Online security – Gangnam Style!

Online security

The South Korean pop musician Psy, real name Park Jae-sang, made famous the ‘Gangnam Style’ song and dance routine internationally in 2012, famously exceeding 1 billion views on YouTube, the first person to achieve such a feat in the website’s history.

South Korea is, of course, also famous for many other things aside from ‘K Pop’. Possibly the most disturbing of these is the delicacy of San-nakji – these are octopus tentacles cut so fresh from the slayed host creature that they are still wriggling when served to diners. At least two recorded deaths from San-nakji consumption are known to have occurred, apparently because octopus tentacles can continue to function after being removed from the creature itself, and the suction cups on the tentacles remain working as the diner swallows the food. This can lead to a choking hazard, which is apparently mitigated by soaking the material in sesame oil.

Cars, phones, movies and tentacles!

But when the population of S Korea aren’t being killed by eating wriggly seafood or just dancing around in a bizarre manner, they live in one of the major tech hubs of the world; after all it is home to industrial giants Samsung, Hyundai and Kia.

The S Korean film industry is also rightly celebrated as one of the leading lights in the world of cinema- with movies like ‘Parasite’ (2019) by director Bong Joon-ho, which won Academy awards for Best Director, Best International Feature Film, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The movie gave us a brief, tasteful glimpse of class divisions in Korea between the wealthy and their domestic servants and has since become a cult classic.

Clearly, such a technologically endowed country has a very well established internet infrastructure, which allows it to be host to server networks from several virtual private network (VPN) providers, including a Korean VPN that can be very handy if you aren’t in South Korea itself, but you would like to appear to be.

But why would anyone not resident in S Korea wish to make it look like they were in that country, and what is a VPN – what does it do and what are its advantages?

Encrypted tunnels to keep out the hackers.

A VPN works as a piece of software on any device to which it’s installed. The software ensures that whenever the device’s browser, or, perhaps, email client, connects to the internet, that it does so via an encrypted ‘middleman’ server. That’s to say that the VPN provider owns a network of servers internationally, which are encrypted and highly secure. Only the VPN user can access them, and the person can choose from whichever server they desire when connecting, especially useful when travelling on business or vacation.

This means that the destination website can’t detect where the visitor is, nor their home IP address. The net result of this is that the VPN user’s visit to the web is anonymous and location independent. In short, your internet service provider and the website you’re visiting doesn’t know who you are or where you are based at the time.

This can be useful for a variety of reasons:

Malware avoidance

If you connect to a VPN via any of its international servers, the system should detect any form of hacker interference either from ‘phantom’ Wi-Fi hotspots or even if you’re connecting from your home or office and receive a phishing email or smishing text. Whilst anti-virus software of itself isn’t a bad thing and should always be used in conjunction with a VPN anyway, VPN servers have finely-tuned detection systems that will disconnect the device from the internet the moment any possible hacking activity occurs – within milliseconds.

Data throttling

The practice by some internet service providers (ISPs) of ‘throttling’ data transfer rates (i.e., slowing it down to such a crawl that the connection is simply unusable) is crafty – and one that they often deny. But all ISPs undergo huge load demands at peak times, maybe when Apple TV airs a new season of a popular series, or a major sporting event is covered by a streaming platform. ISPs also can use an underhand little trick; they can ‘throttle’ the IP addresses of certain streaming and gaming platforms but leave ‘speed test’ sites unaffected. In that case, a disgruntled user of say, Amazon Prime finds their connection unusably slow, goes to speedtest.net and finds that they are enjoying a full 75Mbps download rate. So, the customer blames Amazon, not their ISP.

But by using a VPN, as far as the ISP is concerned, the customer isn’t logged onto Apple TV or Amazon, just some anonymous server somewhere in S Korea, so the ISP can’t throttle the source of data consumption when they don’t know what it is.

Geo-restricted content

The same goes for geographic restrictions on streamed content. Many streaming platforms disallow access to their programs from outside their host nation. For example, THE UK’s BBC iPlayer blocks traffic from any internet address (IP) not based within the UK itself. However, a resident of S Korea wanting a break from K Dramas could simply log onto the web with their VPN, and choose a UK located server, then watch any BBC iPlayer content for as long as they wished.

In summary, these are only a couple of the many advantages of using a VPN, and there are virtually no downsides to them – so both remote workers and regular citizens, wherever they might be, would do well to install a VPN from a reputable provider at the first opportunity.