Raisina Hill: Ban on VPNs could spell trouble for businesses

Ban on VPNs will impact the corporate sector by compromising business secrets in the competitive market. Companies with links to government agencies can access information from business rivals

Raisina Hill: Ban on VPNs could spell trouble for businesses
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MY Siddiqui

An exercise is afoot in the Ministry of Home Affairs to ban Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) following recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology.

Not all Internet apps are secure. And internet users are vulnerable to theft of personal, banking and credit card details, especially when they are using someone else’s Wi-fi in a hotel or elsewhere.

VPN services establish secure connections between users and servers or services by routing the data through a remote server/servers, thus disguising the users’ identity. If Internet Protocol (IP) address is assigned, then it helps internal or external agencies to identify the server and for that matter user’s identity.

VPN servers from foreign soil allow users to bypass blocking rules by the government. VPN is known for security, reliability and speed on every device, wherever one goes.

While recommending a ban on VPN, the Parliamentary Standing Committee cited technological challenges that it posed. The committee held that the ‘Dark Web’ and VPNs can bypass cyber security walls and allow criminals to remain anonymous online.

It pointed out that VPNs could be downloaded easily. Many websites providing such facilities are advertising them. It asked the government to block VPNs with the help of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Countries that have banned VPNs are: China, Russia, Oman, Iraq and Belarus.

Countries where VPNs are still allowed include Algeria, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and UAE. (Source: Atlas VPN Adoption Index).

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VPN, however, is different from the Dark Web. VPNs are used to access blocked websites on the open Internet, whereas the Dark Web is not part of the Internet that one accesses on a regular basis. Accessing the Dark Web needs The Onion Router (TOR), an anonymity network that has websites running on its own network. TOR sites use onion extensions.

VPNs are immensely advantageous to businesses. Any corporate body that requires its employees to access sensitive information including the captive software within the company’s network uses VPN.

Corporates use VPNs to create an internal network that can be accessed by employees even when they are outside office premises. Companies which encourage ‘Work from Home’ also use VPNs for encrypted intra-company information, which is open to its employees only even in distant places in the world.

Tracking VPN is also not impossible. It is a centralized entity, which can track what its users are doing. Many service providers of VPN encrypt traffic offer assured privacy to users. But despite encryption of information on VPN, there are examples of law enforcement agencies worldwide tracking down criminals using VPNs.

It is learnt, even TOR has been decrypted. It is also learnt that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the USA, shut down a Dark Web market named Silk Road that sold everything from drugs to human beings.

Ban on VPNs will impact the corporate sector more by compromising business secrets in the competitive market. Companies with access to government agencies can access information from business rivals.

A ban on VPNs, some experts apprehend, will act as a disincentive to investments and doing business in India. Citizens will also see it as an infringement on their fundamental right to privacy. For media, it may infringe on the free flow of information. The move needs to be debated by experts before another knee-jerk decision is taken.

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