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VPN Hack Concerns: Are Security Breaches Common?

We’re always connected, whether it’s at work, at home, or on the go, we love being online. Where else are we going to see the latest Marvel movie, play Minecraft survival mode, book travel, or order candy from Amazon? In our digital world, it’s important to keep your data safe. Even if you use a VPN (virtual private network), you want to ensure your personal info isn’t at risk.

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Can you get hacked using a VPN?

Yes, VPN hacks do take place. Although they aren’t widely reported and are few and far between, it’s important to keep in mind that they do happen. We’re not saying you shouldn’t use a VPN. We champion these private networks because they allow you to keep your browsing history private from prying eyes, including your internet service provider (ISP). Do they really need to know what you do online? The answer is NO.

But first, how do VPNs protect your data?

How do VPNs work?

A VPN works by creating an encrypted connection to another network over the Internet. This allows you to go online without your browsing history and data being shared with anyone by:

Masking your IP address

Your internet protocol address (IP) is what gives off your location. When you use a VPN, the sites you visit can’t see your true geolocation and only see the VPNs IP address. When you go online, the VPN’s server is accessed through an encrypted connection before reaching the site you’re looking at.

Keeping spying eyes away

Public WIFI networks are available everywhere including hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and airports – pretty much anywhere in the world where there are people, there’s public WIFI. The good thing about WIFI is you get to access the internet for free. But, sensitive information like your banking details, passwords, and location can be exposed to hackers looking to get their hands on your juicy data. The encryption used by VPNs ensures that your data is safe and out of reach from fraudsters. Moreover, most VPNs use a zero-logs policy to protect your delicate data from getting into the wrong hands.

What is a zero-logs policy and why does it matter?

This is an approach to data management used by virtual private networks so they don’t store your information. A VPN that has a zero-logs policy won’t save your online activity, connections, details, payment info, and search history allowing you to be completely anonymous. Additionally, with the zero-logs method, even your internet provider won’t be able to see what you’re doing on the internet.

While the majority of VPNs operate with a strict zero-logs policy you can be hacked while using a VPN. Cybercriminals are sneaky. If there’s a will, there’s a way for them to find your data and sell it to third parties like advertisers, the government, or anyone that’s offering to pay.

How do VPN hacks happen?

To hack into a VPN connection criminals use one of five methods:

1. Encryption breaking

A hacker will break the encryption by exploiting a known vulnerability. This is demanding, time-consuming, and requires special encryption cracking software. The math involved with breaking encrypted code is complex and easy to mess up even if the cyber criminal is using the proper software and is skilled in data stealing. A VPN must use an encryption cipher (the algorithm used to encrypt and decrypt your data) to turn your web browsing into an unintelligible code. Generally, VPNs use an AES-256 cipher which is the most secure. But, there are virtual private services that still use older ciphers that can be cryptographically attacked and exploited.

2. Key stealing

This is more common because it’s easier and nothing needs to be broken. Instead, deplorable people can use a combination of computing power, cheating, and technical deceit. In some cases, hackers may bribe someone at the VPN company to give them the key or get a fake court order to compel the information.

3. Vulnerability exposure

Every VPN has a set of protocols it must operate under to make sure a secure connection has been established between your device and their server. Hackers will dig deep to determine if there is a vulnerability within the VPN protocols and exploit it. These vulnerabilities can range from design flaws, configuration issues, or new developments in the protocol that haven’t been properly tested.

4. Through leaks

When your DNS (domain name system) requests aren’t handled by your VPN but instead by your ISP or if the kill switch on your VPN isn’t working, your data could leak. A kill switch ensures that if your VPN connection drops suddenly, the device you’re using won’t revert to its default internet connection.

5. Compromising a VPN server

In rare cases, VPN servers are set with weak login credentials or misconfigured making them bullseyes for hackers. Once they get into the server, they can easily get your browsing history and monitor your online activities waiting for you to make a purchase so they can steal your credit card or banking info.

Have any popular VPNs been hacked?

Unfortunately, yes. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use the VPNs we’re about to mention. Mostly, they employ major security measures and, as aforementioned, these hacks are rare and few and far between.

  • NordVPN experienced a server breach in March of 2018. This was due to a third-party error that allowed hackers to see the users connected to the breached server. Only one of NordVPN’s server was breached so thankfully minimal data was exposed.
  • In March of 2021, GeckoVPN, ChatVPN, and SuperVPN were hacked. The personal information of 21 million users was made public exposing their names, email addresses, locations, and payment info.

What to do if you’ve been hacked while using a VPN

If you suspect your VPN connection has been messed with or you’re certain it’s been compromised, we recommend you:

  1. Stop using the VPN ASAP. This will prevent any further damage from happening.
  2. Uninstall the VPN from all your devices and uninstall VPN extensions from all your browsers and routers. Once done, reboot your devices.
  3. Change your passwords, usernames, and any other sensitive information that may have been affected by the hack.
  4. Choose a new VPN to use.

What to look for in a VPN to avoid hacks

Besides zero-logging protocols and kill switches, when choosing a new VPN look for the following security features:

  • PFS – Perfect Forward Secrecy (or Forward Secrecy) is an encryption style that uses a temporary private key to encrypt and decrypt data each time the VPN’s server communicates with your device.
  • Cipher – This allows your data to remain safe by protecting your traffic between different networks and servers.
  • Bug bounty programs – These are programs used by VPNs to challenge ethical hackers to find leaks and bugs in their systems legally. These hackers are the good guys because they find bugs and then report them to the VPN before cybercriminals can exploit them and steal data.
  • Diskless servers – These are servers that run in RAM so if the server loses power, the data is automatically wiped from the memory and can’t be taken advantage of by online evildoers.

We still love VPNs even if they’re vulnerable to attacks, especially NordVPN which was transparent in releasing the details of its 2018 cyber hack. These attacks don’t happen often and you shouldn’t worry about your online activities being tracked every time you use one. As long as you choose the right VPN like CyberGhost, Surfshark, ExpressVPN, PrivateVPN, or IPVanish, you shouldn’t experience any issues.

 


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