How to stay secure online? VPN or DNS? Which is better?

vpn dns

VPN (Virtual Private Network) has been the go-to solution for people looking to access geo-restricted content when they are outside the designated locations. Although they also enhance your online anonymity, most VPN users were mainly driven to access content not available in their location.

However recently, there has been a widespread campaign by content providers to block VPN users. Take, for instance, sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, where they simply collect a list of IP addresses the VPN users are using to get through and block all the traffic from there.

It is not that a complicated thing to do, although once in a while some few IP addresses will slip through the cracks. Then the whole thing turns into something like the whack-a-mole game; sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.

With the clampdown of VPNs, users are now switching to DNS

VPNs allow you to connect to a secured private network remotely. All your traffic is first channeled to that secured private network before being sent to your device. As it works out, most sites and apps will assume the IP address of the secured private network to be your actual IP address.

That is how you remain anonymous (by hiding your real IP address) and if you connect to a private network in a region where the geofencing has not blocked out. You get access to online content under geo-location in which your location is locked out.

Like pointed out earlier, content providers have begun collating a list of IP addresses that serve as VPNs and block any traffic to them. That means, VPNs are no longer as reliable as they used to be.

Nonetheless, it is not a must you use VPN to access content locked out of your region. More and more people are now turning to DNS (Domain Name System). For those you might not know what DNS is, let me bring you up to speed.

DNS works like the internet’s phone book; matching web domains (like to their respective underlying IP addresses. Thus, when you change the DNS from the default one provided by your ISP, you can enjoy a number of benefits. Including faster browsing experience, increased security, and advanced parental controls.

There are two kinds of DNS, the regular DNS, and a smart DNS. The latter directs your traffic through a proxy server designed to unblock restricted content. As more and more sites keep blocking traffic to VPNs, DNS are proving to be the next best alternative; especially the smart DNS.

Smart DNS works on the same principle as your regular VPN, they both spoof the location of your computer to the site you are visiting. Duping the site into thinking you are accessing from a different location from your real location.

As much as the end user gets the same experience, the underlying processes are very different. Smart DNS will get information about your true location, and change it to a new location before the IP query kicks in. The smart DNS redirects your traffic automatically to a dedicated proxy server; the server is located in the country the site you are trying to visit is based.

How VPNs keeps your anonymous and secure

The biggest benefit of VPN is it encrypts your traffic. Meaning a hacker will not be able to tap into your activities, neither will the ISP. You traffic passes through a secure tunnel on the VPN network and not visible to anyone until it goes through the public internet. Then again, your traffic is also encrypted when your visit HTTPS sites.

Most VPN service providers use protocols such as the SSL/TLS, L2TP, IPSec, and PPTP. From a security point of view, you need to know not all protocols are the same. For one, PPTP has some history of vulnerabilities, with a number of problems being recorded on its authentication processes. Security experts give SSL protocols the thumbs up, and you should try to stick to VPNs using only that protocol.

You also need to know some VPN service providers secretly log their users’ traffic. Ideally, these logs could later be used to match an IP address and the time stamp that could be traced back to the customer.

Now, in the event, the VPN provides gets a court subpoena, with the allegation that some users were using the service to download copyrighted content or illegal material. Such VPN service provider could buckle under the pressure and relinquish these logs to the authority, who will then easily find you. That would defeat the purpose of using a VPN; given you wanted to remain anonymous and untraceable.

How smart DNS keep you safe

From the get-go know this, DNS are not by any measure security measures; their primary use is to spoof your location. Although there are son high-end DNS service providers, who offer additional security layer like DNS-over-HTTPS and DNSSEC.

DNS also does not encrypt your traffic; that is why their speed if faster than VPNs. That is the reason most cord-cutters prefer DNS to VPN; although they don’t hide your traffic from sites, ISP, governments, companies, and just about anyone interested in spying on you. All your traffic will be logged on your IP address, and anyone with the right access (or hack access) can see it.

The biggest potential danger with DNS is the ma-in-the-middle-attacks (MITM). These are attacks that take place when someone intercepts your traffic and alters it making you see traffic from a different location other than the party you intended to get it from directly.

MITM hackers often target DNS server to launch their attacks. Especially with some unscrupulous smart DNS provider trying to offer cheap prices, then make it easy for hackers (sometimes the providers themselves) hijack the customers’ traffic.

Before you sign up for a smart DNS service, do your research well on the company’s privacy policy. It will help you understand exactly the limits to the logging having on their DNS service and to establish if they are benefiting from your traffic.

Related: How to boost your Internet Speed on Windows PC using Google DNS

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