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Using VPN Services to Combat Internet Surveillance Using Deep Packet Inspection

Posted by amapuranga on November 5th, 2018

Internet users use VPN services for a variety of reasons, including bypassing restrictions or censorship, accessing entertainment services such as Netflix and to cover their tracks online. VPN services can mitigate against potential deep packet inspection of your communications by your Internet service provider.

Internet communications, whether sending an email, surfing the web or making a phone call using VoIP uses Internet Protocol (IP). In IP, the information you transmit is arranged in packets, each packet consisting of some header information and the main information being transmitted, known as the payload. The header consists of the origin information, including the IP address of the source, and the destination information which includes the destination IP address.

In shallow packet inspection, processors examine the header information of the packet to determine the origin of the packet, its destination and how best to route it to its destination. This is analogous to the postal system where the origin and destination addresses of a letter are required on the envelop. The letter can therefore be forwarded to the receiver or, if need be, returned to sender without the need to open the envelop.

In deep packet inspection, however, processors go beyond the header information and deep into the information being transmitted. Imagine your postmaster opening your letter to find out information in it and make whatever decisions based on that information. There are many reasons why your service provider may be interested in implementing deep packet inspection on data transmitted through their network. These include gathering information for targeted advertising, preventing spam and viruses, or in response to a law enforcement order to monitor your communications.

Deep packet inspection is routinely used to examine information, in real time, to detect certain phrases that may reveal criminal activity. For example, the word “Jihad” is sometimes monitored in communications by national law enforcement agents. Too many occurrences of the word from a single source could trigger a more focused monitoring of that source.

After the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, the Russian Intelligence indicated that they had been monitoring one of the bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Temerlan was reportedly notorious for posting jihadist messages on Facebook so it is conceivable that deep packet technology was used to monitor his behaviour on the Internet. The Russians also indicated that the word “Jihad” had been picked up when the suspect was having a conservation with his mother.

Unfortunately, the same deep packet inspection technology used to monitor criminals and terrorists can be used to rob law abiding citizens of their privacy. Intelligence officials, especially in repressive regimes, are known to use this technology to monitor online activities of political opponents and cyber-activists. It is well known that some African governments have acquired this technology from China under the guise of cybersecurity but the technology is oftentimes used for thwarting decent.

The use of VPN services such as those feauture on are very cost effective solutions for keeping your communication on the Internet safe. The VPN client, installed on your computer, encrypts any of your communications before it is routed to the ISP. Without knowing the contents of your communications, the ISP forwards your information to the VPN server which decrypts it and forward it where it needs to go.

For the cost of a beer a month, you can ensure that your communication is encrypted and even your Internet provider does not know what you are communicating.

Also See: Packet Inspection, Deep Packet, Vpn Services, Service Provider, Packet, Internet, Deep

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