Imagine this scenario.
A new neighbour moves in beside your house. You notice that they placed a telescope behind the window that is directly facing your own. Every night, they peek through this telescope so they can watch whatever is showing on your TV. You confront them about it and they innocently say they just want to watch from your TV.
Gives you the creeps, right?
That is exactly how Hola “Better Internet” works. For some time now, a lot of tech experts have been saying that this “community-powered VPN” is very bad news. It is said to be a poorly secured botnet that can wreck havoc on your online privacy.
In 2015, the real story about Hola was revealed after 8chan, a controversial message board, was attacked by multiple DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service). After some investigation, it appeared that the attack originated from the network of Hola / Luminati. These attacks created thousands of new accounts – which spiked traffic in the site. The attacker was able to launch the attack anonymously, and while the Hola management said they dealt with the problem, it opened a lot of questions in the minds of users.
Most people are captivated by the “free” VPN and the idea of being able to browse securely and privately. This is why a lot of people went on to install Hola on their PC or device. It was very easy to do because this is available in the main browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Opera and even PC-based operating systems. They also released an Android and iOS application.
If you are one of those who installed Hola, you can go ahead and say goodbye to your online privacy.
Hola seemed like a very good idea at first. According to them, the Internet experience is compromised because of the various factors: the server response time, congestion, operating system problems, etc. These are the problems that Hola is trying to address through the peer-to-peer VPN. Instead of using “proxy servers” you will transfer the congestion to the existing nodes of users who installed Hola.
While it sounds like a real solution, it also opens a lot of problems down the line. Here are the different reasons why you need to think twice about using Hola.
They will send “peers” (whom you do not know) to use your Internet connection.
Hola allows users to browse the web using the Internet connection and IP address of each other. That is how this peer-to-peer service works. While its intention to provide better Internet access to millions of users seems innocent, it makes everyone quite vulnerable. When you install Hola, you can be routed to the nodes of other peers – and they can be routed to access yours. It is a double edged sword.
Their offer of secure browsing is not entirely true.
Although Hola is saying that their intention is to protect your security and privacy, they are doing the opposite. It is true that it can help you browse the web securely. After all, you are using the Internet connection and IP address of other users. If they try to trace your visit, they will encounter the IP address of the other user – not yours. Although you can browse securely, what makes you so sure that other people will not do the same with yours. Doors open both ways, right? If you can come and go through the node of another user, others will do the same with yours.
They will not care what the users will do with your Internet connection.
Hola lets other people use your IP address and give them the freedom to do as they wish. If they are only browsing region-restricted sites, that should be okay right? The thing is, there is no way to control what these users are doing to your connection. At least, there are no restrictions being imposed by Hola. How sure are you that those going through your connection and using your IP address is not up to no good? What if they do something malicious like hack into a secure site or try to commit a cybercrime? What if they access a pornography site? It is your IP address that will be recorded. Think about that for a minute.
They are exploiting your Internet connection.
This “free” VPN is possible because Hola does not pay for the bandwidth that their VPN is using. It routes your traffic to the nodes of other users. Since you are not really going through a “proxy server,” there is hardly any cost to what you are doing. They are using your connection – something that you paid for. If other people use your connection, that will compromise your own browsing experience. If you have 24Mbps, you might not be able to enjoy that entirely.
They are selling your access to other users.
Hola runs Luminati – a business that can be paid $20 per GB to access the Hola network. This business can supposedly help businesses with a lot of activities like brand monitoring, anti ad-fraud or ad-cloaking, self-tests (to check how a company’s site will look in a different region), and price comparison. While this seems like a legit business – they are exploiting your connection to do this.
They let sites track you, and it will be hard to remove them.
Finally, when other users go through your connection, it is your IP address that will be recorded in the sites. That means they can track you in the same way that cookies do. But you will find it very hard to remove them like cookies – even if you reboot your PC.
Although the Hola founder, Mr. Ofer Vilenski, released a statement that they are dealing with the issues surrounding this peer-to-peer service, people are questioning the sincerity of the “security and privacy” that they offer. If you think about everything that is discussed in this article, you can see that the security and privacy are not entirely true. You can browse anonymously because you can tap into the connection of your “peers”. But that freedom, apparently, comes with a very high cost – your own privacy.
Just as you can use other nodes, they can also use yours. When it comes down to it, you might find it hard to really call these other users your “peers.”
Maybe it is time to close the curtains.