07 November 2018
Net neutrality is the principle that the internet is not owned by anyone, and that no entity has the right to exert any control over what legal content you access on the internet. But at the end of 2017, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) gutted net neutrality and in consequence a truly free internet.
With repeal of ‘net neutrality’ being lauded and criticized by by several large corporations. You may be asking yourself why this matters, as surely a more regulated internet environment is an inherently more secure one. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially where internet privacy and security are concerned.
Let’s take a few steps back and examine what net neutrality is, what it means for businesses and consumers, and what its rejection means for the future of the internet.
Net neutrality was first proposed as a means to deregulate internet traffic and to treat all data transmitted and received over the internet as equal. This was supposed to open up the internet and in order to make it more accessible to users like utilities – such as water, gas, and electricity providers. But instead, parties with vested interests in classifying the internet as an “information service” have been lobbying to have this legislation repealed. With internet access classified as an “information service” Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are legally permitted to shape, throttle, and block internet traffic if they deem it within their interests to do so. One such early example of corporations tampering with the free flow of information was when Comcast was caught slowing down their users’ upload speeds to the peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent, a practice that they continued to engage in until they were forced to stop by the FCC.
The end result for ISPs would therefore be that instead of offering their customers direct access to the internet without any interference, they would instead offer bundled services, the way cable companies do. This means that even though your internet connection has plenty of bandwidth and has the theoretical capability to stream high quality video from websites like Netflix or YouTube, you would be stuck with a throttled, or limited internet connection to those services, allowing you to only view content on lower quality settings or with annoying buffering delays.
The way to get around this control of your internet would be to pay extra for the privilege to have that protocol un-throttled for the additional service. ISPs would then be able to sell their customers a variety of internet packages with bundled performance options that would have previously worked perfectly in the open internet model that is net neutrality essentially selling you a service to undo the performance blocking rules that they themselves have imposed on their users. This also creates a problem for internet-based companies that wish to access the market (which is you, the user) via your ISP. Because the ISP would have to allow your traffic through their service, they would have to charge such companies an “access fee”, which is essentially a toll. Depending on how deep their pockets are, and how established the company is, such entities might not be able to afford to use the internet in the way they need to, which destroys the free and competitive nature of a capitalistic market.
Now that you have a brief understanding of what the abolition of net neutrality means for consumers from a performance perspective, you might be wondering how it would potentially affect your information security and privacy.
In order for your ISP to effectively police your internet traffic, it will need to keep logs of your activities, as well as additional information about your browsing habits and what services you have been using. Even in cases where users are happy to use a throttled or slowed down version of an internet service, ISPs will monitor that traffic so that they can push direct advertising to those users through their web browsers. The purpose of this is to advertise their “performance enhancing” services for the affected websites and services.
Now imagine if your ISP were to become the target of cyber criminals and your personal data and browsing habits were to be stolen in a cyber attack. Those cyber criminals would then be able to spoof your identity and possibly commit fraud in your name or steal your money from online accounts, or worse.
The inherently opaque nature of your ISP’s behavior might even prohibit them from reporting such instances to their customers in a timely manner, if at all, making you especially vulnerable and without any recourse if such personal data was to be stolen.
On the other side of the coin, ISPs have said that if they are allowed to bundle services as they intend on doing, then they will be able to better serve their customers’ requirements with customized solutions, instead of giving them a full-fledged, open connection to the internet. This would indeed make sense if the pricing were to reflect such an offering. If your internet access was to be throttled or shaped on specific protocols, then you might expect a reduction in pricing from your provider to reflect the reduced functionality of your internet connection. That is, If your internet is slower, you would expect to pay less. You would be mistaken, however.
ISPs would have to add additional fees to their customers to allow them unthrottled access to the internet, in the form of bundled services and performance packages. This means that the same connection that you have right now- the one that does not favor one specific type of internet traffic over another – would cost you much more if you were to purchase the array of “products” from your ISP which would allow you to unlock each protocol or “service” on your internet connection.
Ultimately, what this means is that you will most likely be paying more money for your internet connection and getting less functionality.
Now that you know what the rollback of net neutrality could potentially do to your internet experience, we can take a look at how the services of a trusted VPN provider could assist to circumvent some, if not all, of the limitations that could be forced on consumers.
Problem: Access to specific websites has been limited or blocked altogether.
Solution: Using a VPN to access the website or service that has been blocked by your ISP is definitely possible. Your VPN provider acts as a go-between for you and your internet connection to the rest of the internet. The result is that your connection to the VPN is the only traffic that your ISP would be aware of on their network, meaning that your ISP has no control or oversight over what you do with the connection.
Solution: As with the previous example, a VPN can help to circumvent such issues. Because your VPN provider has an open connection to the internet, your traffic is unregulated. With a VPN how the bandwidth is utilized on your connection is not determined by your ISP. As long as you have a good internet connection to your VPN provider’s server, you will be able to stream content without any problems.
Solution: While it is troubling that your billing information has been stolen, you are in a better position than other users that have their entire browsing history stored and potentially stolen in the data breach. This is because most VPN providers don’t keep records of your browsing history or logs of your activities. This also means that you are less likely to be a target online once cyber criminals start sifting through the records that they have managed to steal from your ISP. Your records are likely to be far less interesting than those of a user whose entire internet history is available for analysis and exploitation.
Solution: VPNs are not only able to block your activities from your ISP, but your location is also masked, which confuses online advertisers who can’t track your movements online. This creates a more pleasant internet experience for you with far fewer instances of irritating advertisements and popups.
VPNs can help with circumventing limitations that are imposed on you by your ISP to a certain extent, but they do have some limitations. The biggest one is latency, especially if your VPN is in another country or on another continent. This is because your VPN acts as a middleman, which gives your internet requests an additional “hop” (or multiple “hops”)Each packet of data needs to complete these additional steps in order to send a request to a server over the internet and then back to you as content and information.
This can result in a less than optimal experience when playing online games, which is experienced as a high ping (lower is better) or as a generally slower connection. You might have a really quick internet connection to your ISP, but your VPN service might only offer you a fraction of that speed, depending on the width of their data pipe and the package that you have with them.
Another potential hurdle is that your ISP might decide to throttle your VPN connection altogether if they are able to identify which VPN protocol you are using. Although this may be difficult for you ISP to do consistently, it is not impossible. This would create additional service degradation over your internet connection, which could compel users to pay their ISP the additional access fees to “unlock” the performance barriers of their internet connection – instead of using a VPN service.
Luckily there are many providers out there that are able to give you a premium VPN experience for a relatively low price.When you consider the overall security and privacy features that a VPN brings to your internet experience, it is well worth investing in one . Below are some of the best VPN services available today, each with their own advantages and features.
NordVPN is a service provider that takes security to heart, offering double combinations of VPN protocols to give users a seriously secure connection to the internet. They also offer a service known as CyberSec, which throws off internet advertisers and gives you a much more private online experience.
NordVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption keys, as well as IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN protocols to provide you with a private connection to the internet. This means that your IP address is protected and secure, making you a hard target for hackers to track. NordVPN keeps no logs of their users, which means that your online activities are private and secure, perfect for home or business connections to the internet. DNS leak protection is guaranteed, and by utilizing Onion Over VPN, your data has never been more safe.
NordVPN is available in 61 countries, and they host over 3500 servers globally, giving it worldwide appeal for technical internet users and novices alike. NordVPN encourages online streaming services and has a feature called SmartPlay, which is said to reduce video buffering, and it allows access to the most popular streaming services on the internet. P2P (peer-to-peer) download and uploads are also welcome.
For users that wish to try it out, there are applications available for Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Windows. Users can connect up to 6 devices simultaneously on one account, which gives you room to include your favorite gadgets when indulging in your private internet experience.
PureVPN offers private browsing and internet connectivity via their easy-to-use apps and plugins. It even offers a Google Chrome Extension for users to enjoy Netflix’s library from, with VPN access granted directly through the browser.
As well as offering multiple platforms to connect from, PureVPN also has hundreds of servers spread throughout 140 countries. They offer unlimited bandwidth and access to all servers regardless of the package that you are on. They also offer a service called Split Tunneling. This allows users to divide up traffic between the VPN and regular, unencrypted traffic directly through the ISP.
PureVPN offers streaming solutions with dedicated streaming servers that optimize video content for users, as well as unrestricted website access and a pro peer-to-peer attitude towards file sharing. For the security conscious, PureVPN offers OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, SSTP and IKEv2, depending on your requirements.
Although things seem somewhat bleak for internet users that are in favor of a transparent and open internet model, the outcomes have not yet been finalized, and how the last work on net neutrality plays out is anyone’s guess.
Over 30 states have recently challenged the FCC’s net neutrality rollback in one form or another, with the most common push-back coming in the form of a localized, pro net neutrality effort, as seen most recently in Washington state. This is a move that is seen by many as an attempt by state governments to protect their citizens from the FCC’s over-extended reach, and it’s likely to turn into a long, drawn out process that is unlikely to be settled quickly or in an orderly fashion.
Regardless of the outcome, it is a good idea for businesses and private users alike to seriously consider a VPN and find a solution that works best for them. Protecting your information and keeping your online activities private is a must, and using a VPN service is one of the most cost effective and easy to implement solutions that is available at present.