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What Is Virtual Private Network ?

Context:

Virtual private network (VPN) service providers are up in arms against a new directive of The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team or Cert-In, a wing of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, that mandates they must maintain all customer data for five years.

  • VPN service providers have said the new directive would mean a total loss of privacy for the users–one of the most important unique selling points of such services.

Relevance:

GS III- Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a VPN?
  2. Why is anonymity or privacy so important for VPN providers and users?
  3. Cert- In latest Directive
  4. About CERT- In

What is a VPN ?

  • Any and all devices connected to the internet are a part of a large network of computers, servers and other devices spread across the world.
  • To identify each device connected to the internet, service providers globally assign a unique address to each such device called the internet protocol address or IP address.
  • It is this IP address that helps websites, law enforcement agencies and even companies track down individual users and their accurate location.
  • A virtual private network, when switched on, essentially creates a safe network within the larger global network of the internet and masks the IP address of the user by rerouting the data.
  • Acting as a tunnel, a VPN takes data originating from one server and masks it in a different identity before delivering it to the destination server.
  • In essence, a VPN creates several proxy identities for your data and delivers it safely without disturbing the content of the data.

Why is anonymity or privacy so important for VPN providers and users?

  • The main reason why privacy or anonymity is important for both VPN service providers and users is that it helps to avoid being tracked, mostly by websites and cybercriminals.
  • Since VPN masks the location of a device from everyone, it also prevents government and law enforcement agencies from accurately identifying the location.
  • VPN has also been of vital importance in countries that try to suppress dissent.
  • By using VPNs, dissidents are able to spoof their location and stay safe.

Cert- In latest Directive:

  • As per the latest directive, Cert-In has asked VPN service providers to maintain for five years or longer details such as the validated names of their customers, the period for which they hired the service, the IP addresses allotted to these users, the email addresses, the IP addresses and the time stamps used at the time of registration of the customers.
  • Cert-In also wants VPN service providers to maintain data such as the purpose for which the customers used their services, their validated addresses and contact numbers, and the ownership pattern of the customers.
  • One of the main reasons that Cert-In provided for seeking these details is that it will help to effectively trace anti-social elements and cybercriminals indulging in various nefarious activities online.
  • These details are necessary to prevent incitement or commission of any “cognisable offence using computer resources or for handling of any cyber incident” which may lead to any disturbance in the “sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order”.

About CERT- In

  • CERT-In is the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents as and when they occur.
  • The constituency of CERT-In is the Indian Cyber Community.
  • CERT-In was established in 2004 as a functional organization of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Functions of CERT-In: 

The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 designated CERT-In to serve as the national agency to perform the following functions in the area of cyber security:

  • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber incidents.
  • Forecast and alerts of cyber security incidents
  • Emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents
  • Coordination of cyber incident response activities.
  • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and whitepapers relating to information
  • security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents.
  • Such other functions relating to cyber security as may be prescribed.

-Source: Indian Express

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June 2022
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