Report on VPN usage to avoid data retention

August 18, 2014 |

The Australian in Australians flock to VPNs to avoid data retention reports on consumers response to the Government’s data retention plans.  It is interesting to see how the market responds to government proposals – when they are made public.  It is far from a perfect solution.

It provides:

A FEDERAL Government plan to retain users’ internet addresses for 2 years has sparked a surge of interest in virtual private networks as a way to circumvent it.

Virtual private networks let users hide their true location by adopting a new IP or internet address that makes it seem they are logging in from another country. VPNs are like a tunnel from your computer into a far-flung region of cyberspace.

VPN’s already are a popular means for getting around geoblocks that stop Australians from accessing overseas online stores or US based streaming services such as Netflix.

But the government’s plan for data retention laws is giving VPNs a new lease of life.

Berlin based ZenMate said it had recorded a surge in Australian users adopting its security and privacy extension for Google Chrome, which lets users divert traffic through the Chrome web browser.

“Last week, the Australian public was shocked when Attorney-General George Brandis revealed a new plan requiring telecommunications companies to collect and keep Australians’ metadata from their internet browsing for two years,” said ZenMate co-founder Simon Specka.

“We have seen a 60 per cent increase in visitors from Australia to the Chrome store over the past three weeks. We saw similar results following recent internet restrictions when Turkey’s PM banned Twitter,” he said.

VPNs received another unexpected boost at the weekend when Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull hinted it may be a way to avoid IP addresses being recorded.

“Your web surfing history is a matter for you. “You’ve all got VPNs anyway,” Mr Turnbull said at the GovHack “hackathon” awards in Brisbane on Sunday,

“All of you appear to be somewhere in Iowa when you go online … I know that … anyway, I won’t go on.”

The Australian user interest in Zenmate comes just days after the same company experienced a surge in interest from Russian internet users and bloggers.

A new law in Russia requires bloggers with 3000 or more daily readers to register with the state watchdog Roskomnadzor, disclose their real identity and follow the same rules as journalists working in conventional state-registered mass media, Zenmate said in a blog.

Another VPN provider, VPNSecure, said it too had received a recent increase in interest from Australians.

“Certainly this is the case, traffic to our website has doubled over the last few weeks,” VPNSecure director Shayne McCulloch said.

“This is a very good indication that the general population of Australia do not wish for the Government to know their every move on the internet.

“These are people that are searching for VPN’s that have never previously used a VPN that just wish to obtain a form of internet privacy.

“They do not wish the government to know that they visit Facebook 10 times a day, searching for car parts, (or) the best remedies for the common cold,” Mr McCulloch said.

“At the end of the day they feel it’s no one’s business, but their own.

“We have also had a large increase of inquiries about VPN Routers, as they wish to protect not just a single device, but every device within their home,” he said.

Earlier this year, Senator Brandis’s office told The Australian there was nothing unlawful about using VPNs, in the context of accessing geoblocked foreign-based online stores.

However security company Trend Micro says an ISP would still be able to tell you were online, that you were surfing the internet, but they would not be able to tell the sites that you visited if you used a VPN.

“That being said they will be able to inform that you are online and that you are masking where you are going,” said Tim Falinski, Trend Micro Director, Consumer, ANZ.

“That would then lead to another question — if you are using an Australian VPN, will the government have rights to look at their data? Or if you use an overseas VPN will you be exposing yourselves to fraud and identity theft?” Mr Falinski said.

“We see some people going for the free VPN services which are not always secure and confidential with your data. People flocking to these platforms are opening themselves to as many risks as they are trying to mitigate from potential government oversight.

“So in some cases they might be jumping out of the frying pan into a fire that is potentially more dangerous. i.e. if you are routing all your traffic through someone else, you need to ensure that they are secure enough to not being attacked.”

Internet Service Provider iiNet said using a VPN would make no difference to the firm retaining the IP address that it allocated to a user’s service.

“It’s irrelevant,” said Steve Dalby, iiNet’s chief regulatory officer.

“It’s like suggesting that GMH wouldn’t have a record of a vehicle, because someone has erased the VIN from the car, once it left the factory. People looking at the car may not see it, but GMH still have it,” he said.

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