How does using a VPN or Proxy or TOR or private browsing protects your online activity?

VPNs are used to provide remote corporate employees, gig economy freelance workers and business travelers with access to software applications hosted on proprietary networks. To gain access to a restricted resource through a VPN, the user must be authorized to use the VPN app and provide one or more authentication factors, such as a password, security token or biometric data.

A VPN extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running on a computing device, e.g. a laptop, desktop, smartphone, across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. Encryption is a common though not an inherent part of a VPN connection.

To ensure security, the private network connection is established using an encrypted layered tunneling protocol and VPN users use authentication methods, including passwords or certificates, to gain access to the VPN. In other applications, Internet users may secure their connections with a VPN, to circumvent geo restrictions and censorship, or to connect to proxy servers to protect personal identity and location to stay anonymous on the Internet. However, some websites block access to known VPN technology to prevent the circumvention of their geo-restrictions, and many VPN providers have been developing strategies to get around these roadblocks.

Private browsing on incognito window or inPrivate window a privacy feature in some web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, Edge). When operating in such a mode, the browser creates a temporary session that is isolated from the browser’s main session and user data. Browsing history is not saved, and local data associated with the session, such as cookies, are cleared when the session is closed.

These modes are designed primarily to prevent data and history associated with a particular browsing session from persisting on the device, or being discovered by another user of the same device. Private browsing modes do not necessarily protect users from being tracked by other websites or their internet service provider (ISP). Furthermore, there is a possibility that identifiable traces of activity could be leaked from private browsing sessions by means of the operating system, security flaws in the browser, or via malicious browser extensions, and it has been found that certain HTML5APIs can be used to detect the presence of private browsing modes due to differences in behaviour.

The question is:

How does using a VPN or Proxy or TOR or private browsing protects your online activity?

What are the pros and cons of VPN vs Proxy?

How can VPN, Proxy, TOR, private browsing, incognito windows How does using a VPN, Proxy, TOR, private browsing, incognito windows protects your online activity? protects your online activity?

  • VPN masks your real IP address by hiding it with one of its servers. As a result, no third party will be able to link your online activity to your physical location. To top it off, you avoid annoying ads and stay off the marketer’s radars.
  • VPN encrypts your internet traffic in order to make it impossible for anybody to decode your sensitive information and steal your identity. You can also learn more what a development team tells about how they protect their users against data theft.

If your VPN doesn’t protect your online activities, it means there are some problems with the aforementioned protection measures. This could be:

  1. VPN connection disruption. Unfortunately, a sudden disruption of your connection can deanonymize you, if at this moment your device is sending or receiving IP-related requests. In order to avoid such a situation, the kill switch option should be always ON.
  2. DNS/IP address leakage. This problem can be caused by various reasons from configuration mistakes to a conflict between the app under discussion and some other installed software. Regardless of the reason, you will end up with otherwise perfectly working security app, which, in fact, is leaking your IP address.
  3. Outdated protocol. In a nutshell, it is the technology that manages the сreation of your secured connection. If your current protocol becomes obsolete, the app will not work perfectly.
  4. Free apps. This is about free software that makes money on your privacy. The actions of such applications are also considered as unethical and illegal. Stealing your private data and selling of it to third parties is one of them.
  5. User carelessness. For instance, turn on your virtual private network when you visit any website or enter your credentials. Don’t use the app sporadically.

How is a VPN different from a proxy server?

On top of serving as a proxy server, VPN provides encryption. A proxy server only hides your IP address.

Proxies are good for the low-stakes task like: watching regionally restricted videos on YouTube, creating another Gmail account when your IP limit ran out, accessing region restricted websites, bypassing content filters, request restrictions on IP.

On the other hand, proxies are not so great for the high-stakes task. As we know, proxies only act as a middleman in our Internet traffic, they only serve a webpage which we are requesting them to serve.

Just like the proxy service, a VPN makes your traffic to have appeared from the remote IP address that is not yours. But, that’s when all the similarities end.

Unlike a proxy, VPN is set at the operating system level, it captures all the traffic coming from the device it is set up on. Whether it is your web traffic, BitTorrent client, game, or a Windows Update, it captures traffic from all the applications from your device.

Another difference between proxy and VPN is – VPN tunnels all your traffic through heavily encrypted and secure connection to the VPN server.

This makes VPN an ideal solution high-stakes tasks where security and privacy are of paramount of importance. With VPN, neither your ISP, Government, or a guy snooping over open Wi-Fi connection can access your traffic.

What are daily use of VPN for?

There are many uses of Virtual Private Network (VPN) for normal users and company employees. Here are the list of the most common usages:

Accessing Business Networks From Any Places in the World :

This is one of the best use of VPN. It is very much helpful when you are travelling and have to complete some work. You can connect any computer to your business network from anywhere and set up your work easily. Local resources need some security so they have to be kept in VPN-only to ensure their safety.

To Hide Your Browsing Data From ISP & Local Users :

All Internet Service Providers (ISP) will log the data of your IP address. If you use the VPN then they can only see the connection of your VPN. It won’t let anyone spy on your website history.

Moreover, it secures your connection when you use a public Wi-Fi network. As you may or may not know, users on these networks can spy on your browsing history, even if you are surfing HTTPS websites. Virtual Private Networks protect your privacy on public unsecured Wi-Fi connection.

To Access Geographically Blocked Sites :

Have you ever faced a problem like “This content is not available in your country”? VPNs are the best solution to bypass these restrictions.

Some videos on YouTube will also show this restriction. VPNs are a quick fix for all these restrictions.

What about TOR and VPN? What are the Pros and Cons?

The Tor network is similar to a VPN. Messages to and from your computer pass through the Tor network rather than connecting directly to resources on the Internet. But where VPNs provide privacy, Tor provides anonymity.

Tor is free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication. The name is derived from an acronym for the original software project name “The Onion Router”. Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network consisting of more than seven thousand relays to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity to the user: this includes “visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages, and other communication forms”.[ Tor’s intended use is to protect the personal privacy of its users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their Internet activities from being monitored.

Tor does not prevent an online service from determining when it is being accessed through Tor. Tor protects a user’s privacy, but does not hide the fact that someone is using Tor. Some websites restrict allowances through Tor. For example, Wikipedia blocks attempts by Tor users to edit articles unless special permission is sought. Although a VPN is generally faster than Tor, using them together will slow down your internet connection and should be avoided. More is not necessarily better in this situation.

Is VPN necessary when using the deep web?

The deep web is the part of the web that can not be indexed by search machines: internal company login pages, or a school portal (the internal portal) private google sites or government pages.

The dark web is the more sinister form of the Deep Web. The dark web is more associated with illegal activity (i.e child pornography, drug dealing, hitmen etc).
VPN is not necessary when connecting to the DEEP WEB. Please do not confuse the DEEP WEB with the DARK WEB.

Are there any good free VPN services?

It is not recommended to use free VPN for following reasons:

1- Security: Free VPNs don’t necessarily have to ensure your privacy is protected.

2- Tracking – Free VPNs have no obligation to keep your details safe, so at any point, your details could be passed on.

3- Speed / bandwidth – Some free VPN services are capped at a lower bandwidth that is you will receive less browsing or download speed to that of paid VPN.

4- Protocols supported – A free VPN may not support all necessary protocols. PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP are generally provided only on paid VPN services.

If you are ok with the risks of using Free VPN, here are some you can try:

  1. TunnelBear: Secure VPN Service
  2. Hide.me VPN
  3. SurfEasy | Ultra fast, no-log private network VPN for Android, iOS, Mac & Windows
  4. CyberGhost Fast and Secure VPN Service
  5. Windscibe Free VPN and Ad Block
  6. OpenVPN – Open Source VPN
  7. SoftEther VPN Open Source
  8. Zenmate
  9. HotSpot Shield

Paid VPNs are better and give you:

  • great customer support
  • lighting internet speed
  • user friendly design
  • minimum 256-bit security
  • advanced features such as P2P, double encryption, VPN over Onion etc.

Below are the top paid VPNs:

1- NordVPN – cost-effective, provides Netflix in 5 countries (US, CAN, UK, JP, NL) and does not log your info.

2- ExpressVPN – nearly 3x NordVPN’s price but guarantees Netflix in the US. Excellent customer service and claims to not log your info.

3- Private Internet Access – a U.S. based VPN that has proven its no log policy in the court of law. This is a unique selling point that 99.99% VPNs don’t have.

4- OpenVPN provides flexible VPN solutions to secure your data communications, whether it’s for Internet privacy, remote access for employees, securing IoT, or for networking Cloud data centers. 

Other Questions about VPN and security:

Why might certain web sites not load with VPN?

For security, some corporations like Banks often block IP addresses used by major VPN companies, because it is thought to improve security.

Can a VPN bypass being flagged as a suspicious log-in on Facebook & Instagram?

You probably need a VPN that allow you to use dedicated IP address, otherwise the server ips are constantly switching every time you reconnect to your vpn and shared ip usually raised as suspicious logins due to many people logging in from the same ip address (which make the site thinks it might be bots or mass-hacked accounts).

How is a hacker traced when server logs show his or her IP is from a VPN?

  • Start looking for IP address leaks. Even hackers are terrible at not leaking their IPs.
  • Look for times the attacker forgot to enable their VPN. It happens all the time.
  • Look at other things related to the attcke like domains for example. They might have registered a domain using something you can trace or they left a string in the malware that can help identify them.
  • Silently take control of the command and control server legally.

What is the most secure VPN protocol?

  • OpenVPN technology uses the highest levels (military standards) of encryption algorithms i.e. 256bit keys to secure your data transfers.
  • OpenVPN is also known to have the fastest speeds even in the case of long distance connections that have latency. The protocol is highly recommended for streaming, downloading files and watching live TV. In addition to speeds, the protocol is stable and known to have fewer disconnections compared to its many counterparts.
  • OpenVPN comes equipped with solid military grade encryption and is way better, security wise, than PPTP, L2TP/IPSec and SSTP.

What are some alternatives for VPN?

  • Tor network, it is anonymous, free and well, rather slow, certainly fast enough to access your private email, but not fast enough to stream a movie.
  • Proxies are remote computers that individuals or organizations use to restrict Internet access, filter content, and make Internet browsing more secure. It acts as a middleman between the end user and the web server, since all connection requests pass through it. It filters the request first then sends it to the web server. Once the web server responds, the proxy filters the response then sends it to the end user.
  • IPSec (Cisco, Netgear, etc.): secure network protocol suite that authenticates and encrypts the packets of data sent over an Internet Protocol network.
  • SSL (Full) like OpenVPN
  • SSL (Partial) like SSL-Explorer and most appliances
  • SSH Tunneling is a method of transporting arbitrary networking data over an encrypted SSH connection. It can be used to add encryption to legacy applications. It also provides a way to secure the data traffic of any given application using port forwarding, basically tunneling any TCP/IP port over SSH.
  • PPTP
  • L2TP (old Cisco, pre IPSec)
  • DirectAccess 
  • Hamachi
  • You can create you own VPN as well using any encryption or simple tunneling technology.

How does private browsing or incognito window work?

When you are in private browsing mode, your browser doesn’t store any of this information at all. It functions as a completely isolated browser session.

For most web browsers, their optional private mode, often also called InPrivate or incognito, is like normal browsing except for a few things.

  1. it uses separate temporary cookies that are deleted once the browser is closed (leaving your existing cookies unaffected)
  2. no private activity is logged to the browser’s history
  3. it often uses a separate temporary cache

What are the advantages of Google Chrome’s private browsing?

  • simultaneously log into a website using different account names
  • access websites without extensions (all extensions are disabled by default when in Incognito)
  • Shield you from being tracked by Google, Facebook and other online advertising companies
  • Allow you to be anonymous visitor to a website, or see how a personalized webpage will look like from a third-party perspective

Firefox private browsing or chrome incognito?

Mozilla doesn’t really have an incentive to spy on their users. It’s not really going to get them anything because they’re not a data broker and don’t sell ads. Couple this with the fact that Firefox is open-source and I would argue that Firefox is the clear winner here.

Chrome now prevents sites from checking for private browsing mode

Mozilla Private Network VPN gives Firefox another privacy boost

Adding a VPN to Firefox is clever because it means the privacy protection is integrated into one application rather than being spread across different services. That integration probably makes it more likely to be used by people who wouldn’t otherwise use one.

Pros and Cons of Adding VPN to browsers like Firefox and Opera:

Turning on the VPN will give users a secure connection to a trusted server when using a device connected to public Wi-Fi (and running the gamut of rogue Wi-Fi hotspots and unknown intermediaries). Many travellers use subscription VPNs when away from a home network – the Mozilla Private Network is just a simpler, zero-cost alternative.

However, like Opera’s offering, it’s not a true VPN – that is, it only encrypts traffic while using one browser, Firefox.  Traffic from all other applications on the same computer won’t be secured in the same way.

As with any VPN, it won’t keep you completely anonymous. Websites you visit will see a Cloudflare IP address instead of your own, but you will still get advertising cookies and if you log in to a website your identity will be known to that site.

Additional reading:

Resources:

1- Wikipedia

2- Quora

3- SearchExpress

4- Reddit

5- VPN’s for Remote Workers: A Beginners Guide for 2019