Ask the Expert: Can a VPN Protect You From Government Surveillance?

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Q: “I am really worried about the NSA surveillance of American citizens. I can’t believe this is even legal. More importantly, I’m wondering what I have to do to protect myself. If I use a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi, will it protect me from government surveillance?”

A: The NSA (National Security Agency) story about how the government is spying on us is is indeed disturbing. What’s interesting about this story is that it’s not exactly new information. PRIVATE WiFi has been publishing stories about this stuff for years: how the government is asking for backdoor access to popular websites, how they are creating huge databases that store all the emails we send, and how data brokers hijack your information and sell it to the highest bidder, just to name a couple of our most popular articles.

What’s different now is that the public knows about it, and many are outraged. Perhaps this is the turning point when the general public begins to take their online security seriously.

But first, let’s look at what the government knows about you and how they got the information. Then I’ll discuss what you can do to protect yourself.

What the Government Knows About You

The NSA implemented a project called PRISM in 2007 that intercepted communications between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. This included users of some of the biggest online companies, including Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, and YouTube.

So what was the NSA monitoring? Almost everything: email, IM chats, videos, photos, stored data, VOIP (Internet phone calls), social network information, and video conferences. And recently, the government has also admitted to tracking and storing phone conversations.

But isn’t this illegal? Technically, no.

The U.S. government has said these projects did not specifically target any U.S. citizens indiscriminately, as this would potentially be an “unreasonable search” that is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. If you’re wondering how the government was able to get this private information, according to The Guardian who broke the PRISM story, the government did it without any company’s participation or knowledge. It’s possible that the government simply tapped into routers and compiled this information on their own.

Either way, it’s not really that hard to do.

How a VPN Can Protect You from Government Surveillance

The good news is that it’s not really that difficult to stop the government’s ability to spy on you online. It’s not like they are using some kind of advanced technology to do it. And let’s be honest: data brokers and cyberthieves have been doing the same thing for years.

It’s a good rule of thumb to assume that everything you do online can be viewed by others. So, it’s probably not a good idea not to let your Facebook friends know that you will be on vacation for two weeks and leaving your home unoccupied, or log into your online bank account while using an unsecured WiFi network at the airport.

Also, it’s a good idea to change your password to complex ones (a mixture of letters, numbers and special characters) and to change them every few months. Your security is only as good as your weakest password. You can also install a product called Ghostery on your Internet browsers which prevents websites from tracking you.

But you can take all of these precautions and still be vulnerable. Everything you search for on Google, every website you visit, every email you send to your friends can easily be snooped on by the NSA. Don’t want the government to know what you are doing? Then it’s time to get a VPN.

A VPN, or virtual private network, is software that secures and privatizes data across the Internet by building an “encrypted tunnel.” When you access the Internet, your data passes through this tunnel which protects it from anyone who tries to intercept it. A VPN like PRIVATE WiFi encrypts everything: your email, your web browsing history, your IMs, your VOIP, everything. Another benefit of using a VPN is that even if your data is intercepted, your identity is protected, since a VPN masks your IP address.

So now the secret’s out: the government is spying on you and has been for quite some time.

Maybe this confirms what you already thought or maybe this is news to you. Either way, you can protect yourself and your data from any kind of surveillance, government or otherwise, by using a VPN.

 

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.

19 Responses

  1. yayayes says:

    NSA XKEYSCORE Program;

    “Show me all the VPN startups in country X, and give me the data so I can decrypt and discover the users.”

    I think you need to update this article.

    • areudumborsmthin says:

      This isnt a “ask an expert” article, this is a “sell our product ad” article dumbass, they not going to update sh|t

  2. yayayes says:

    NSA XKeyscore Program;

    “Show me all the VPN startups in country X, and give me the data so I can decrypt and discover the users.”

    So VPN’s are no longer safe.

  3. Timothy Shaw says:

    Vpn’s work quite well. Vpn’s work so well in fact that NY unemployment suspended my benefits for 4 months just because they coulden’t verify my locaction. It took me a whole unpaid month just to find out that it was due to being ‘pinged”.
    It took two more unpaid months to find out that they don’t tell anyone because their afraid that New yorker’s vactioning (or working) out of the country will transfer their i.p. address back to the U.S. and claim benefits.
    I use public wifi and vpn’s for more than 50% of my networking and I was clueless that NY was spying on me and I was clueless about their vpn policy.
    Because they suspended my benefits for months without explanation I am TELLING EVERYONE.

    • Patrick Riot says:

      Perhaps VPN’s can be somewhat effective when it comes to state government, but if you believe that they are effective at circumventing the federal level of government surveillance, you simply lack sufficient awareness to know better.

  4. Denis English, Ph.D. says:

    “The good news is that it is not all that difficult to stop the government’s ability to spy on you onine..”
    Wanna bet???
    In my case, as I put it together retrospectively, the spys established some sort of dial-up VPN connection to my PCs that started everytime I accessed the internet and did so without my knopwledge. This lasted for over a year till I caught on. I am not exactly sure how that VPN to my computer was established, and although the dial-up boxes and passwords were configured on my computer, I didn’t use dial-up; i believe my Verison Wi Fi was intercepted by a nearby router (initially), a VPN was established and then wheneveer I asked my WiFi to go on line, I was telling the neighboring router to access the dial-up VPN then go on line with the neighbor in the middle (Initally, I had sync problems with Hotmail. MSN said they needed to put a “hotmail Remote assistant” on the case as it was very extensive (Microsoft and Verison assisted in ANY WAY that they could,. not just didn’t interfer, they aided essentially). Immediately after the remote assistant gained access, the VPN was established and my email went blank for about a week (whlile all my emails for 15 years were downloaded and copied.) Then, among the first things done was to intercept my Facebook postings. I didn’t know why for theeeeeeeeee longest time, then I read a few weeks ago about NSA’s “man on the side” attacks using Facebook (they actually use Man in the Middle, and changed many private messages).

    More later..
    PS…They also use LinledIN heavily, use Trojans after initial remote access, and a program called SurfCanyon. They prefer Chrome over IE but can use either. In the end, password protection is just cosmetic as they intercept everything from your keyboard on and back, letting you think you are oh so secure with VPNs and complex passwords, but they are laughing as they watch you type.

    • Maarten Zoutendijk says:

      Anyone to confirm this?

      • SomeOne says:

        yes me – 30 years computing experience – I can tell from his descriptors that he doesn’t actually know exactly what he is talking about (no offence), and was probably attacked in some way when messing with VPNs and thinks they are ALL ineffective, and that simply isn’t true – not if you use a VPN in a non 14eye country (see FVEY and partners) and use one of their servers in a non 14 EYE country and keep changing them daily too, ones closest to you are going to be best/fastest, for me that Swiss, Poland, Romania and few others…I switch between them every day or even in middle of sessions..
        you also would be best using Firefox and containers (only browser to support this) to prevent cross-site scripting (stop facebook et;al recording everything yer doing on other websites in other ‘Tabs’ etc)
        Ghostery + Ublock Origin + Decentraleyes addons to prevent trackers, adverts and content delivery networks from stealing your info… also don’t use popular services that belong to top companies like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook (Whatsapp), Yahoo, Google etc as these are who the government dragged through the courts (99% use these) – use un-popular smaller OPEN SOURCE software, I use SIGNAL for my Instant Messaging to friends and family (it doesn’t have to sync to Signal on your mobile any more either, at my suggestion to them!) , I use ProtonMail for my email (encrypted – even to non PM users if u give them the password by other means)
        I use Open Office program instead of MS word etc
        ExpressVPN – they are pricey cos its all run in RAM, flick of a switch (power off) every day and the data is gone forever, only one hard-drive remains which holds the code to launch the Virtual Machine in RAM to run the VPNs every-day – NOTHING goes through hard-drives…unlike all other VPNs
        If you can… get rid of windows and get onto a Linux Distro – also get a de-googled phone on Ubuntu and use a DATA only sim from o2 (UK) and your VPN installed too – double encryption calling someone on signal, most people use mobiles for online use nowadays anyway and wwalys have wifi or data on so you have a good chance of getting calls through apps, this way your able to call and chat without the government knowing who or when..only where you are roughly – in the UK since 2016 the Investigative Powers Act forces your ISP and Mobile providers to record all metadata for 12 months for recall later, this method screws up there call monitoring on you, if you can get hold of anyone, use phonebox…but chances are, as long as the people in your ‘communication bubble’ use these apps you can call them over data… whatapp and facebook messenger should be avoided 100% – also Telegram as its not encrypted unless you use Telegram X on mobile only and start a ‘secret chat’ – poor, Signal and Wire are the best ones to use

  5. krl2minute says:

    Good article. Have definitely been considering to setup the vpn client on my home router, which should hide everything in my home.
    One question through: If I setup that vpn to cover my whole network, but I still sign into my regular google accounts or any other account for that matter. Shouldn’t the NSA be smart enough to figure out that I’m still me and collect my search results, emails and everything else, even though I’m behind a vpn?

    • Jared Howe says:

      Hi, thanks for writing. Our VPN assigns you the IP address of one of our network servers, so they would not be able to individually track anyone who uses that server no matter what they do. Even if they intercept your Google email, they still have to decrypt it, or else it’s simply gibberish. Until they find a way to decrypt messages (we believe it is decades in the future), everything you do online while using a VPN is protected.

      • krl2minute says:

        Hi Jared. Thanks for your quick reply. It’s very good to know that encryption combined with vpn will protect me.
        My concern however, is still creeping in the back of my mind. With the recent stories of large companies handing over information to NSA, I’m expecting that if I do a search on google, while being logged in as me, Google/NSA would still know what i searched and that I searched it. I remember reading that searches are encrypted like emails.
        Or do you see this also being protected by a privatewifi vpn?

        • Jared Howe says:

          Hi, just to clarify, if you are not signed into Google, the search source IP is the PRIVATE WiFi VPN server you are connected to.

          If you are signed into Google, then Google will be able to track you even if you are using a VPN.

          In addition, it is possible to remember a browser client using a cookie.
          Using a VPN does nothing to prevent tracking cookies. That’s the common
          way for websites to track visitors. If you are interested in removing/blocking cookies, we recommend installing Ghostery.

          The NSA will not be able to track you if you are using a VPN unless/until they can decrypt encrypted messages, which they cannot do yet (as far as we know).

          • krl2minute says:

            That’s in full alignment with my expectations. Thanks for clarifying and confirming.
            Good luck fighting the good fight for privacy.

          • Patrick Riot says:

            What do you think those quantum computers will be used for by the various alphabet gangs???

  6. joey says:

    I use a vpn ghostery & spoofig

  7. Are they ejaculating one another in Allentown PA. Well these guys here have given a new definition into the word Homosexual. We’re talking anal, fellatio. My God government has gone QUEER. It’s like the film pumping up boys. I will send them But plugs for a reward. Its SICK!!!

  8. And this detective named Eric Landis told me it wasn’t going on. I freaking caught Gay cops on my phone and stuff I buy. I like to be honest. Why are people so filthy in life?? It just blows my mind.

  9. P says:

    vpn is not 100% secure.. YES they cannot excactly see what you write or what you do… well at least not in the start.
    But the moment you example check your e-mail and they know you own that e-mail account they know you where on x ip at x time and then all they have to do is search in their database about all the websites was views and what was done online for example 8 houres that day and maybe they can start to guess what you visit and wwhat you do.

    So if you want to really be anonymous you have to use a DUAL vpn connection.. it work in such a way you connect to example germany1 and then the server internaly send you to example switzerland 1 and from there you are on the internet…with other words they can see you connect to germany 1 but not that you popout in switzerland.
    But again the moment you going to your facebook or e-mail ect then they know your ip and that can be “traced” BUT they cannot 100% identify what you did or where you 100% have been or done.. The beautiy with vpn is that you share the same ip address with thousands of other users at the same time so you so to speak it become hard to say exactly what you did or where you go or if it was another user.
    But again they can look at the data size at x time and compare that to your ISP logs.. example you downloaded 30GB x day and we know you visit facebook at x day with the same ip at the same time… BUT this will not be good enough for a case at you with the police, but they just know it was properbly you. Also keep in mind the systems are allot more intelligent today than 20 years ago.. Today they can AI can analyze how you write and how you spell things and scan the net how you write.. they can analyze you speaking in telephones and compare you speach fingerprint with other and find out its you if you change your phone number. ect ect ect. not all countries uses these things but the big ones such as usa, uk, australia and other do so. A vpn do give you some protection but if you are important enough for them to specificly look at you they will properbly find out who you are and who to monitor in the future via other methods. Its incredible easy for states to infect your phone or computer with spywware and so to speak bypass your VPN and look over your shoulder.
    Just saying vpn’s are great but if you want to do bad things or illegal things then go old school and do not use digital systems at all.

  10. Spazi Giuseppe says:

    Are there some differences in performance when a VPN is installed into a USB pendrive plugged in a laptop instead of its common way in C:\\Program Files… ?
    For example with SonicWALL software or NordVPN setup ?

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