A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network that uses the internet to provide secure access to shared resources. It acts as an intermediary between your other devices and the websites you want to visit.
Most of us are familiar with public, or open, networks at home, work or in our favourite coffee shop. These are networks that are open to anyone within physical proximity.
The Venezuelan government has cut off access to web pages that are critical of the Maduro administration during the recent demonstrations.
According to the VPN Testing website, many people have no idea what a VPN is or why it’s so important nowadays. A VPN service allows you to create an encrypted connection between your computer or phone (read here) and a server in another country, which will allow users to appear as if they are accessing the internet from that location.
The reason people use VPNs can be for any number of purposes, but most commonly it’s because they want to gain access to services that may not be available in their home countries due to geographical restrictions, censorship laws etc…
It could also be for someone who wants more privacy while browsing the web, as their ISP will not be able to monitor the websites they are visiting.
VPNs should also work if your country experiences service disruptions during times of national emergencies or natural disasters.
After the terror attack in London on 22nd March 2017, which killed 5 people and injured 44 more, there was a 50% increase in new users signing up for Express VPN (a major provider). Express VPN’s Twitter account confirmed that their website went down shortly after an initial spike in traffic following the news of the attacks.
After US President Donald Trump ordered airstrikes on Syria in April 2017 due to alleged chemical weapon use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, NordVPN saw major increase inactivity. The CEO of the company reported that there were 10x more searches for VPNs than usual on Google. Express VPN also saw an increase in new signups, with people specifically looking for solutions to unblock American television online outside the USA.
When France won the Football World Cup in Russia in July 2018, searches for VPN services rose by 55%.
It may seem strange to use a product like this during significant world events, if you value your privacy and security so much then surely you would avoid recording devices altogether? However, when put into context it’s completely understandable why people turn to VPNs during these times.
A lot of foreign broadcasters are currently providing live coverage of the Venezuelan protests on air, and a VPN will allow citizens to circumvent the government blocking of these sites. This is not a new phenomenon anymore, people will use a VPN during events like this because they know it’s going to be blocked. If the Venezuelan protesters had access to a tool like this from the beginning then they probably wouldn’t be where they are today.
In fact, there was a huge demand for VPNs in Egypt before 2011 when Hosni Mubarak attempted to stifle internet activity during Arab Spring protests. People wanted to get around censorship laws and check on their friends and families who were taking part in demonstrations against the Mubarak regime.
As we have seen above, using a VPN can greatly increase your chances of evading censorship laws that certain countries may impose during times of emergency. People need these services to maintain their freedom of expression, and VPNs are the only tools that allow them to do this.