions that are so far away from reality that they become a national and ideological threat. Misinformation and fabrications are sent across borders to silently sow the seeds of discord and turn people on each other, their governments, or those risking to protect them from harm.
Aware of these threats, governments have no option but to block risky content, a precaution that is often misunderstood for an attack on digital freedom.
With VPN apps growing more popular, people are likely to have an increased exposure to the propaganda content circulating on the web and become influenced by it. Digital restrictions and online censorship would simply stop serving their intended purpose as they’d prove so easy to get around. In the end, it’s you and your country that’s going to be suffering from the removal of an important digital barrier.
You really need to ask yourself if you’re willing to put so much at risk for the sake of greater digital freedom.