Some NordVPN Australian Clients have expressed worry about a possible VPN ban in their country. The bill reviewing an option to ban VPNs as part of copyright law in Australia is currently under review by Australian Senate.
Although highly unlikely, it is still worth talking about the possible scenario, that a modern country like Australia, could opt to block VPN services, used by over half a million Australian residents. Right out of the gate, we’d like to assure existing NordVPN customers, who already use and have downloaded our applications on their devices, that they will be able to continue using NordVPN service even if our webpage was banned, or Australian servers compromised.
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In a scenario where VPN services were blocked, accessing VPN provider websites might become near impossible. However China is a good example of how the GreatFirewall is still no obstacle for over 96 million VPN and Proxy service users accessing content (see chart), although they too have ‘banned’ VPNs.
There are many savvy users who will find a way around ‘the censorship of the internet’, but the average Australian internet user might have less of a chance for both internet security and online freedom – an unfortunate side effect to the possible VPN ban.
Let’s break down the elements and stakeholders in the Australian discussion to ban the VPNs and then, we’ll try to point out some of the implications to Australian Internet Users.
Internet Users in Australia:
Australians rank high on both usability and connectivity to the internet charts. Australians use an average of 8 internet connected devices in a household. Individually they are right on global trend with the number of mobile devices used (Over 3 Devices used by an average Australian – global average being 3.34). Australia is also a well connected economic hub in the Asia Pacific region, with many expats residing and using internet services and using VPN service to connect to services back home.
Netflix– recently WiKiLeaks revealed that Sony Pictures were pressuring Netflix to impose geo-blocking restrictions to users accessing content through VPNs. Upon arrival to Australia, Netflix disappointed many Australian users, who pay one of the highest premiums to access the service, discovering they will not have access to a full Netflix library. This encouraged many to get a VPN service to access more content from the US database. Paying for both Netflix and a VPN subscription. Yet Netflix director of corporate communications Cliff Edwards spoke out against VPN use early on, claiming VPNs will ‘become a historical footnote’. With WikiLeaks revelation about Sony’s pressure to enact geo-blocking restrictions- Cliff Edwards’ declaration is not surprising. Netflix is inseparable from the topic of copyright and VPN use in Australia.
Dallas Buyers Club– Film company Voltage Pictures responsible for film Dallas Buyers Club, asked Australian Federal Court to force ISPs to go after users who downloaded/ shared the movie, citing copyright violations. They did win this claim and now, over 4000 users are at risk to be penalised. It was just announced that Australian ISPs will have to reveal the said user information by May 6th. The users were identified by tracking IP addresses. Some IP addresses Voltage identified will not lead to a physical internet user, because they used a VPN service (obscuring their online activity). For the claimants in the case- this means financial loss and they too are not to pleased with VPNs.
HBO has been in the news quite a bit these past few weeks, chasing viewers of illegally leaked TV show Game of Thrones. Earlier this week, they asked ISPs to send out notices to infringing IP address who streamed/ downloaded or shared the leaked Game of Thrones episodes. Later in the week, HBO announced they would ban access to HBO NOW service to anyone who could not prove they actually reside in the US.
All of the above interest groups, hold a clear position against VPNs and have something to gain if they are blocked. Even so, blocking VPNs will not increase paying subscribers or stop the piracy. The issue is not the unwillingness to pay for content, but limited access to the content controlled by the lobby groups.
Possible VPN uses, that decision makers in Australia should consider in their decision matrix (AKA Reasons why VPN will not be blocked in Australia):
VPNs have so many uses that are in no way related to accessing entertainment, content piracy or hiding one’s identity to do something illegal. Blocking VPNs would hinder the freedoms that internet users deserve. Here’s a shortlist of VPN uses, that everyone should be entitled access to.
Online Security– There are cyber criminals that are lurking to compromise and steal peoples personal data. In the ever more connected world of the Internet of Things, stealing peoples data, holding it ransom, or otherwise extorting money for it, is an ever growing concern. Although there are many components to ensuring user data is secure, VPN service is one of the key ingredients. VPNs can protect against ID theft, password theft or behaviour tracking, which all could lead to theft, extortion or blackmail.
Unwanted Marketer Gouging– Internet users are often monitored. Their behaviours are tracked and information about their behaviour is valuable data to marketers around the world. Learning peoples behaviours and tastes is good for business. Many internet users would like to obscure their online identity and not partake in involuntary monitoring.
Bullying– There is a reason anonymity solutions are on the rise among young adults around the world. Anonymity can give us more freedom in expressing ourselves, allowing us to ‘curate’ our online selves. Anonymity does not mean you are seeking illegal information, but instead the more popular use is protecting yourself: your identity, freedom of expression- all the values democracy holds dear.
Internet for Internets sake. Internet freedom is similar to freedom of speech. It has become the primary tool in data delivery, communication, discussion and our news source. The internet is not a utility and should not be treated as such. The beauty of the web is it’s freedom. It would be irresponsible to take away one of the tools that make the internet barrier free. VPN is a tool used by so many internet users to gain access to objective information, facilitating free speech around the world.
Expats / Business Use In todays globalised world – people constantly travel for work. VPN solutions let those people stay connected to home networks both for work and personal use. Whether it would be secure access to the bank at home, or access to geo-blocked messenger services to communicate with family- VPN can assist people to stay connected.
1. Always make sure your VPN is turned on.
Often by force of habit or a matter of convenience you might fail to turn on a VPN Service. It might seem perfectly innocent to perform a random search or otherwise seemingly simple activity when using WI-FI or your ISP Server. Be cautious! Thinking that VPN is only useful for banking transactions, accessing geo-blocked content or torrent downloads might leave you vulnerable. Your personal data is at risk at all times. Your habits might be tracked, passwords hacked, personal information stolen and inappropriately used. In other words, ‘don’t surf naked’- turn on your VPN.
To check if the VPN is ‘on’, you can go to What is my IP to check if your IP address has indeed changed.
2. Delete / Disable Cookies
Most websites try to leave traces of information (‘cookies’) on your computer when you visit them. Cookies are then used to track you when you visit again, tracking your activity and even following you on the net. You should erase these after leaving the website, or rather set your browser to either block or automatically delete cookies after you leave the website/ close browser. This is important if you do not have VPN turned on (by accident or otherwise) and visit the same website – you can be identified. Also beware of ‘flash cookies’ that are saved by flash enabled websites. Make sure you clear them also.
Securing your browser is also important. Read our in-depth analysis of secure browsing tools. Also note that some browsers have not yet resolved a WebRTC leak.
3. Signing Out of Your Accounts
Before you turn off VPN/ close online search browser, please make sure that you log out from your personal accounts. Staying logged in might create a window of opportunity for those who wait for that split second when you log back onto your device.
4. Password Management
It is ideal that you remember all your passwords. In order to make sure you account log in information is secure- more varied characters are needed and we know it’s difficult to remember them the longer they are. But be cautious. Avoid saving your passwords in cloud/ KeyChain/ auto saving by email provider/browser or your OS. If information is stored on your computer you might be vulnerable if you forget to turn on VPN service which encrypts your identity online.
Double authentication is an increasingly popular option in email provider security. Be careful as recovery accounts are also targets for hackers that wish to invade your privacy. Best tactic is to set up a difficult to guess address for the recovery account and use it only in case of emergency.
5. Lock down your router:
As you might feel more inclined to engage in more sensitive online transactions at home i.e. online banking- your home WI-FI router should be secured. Avoid selecting an easy to remember password, as it might also be easy to guess. Try using WPA2 encryption and strong password. The more random and long it is, the harder it is to guess/ crack.
6. Encrypt Beyond the Internet
VPN is a great security tool for encrypting your online presence. NordVPN uses double encryption to make sure you are safe using the internet. Outside of the online connection we encourage you to also encrypt your devices and portable drives. Encrypt your external hard drives, too—especially your backups.
7. Protect all of your devices on your network
We seldom notice how information is transferred from one device to another if using the same router, both at home and work. Small businesses and homeowners alike are encouraged to get a VPN that supports multiple devices to ensure there is no security breach/contamination from one device the entire network.
8. To the Extra Cautious: Tape The Webcam
Tape has many fixes, including the rare chance that someone might seek access to your web cam. With growing concerns of built in tracking in SIM Cards and other hardware- it might be a good idea to tape up the camera when you are not using it.
Most websites do not want to deal with spammers and bots that create numerous fake accounts on their website. Most commonly used method to prevent these fake accounts is CAPTCHA. An automatically generated code that is distorted in a way that computer should not be able to recognize the pattern of letters and digits. Sometimes, instead of a generated code a picture with a number is given for a user wanting to register to the website.
Both of the methods drastically reduce number of new fake accounts. However, it s highly inconvenient from a users perspective as the code sometimes is very hard to read thus requiring to refresh the CAPTCHA. It prolongs the process of the registration as well as causes frustration since you may misspell the code few times in a row.
Seeing the obvious irritation the current CAPTCHA system may cause Google has decided to reinvented the human recognition system to be much more user friendly and less of the hassle than the current one. Google is calling the new analysis method the ‘No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA’.
The system Google is planning to roll out simply ask whether you are a human and press a button. It is that simple and allows you to proceed to the page in most cases. If the system is not sure whether you are human after the you click a button, you will be presented a regular CAPTCHA. However, in most cases the CATCHA is not needed.
Besides the obvious discomfort the current system causes there is another reason for the reinvention of the CATCHA. Nowadays, AI is capable of solving 99.8% of CAPTCHAs they are given, this way eliminating the main reason the distorted text is being used for.
From the first looks at it the new method is very easy and should not cause any problems for the AI to bypass it. Nevertheless, reCAPTCHA, regardless of being much more user friendly, uses highly sophisticated algorithms and shows much better results than its predecessor.
A high focus is put into developing a reCAPTCHA version for the mobile devices as well. Unlike our PCs, hand-held devices have much smaller displays and keyboards, thus increasing the likelihood of a random human error. The possibility of such error is considerably smaller if typing is changed with the tapping. Furthermore, we should not call it a day yet since the project itself will allow Google and other companies to experiment with other options how to distinguish human from a machine.
Some big names have already adopted the new system. You may find it used on Snapchat, Humble Bumble, WordPress and other websites. The initial data shows that 60% of WordPress visitors was not asked to enter CAPTCHA, and for more than 80% of Humble Bumble visits the new reCAPTCHA was enough. The data clearly shows that even though the system is still being improved it already lets over half people avoid the CAPTCHA.
The new reCAPTCHA system is really great, though it is not designed to protect your personal information on the cyber space. If this information is exposed, you may suffer great financial losses or even a loss of your online identity. To secure this information we highly recommend to use a VPN. Just like the new Google’s project NordVPN aims to provide easy to use service that does not interfere with your daily lives.