The biggest problem with using any virtual private network, or “VPN”, is this: TRUST. Can you trust this company with your most sensitive data? We’re going to dig into this question further and explain how a decentralized virtual private network, or “dVPN” for short, might be a solution.
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If you’ve read any of my reviews here on All Things Secured or seen my videos on YouTube, you know that I have one big pet peeve about the VPN industry that I think is a concern:
We’re being asked to place our trust in VPN companies, most of whom won’t tell us a single thing about who they are or who owns them.
If privacy is your primary concern, then when using a traditional VPN, it’s not that you’re using some magic technology that makes you completely anonymous.
Essentially, you’re merely replacing your distrust of your…
….internet service provider…
…or whoever you’re worried might be snooping on your internet activity with trust in some random company that makes plenty of promises about security and privacy, but for all intents and purposes, has no accountability to those promises.
When you connect to a VPN server, you’re rerouting all of your internet traffic through that server. To make matters worse, in many cases these servers aren’t even owned by the VPN companies themselves, they simply rent the servers from data centers.
A VPN isn’t a cloak of invisibility, it’s just a re-alignment of trust.
That’s where something like a decentralized network begins to look enticing.
What is a Decentralized VPN?
What is a dVPN?
Taking a page from the blockchain playbook, dVPN takes the power away from big, centralized corporations by giving it to a distributed network of private servers.
The end goal is to create what is known as a “trustless network” where users connect via encrypted protocols to individual nodes on the distributed network. This would eliminate the need to trust any one single VPN company with all your data.
What’s the difference between dVPN and TOR?
TOR vs dVPN | What’s the Difference?
This idea of a decentralized network isn’t anything new. The Tor project, which was originally developed by the US Navy to protect their own intelligence communication, was released publicly in 2002.
Despite some pretty far-fetched conspiracy theories, most experts agree that although Tor isn’t perfect, it is a viable trustless network solution.
You see, Tor, which stands for “The Onion Router”, is best explained by its namesake, an onion. As data is passed through a volunteer network of relay servers, it’s almost like an onion of security.
- The first layer of security tells the first server, or node, what to do.
- Once this packet of data is sent along, the next layer of the onion is peeled away revealing the instructions for the next node;
- And so on and so on until it finally reaches its destination.
Since each node operates on a “need to know” basis, no one single node can see the whole story of who is sending what data where.
But even Tor has its own limitations.
For example, all these layers of routing make for extremely slow internet speeds. The extra privacy and security measures only apply to internet activity done from within the Tor browser itself. It doesn’t cover any other app or programs on your computer or mobile device.
Also, your internet service provider can still see that you’re connected to Tor, and your exit node, which is where you leave the Tor network, can eavesdrop on the internet traffic even if it doesn’t know where it came from.
Connecting those two points is extremely hard, which is why Tor has been considered one of the best privacy tools available.
What dVPN Solutions Exist?
So if a VPN requires too much trust and Tor is still open for eavesdropping, what options are there?
Well, first, you could run what’s known as a Tor over VPN, which simply means you’re connecting to a VPN and then running that connection through the Tor network.
Or…you could consider a decentralized VPN (dVPN).
Similar to cryptocurrency, you’re not placing your trust in a single company but rather in the distributed power of a global network. For example, I’ve set up my Raspberry Pi 4 to run as a node when I’m not in the office, and it earns a little bit of cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing my unused bandwidth with other users around the world.
There are a couple of startups that are facilitating this new push towards a dVPN, including Orchid and Tachyon, but the one I’ve been using is known as the Mysterium Network.
How a Decentralized VPN Works
The way that Mysterium works, I’m still using Wireguard or OpenVPN protocols to encrypt my data, but then that data is sent through multiple nodes until it reaches a specific exit node run by Myserium.
As a user, I pay these public nodes via cryptocurrency for the bandwidth I use, and for my Raspberry Pi, I receive crypto for the bandwidth I provide.
Recommended dVPN Software for 2022
The dVPN market isn’t crowded just yet, but I’m confident this will change in a few years.
There are a few “first mover” companies that have established a good reputation as a dVPN option. These include:
Mysterium Network (Recommended)
- Excellent desktop & mobile apps;
- Simple crypto payment system for privacy;
- Ability to set up your own node to earn crypto;
- Free to try!
- Multiple provider networks available;
- Crypto payment;
- Unlimited devices to connect;
- Over 1200 nodes available;
- Crypto payment;
- Open-source project development;
One additional note as you start to use and earn crypto. Make sure you’ve read through our beginner’s guide to crypto security so you don’t make any big mistakes.
dVPN vs VPN vs Tor | Which is Better?
A couple things worth noting here when it comes to the differences between dVPN, a regular VPN and Tor.
- Speeds: First, dVPN is very similar to running a VPN over Tor, except that it’s much faster and you can actually control your exit node, so you have the ability to unblock streaming content, which Tor doesn’t allow for.
- Blocking: dVPN is much harder to block because, unlike a VPN connection or a Tor connection, your data is running through residential IP addresses, such as with my Raspberry Pi here in my office. It’s like walking through a crowd of people in New York City…you just blend in.
- Router Configuration: If you want to set up security for your entire home network, both Tor and dVPN are almost impossible to use. That’s where you need to check out the best VPNs for routers, which can easily be configured for all your Internet of Things devices.
- Open Source: Decentralized VPNs, or at least the Mysterium Network that I use, uses an open-source code base that has been reviewed and audited. This is similar to Tor but entirely different from the proprietary system set up by VPNs.
- Payment: dVPN runs on a pay-as-you-go model, based on the amount of bandwidth you use. Tor is free while a VPN is a monthly or annual subscription model.
- Logging: Finally, since your data is running through a growing network of unaffiliated nodes, unlike with a traditional VPN, it’s technically impossible for any centralised logs to be kept through a dVPN.
Is it Safe to Run a dVPN Node?
These security measures all fine and good, but I’m also fully aware that technology like this, even if it’s developed with good purposes in mind, is often used for unlawful or even immoral purposes.
You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but as a person who runs a public node, I also don’t want to be complicit in criminal activity.
I asked Mysterium about this and their solution was interesting to me. They’ve combatted this in two ways.
First, as a node, I can choose to accept only whitelisted traffic, meaning my node will only route streaming services like Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, and others. This will limit my liability, but also limit my earning potential as a node.
Second, Mysterium takes on most of the liability by maintaining all exit nodes for the network. I only act as a relay, and theoretically at least, none of the traffic could be traced back to my relay node.
Final Thoughts on dVPN Technology
I’ve never been comfortable with the trust we place in VPN services and I’m very interested in how blockchain technology could change that in the future.
We may still be using services like NordVPN or ExpressVPN going forward, but because of the work of dVPN startups like Mysterium, it could entirely change the way that privacy and encryption is run.
If you’d like to give it a try, visit Mysterium.network and as you sign up, use the code “AllThingsSecured” to get free MYST for getting started. Enjoy!