Who should worry about the proposed VPN ban in India

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Who should worry about the proposed VPN ban in India
The government has been urged to block VPNs in India.Unsplash
  • If India bans virtual private networks, it would join the league of China, North Korea, Russia and UAE in doing so.
  • Popular VPN services, like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and IPVanish, give users anonymity on the internet and allow them to access sites that are banned. In India, VPNs were a rage when the popular mobile game PUBG was banned last year.
  • These are also used by companies to allow secure access to the company’s servers and data by employees working remotely who may be using public or unsecured internet connections.
  • Check out the latest news and updates on Business Insider.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in India has urged the government to block virtual private networks (VPNs) in India. Just like Belarus, China, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates have.

So who is it likely to affect?

Popular VPN services, like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and IPVanish, give users anonymity on the internet and allow them to access sites that are banned. In India, VPNs were a rage when the popular mobile game PUBG was banned last year.

Popular VPN services in IndiaFree/PaidCommonly used for…
NordVPN PaidSpeed and privacy
ExpressVPNPaidFast speed and access to popular apps
TorGuardPaidTorrenting
IPVanishPaid Multi-device support
CyberGhostPaidAccess to multiple servers

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These are widely used to watch anything from Netflix content in other countries to the hidden websites on the dark web as well as pornographic websites like Pornhub, Xvideos, and Youporn, which are also banned in India.

In fact, India is said to have the highest adoption rate of VPNs according to data from Atlas VPN.

VPNs provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot. These are also used by companies to allow their employees working remotely to log in to the company network from anywhere and keep company data secure through the encrypted network.

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So will the ban on VPN hurt remote work?

“We believe the ban is primarily not really for VPN tunnels of large companies and business entities but targeting VPN companies which help Indian citizens in bypassing the current internet bans implemented in India to conduct cybercrime activity. We also think the government would allow companies that comply with Indian data laws regulations,” Ashara said.

Is it possible to ban VPN?

Yes, it is possible to ban VPNs. “The government would release a mandate to Internet service providers to block commonly used VPN protocols and ports used by these VPN services. Additionally, less technical ISPs will still have loose ends in having an effective blanket ban of VPN services,” said Darshit Ashara, Associate VP of CloudSEK’s research team.

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“Given the current technological world that we reside in, a popular technique named "Deep Packet Inspection" can be implemented to get this done. Alongside IP address or Port blocking techniques can also be used. We have earlier noticed Reliance Jio using SNI-inspection based filtering to block websites,” Ashara added.

Why is this ban on VPN being proposed?

The committee in its report presented to Rajya Sabha, highlighted the dangers of VPNs that can “bypass cyber security walls and allow criminals to remain anonymous online”. Since VPNs encrypt your internet traffic it gives you the protection of your virtual identity. Your online activities are hidden from the websites you visit and from ISPs as well. But the main purpose of VPNs is to help prevent third parties from tracking your online activities and stealing data.

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In addition to working with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and internet service providers (ISPs) to identify and block VPNs, the committee suggested a coordination mechanism be developed with international agencies to ensure that the VPNs are blocked permanently. It also urged the government to improve the tracking and surveillance systems to keep a check on the use of VPN and the dark web as well. The dark web consists of hidden internet sites that can be accessed only by a specialised web browser. These websites are used to keep internet activity anonymous and private. Like VPNs, the dark web can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.

Will the ban be foolproof?

More than the process of blocking VPNs in the country, the task of ensuring that the ban is in place would be more important, Ashara added. Similar to how individuals can find ways to bypass bans on apps like PUBG Mobile, the same could be followed for VPNs as well. “If not so sophisticated users are able to evade bans, here we are talking about someone(cybercriminal) who is technically strong or very least knowledgeable,” Ashara said.

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