Decentralized VPNs provide a means of privately browsing the web without relying on centralized VPN servers. These are the best dVPN services for 2020.
The market for VPNs is expected to hit $50 billion by 2024, and while some use the software to circumvent geo-restrictions (Chinese citizens craving a Tiger King fix), others have more pressing concerns centered on security and privacy: dissidents speaking out against authoritarian governments, and whistleblowers broadcasting crimes perpetrated by the state.
Decentralized VPNs (dVPNs) can obscure your identity and location, and offer many benefits over traditional VPNs: because dVPNs use distributed servers, there is no single point of failure as with centralized VPNs. Many of these decentralized networks also use a native cryptocurrency, enabling dVPN usage and server provision to be paid for pseudonymously. In 2020, these are the decentralized VPN options we’re staking our satoshis on.
Anonymous, uncensorable, logless, decentralized: the buzzwords flow pleasingly from Orchid’s website, which is very much pitched at the crypto crowd. Launched at the tail-end of 2019, Orchid allows users to pay for private bandwidth on demand rather than have to take out a monthly subscription. Naturally, payments are made in crypto rather than fiat: specifically OXT, built on Ethereum. Trust is distributed widely through multiple nodes in a multi-hop route, eliminating a single point of failure, with node operators incentivized to provision bandwidth.
Better privacy and faster speeds are the obvious benefits to Orchid’s dVPN, with users also able to share their account with an unlimited number of devices and people. To get the most out of Orchid, we recommend anonymizing your crypto (*link to “Understanding Bitcoin UTXOs” piece) before funding your account. Currently, the Orchid client is accessible via iOS (beta testing only), Android, macOS and Linux, with Windows to follow in the near future.
Tachyon is another interesting peer-to-peer VPN that implements end-to-end ECDHE-ECDSA encryption to ensure relay nodes can’t intercept traffic. Node suppliers earn staking and session rewards by providing traffic to other users and, as with Orchid, multipath routing is favored to parcel out encrypted traffic and prevent single-point attacks. Multi-relay forwarding, meanwhile, reduces the risk of surveillance.
What’s nifty about Tachyon is that it tricks others into thinking you’re on Youtube and Gmail by simulating HTTPS and SMTP. The dApp recently broke the 100,000 barrier for global users too, with the project’s roadmap indicating a beta release in Q2 of 2020, the GA release in Q3, and the SDK release in Q4. At present, it’s available on macOS, iOS and Android, with Windows coming soon.
Unlike the aforementioned VPNs, Mysterium has been around for a couple of years now – and therefore really is “the world’s first decentralized VPN,” a boast that more than a few dVPNs make. An Ethereum-based distributed VPN which is currently free to use, it will, like Orchid, favor a pay-per-use model using cryptocurrency in the near future. Mysterium utilizes layered protection protocols (OpenVPN and WireGuard) to conceal IPs, with users able to choose from an extensive global menu of IP addresses and bandwidth providers. Nodes will set their own price dependent on supply and demand, with no staking or fees required to run a node. Mysterium currently boasts 568 nodes, with IPs from 49 countries available. The app is available on macOS, Android and Windows.
The Sentinel dVPN is used by thousands of users every day, with over 300 TB of data having been consumed since launch and a recent 24-hour high of 1.6 TB recorded. You can view comprehensive Sentinel stats and metrics right here (you can also review the code). Sentinel employs military-grade encryption (SOCKS5 or OpenVPN servers enforcing quantum-level encryption) to let users access servers scattered throughout the globe. It also uses its own cryptocurrency, SENT, which node hosters can earn through the incentive program. Sentinel is currently available on desktop for Linux, Mac and Windows, and on mobile via Android.
VPN⁰ was proposed shortly before Orchid, in a lengthy blog post on the Brave website. Based on the idea that dVPN nodes should be able to choose which traffic they want to carry, without ever learning about the actual content (zero-knowledge proofs), VPN⁰ is integrated with BitTorrent’s DHT (Mainline) and ProtonVPN, a popular VPN provider. The idea is to give users strict privacy guarantees without compromising on performance. Those who avail themselves of VPN⁰’s services pay in Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT), while those offering bandwidth earn BAT. Since the research paper was published in October 2019, with work left to be done to “minimize the duration of potentially unauthorized traffic,” it’s all gone rather quiet; hopefully 2020 will be the year VPN⁰ reaches the PoC stage.
We live in a society that moves inexorably towards ever greater levels of surveillance: “the right to privacy,” enshrined in the Bill of Rights, no longer seems to mean a damn thing. When used correctly, decentralized VPNs allow us to escape the all-seeing eye, don a virtual mask and move as we please.