We could build houses made of glass. We could live in transparent buildings because we don't do anything wrong and have nothing to hide. Yet most people prefer bricks and mortar. Why? Because of the fear that criminals and governments can use knowledge of their daily habits and activities in order to harm them or take their property.
VPN simply satisfies their inherent need for privacy. That's why I'm not worried about the future of VPN which plays the role of bricks and mortar in the online world.
The Internet has not been built with confidentiality in mind so people use VPN to wrap their online activity into an opaque box and this need is so fundamental that no social or technological trend shift is going to change that.
I'd wish to live in the world of full transparency where VPN is not needed. But the world is not perfect and we strive for another ideal: transparency for the powerful and privacy for the weak. Sadly the reality looks different: the powerful have means to keep their secrets while the weak are exposed.
In such light VPN is a simple and accessible tool for the weak that allows reduce that imbalance. What may threaten the future of VPN? Let's examine the alternatives.
Alternatives to VPNs
There are plenty of trusted open source projects and noble efforts that allow people to protect their communication. We can divide them into three groups.
In the first one we have application level solutions like PGP or encrypted chats. They come with their own problems: they only protect only specific activities like sending emails, have serious usability problems and since they work at application level they inevitably leak tons of metadata.
The second group works on the network level. The closest in functionality to VPN are TOR and I2P which are volunteer based overlay networks with multiple hops between nodes. Such an architecture makes them secure but slow.
The third group operates on the link level. These are true mesh networks with end to end encryption that try to rebuild the Internet from scratch.
They are still in their infancy and are fraught with hard technical problems but they are definitely doable and we encourage researchers looking for an interesting and challenging problem to have a look at it.
At the moment these solutions are hardly an alternative to VPN but they can coexist with VPN and can play supportive role in securing your data.
- Grzegorz Luczywo is the founder of SecurityKISS