Blockchain-based VPNs: The Next Step in Privacy Tech?

Could open source bandwidth utilized by blockchain be the alternative to today’s VPN?

Every person who goes online today fights a losing privacy battle. Every site we visit, every app we download, every service we subscribe to collects our personal data. The number of places where this accumulates online shows exponential growth. There’s no way to keep track of it all, much less control who sees it.

AppSec/API Security 2022

Years ago, a few forward-thinking companies realized that lack of privacy would only become more of a problem, so they went to work creating a service known as a virtual private network, abbreviated VPN. It wasn’t long before the technology became the hottest cybersecurity recommendation going, thanks to a two-pronged attack that shrouds a user’s physical location by routing their IP address through a distant server and applying encryption to their internet connection.

A problem has come to light, however, that casts doubt over the actual privacy level of these services. Maybe a VPN isn’t the ironclad protection we thought. Here are the danger signs to watch for with your provider and how developers are working to overcome the issues.

VPN blockchain

Why Your VPN Isn’t As Safe As You Think

A VPN actually works exactly as it was designed to. All your data is encrypted and funneled through a distant server owned by the provider and then sent on to the internet. All good so far. The obvious problem arises that the VPN service has the decryption key to your information, so an employee could see the raw data without too much trouble.

The bottom line is that your data is only safe if the provider treats it ethically. In most cases that might be a good bet, but there have been examples of companies that scrape personal information from the data passing through their servers to be sold to third-party advertisers or Dark Web entrepreneurs. And we’re not just talking about letting someone know your favorite color.

Though some vendors stubbornly refuse to update their POS systems to match reality, choosing to pay for products and services online or with the swipe of a credit/debit card is fully integrated into society, so the data your friendly neighborhood VPN service might be ripping off is extremely sensitive. We’re talking about credit cards, Social Security and banking account numbers.

Furthermore, the governments of some countries have passed laws that require tech companies to share confidential information upon request. To refuse would incur fines and/or jail time. So there you have it. The current iteration of VPNs is perfectly capable of protecting all your browsing and IoT-generated data from prying eyes. The issue becomes one of trust: Can you really believe the audits and transparency claims they make?

Maybe. Maybe not. Wouldn’t it be better to have a VPN that enforced privacy regardless of whether you trust the provider or not? Sounds good to us. Let’s read about a company that is working to accomplish that.

The Blockchain VPN Alternative

If you haven’t heard of Orchid yet, you’re about to. While the actual process of how it works can be complex to explain, the 40,000-foot view isn’t all that confusing. Orchid’s product is decentralized open source bandwidth that is marketed as being completely anonymous at all points and uncensorable as well.

Using Orchid bandwidth doesn’t require a subscription. It’s sold on a pay-as-you-go model. The currency required to buy bandwidth is a cryptocurrency designated OXT that is built on the Ethereum platform. There are some doubts raised as to how decentralized and private Ethereum really is, given that 25% of it runs on Amazon’s AWS cloud service and society is far from a consensus on the state of cloud security, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

Here’s the idea behind Orchid: Rather than being forced to put complete trust in the idea that your VPN service is not fondling and selling your data, any internet connection you start is distributed across numerous VPNs.

The bottom line is that no single entity has access to the entire stream, which is what would be needed to decipher any data. Presto! We now have a completely private way to browse the internet. If they scratch beneath the surface, hardcore techies would probably notice that Orchid’s process greatly resembles The Onion Router (Tor), which has been used for good and bad over the years. Tor is a network that prides itself on anonymity.

Though only released in December 2019, it appears Orchid has improved on some of the things that kept Tor from ever achieving mass acceptance.

Tor Limitations

Like Tor, Orchid hops traffic from one node to another and another and another …

The point is to route through enough of these nodes that any potential hackers on your trail lose track of you along the way. This hopping process creates a slow browsing process with Tor. The reason for that is that the network is entirely staffed by volunteers who offer varying levels of technical proficiency and sometimes low-quality computing technology.

It’s volunteer work. What do you expect?

This is the issue Orchid had to overcome. If the service you pay for is just as slow as a service you can get for free, not many people will reach into their wallet. Some VPN providers have made a lucrative living cutting corners on privacy in search of speed, betting that few customers would notice. That’s no solution either. Orchid’s goal is to compete with the top consumer VPN services with unequaled privacy at each hop.

Tor blockchain

Not Perfect Yet

As you probably already suspect, Orchid is not a flawless gift from the gods handed down from on high. There are a few rough spots that need to be ironed out before it can lay claim to the privacy mantle. By the way, these limitations were fully disclosed in a white paper released by the company.

The first drawback is that Orchid is only as solid as the Ethereum platform on which it is built. Unlikely though it might be, it wouldn’t be impossible to take down Ethereum—and as Ethereum goes, so does Orchid.

Requiring payment in cryptocurrency is a step toward complete privacy but the Orchid developers acknowledge that OXT would need to be anonymized before sending it to the final payment system. To not do so would leave the possibility of being traced.

The Bottom Line

Orchid is the first blockchain product to get us excited in a while. It has progressed a lot further through the testing and acceptance pipeline than most. Not to mention that this could be a gamechanger in the somewhat technologically complacent VPN industry. With quantum computing, including quantum hacking algorithms on the horizon, Orchid might be the first step toward a quantum-resistant privacy solution.

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