With the issue of security breaches threatening our personal lives more common these days on the internet, it is no surprise that VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are becoming ever popular with individuals and businesses that cherish their privacy.
This sector of the tech industry, which some experts value at over $30 billion a year, is a money-making juggernaut that is unlikely to decrease in the coming years.
But what is this futuristic piece of magic?
A VPN offers its customers a secure way to browse the internet and is a combination of protection from online menaces such as malware and hackers while giving anonymity to the user. Taking these two things into consideration, this cannot be a bad thing.
This technology, starting off in the early 1990s, transformed the landscape.
Back then, only the most tech-savvy amongst us and the specialists at university faculties really understood what the internet and the possibilities it could bring. Nobody envisaged the threats to our privacy that would manifest themselves more than two decades later.
A visionary, Gurdeep Singh-Pall — who at the time was working for Microsoft in India — invented Point to Point Tunnelling, or PPTP. Though the development of (PPP) Point to Point Protocol had already been developed and was well understood, the ‘Tunnelling’ aspect to the technology was a game changer.
Singh-Pall’s idea of creating tunnels to send data from one user to another gave it an extra layer of security.
Jumping on the Bandwagon
At the time — and because the technology wasn’t understood to its fullest — Singh-Pall’s American employer failed to move forward with his invention.
The VPN market stood still. However, once the tech world got wind of how useful VPNs could be to their security issues, they started to grow in popularity.
Tech Magazines jumped on the bandwagon. They started name dropping the term ‘VPN’ in their articles.
A small revolution erupted.
The technology gradually got better from its crude inception to the multi-billion-dollar industry it is becoming today.
Twenty years ago, the selection of protocols for VPNs was small in comparison to how they are now. The limitations in PPTP were a glaring problem. It wasn’t till later, when tech professionals had upped their game, that things improved.
Common standards got better. Protocols such as OpenVPN and SSL came on the market. Evolution was slow. But within a decade the technology — as well as the democracy of use — began to change for the better.
Instead of just rich tech companies with a plethora of IT professionals at their fingertips having access to what VPNs had to offer, normal consumers started using them.
Faster connection times. The rise in the number of web users. All this contributed to the phenomenon.
And with improvements, people demanded more.
VPNs got faster and better in performance. Concomitantly, web users expected a better online service when it came to their privacy: dangers — in the form of malware, phishing and spam — started to emerge. This created the perfect storm for the rise in their popularity.
One of the prime concerns of web users back then was safety online (as it still is). The market, naturally, grew.
This developed into the surge of VPN providers. And less than ten years ago, the market started to crystallize into the form we see today.
And the rest is history.
Edward Snowden, Please Stand Up!
Online security has taken precedence for companies these days as the surveillance culture often reported in the media by guilty parties such as our governments and social media giants like Facebook causes one scandal after another.
Peer-to-Peer downloading (P2P) — a subculture back in the early 2000s with companies such as Napster — is making a resurgent comeback. And VPNs are there to pick up the business of this high demand and often risky pastime.
The Edward Snowden fiasco, in 2013, and everything that came after it, made people realize — especially in the United States — how much their governments knew about them. It was all too much Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. And this, even by your own administrations, was a bitter pill to swallow.
The potential for governments to control every aspect of our wired lives, from our web search histories to where we drink coffee in the morning, was becoming ever real.
Whistle-blowers such as Snowden and other privacy scandals have shown just how important online security is. The world, particularly the digital kind, is not a safe place to be anymore.
That is why VPNs can be — if developed correctly by responsible companies and the powers that be — our guardian angels.
— ‘It was all too much Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’
To say that this technology is going to disappear any time soon is a fallacy.
It is here, in whatever form it develops into in the coming years, to stay.
To control the internet, and the people who use it, governments and tech companies will have to distinguish between the different kinds of web users (by their search histories and keyword preferences) and then classify them.
Doing this will enable ISPs and government agencies to grade web users. This, I am sure — particularly in the western world where we value individual freedom — is an unacceptable future.
VPNs, we pray, will go some way in curtailing this practice.
The internet should be a place where there is no form of online segregation. A place for all people to use. Democratic, free an’ easy.
As we move forward, we can guarantee that VPNs will become more developed regarding our privacy. Although this is all guesswork at the moment, many experts foresee a time when crypto payments, token-based authentication, as well as protocol obfuscation and whatever more will develop in sophistication, giving us — in theory at least — the sense that Big Brother is far, far away.
But at the moment, be afraid, be very afraid!