A virtual private tunnel, better known as a VPN, is comprised of two components: a VPN client, which is installed on your desktop or mobile device and a VPN Server, which is hosted and managed by your organization or your VPN provider.
Its main functionality is to create a secure and private tunnel between your device and the VPN server through which all traffic is routed. The technology is beneficial for several key reasons.
First, VPN is designed to eliminate man-in-the-middle attacks that can occur when you connect to the internet through a public hotspot. VPN allows cybersecurity providers to intercept all of a user’s traffic and deploy threat monitoring and threat-management tools.
Providers of VPN services can also mask your public IP address to protect your private information. The technology is used for remote and private access to resources deployed on a private cloud or a private network.
Although the penetration of VPN in the U.S. market is very low at this point in time—less than 1 per cent—I believe we will see more growth over the next five years. This is because there will be greater demands for private internet access and cybersecurity.
There is plenty of room for VPN growth and improvement over that timeframe. For example, current VPN solutions do not scale for mass audiences, and they support only limited capabilities.
VPN needs to be re-invented to support the same level of scalability as the public internet. It must support more capabilities for access control, monitoring and filtering.
I don’t believe VPN alone will solve the major issues surrounding cybersecurity threats. But what is exciting is that VPN will be the key component to act as the private tunnel to route users’ traffic to cybersecurity providers that will provide better security and safety for consumers and businesses.
All VPN companies today suffer from the same inherent flaw: user needs to trust the provider.
Most providers claim to keep no logs, and protect the privacy of their users. Those claims may in fact be true, but unfortunately there is no way know for sure. Most are operated by faceless individuals hiding behind offshore companies, running proprietary software with absolutely no accountability.
Some companies open source their VPN clients, which is a great start, but the client itself is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the encrypted packets leave the user’s machine, what happens after is a black box to everyone but the operator of the service.
The true “killer app” of the future is a privacy service where the user doesn’t have to trust the provider.
A privacy service of the future is not going to be just a VPN tunnel, as you cannot assure any meaningful level of privacy with a VPN being the only component. Zero knowledge privacy oriented services like Signal, Tutanota, Spideroak, Dashlane, etc have been making waves these past few years.
User’s data is a black box to the company providing the service. For privacy companies, same level of breakthrough needs to happen at a much lower level.
This is not a trivial thing to do, as there are many challenges that would need to be overcome due to how VPNs work and the layer of the networking stack where the “magic happens”.
It’s quite trivial to log all incoming connection IPs, and correlate them to IPs that they are connecting to, which allows for any provider to keep fairly detailed browsing history of any customer, if they were inclined to do so.
TOR fixes this potential issue to a degree, but it’s plagued by slow speeds, state sponsored attacks, and the fact that it requires a dedicated browser makes it very unappealing to vast majority of users, especially non-tech savvy ones.
Best of both worlds need to come together as a completely new kind of service which does not exist today.
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Francis Dinha is the CEO of OpenVPN.