Can a VPN Be Hacked?

Similar to all software, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are often targeted by malicious hackers. While major players in the industry have bolstered their defences to near-impenetrable levels, certain smaller VPN services harbour vulnerabilities that lead to the exposure of millions of user records annually.

It is essential for users to understand potential VPN vulnerabilities and make informed decisions when selecting a secure VPN provider in order to lower the risk of getting hacked as much as possible.

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How Can a VPN Get Hacked?

 

Hackers meticulously search for weaknesses within a VPN provider’s infrastructure. Once they identify a vulnerability, they exploit it, often resulting in data breaches, identity theft, fraud, and other serious consequences. Here are some common points of vulnerability that hackers exploit when targeting VPNs:

Outdated VPN Protocols

VPN protocols serve as the framework governing the transmission of data and traffic between your device and the VPN server. While protocols like OpenVPN, WireGuard, and IKEv2 boast robust security, others such as PPTP, SSTP, and L2TP harbour known security flaws yet are still utilised by certain VPN providers.

Using a VPN with outdated protocols exposes your sensitive data to risks. Although premium VPN providers steer clear of such protocols, some free VPNs continue to rely on them, contributing to the high incidence of data leaks from these services.

Weak Encryption

Encryption is the cornerstone of VPN security, rendering your data indecipherable as it traverses from your device to the VPN server. Even if intercepted, the encrypted data remains unreadable to unauthorised parties.

The strength of encryption hinges on the cipher employed and the length of the encryption key. AES-256 stands as the industry-standard encryption for protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2, while WireGuard employs ChaCha20 for secure encryption. Opting for a provider that utilises these encryption algorithms is crucial, as others may succumb to modern decryption techniques.

Encryption Keys

Encryption keys play a pivotal role in securing the transmission of data between your device and the VPN server. If compromised, they can facilitate the decryption of otherwise secure data. However, stealing encryption keys requires substantial resources and expertise.

Certain reputable VPN providers, such as Surfshark, have adopted Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) to mitigate this threat. PFS dynamically changes encryption keys at a pace that outpaces malicious actors’ ability to exploit them, rendering decryption virtually unattainable even with access to encryption keys.

Vulnerable Servers

In some cases, hackers target VPN providers directly, with VPN servers being prime targets. While premium providers have transitioned to RAM-only servers and undergo routine server infrastructure audits, smaller providers may store user data on vulnerable hard drives and employ questionable security measures.

Hackers exploit servers with weak login credentials or inadequate configurations to access user data. Moreover, instances of physical seizure of servers, particularly by oppressive regimes seeking access to user activity data, underscore the importance of opting for a VPN with a secure server infrastructure.

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Private Internet Access£2.19 per month30-day money-back guaranteeGet Deal >>
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What Happens if a VPN Gets Hacked?

 

A compromised VPN exposes users to various risks, including unauthorised access to sensitive information, interception of internet traffic, and susceptibility to Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks. This can lead to identity theft, fraud, compromised accounts, malware infections, and more.

Common actions taken by hackers upon compromising a VPN include:

  • Data theft: Hackers may pilfer activity data for use in phishing schemes or sale to advertisers for targeted advertising purposes
  • Fraud: Access to personal information obtained through a hacked VPN can enable identity theft, fraudulent loan applications, or unauthorised access to bank accounts
  • Malware: Although a hacked VPN does not directly facilitate malware installation, it increases vulnerability to MITM and similar attacks that can result in device compromise

 

What To Do if Your VPN Gets Hacked

 

Discovering that your VPN has fallen victim to a hack is undoubtedly distressing. However, it’s crucial to remain composed and take immediate action to mitigate potential damage. Here are the essential steps to follow upon learning of your VPN provider’s security breach:

  1. Remove the VPN application from all devices and perform a system restart
  2. Change the passwords for all your accounts to prevent unauthorised access
  3. Conduct a comprehensive malware scan using reliable antivirus software
  4. Monitor your bank account for any signs of fraudulent activity
  5. Identify and uninstall any unfamiliar apps or extensions that may have been installed without your consent

 

Which VPN Features Can Protect Against Hacking?

 

While there’s no foolproof guarantee against future hacks, certain VPN features offered by the top VPN providers indicate a commitment to robust security measures:

Secure VPN Protocols and Encryption

Utilise VPN protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard, paired with AES-256 or ChaCha20 encryption algorithms, for secure connections. Avoid providers using outdated protocols such as PPTP or SSTP.

No Activity Logs

Opt for a VPN service that adheres to a strict no-logs policy, ideally validated by independent auditors. This ensures that minimal data is retained, reducing the risk of data breaches.

RAM-Only Servers

Select VPN providers that employ RAM-only servers, which lack permanent storage and automatically wipe data with each shutdown or restart, minimising the impact of potential breaches.

Kill Switch Feature

Choose a VPN offering a Kill Switch feature, which halts internet connectivity if the VPN connection drops. While not a direct defence against hacking, it prevents data leakage in case of VPN failures.

Independent Audits

Prioritise VPN services that undergo regular independent audits by reputable firms. Publicly available audit reports offer transparency and assurance of robust security practices.