Many smartphone users have started downloading virtual private network apps to bypass the temporary 'blockade,' but installing these apps might bring about security and privacy risks. (Designed by vectorpouch / Freepik)

VPN Apps Gain Popularity as Government Throttles Social Media Access, but What's the Catch?


MAY 23, 2019

Jakarta. The government's decision to temporarily limit access to social media and instant messaging apps on Wednesday has irritated users who use them regularly for daily communication and work.

This, however, has not stopped people from accessing the platforms through other means, as many smartphone users have started downloading virtual private network (VPN) apps to bypass the temporary "blockade."

The apps themselves are free and available on most app stores, but the question is; how secure are these VPN apps?

Laksana Budiwiyono, country manager of the Indonesian chapter of Tokyo-based cyber security firm Trend Micro, said that the main purpose of using VPN is to secure the flow of information from our devices when using public internet connections. When using a VPN, the user's personal data and IP address will be encrypted, making it impossible to be accessed by other parties.

"Unfortunately, this technology may be 'misused' by the developers to place advertisements and even retrieve information from the user. This is because when using a VPN, all information transactions from the user to the internet will pass through the VPN app provider. This allows the app developers to collect the information we are sending," Laksana said on Thursday.  

To avoid this, Laksana advises users to be careful when choosing a VPN app and to pay attention to the reputation of the provider.

"So, for example, when choosing a VPN app, don't just download it because it's free. You have to check whether the VPN app is provided by a reputable provider, particularly those from the security industry. Not a ghost company with only a name and a website, but doesn't really exist,” he suggested.

"By choosing a VPN provider that already has a good reputation in the security industry and making sure that the company is an official one, the potential for data theft should be smaller, or even none at all," Laksana added.

Additionally, when installing a VPN app, users should pay close attention to what permissions the app asks for, if anything seems suspicious, it might be best to seek a different app. 

The Indonesian branch of multinational cybersecurity provider Kaspersky Lab gave similar advice.

Kaspersky Lab Indonesia's territory channel manager Dony Koesmandarin said that users should be careful when using VPN apps, especially those that are free.

"There is no guarantee, and no one to hold accountable when we use freeware apps," he said.

There are big risks when using free VPN apps, as malicious parties can install malware onto the user's device, which may then lead to data theft, Donny said.

"The malware can do anything, from stealing to wiping out the user's data. We must be aware of the details about the freeware apps we are going to use," he said.