Are VPNs safe? Not when you're a cyberstalker

An internet stalker in the US has been tracked down by the FBI thanks to help from the VPN provider PureVPN which assisted the government agency by combing through its logs to reveal the IP address of the suspect.

On Friday, the Department of Justice announced that it had arrested 24-year-old Ryan Lin from Newtown, Massachusetts on charges of cyberstalking.

The complaint against Lin revealed that he had used a number of attack methods to target Jennifer Smith which include "doxxing (publicly posting the credentials to her online accounts), posting intimate photos and suggesting they depicted Smith, searching through her personal journal and sending private information to her contacts, creating fake profiles of Smith on sites dedicated to prostitution, fetishes and other sexual acts, bomb threats and death and rape threats as wel"l.  

Lin used a number of privacy services to conceal his actions such as logging in via the Tor Browser and using a VPN to help conceal his IP address. He also utilised anonymous international texting services as well as offshore private email providers.

By using a work computer in some of the attacks against Smith, Lin made a critical error that left traces of his activity that law enforcement agencies were then able to use to associate him to the 16-month long cyber campaign.

Investigators also discovered that Lin used the website TextNow to send anonymous SMS messages and that he sent emails using the end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail.

Artefacts discovered on his work machine also indicated that he used the VPN provider PureVPN and that he had accessed his own personal Gmail account from the computer.

Ironically in June, Lin sent a tweet attacking IPVanish over its claim that the company kept no logs, saying:

“There is no such thing as a VPN that doesn’t keep logs.  If they can limit your connections or track bandwidth usage, they keep logs.”

The law does not make exceptions when it comes to committing a crime and cybercrime is a serious offense.

  • If you want to protect your privacy or add an additional layer of security between your devices and the networks you connect to then check out TechRadar’s Best VPNs of 2017.
Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.