VPN Security

Some security issues when using a VPN

VPN Anonymity

An insecure connection is still insecure: Although Riseup VPN will anonymize your location and protect you from surveillance from your ISP, once your data is securely routed through riseup.net it will go out on the internet as it normally would. Therefore, you should still use secure connections (TLS) when available (ie https over http, imaps over imap, etc).

Besides that, how anonymous is RiseupVPN? Each time you run RiseupVPN, a new certificate is created to authenticate to the service. We do not require a username/password registration for RiseupVPN, and we do not have any information that ties those short-lived certificates to each other, or to an individual. Additionally, our logs do not contain any IP addresses of any user, any browser fingerprint information (browser information, plugins installed, fonts installed, screen resolution, etc.), DNS requests, traffic flows, any metadata information, any personally identifying information of any kind, and more. The logs we do have are the bare minimum needed to make the service work. We don’t sell or share any of these logs. The logs that do exist are stored encrypted, and persist for no more than 5 days before being rotated out of existence.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

A Man-in-the-middle attack (or MiTM) is where the attacker is able to listen and/or modify your network traffic. Such an attack can be used to de-anonymize you, modify content, steal your passwords, or serve you viruses, trojans or other software designed to gain access to your computer.

Every internet connection is vulnerable to a MiTM attack because of the broken nature of how the internet works. By tricking the routing protocol used by the internet, any traffic is vulnerable to a MITM attack from anywhere in the world. Although this vulnerability has been known for years, researchers dramatically demonstrated such an attack at the hacker conference DEFCON in August of 2008.

Does a VPN help protect against MiTM?

Yes and no. Using a VPN will shut down many of the places where a MiTM attack might happen, but not all of them. Specifically, it will protect your traffic between your device and the VPN gateway, preventing your ISP (or most governments) from performing a MiTM attack targeted toward you.

However, once your traffic passes from the VPN gateway to its eventual destination, it becomes vulnerable to a MiTM attack. With a VPN, your traffic is then semi-anonymized, so it is much much more difficult to target any attack toward any particular person, but an indiscriminate attack against all users of a particular website is still very possible.

For example, in January 2011 the Tunisian government, in fear of the popular uprising that would eventually topple the regime, was able to perform a MiTM attack on Facebook users connecting from withing Tunisia, capturing their login and passwords. In this case, a VPN would have protected as long as the VPN gateway was located outside the country of Tunisia.

VPN Limitations

The Riseup VPN shares some limitations common to all personal VPNs:

  • legal warning: If you live in an non-democratic state, it may be illegal to use a personal VPN to access the internet.
  • location info: Using a VPN on your mobile device will secure your data connection, but the telephone company will still know your location by recording which towers your device communicates with.
  • Device Security: A VPN helps secure your information while in transit on the internet, but it does not secure your information while in storage on your computer or on a remote server.
  • VPNs are not a panacea: although VPNs accomplish a lot, they can’t fix everything. For example, it cannot increase your security if your computer is already compromised with viruses or spyware. If you give personal information to a website, there is little that a VPN can do to maintain your anonymity with that website or its partners. For more information, see VPN anonymity.
  • The internet might get slower: the Riseup VPN routes all your traffic through an encrypted connection to riseup.net before it goes out onto the normal internet. This extra step can slow things down. To minimize the slowdown, try to choose a VPN server close to where you actually live.
  • VPNs can be difficult to configure: Although we have taken steps to make it as easy as possible, any VPN introduces extra complexity to your networking setup.