I am moved to write this technical article to refute and dispel the misinformation which Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, put out there during his very combative attempt to explain the suspension he placed Twitter to the National Assembly. I could not believe my ears, what I heard from that man, Lai Mohammed, more so that a minister would make such a brazen inaccurate statement about a popular technology among Internet users. It is okay to not know, it is unforgivable to make factually WRONG technical statements.
What that man said in that parliamentary hearing with bold face is a disservice to all the technically aware/savvy Nigerians. It was shameful no one in that room knew enough about the Virtual Private Network to correct him up front.
I am going to try and explain VPN in its most basic form and its benefits to everyone that uses this technology, including our people, the Nigeria population.
For the record, VPNs are very safe, all packets through it are ENCRYPTED and no one can intercept it, except the intended person at the destination point.
Long before VPN became popular among ordinary users, it had been in use for many decades in corporations. The VPN is the tool by which employees in most institutions and corporations connect remotely to their home offices and process company’s information/data safely and securely. I suspect that the use of VPN will even get to be more popular in Nigeria because of the avoidable gaffe of the government banning Twitter.
What is a VPN (Virtual Private Network)?
It is the process or the technology which allows your data to go over an encrypted connection (tunnel) from your house or your smartphones/handsets to another point on the Internet, through a designated VPN server, which may probably be in another country, and then make its way onto the public Internet.
The advantage of this encrypted connection is that your data has the IP address that is assigned to the other end of the tunnel, not your home
That means that when you connect to a web server, the IP address seen by the server is that of the VPN endpoint
How does a VPN work?
Here’s how it works for the user. A client (software) is launched to initiate a VPN connection through your VPN service. This software encrypts your data, and makes it invincible to even your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The VPN shields and protects your information when you use those coffee shop/airport/hotel Wi-Fis. The data then goes to the VPN Server, and from the VPN Server to your online destination. This could be anything from your bank website to a video sharing website to a search engine and the likes.
The online destination sees your data as coming from the VPN server and its location, and not from your computer and your location.
This is the standard, and this is how most people access the Internet, i.e. without the VPN. This type of connection has some flaws and your information can be pried open and be viewed and even altered by unintended persons. All of your data is out there in the open, and anyone who is interested can peek at what you’re sending.
Just like most of us know, the internet is a collection of servers responsible for
(a) storing websites and
(b) serving the website information to anyone who has requested and wants to view them.
Those servers do as a matter of design talk to each other all the time, including sharing your data with each other and to ultimately allow you to browse a requested page. If you are only interested in surfing the Internet, this is great, this may be all that you need, but it is not great for privacy. If it’s just a fun website that you’re looking at then, there may not be any need to worry about privacy. With this type of simple needs, it may not matter if someone sees your data.
But if you are looking to access your banks for more complex transactions, your business emails, or some other online functions which carry sensitive information, then you need a VPN, and not just any VPN, you need a very secured VPN.
When you use a VPN service, your data is encrypted. The data travels in encrypted format from your device (handsets/phones, laptops. desktop etc) to your ISP.
From your ISP, it will then travel to the VPN server. The VPN server for the most part is a third-party equipment that connects you to the web or the Internet. The end-to-end provision helps to ensure:
(1) the privacy of the user and it also
(2) eradicate the data’s security problem.
The destination site sees the VPN server
It makes it impossible for anyone to steal your information or even see it. This is because no one can (easily) identify you, or your computer as the source of the data, nor what you’re doing (what websites you’re visiting, what data you’re transferring, etc.).
Your data is encrypted, so even if someone does look at what you’re sending, they only see encrypted information and not the raw data.
What is not safe however is the Federal Government’s instituted NIN, where enormous power is given to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Patanmi, a government functionary, who is acting in bad faith against the citizens of Nigeria. An unelected Patanmi ascribes the all-knowing power to himself, to do as he pleases with citizens’ data. Patanmi is the minister who has confessed to being terrorists’ sympathizer; in my view, such a person should never have been allowed to go near anyone’s information, let alone the personal information of every Nigerian.
A very good VPN provides privacy and security and it is much safer than connecting to the web/Internet the traditional way.
Please don’t believe what Minister Lai Mohammed said at the National Assembly. The VPN is safe and it helps protect the integrity of your data. The man doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Folorunso is a tech expert based in Texas, United States.