Something to hide: VPNs and Proxies

Secure tunnels and VPN connections have had a difficult time recently, as law enforcement has railed against their implement. Also with the increase in data loss, too, typically through an insider or from a remote access trojan (RAT), many companies are looking to ban VPN connections, and also to replace the digital certificate from the remote site with their own certificate (and thus be able to read the contents on a tunnel).

But now it is content streaming providers, such as Netflix, who are struggling to cope with them, as they allow users to "pretend" that they are based in the country where the service is licenced. The problem for Netflix is that many of the available TV and film content still restricted by location, so the usage of VPN proxies causes many problems in providing the same service across the world.

A proxy server is used to provide access to a remote system, and where the IP address of the proxy server appears in the access. Users can thus hide behind the proxies and hide their source. This is great for privacy, but it does little for services which depend on locating the access device, such as in streaming video services.

So if a streaming content provider offers different rates around the world for accesses, users can simple proxy from that country and access the service at the reduced rate. Often content too is licenced for only certain regions of the world, and thus proxies can hide the origin, and the worry for Netflix is that they could be breaching licencing agreements.

Along with proxies, VPNs also hide the original source of the accesses, and thus cause problems for any service which relies on locating the accessor. The key feature with a VPN is that the IP address that appears for accesses is the IP address of the VPN server, thus users can hide behind them.

Proxies and VPN connections can thus be used to break the licencing agreements within the country that the content is being access from. For example, the BBC iPlayer restricts its licences to UK-based customers, but many access it through proxy/VPN servers that can be traced to the UK. Now it is Netflix that are banning proxy/VPN access. In Europe, too, Netflix users pay eight Euros per month, whereas in the US it is $8, but there is nowhere near the same service. With 190 countries to cover, thus, one must wonder if Netflix can provide the same service in each of these countries.

Once we look past the usage of the known VPN proxies, it will then become difficult to detect, as users can easily create VPN connections themselves with Cloud-based systems. The blocking of VPN proxies has been tried before, such as in 2014, with Hulu, but they failed to enforce it as VPN providers found ways to bypass restrictions.

Several VPN proxies providers are already quoting that, if they are banned, they will created a whole new network infrastructure within days. Within Cloud-based systems, too, a single IP address can quickly become millions, which will be much more difficult to detect and block.

 

Figure 9: Using a proxy to hide your location

William Buchanan LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/billatnapier(link is external)(link is external)

Napier University   website: http://www.napier.ac.uk/(link is external)

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First published on Company Connecting October 2016

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