The Need for Encryption and VPNs

There is a single, simple description of encryption and that is the ability to keep secrets. If that all sounds a bit sinister, it’s not meant to be because secrecy also equates to privacy which is vital in our digital age. Much of our lives has moved online and unfortunately the enabler for this is the internet which is about as secure as my wallet sticking out of my back pocket in Barcelona (note – not very).

The internet is not secure far from it, the underlying protocol (HTTP) has no security whatsoever and your data is relayed through a huge network of other peoples routers and servers. With some application it is a trivial task to intercept this data which is mostly in clear text.

So any security additions to this situation should be encouraged and there very few of them around. One of them is to use a virtual private network (VPN) which establishes a secure tunnel for transmitting your data down. The VPN is also encrypted so even if you are sitting in a small cafe, using their badly configured Wifi – you have some level of protection. In the corporate world this usually obligatory, most company laptops have VPN clients installed automatically to allow their employees to transmit data with and element of privacy.

Unfortunately the world’s biggest web sites don’t like you accessing their sites using VPNs for a variety of reason. Takes for example this situation where any VPN user will receive a Netflix proxy warning if they try and access the site.

Why do they do this? Well the biggest reason is that they cannot determine the location of a VPN user accurately. Netflix need to do this to ensure that subscribers don’t pick and choose which locale they want to watch, they want to enforce their control. So anyone in the UK would have to watch the UK version, French people would have to watch the French version and so on. This does cause some annoyance as the US version is the same price and has many times the content of most of the other versions of Netflix.

However their method has been to block any access from a VPN server based on a commercial IP address (which all are). This meant that effectively anyone using a VPN for whatever reason can’t watch Netflix while it is enabled. It’s a huge blow for people like me who use their VPN enabled all the time, simply to stay secure. Of course you can disable and then re-enable but in practice that’s not as simple to do.

Already we have seen one or two of the VPN services companies adapt however by using various redirection methods – How to Bypass the Netflix Block , however this involves using residential based IP addresses which are difficult to obtain and quite expensive. The reality is that many users will simply stop using VPN services for security particularly if more companies adopt this tactic. Remember even a normal user using a domestic VPN with no thoughts of using a different region will be blocked simply because they are using a VPN.