Decentralised Private Networks vs VPNS – How Are They Different?

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    The concept of decentralisation has become a significant talking point during the last decade, thanks largely to the evolution of blockchain technology and development of virtual currency.

    Certainly, one of the unique benefits of these decentralised platforms is that they’re free from third-party control, and associated issues such as compromised data privacy and the manipulation of user terms and conditions.

    More recently, we’ve also seen third-generation blockchains evolve to create a much wider range of applications, including decentralised private networks (DPNs) that further protect user’s identity and data when surfing online.

    But how do they compare with virtual private networks (VPNs), and which option is right for you? Let’s find out!

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    What is a VPN?

     While VPNs are established in most countries and synonymous with contemporary online practices such as gaming and streaming content through platforms like Netflix, this technology can trace its history back to 1996.

    At this time, Gurdeep Singh-Pall created the so-called “Point-to-Point Tunnelling” protocol, which allowed for the implementation of the very first VPN products (although this method is now largely obsolete).

    But how do VPNs work? Well, in simple terms, they help you to establish a private and secure Internet connection on a public network, routing encrypted data through a virtual tunnel while simultaneously masking your IP address and physical location.

    If we drill down deeper into this, we see that a VPN will hide your device’s IP address simply by enabling the network to redirect it through a configured remote server. This virtual server is operated by a VPN client, who will usually maintain multiple server locations in jurisdictions across the globe.

    All data sent and shared while using a VPN will be encrypted, making it appear as an indecipherable string of code to potential hackers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Ultimately, no third party active on a public network will be able to monitor your traffic or web activity when using a VPN, even those responsible for managing connections.

    This creates a much more secure and private browsing experience online, and one that minimises the risk of incidents such as data theft, targeted phishing scams, Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks and the deployment of malware.

    The various benefits of VPNs lend themselves to specific applications, including streaming geographically restricted content and safeguarding your most sensitive data when connecting your device to a public network access point.

    When it comes to the former, for example, the ability of a VPN to hide your IP address and connect to remote servers immediately masks your physical location and effectively tricks sites such as Netflix into streaming content that’s available to all global regions.

    Growing awareness about VPNs and their various applications has seen a significant increase in usage of late, with this trend having accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic.

    During 2020, VPN services reached an all-time adoption level high of 27.1%, as more people than ever completed a VPN download and the demand for streaming services surged as a result of lockdowns.

    What is a Decentralised Private Network?

     The increased demand for VPNs will have certainly piqued the interest of blockchain developers, with several platforms having initiated their own decentralised private network projects.

    Take Polkadot, for example, whose ‘Deeper Network’ project combines network security with blockchain and the sharing economy to establish a global, peer-to-peer network that safeguards users against the risk of cybertheft and malicious attacks online.

    However, given that this type of network offers largely the same robust protection as traditional VPNs, the question that remains is what sets it apart in the current marketplace?

    The primary difference here is the removal of a central server, with DPNs leveraging blockchain’s fundamental principles to create decentralised encryption tunnels that route web traffic in a secure and distributed manner.

    These distributed and ultimately serverless networks arguably create higher and more robust levels of security (in theory, at least), as the removal of a central point of control makes it harder for hackers to identify or target a single vulnerability to attack.

    The decentralised nature of DPNs also means that there’s no single point of control that can collate, harness or manipulate user data. While VPNs usually don’t operate a logging policy either, the Indian government has recently made data collection and storage mandatory for clients for a minimum period of five years.

    This highlights the potential of VPN clients to gather and utilise data, which may create some concern in the minds of particularly private and cautious users.

    In a decentralised private network, user devices essentially act as both the client (or individual users) and server.

    This affords them far greater control over their connection and security, as their IP addresses change intuitively based on their own routing rules and create tunnels to nodes on a global scale.

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    What are the Disadvantages of DPNs? The Key Considerations

     It’s important to keep these points and differences in mind when choosing whether to download a VPN or use a decentralised private network, especially if you’re going to make an informed and beneficial decision.

    While it may seem as though DPNs offer better levels of security and privacy overall, there are some disadvantages to decentralised private networks that need to be given careful thought.

    Interestingly, one of the potential drawbacks may also be considered as an advantage, as there’s no place for government regulation in decentralised private networks.

    Many will argue that this is an overwhelming positive when you consider the news that the Indian government has imposed data collection mandates on national VPN firms. However, there are instances where government intervention can help to protect users, especially against organised frauds and scams that leverage an absent central point of control to their advantage.

    This also creates associated security risks on DPNs. For example, the lack of third party control or government intervention makes it impossible to act in instances where terrorists or criminals may be active on a nework.

    After all, how can you identify and shut down such individuals without a central location through which all information flows and is tracked? Ultimately, this is virtually impossible, and it creates a scenario where anyone can use DPNs for a huge range of nefarious purposes.

    This could put users at risk in a number of different ways, even accounting for the security and privacy advantages offered by a DPN.

    There are also language challenges associated with decentralised private networks. More specifically, most DPNs are peer-to-peer and global in nature, making it hard to sustain uniform and effective communication standards between different jurisdictions.

    This may be particularly problematic for novice users, leading to communication breakdowns and potentially damaging misunderstandings.

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    The Last Word 

    These potential DPN drawbacks add some much needed balance and insight, although they also make it harder to choose a viable option and service provider.

    Certainly, VPNs are more established and provide a much more competitive marketplace in terms of choice at present, while there remains the option to access a free VPN trial and sample what a particular client has to offer.

    We’d also recommend VPNs if you’re unfamiliar with blockchain technology, as this may afford you access to products that are easier to use and utilise protocols that are tried, tested and relatively simple to understand.

    If you do opt for a VPN over a decentralised private network, we’d recommend prioritising service providers that operate multiple server locations across the globe. This will aid practices such as streaming and minimise the risk of increased latency during usage.

    Ultimately, you should compare your options in detail and try to find the best option for you, based on your technical knowledge, potential risk and underlying reasons for wanting enhanced network security in the first place.

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