Technology

Recent VPN Drama in Hong Kong Highlights the Need for Online Privacy

In this modern day and age, using a VPN is almost mandatory. There is no other convenient way to retain online privacy without relying on third-party tools. Not all VPN providers are to be trusted, however, as their negligence can have major repercussions for users. 

Achieving Online Privacy With a VPN

Staying someone private on the internet is impossible in 2020. That is. without using any tools or service providers. ISPs and governments have made it a habit to snoop on the behavior of end users for several years now. Combined with the data harvesting by major technology firms and social network platforms,  the internet has become a relatively dangerous place.  

One easy and relatively cheap option to achieve privacy is to use a VPN. A Virtual private Network will shield user activity from prying eyes. It can also help bypass geographical restrictions for specific services. It is, on paper, a valid, comfortable solution to address the erosion of online privacy in this modern era. 

Unfortunately, this approach only works if the VPN provider is reputable. As the entire world has seen during the recent incident with a Hong Kong-based provider, things can go from bad to worse in a heartbeat. 

The VPN service itself worked fine, but guaranteeing the “private” part of “virtual private network”  was proving to be a challenge. Not only did the company retain user logs – despite claiming no logs would ever be present – but the records were hacked and exposed to boot. 

A Very Deep Rabbit Hole

Making matters even worse is how seven different VPN providers in Hong Kong suffered the same fate. All of these companies were named by VPNMentor  as firms logging user activity and having this data leaked in recent months. That in itself is worrisome enough, but the rabbit hole goes a lot deeper. 

All of the seven identified VPNs are exact copies of the same service. It is not uncommon for software and IT services to be outsourced, either as a white-label solution or as an option to create spin-offs of the same business model. 

In this particular case, using a flawed design across multiple brands has proven catastrophic. Relying a cloud database to store this information is asking for trouble. Not just because the company’s users are being lied to, but also due to the handling of the database in question. When configured incorrectly, there is a lot of personal information at stake.

So far, at least 20 million users have been affected by this incident. Exposed data include activity logs, personal information, Bitcoin payment information, and personal device information. This confirms the data logging went far beyond “monitoring what clients are up to”. 

Despite this particular security incident, using a VPN remains crucial in this day and age. Simply because a few companies messed up, doesn’t mean that all of them maintain the same approach. There are dozens of legitimate companies out there that deliver on their promises. 


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JP Buntinx

JP Buntinx has been writing about cryptocurrency since 2012. His interest in crypto, blockchain, fintech, and finance allows him to cover a broad range of different topics.

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