An Empirical Analysis of the Commercial VPN Ecosystem
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Global Internet users increasingly rely on virtual private network (VPN) services to preserve their privacy, circumvent censorship, and access geo-filtered content. Due to their own lack of technical sophistication and the opaque nature of VPN clients, however, the vast majority of users have limited means to verify a given VPN service’s claims along any of these dimensions. We design an active measurement system to test various infrastructural and privacy aspects of VPN services and evaluate 62 commercial providers. Our results suggest that while commercial VPN services seem, on the whole, less likely to intercept or tamper with user traffic than other, previously studied forms of traffic proxying, many VPNs do leak user traffic—perhaps inadvertently—through a variety of means. We also find that a non-trivial fraction of VPN providers transparently proxy traffic, and many misrepresent the physical location of their vantage points: 5–30% of the vantage points, associated with 10% of the providers we study, appear to be hosted on servers located in countries other than those advertised to users.