VPNs have been in the news lately and there is a certain uncertainty surrounding them. There has been a bit of a fuss over VPNs in India the way the government wanted VPN Providers must adhere to the new cyber security rules. As a result, some VPN providers have expressed doubts about continuing operations in India. We explain what a VPN is, why it is important and what the controversy is.
What is a VPN?
As the name suggests, VPN means Virtual private network. Simply put, a VPN hides your online identity. A VPN helps establish a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the Internet. Think of it as an invisibility clock that protects your data and communications and prevents third parties from tracking your activities and mining your data.
How does a VPN work and ensure privacy?
When you use the Internet – without a VPN – your data is directed to the Internet service provider. What a VPN does is it redirects your traffic through a VPN server. This ensures that when your data arrives on the Internet, it comes from a VPN server and not from your phone or laptop. So once the VPN masks your IP, your data remains safe and private from hackers, governments or anyone trying to monitor your online activities.
Who are the big users of VPN?
Simply put, anyone and everyone can use a VPN. However, VPN is still not really mainstream. Many large corporations use VPNs – lawyers, activists, security researchers, cybersecurity experts, journalists – and anyone who does not want to be tracked. According to AtlasVPN, which maintains VPN adoption data, there are approximately 270 million VPN users in India. Global VPN Usage Report 2020 estimates that 45% of Internet usage in India is through VPN. So many people in India use VPN.
What is the ‘problem’ between VPN providers and the government?
The government wants VPN providers to keep a detailed record of users. The data will include the allotted IP address, why they are using VPN and email address. VPN service providers believe this is an attack on user privacy. They believe that by storing user data, they will basically go against the idea of having a VPN.
What is the way for VPN service providers?
ExpressVPN has decided to remove its Indian-based VPN servers “very directly”. Instead, it will move its virtual server – where all the data is stored – to another location. Like ExpressVPN will still be able to connect to VPN servers which will give them Indian IP addresses and allow them to access the Internet as they are located in India. “These” virtual “India servers will instead be physically located in Singapore and the UK,” said ExpressVPN.
How different will the user experience be on “virtual” servers?
Not really much. For the end-user, the location of the server where the data is stored does not matter. ExpressVPN said there would be “minimal differences” for users. All those users – who want to connect to Indian server – just have to choose “India (via Singapore)” or “India (via UK)” VPN server location. Virtual server locations are extremely common. With virtual locations, the registered IP address matches the country you have chosen to connect to, while the server is physically located in another country. Virtual locations are used where needed to provide users with faster, more reliable connections.