An Interview With ExpressVPN
A VPN Can Protect You Online. Are You Using One Right Now?
Most of us would rather avoid a huge problem than have to deal with one. That’s especially true with the growing incidence of Internet safety and identity theft. ExpressVPN Vice President Harold Li says VPNs exist to protect your online security and privacy…but you have to do your part, too.
– Chris Parker, CEO, WhatIsMyIPAddress.com
ExpressVPN: At a Glance
One of the world’s largest VPN service providers, ExpressVPN makes it easy for people around the world to protect their online privacy and security. Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN has been an advocate for internet freedom. They are a supporter of non‐profit organizations that fight for consumers’ digital rights, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Internet Defense League and OpenMedia.
- No activity or connection logs
- Best-in-class 256-bit encryption
- DNS and IPv6 leak protection
- Connect up to 3 devices simultaneously
- Internet Kill Switch
- 24/7 live-chat support
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Chris: What role does ExpressVPN play when it comes to helping people protect their privacy?
HAROLD: Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets when it comes to getting people to care about their privacy and security online and take action—short of something catastrophic happening to them directly. Big breaches or violations of trust, like recent ones involving Equifax and Facebook, get a lot of attention, but very few actually change their behavior as a result. That’s mainly because most internet users don’t perceive incidents as directly affecting them, don’t understand what action they could or should take to protect themselves, and quickly move on to the next big news item.
So we’re focused on ensuring our online privacy and security education efforts are relatable, actionable, and regular. Relatability is about helping people understand not just the technical aspects, but specific ways in which their lives could be directly impacted. “Action-abilit” means providing clear, accessible steps that people can take, being careful not to overwhelm and lead to paralysis. Regularity is established by delivering the same key messages over and over again to increase the likelihood they’ll take hold and help consumers see common threads across various hacks or attacks in the news.
CHRIS: Why do you think it’s important for people to use a VPN these days?
HAROLD: I may be biased here, but I think anyone who goes online has a need for a VPN. The fundamental protections around privacy and security it provides are applicable to everyone. And given that a minority of people are using a VPN today, all internet users as a whole are a clear untapped market.
We rely on the internet for virtually everything we do in our lives, and the sum of our online activity and data is an incredibly detailed, intimate profile of who we are and what we do. As the Facebook—Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown, that profile can be weaponized for power and profit in ways that harm us, our loved ones, and our communities. A VPN helps make sure you’re not unwittingly handing over that profile to your ISP and their business partners or intelligence agencies.
Your personal information is up for grabs online. A VPN keeps it hidden away. #privacy #cybersecurity
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CHRIS: Are there a few places where we should always be using a VPN?
HAROLD: Yes. One of them when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, such as at a coffee shop or hotel, and don’t want your data to be monitored or intercepted. And just about any time you’re online and you don’t want your ISP to be able to see all your internet activity or even sell it to third parties.
CHRIS: Why is ExpressVPN a good choice for those who don’t use a VPN yet?
HAROLD: In addition to being fast, reliable, and easy-to-use, I think what really sets us apart is our focus on pushing the whole industry forward, and constantly innovating, particularly in terms of security. For example, our Privacy Research Lab recently released and open-sourced the industry’s first set of leak-testing tools, enabling researchers, reviewers, and other third parties to independently test VPNs for privacy and security leaks. This R&D work not only enables us to make our service the most secure in the industry, but also lets others verify those claims for themselves.
CHRIS: Does using a VPN have other advantages that people may not know about?
HAROLD: Using a VPN for traveling has tremendous potential, because it touches many of the advantages of a VPN. When you go abroad, you frequently connect to untrusted Wi-Fi networks. Those networks may be in a place where you don’t trust the internet service provider or government. You could also possibly find that certain sites are blocked or censored, and may wish to access content from back home. Given that travelers are already conscientious about other ways to ensure their trips are safe and enjoyable, such as buying travel insurance and using their hotel safe, I think they’ll be quick to adapt to using a VPN once they understand the benefits.
CHRIS: What steps does ExpressVPN take to ensure the privacy and security of its customers?
HAROLD: Customer privacy is at the very core of why we established ExpressVPN, so our systems and policies are specifically engineered to protect user privacy and security. For starters, we do not keep connection or activity logs, or any other information that could link network activity with a specific individual. In fact, we go to great lengths to ensure that such information never even hits a disk on any server. Writing-then-deleting of data isn’t good enough, as deleted data could still be recoverable.
We run our own private, zero-knowledge DNS on every server, and we also have a dedicated Privacy Research Lab team focused on investigating potential threats and improving the service to protect them. They recently released open-source leak testing tools that enable researchers, reviewers, and other third parties to assess a VPN services’ vulnerability to leaks that can impact user privacy and security.
We were also the first provider to raise the issue of DNS leaks that occur when a user switches network connections, which ExpressVPN apps protect you from. We use Perfect Forward Secrecy to ensure that in the unlikely scenario that encryption keys are compromised or stolen, this does not affect the security of past or future communications. We have a Tor onion service to provide a more private and anonymous way to access our website.
CHRIS: Do you think people still have misconceptions about VPNs. If so, why?
HAROLD:I think the biggest misconception is that they’re difficult to use. Sometimes this is because they’ve never used a VPN before, and the jargon scares them. Sometimes they’ve used a VPN in the past, perhaps for work, and didn’t find it easy to use. The fact is, consumer VPN apps now make it incredibly easy for anyone to use a VPN on virtually any device.
The most common objections generally reflect an overall lack of understanding of VPNs and what they protect against. That’s why we think it’s really important to keep educating internet users about the threats to their online privacy and security, how a VPN can help, and just how simple using a VPN can be.
CHRIS: Even if someone is using a VPN, what else can they do to boost their security?
HAROLD:They can keep their systems and computers up-to-date. Many of the most famous attacks, including the WannaCry ransomware attack and the Equifax breach, targeted known vulnerabilities for which patches were already available. I also recommend people use a password manager. Let’s be honest: We all know strong, unique passwords are fundamental, but we can’t possibly create or remember a new one for every service without the help of a password manager. Finally, use two-factor authentication whenever available, especially for any important logins such as for your email, social media, and bank.
CHRIS: Is getting a VPN easy for the average internet user?
HAROLD:The fact is, the industry now makes it incredibly easy for anyone to use a VPN on virtually any device. In our own case, ExpressVPN’s industry-leading, 24/7, live-chat support makes the experience even more stress-free.
IS THERE ANY GOOD EXCUSE FOR NOT USING A VPN?