The internet has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we live. It has changed the way we work, how we access information, how we travel, how we communicate and how we interact with one another. This goes hand in hand with a greater degree of freedom that we enjoy through the democratization and decentralization of information. In this way, the Internet has opened up to wider debate, analysis, and scrutiny by the general public on matters that affect them and the world. Thanks to the Internet, the sphere of influence is shifting away from centralized authorities and the mainstream media.
In our rush to grasp the freedoms of the internet, we have neglected or made neglect something equally important: our privacy. When billions of people flock to the latest social media networks, they don’t realize that they are the real product behind these new free services.
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Stimulated by “free” platforms and peer pressure, parts of the Internet became factories for data collection, with valuable user data and information being shared with the platforms’ actual customers: the winning bidders. A few powerful corporations seized large parts of the Internet, reaped data ownership they did not own, watered down data protection rights, and opened the doors to censorship.
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This centralizing factor, along with other concerns about accessibility, surveillance and net neutrality, has led to heightened awareness of privacy.
VPNs: The First Step in Ensuring User Privacy
The origins of virtual private networks or VPNs can be traced back to Microsoft in 1996, when Gurdeep Singh-Pall invented the point-to-point tunnel protocol to implement virtual private networks. Fast forward to 2021 and VPN services are picking up after hitting an all-time high of 27.1% in 2020. NordVPN reported an increase in VPN usage during the COVID-19 lockdown due to an increase in work-from-home orders.
The motivations for using VPNs range from security requirements to avoiding surveillance, overcoming censorship, and improving streaming services. Regardless, VPN users can send their web traffic to a server managed by the VPN service provider through an encrypted tunnel. Traffic is then directed to the web, where the data is still encrypted, assuming users only connect to secure HTTPS websites, which ensures privacy.
VPN services like NordVPN, ProtonVPN, Surfshark, and others use strong security protocols, minimal data logging, private domain name system or DNS, servers, and internet-friendly jurisdictions. This in turn leads to advantages such as the avoidance of censorship, increased security for both public and private connections and data transfers, remote access and online anonymity.
While this is a step in the right direction, VPNs can slow down internet speeds significantly and result in poor connectivity. Websites can even use anti-VPN software to block traffic generated through a VPN or log data that can then be resold. Not to mention, VPNs are a core service. As a result, users remain vulnerable to data leakage and potential censorship.
The way forward is paved with decentralized alternatives called decentralized private networks or DPNs.
Decentralized private networks
Similar to VPNs, decentralized private networks or decentralized VPNs also use encrypted tunnels to forward web traffic. However, this is done via decentralized rather than centralized networks. DPNs are serverless and distributed, ensuring higher levels of security so that user data is not logged, hacked, or preloaded.
In a decentralized private network, user devices act as both a client (like individual Internet users) and a server (like Amazon Web Services or Google). And the IP addresses change automatically based on their routing rules and establish tunnels to other nodes around the world.
The negation of a central control point in DPN services means that there are no central points of attack. The network cannot be shut down. Users are also in control of their data as no central provider has access to the information they want to protect.
DPNs make it to market
As users become more aware of privacy issues and issues with centralizing data and information, DPNs are becoming increasingly popular. Innovators in the blockchain and crypto sector are already using this requirement to offer their internet users better protection.
For example, the Polkadot-based DPN project Deeper Network combines network security, blockchain and sharing economy to create a global peer-to-peer network that offers the same resilience to data theft and censorship as traditional VPNs, only without the need for a central facility required is server. The same applies to DPNs such as Mysterium Network and Hhopr, with which applications, people and organizations can exchange information in complete privacy.
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In addition to the software solutions offered by DPNs, there are also hardware devices such as Deeper Connect that create a private network that users can surf the Internet like any VPN. These decentralized hardware VPNs offer a one-time purchase and a no-subscription model. Hardware VPN users can also share their free bandwidth with other users and make a profit on their contribution.
Overall, this creates a truly private, more secure, and more rewarding network for users to browse the Internet. There is a great possibility that DPNs will move the Internet from where it is today to a secure communication space where technology and ethics meet to uphold human dignity, freedom and independence.
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Evan Luthra is a Top 30 Under 30 Tech Entrepreneur and Blockchain Expert with an Honorary Doctorate. in decentralized and distributed systems. His companies StartupStudio and Iyoko invest in the companies of tomorrow and help build them up. Evan is a speaker at various universities and conferences around the world.