On Wednesday, Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister for Information, told a joint committee of the House of Representatives that Nigerians who use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass government’s ban on Twitter risked cyber theft.
Mohammed claimed that VPNs would expose private data such as bank details to criminals who could use such information to access bank accounts and steal funds.
He said, “My advice to anybody using VPN is to stop it — because when you use VPN, it exposes your entire data, including your bank accounts. I’m serious. So, if you are using VPN and you think you are hurting Lai Mohammed, you are hurting yourself.”
While the Minister’s claim has sparked reactions and conversations on the social media, several users may yet be unsure of its validity.
Anything can be hacked, but penetrating VPNs is not a walk in the park. An understanding of how the system works will make this clear.
VPNs fetch plaintext data from a device and make it into unreadable cipher text for outsiders, including spies, hackers, even the user’s Internet Service Provider (ISP), who might want to intercept it. The data travels that way to the VPN server where it is then decrypted and transmitted to its destination.
This simply means that if cyber criminals successfully intercept a user’s data while travelling down the VPN tunnel, all they get is a complex code that cannot be broken down by ordinary computers. It takes a long time to decode such data even with strong (special) computers which are beyond the reach of most cyber intruders.
Thus VPNs are not only safer for online banking, home and public Wi-Fi, but make it more difficult to track down an internet user by government agencies who can easily order an ISP to produce a target citizen’s data.
VPNs are, however, safer when not free. Nothing good comes free, after all. Scientists revealed that some do not encrypt data, while others leak it.
A free app may not have capacity for the technology required to provide maximum cyber security, and unverified VPN vendors may leak or steal users’ data.
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