VPN usage in India rises due to blocked websites, experts say ban proposal won’t help users


Indians are used to sharing Netflix accounts. One account, four users. Now the same Indians are looking to share the cost of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as they increasingly pay for VPN accounts. The reasons are manifold. There are thousands of websites that are now banned in India, using opaque and official or unofficial means. To access many of these websites, Indian users are now turning to VPNs. Then there is the security and surveillance aspect. As cybercrime, identity theft and surveillance risks increase in India, users are turning to VPNs.

Here’s a number: According to data pulled from Google Play Store and Apple App Store using the Sensor Tower service, India ranked fourth out of 85 countries for VPN penetration rate for the first half of 2021 The penetration of VPN installations in India has grown from just 3.28 per 100% of the population in 2020 to 25.27% in the first six months of 2021.

But beyond the numbers, there are stories. A group of friends were looking for a fourth member to share their Virtual Private Network (VPN) account with. Before I could even say yes to my part of the contribution, they had found someone else.

Soon another friend approached with a similar proposal, asking if I wanted to share an account with her. This is how popular and useful VPNs are now considered in India. While a large portion of VPN usage is to access geographically blocked streaming content outside of India, that is not the only reason Indians are now using VPNs.

A tech enthusiast, on condition of anonymity, claims that user information can be stolen even from an improperly configured private Wi-Fi network, not to mention public Wi-Fi, which is insecure. Since the data that passes through VPN is encrypted, it is useful during banking transactions as it cannot be snooped on from unsecured websites from internet connections.
Now that there is talk of banning VPNs in India, users fear it will cause some inconvenience. At the same time, experts say banning VPNs is not a solution as there are many more different methods that cybercriminals have for their activities. Last month, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted that the use of VPNs should be banned in India. Here’s how a VPN works.

A VPN user says the ban proposal is ridiculous. “Today they want to block VPNs citing the crime, then they want to turn off password protection on phones, because criminals use passwords on their phones to hide evidence,” the person explains.

Why people use VPNs

Experts say there is a legitimate use for VPNs. “I use VPN for privacy reasons. A friend told me that among many other issues, using the public internet is dangerous without a VPN. So when I go to an airport or a cafe and As I use the internet, I like to feel secure. And again, privacy is very important to me. Service providers and these business conglomerates already know too much about me than I am. comfortable with it, ”says Mritunjay Rathore, who started using VPNs some time ago.

Karan Saini, an ethical hacker, notes that VPNs allow people to access the internet uncensored. He says a significant number of websites are blocked in India – over 4,000 – regardless of their content, whether pornographic, scientific, cultural or otherwise. He says the ability of Indian internet users to browse the web freely is critically hampered and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

“Considering this, banning any of the ways in which users circumvent censorship should be viewed as extremely harmful to the internet ecosystem in India and to the quality of life in the country in general,” Saini said.

Saini is a strong supporter of VPNs and their ability to protect user information. He says users should use VPN services (they don’t have to be commercial VPN services), even if they have nothing to hide. “A ban on VPN services will hamper the democratic freedoms enjoyed by Indians, which are promoted by the Internet,” Saini said.

Can India’s VPN Ban Reduce Cybercrime

Who is likely to be most affected by the VPN ban, and will it help stop cybercrime? Experts say a ban will create hassle for users, without impacting cybercriminals.

“If there is a ban on VPN, the biggest challenge will be faced by internet companies or large corporations, as they use it the most to fight various attacks,” said Rajashekhar Rajaharia, cybersecurity researcher. “Most hackers and cybersecurity researchers also use VPN because they don’t want their IP addresses tracked.”

But how bad can the VPN ban be? Rajaharia says it won’t make much difference for cybercriminals, as they will continue to use the TOR browser, which is nearly impossible to ban or block. “VPN can be tracked, but TOR cannot be tracked, which makes TOR a bigger challenge. While VPNs or proxies are used by large corporations, TOR is used by hackers, so authorities cannot completely stop hackers or spammers from carrying on their business, ”he says.

Akshay Pednekar, a Mumbai-based cybersecurity analyst, says if the government is considering banning something, it should target TORs, not VPNs. “TOR was designed to access the Internet,” he says, adding that this functionality of TOR has given rise to a deep web ecosystem where a lot of illegal activity takes place. The VPN ban is unlikely to offer a solution, he suggests.

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