Most VPN providers will advertise the number of servers they have available starting with their homepage and will wear those figures like a badge of honor throughout their websites. In the following, I’ll show you why the server count might all be just a gas and why you should not let it influence your buying decision.
Not all servers were created equal
So, let’s talk about servers. They come in all shapes and sizes, while some are serving emails, others do videos or host web sites. In other words, they vary depending on the job they were designed to fulfill and naturally, so do their processors, memory or storage options. Having more servers doesn’t necessarily translate into having better speed, having the right kind of servers though, catering to the right kind of job, does.
For example, some servers were made for high performance applications, serving ever increasing numbers of users (scalability) and highly available or continuous applications, which in plain english means – applications that do not go down. Other servers are serving web content or were made to VPN servers. Each has its own kind of processor, memory and storage.
Servers can also vary on location and age. A new generation server can be a completely different piece of machinery than an old one and when it comes to VPNs that can go both ways. Good and bad, the whole nine yards. And of course new doesn’t always equal better. In fact, for VPN servers, more often than not older servers usually offer multiple CPUs and have more cores, a relative rare commodity in new generation servers.
Now that we know that internet connection is far more important than the server count, that’s when uplinks come into play.
Good connectivity is today an imperative and that’s why most servers ship 1Gb/s connections. To get the best of each server however, a VPN provider needs to have a pretty good uplink to the ISP.
What you can take away from this
A large server portfolio is usually perceived as better connectivity and an overall higher speed, when it comes to a VPN service. While the inclination to follow the above logic makes sense, connectivity and speed, particularly, doesn’t have much to do with the actual numbers of servers.
There’s a far more intricate story that dictates connectivity, going behind the scenes that can determine wether or not a VPN provider deserves the hype it gets, or more importantly, has the expected level of performance. Server types, processors, memory, storage options and bandwidth are the actual forces that go into play.
A good VPN will have its own servers and encryption protocols designed for it, reducing possible security failures to a minimum. Free VPN services are often an open door to malware and can be easily used by scammers.
In the FREE vs. PAID matter, its is important to understand that most legit businesses will offer 7 days of free trial, but a free connection on a indefinite period of time is sure to get its profit elsewhere; in ways that can harm your security and defeat the whole purpose of having a VPN in the first place.
In the words of Mark Zuckerberg “the future is private”. A bold statement, you might say, considering it comes from the man under scrutiny over inappropriate sharing of user data (in one of the biggest scandals in social media, thus far).
I know, I know. And I agree, but still, don’t let the hype cloud your judgement, the man is still the most relevant voice in the social media phenomenon, with or without $5 bn in fines. It makes no difference.
What’s even more interesting here is that not just the future of Facebook-that’s not of the essence, but the digital world as a whole might be relying on the same principle in the coming digital era.
here is why:
When news about Facebook — Cambridge Analytics broke, the digital world as a whole was going largely unregulated, in a time when social media was gaining a lot of influence and started playing a major role in protests, riots and social movements, influencing elections.
A year later, the digital environment entered a new phase that demanded better security and created a new wave of shifts and changes in which a few strong players had each a personal stake in.
A. There were the users, wanting a change in how their personal data is handled, migrating to instagram, which truth be told was not such a smart move, as instagram also owned by Facebook, did not offer better security at the time (nor in present). But the migration is not important, in the sense that whether is facebook or instagram, we are talking about the same entity owning both larger than life platforms.
B. There were the electoral interests fighting to close the new found “Pandora’s box” that social media was threatening to become.
C. And then, in an oversimplified scenario (let’s keep things simple for a while) there was Facebook. Maybe not the de facto creator of social media, but most certainly it’s first, biggest, most successful promoter, to say the least.
Now, a year later, the platform is taking a privacy-focused approach saying it wants to “unify its messaging products around concepts like ephemerality and encryption”(The Verge).
But why is this relevant?
It the light of today’s digital environment events, counting what’s app security breach as the most recent, the privacy-focused approach is now a trend and one that’s going stay, evolve and diversify, going far beyond just social media.
The Data Mining Issue
When it comes to data mining, government is not the only one invested in making sense of your personal data, nor is it the biggest beneficiary. The advertising industry is. And no, this is not just a black mirror scenario. It’s already happening.
Your credit card history can be bought from your bank, monitoring tools can be built-in a lot of devices you are already using on a daily, trackers can be embedded in any web page and are actively extracting data to better understand and adapt to your buying preferences and behavior.
Not saying all trackers are cunningly mining data for obscure reasons. Some of them are simply trying to make your online experience better, faster or more pleasing. Not everybody out there is selling your data to 3rd party advertising agencies banking on your consumption behavior.
We all have a price. A reservation price, at least.
However, in a not so distant future, a lot of what you’re putting out there, your online footprint can and will be used to predict your “reservation price”.
Simply put, the reservation price is the value you are willing to pay in exchange of a good or service. According to Wikipedia, on the demand side the reservation price is the highest price that a buyer is willing to pay; on the supply side, it is the lowest price at which a seller is willing to sell a good or service.
Naturally this value can change constantly and can vary a lot depending on context. Say you just finished your morning pilates, you will naturally be inclined to pay more for the same bottle of water that you can buy at the corner shop later. If enough about your daily routine is known and accessible, you could be faced with customized offerings based on your reservation price for a particular good or service.
If data mining goes at the same rate as today, merchants can and will identify customers before even making the purchase. This tactic is already in use and no longer a secret for flight fares, that may vary depending on your IP geolocation.
Best place to hide is in plain sight. A few strategies to keep yourself out of the loop.
The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while. You basically need to pay a monthly subscription and rock on. It’s important that you don’t chose a free VPN as free VPN services are sure to get their profits elsewhere and it’s usually on your broadband expense. So avoid using unreliable free services that offer protection, but are in fact jeopardizing it.
Taking hold of your own digital footprint requires savvy, educated users, that know their rights and are not willing to compromise when it comes to their own privacy.
It’s easy to understand why more and more people resort to using a VPN service, rather than letting their information “fly” to unknown servers where they can be stored indefinitely.
2. Clear Cookies
You can look at cookies as clutter, piling up your desk, constantly demanding more and more of your attention or space.
To get around this kind of clutter you can install a cookie cleaner software or use your browser’s incognito mode. it won’t make you untraceable, but it will open a cookie free window.
20 years have passed since the Matrix was released… hard to believe, I know. Even harder to accept, without feeling a little bit old, especially if you remember being a bright young thing when the movie hit the big screen, back in 1999. Sounds prehistoric? Well, you’re right, it kind of is.
The ideas in the movies however,are more relevant today than ever. The dystopian future in which artificial intelligence takes over humankind, could be one of the supercuts, but the movie itself abounds in symbolisms, referring to the greater, bigger, more meaningful themes of the 21st century and beyond. It is perhaps a new syntax of sci fi/ action movies, the perfect mix of special effects, narrative and style, underpinning philosophical themes. This whole mix is what makes the movie, much more than just a sci-fi, but a cult film, a classic of its genre.
When news about WhatsApp security breach broke, there was something in the way the hacking took place, that screamed to me: THE MATRIX. I’m getting a lot of that, lately.
Not sure if I was following the Aristotelian mimesis or the Oscar Wilde anti-mimesis, in my thought process, but one thing was for sure: there really was “a glitch in the system”.
Remember how Neo uses the phone to “exit” the Matrix? Well, WhatsApp hackers used the same principle, a phone call, only this time to “enter”.
In the words of Oscar Wilde or Lana del Rey’s gods and monsters song, I guess life really imitates art. I find this version to be more poetic than prophetic, so I’m sorry Aristotel, I’m taking the Del Rey — Wilde route, this time around.
Game of phones
Back to reality. Only last week, one of the largest communication apps, WhatsApp, amounting more than 1.5 billion users, was the target of an unprecedented hack, that revealed quite a vulnerability in its security system.
Even though, the app is popular for having end to end encryption on all messages going through its servers, hackers managed to enter the system via in-app voice calls. Basically, the users affected by the hack, got one or two calls from a number unknown to them, which delivered a code in the process of calling. Regardless if the user answered the call or not, the code was shipped.
Nothing a user could’ve done, short of not having the app altogether, could have prevented the infection. WhatsApp has since resolved the security breach and patched the flaw, while urging their users to update the app sooner rather than later.
However this particular security breach is very important from another aspect, that of the technology the hackers used. The hacking tool involved in the cyber attack is reportedly similar, if not identical, to the spyware and surveillance tools used by governments to capture high profile criminals and is often nearly impossible to track. As in this case, hackers could even erase records of the call used to inject the code, after the fact.
The alleged culprit? A company, known as the largest player in the business of surveillance tools, the Israeli cyber security company NSO Group is believed to be the developer of the tool. Even though the hacking tool gives a few cues and has the distinguishing marks of the type of surveillance tools developed by the company, NSO denies the allegations.
The target? Human Rights activists and apparently one lawyer in particular.
The motive? Let’s give a little more context. The alleged targeted lawyer, who spoke in condition of anonymity, is helping a Saudi dissident and several Mexican journalists build a civil case against the NSO. The NSO Group claims to only sell surveillance tools for legitimate targets, selling exclusively to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but is suspected to do otherwise, in practice, targeting honest individuals and not high profile criminals or terrorists, being involved in illegal surveillance and thus violating human rights.
These are, in a nutshell, the facts so far of last week’s “Game of Phones” finale. But in real life.
Still, the case looks a lot more like Matrix to me. Am I taking it too far? I can’t tell.
Maybe I’m in too deep on this one, but the phone metaphor still echoes in my head. And no, I don’t suppose they’ll open a portal in spacetime any time soon through a phone call, but suffice to say they opened a very dense, resourceful and highly popular messaging app, in the meantime.
And so, could it be that these devices we so often use, be nothing more than pocket-sized surveillance devices we gladly accept?
Ok, that’s an oversimplification and I take that back, but the thought is worth to ponder upon, as it might lead to savvier users and a safer digital environment. As we arrive to a new age kicking and screaming all the way, we might even find our way to Zion. I somehow, take solace in that.
Until Zion, let’s take it each step at a time and see how the 2019 digital world looks like.
In the sharing, internet economy, data is the currency and sometimes even a political weapon to be reckoned with. In other words, data is today an informational, political and economic asset capable of traveling the speed of light in a vacuum, when going through state of the art optical fibers. Able to operate at 99.7% the speed of light according to researchers at the University of Southampton in England. (source: Extreme Tech)
The digital world is now creating tangible value from big data so expect internet privacy to take an even more prominent route in the future. (Ain’t no going back)
Nowadays, security must come in layers, not only in the corporate environment, but on a personal level also.
The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while.
It won’t save you from all the threats out there, but it will make you less vulnerable.