What’s the best VPN for crypto users?Nov 10, 2020
VPNs were developed to address users' innate desire for privacy -- and therefore, personal autonomy. And though it serves a different use case, cryptocurrency appeals to this same core need. Both technologies seek to offer an alternative to centralized, opaque, and often inflexible legacy systems.
Like crypto, VPNs are used for many purposes in many different places. In some parts of the world, both tools are essential for daily life. If you live in a place with large-scale Internet censorship, you need a VPN in order to access many parts of the web. If you live in a place with an unstable fiat currency, you may need cryptocurrencies to make everyday purchases. So it's natural that there should be overlap between the crypto and VPN communities. Privacy is an innate human need -- enshrined as a basic right in many parts of the world -- and it's no surprise that people are using these powerful technologies to strengthen it in their daily lives.
Crypto is premised on a belief that privacy, autonomy, and decentralization should underpin our financial systems. It makes sense that people committed to a decentralized economy premised on equality of access and individual autonomy would seek to access the Internet in a way that aligns with these values. VPNs are therefore a logical way for crypto users to access the Internet, including to acquire and trade crypto. This affinity is often reciprocated: a number of VPN providers actively court crypto users as a natural user base. But which VPN is the best for those in the blockchain community? There are important features -- such as a commitment to open-sourcing -- that people should look for in a VPN, as well as red flags to be avoided at all times. Here, we explore how VPNs can be helpful for crypto users, and how to choose the best privacy solution for blockchain use cases.
When choosing a VPN provider, look for best practices
While the landscape of VPN services can seem overwhelmingly large, there are certain core best practices that crypto users should look for. These take the form both of technical capabilities and business practices that help ensure user data is kept private and that people are able to enjoy the full benefits of the Internet -- and specifically the particular requirements of the crypto space -- while using the VPN. People should always independently verify, as far as possible, that a provider truly adheres to the commitments it makes, the most important of which we outline here.
It may sound simplistic, but one of the quickest ways to narrow the field of VPN providers -- for crypto users or anyone else -- is by reputation. Is a service widely known? Has it been reviewed by many people, audited, and vetted for reliability? While you shouldn't make a decision based on reputation alone, this simple sanity check can be an excellent first step in such a crowded marketplace.
Beyond this initial filtering, one of the most important things to look for in a VPN provider is a commitment to not logging user activity. Logging is when a service provider keeps records of a person's Internet activity. This is standard (and even required) among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and some other platforms such as social media apps. But it's possible for VPNs -- through which user traffic is re-routed, making it impossible for ISPs and websites to determine the nature of web activity -- to log as well. Obviously, if logging takes place, the risk to the user is the same as if they didn't use a privacy solution at all. Instead of their ISP having their sensitive information, it's the VPN that collects it.
Many VPNs make a commitment not to log. But users interested in privacy should be sure to do their own homework before taking providers at their word. There have been a number of stories of "no log" VPNs that in fact turned out to be recording their users' information. Start by reaching out to other VPN users for their experience with various providers -- often, reviews and summaries are easily found through a web search.
Some well known VPN brands meet high standards of user privacy including no-log practices. These include the providers Orchid partners with such as LiquidVPN, PIA, and VPNSecure. Ultimately, it is up to each web user to ensure that whatever online privacy solution they select meets their own standards, so that they feel confident and secure when browsing the Internet. A no-log commitment should be non-negotiable, and it's essential to do your own research before choosing a solution.
Orchid helps mitigate the risk of VPNs logging user activity, letting users configure multiple "hops" between providers. This means that even if a VPN is secretly logging, since it can't see the entirety of a web journey split across multiple services, the user's data is more secure.
Speed is essential
But all the privacy in the world won't go very far if the service is too slow to use the web effectively. That's why it's also essential to select a VPN with ample bandwidth. Crypto transactions often require a lot of computing power and take time to complete. The last thing a trader wants is for their Internet connection to stop working while they're waiting for a transaction to be confirmed.
This is the biggest problem -- by their own admission -- faced by Tor, which otherwise has been a groundbreaking step forward for online privacy. VPN providers also vary in their ability to deliver smooth browsing and fast download speeds. As with logging, it's essential to do your own research when it comes to bandwidth. Once you've selected and installed a provider, it's a good idea to test it out on non-essential processes first. For example, you could stream a movie to confirm the VPN's speed, before using it to make a trade through a crypto exchange. This way, you can have reasonable confidence that your provider won't leave you in the lurch when you really need it.
Orchid -- which is crypto native, built on the Ethereum blockchain -- is designed to always ensure ample bandwidth through its unique double-sided marketplace and payments infrastructure. Orchid uses its own native digital asset, OXT, to power a system of probabilistic nanopayments to incentivize bandwidth providers on the network. Unlike other privacy solutions, where bandwidth is either donated (in the case of Tor) or monopolistic (in the case of single VPN service), Orchid's bandwidth providers compete to deliver capacity to users.
With nanopayments, providers receive a "ticket" rather than a direct payment when they provide services on the network. A small number of tickets -- on the order of one in millions -- are randomly selected as "winners," and trigger a payment to the provider. Over time, the amount received should very nearly approximate the cost of bandwidth. All this helps ensure that however you configure your web traffic on Orchid, your experience should be on par with the fastest private web browsing available, while still maintaining the strongest standards of online privacy.
One final technical consideration for crypto users looking for a VPN is that a provider should be open-source. Orchid is deeply committed to transparency and has been open-source from the start. Crypto is conceived as a way to build a more transparent and equitable world, and a commitment to open sourcing goes hand-in-hand with that commitment. By open-sourcing their technology, VPNs demonstrate their commitment to a truly open Internet where people explore and collaborate freely -- while better facilitating the growth of new solutions, platforms, and innovations based on what they've designed.
Some VPNs actively court crypto users
There is a logical fit between VPNs and crypto -- both cater to an intense desire for freedom, privacy, and autonomy. So it's no surprise that some VPNs actively target crypto users with their advertising and their communications. Notable examples have included ExpressVPN and Surfshark. And VPNs' efforts to connect with crypto users have not fallen on deaf ears. For their part, crypto media publications have also published articles and made lists of the best VPNs for crypto users.
While it may be flattering to be pursued, you should not take a particular VPN's enthusiasm for crypto users as proof that their product will actually meet your needs. Regardless of any marketing campaign, crypto users looking for VPN providers should stick to the recommendations already outlined when evaluating a provider. Ultimately, the service that offers the best privacy and bandwidth is most likely to meet the needs of crypto users as well.
Buyer beware: red flags for crypto VPN users
As mentioned already, it's important for crypto users to do their own due diligence when selecting a VPN provider. But there are a few obvious red flags to look out for when evaluating potential services. Avoiding these pitfalls can help ensure you don't go with a provider who could put your data, and your assets, at risk.
Be very wary of VPNs that market themselves as "free." While it may seem tempting to go with a service that claims not to charge its users, remember that all businesses need to make money one way or another. If a VPN isn't charging its users directly, there's a good chance it's getting paid by third parties -- which raises concerns about logging. When it comes to privacy, you usually get what you pay for.
It should be noted that Tor, which does not charge, is open about the fact that all bandwidth is donated. Tor's privacy is top-notch, but because of its lack of economic incentives, as already noted, it often suffers from slow speeds.
Another non-negotiable element for a VPN is AES-256 "military grade" encryption. This level of encryption is now standard on most browsers, so any VPN that lacks it should not be trusted. Finally, always ensure that any VPN you choose has been independently audited by a third party, and has published the results.
The best solution for crypto users is to combine multiple providers
It's natural, given the clear overlap in philosophy, that crypto users would be drawn to using a VPN provider to protect their privacy and autonomy online. And it's true that the best VPNs offer a level of privacy that's impossible to achieve with standard browsing -- where Internet activity is constantly being monitored and logged.
Add to this the particular needs of crypto users -- in particular, the importance of maintaining a reliable and fast connection while processing trades and other transactions that can take significant amounts of time -- and it's essential to choose the right privacy solution if you're active in the space. While there's no silver bullet for online privacy -- for crypto users or anyone else -- there are some clear rules of thumb for making an informed selection.
But even the strongest VPN providers are not perfect. They can suffer leaks or hacks, and while they are a vast improvement over unprotected browsing, they nevertheless still present the risk of a "single point of failure." This is because if the VPN itself suffers a problem -- or if it turns out to be logging user activity -- there is no fallback for maintaining privacy. If anyone, including a crypto user, relies on a single VPN for online privacy, they are putting all of their trust in that service to keep them safe.
But it's possible to mitigate the risk of a leak, a hack, or a VPN that logs its users' activity. Orchid combines the services of multiple providers, allowing users to configure multiple hops -- as many as they want. This means traffic can be "shredded" across multiple VPNs. So if one VPN -- or even several, depending on the number of hops configured -- fails, user activity can remain private. Since traffic is being routed through multiple providers, no one VPN can see the full story of a user's activity.
Beyond the benefits of multiple hops, Orchid understands crypto and the people who use it. Its native digital asset, OXT, is the basis of an innovative two-sided marketplace that uses probabilistic nanopayments to incentivize bandwidth and make it harder to track users' financial transactions. All of these features have been designed with crypto users specifically in mind.
While no solution is a panacea, Orchid offers strong privacy through its decentralized marketplace and unique payments architecture. These benefits apply to all users. But especially for those in search of a privacy solution that's tailored for a crypto use case, and built by a team that fundamentally understands the space, Orchid offers a unique and safe way to explore freely.
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