What is VPN, and why does Home Ministry want to ban it?
A Home Affairs Committee has urged the Indian government to ban VPN services across India for security reasons.
Virtual Private Network or VPN is gaining the limelight in India, with alleged reports hinting that the government might soon ban their use in the country. The speculation emerges from a recent petition by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, urging the government to prohibit VPN services in India.
- VPN services might be banned in India following an appeal by a Home Affairs Committee.
- The committee claims that VPN services pose a “technological challenge” to the security of the nation.
- It highlights that the services are readily available and used by cybercriminals to mask their activities.
What is VPN?
Let’s start with the most important question in this context – what is VPN? In essence, a Virtual Private Network is exactly what you can make of it from the term. It is a way to create a private network within a public internet connection. This virtual network is encrypted against any outside interference, protecting the privacy of the user by ensuring anonymity.
How does VPN work?
In effect, a VPN works by masking your internet protocol (IP) address on a public Wi-Fi network. VPNs create encryption on the data being transferred through the local Wi-Fi network. The data is also tunneled to an exit node in another location. As a result, it seems as if the user is located at another place than the local network being used.
What is VPN used for?
Since a VPN can successfully mask your presence on the internet, it is used for maintaining privacy in one’s online operations. The big plus with VPNs is the encryption they provide to the data being transferred online, thus making it unreadable to prying eyes. In this way, using a VPN prevents any threat actor on the same public Wi-Fi network as you from eavesdropping on your internet activity.
There is another way in which VPN promotes privacy. As highlighted by Norton in a blog, our browsing history is stored with your internet service provider in its entirety. This tracking takes place through the IP address of your system. Since a VPN is successfully able to mask it, your search history and online activities are hidden even from your internet service provider.
Since VPNs generate a fake IP address for a system, they can also be used to trick the internet services into believing that the system is being operated in another region of the world. VPNs can thus also give you access to banned services in a region. For instance, Google is banned in China but can be accessed through a VPN.
For these reasons, VPNs are also used by corporates for creating a closed network for their employees to work on. Typically used for employees working remotely, VPNs can thus prevent unauthorized access or tracing of activities of any of the employees. This, in turn, protects the integrity of the company’s data and ensures protection against many online threats.
Why is the committee worried?
Just the way VPNs help internet users to protect their identity and privacy online, they can be used by cybercriminals to avoid surveillance. Threat actors masking their IP addresses online can be very difficult for law enforcement to trace. The authorities then have to rely on much more extensive surveillance methods to track these criminal activities online.
In its recommendation, the committee highlights that VPNs “allow criminals to remain anonymous online.” This way, many unsolicited activities online go untraced. Since these VPN services are readily available, threat actors can very easily use them to stay hidden.
What does the committee suggest?
In its appeal, the committee suggested that the Ministry of Home Affairs should work with MeitY, internet service providers in the country, as well as with international agencies, to ban VPNs. Furthermore, it recommended the government to create a coordination mechanism with the mentioned entities to ensure that these VPNs are blocked permanently.
Here is all you need to know about the VPN ban proposal
> The committee said that technological challenges posed by VPN services and Dark Web can bypass cyber security walls and allow criminals to remain anonymous online.
> VPN can easily be downloaded, as many websites are providing such facilities and advertising them, it said.
> The committee said it recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs should coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to identify and permanently block such VPNs with the help of internet service providers. So the committee has effectively asked the Centre to take action against VPNs that are sheltering criminals.
> The ministry must take initiatives to strengthen the tracking and surveillance mechanisms by further improving and developing the state-of-the-art technology, to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web, the report said.
VPN services encrypt data and hide the IP address. For the second reason, one can check blocked sites using a VPN. VPN services hide one online identity even on public Wi-Fi networks.