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ANSWERED A Question Of Privacy (Threefold)

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So, the question here is threefold. (The first being more a matter of opinion, the second two being technical questions.)

1.) Say Joe Schmoe mistakenly logged into his personal email while connected to the VPN server and also while using Popcorn Time, or another similar Bittorrent service. The result is that Joe COULD be connected to the VPN use and therefore the P2P activities, but the question is whether or not this should be cause for true concern?

2.) Port-Forwarding: In what scenario would this be a good idea to use? I previously thought that it would increase privacy, but I realized that this is not the case. So, should I stop port--forwarding to become more anonymous?

3.) Finally, what does it mean to "open a port on your router?" Is that simply the same as port-forwarding, or is it a different situation?

 

Thank you to anyone who can respond to this for me! In my experience, these forums are incredibly useful and I very much appreciate any help that I am given.

Please note that I am still in the learning stage when it comes to the more technical aspects of VPN use, but I am a fairly quick learner, so I do not discourage the use of more technical jargon, but I may need to ask for an explanation.

 

Also, if it helps the discussion:

OS: Fedora 22

Network Lock always enabled in the Eddie client.

Virtually always connected to VPN, unless I need to use personal accounts.

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Answering your questions in reverse order:

 

3.) Finally, what does it mean to "open a port on your router?" Is that simply the same as port-forwarding, or is it a different situation?

 

It's a bit of both. Let's say you want to access your home server from the internet: You configure your server to listen for incoming connections on some port. But, by default, most routers will not accept incoming connections on any port. Opening a port refers to adding an exception to the router's firewall, allowing incoming connections on a specific port. But, the router will also need to forward connections to the actual recipient - your home server. Then, it's possible to contact YOUR_ROUTER'S_EXTERNAL_IP:open_port, and your router will forward the incoming connection to YOUR_HOMESERVER'S_INTERNAL_IP:open_port.

 

If we take that example and apply it to AirVPN forwarding: By forwarding a port in AirVPN's webinterface, you open that port in AirVPN's firewall (on the AirVPN exit server) and also forward it to your VPN-internal IP.

 

 

2.) Port-Forwarding: In what scenario would this be a good idea to use? ... Should I stop port--forwarding to become more anonymous?

 

People forward ports to be reachable from the outside - some want their P2P application to perform better, others might want to access their NAS from the internet. In any case, doing so over a VPN will improve your privacy - it is preferable to run a P2P application on a VPN port rather than directly on your home connection. If you have a good reason to be reachable from the outside, I don't see why you should stop port forwarding altogether.

However, there are security implications: The internet gets port-scanned around the clock. Whether you accept incoming connections on your home connection (router) or on your VPN connection does not make a difference - in both cases, the port will be exposed to the internet and thus discovered pretty much immediately. As a consequence, you want to make sure that you don't use weak authentication (bruteforceable passwords) on any ports exposed to the internet. For example, if you expose a local SSH server to the internet, you probably want to disable password authentication in favor of public key authentication.
 
Another worry would be "remote code execution" vulnerabilities. This basically means that a piece of software exposed to the internet may react unexpectedly to malformed (malicious) input, potentially causing information leakage or even full system compromise. For this reason, it's usually considered good practice to physically separate "sensitive" machines" from machines that are reachable from the internet.
For example, a bank would (so I hope) not run their webserver on the same machine that controls the security cameras or the vault's locks, knowing that their webserver might get compromised. In the same vein, you probably want to avoid exposing to the internet some outdated, vulnerable WordPress installation on a machine that also holds your private photos.

 

 

1.) Say Joe Schmoe mistakenly logged into his personal email while connected to the VPN server and also while using Popcorn Time ... the question is whether or not this should be cause for true concern?

 

Your particular example doesn't warrant any true concern. Using VPNs means using a shared connection, which helps to prevent personal attribution or correlation. In all actuality, it is much more complicated, depending on how malicious your VPN provider is, who your adversary is and what parts of the internet they have access to.

In a similar vein, using a VPN for privacy reasons doesn't magically eradicate tracking - for example, Facebook doesn't care whether you use a VPN, they will happily track you regardless, so you still have to prevent that by practicing good browsing hygiene.


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Thank you very much for your detailed and specific response, sheivoko!

I very much appreciate the time that you took to answer my questions!

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Sheivoko's answers are almost like a Wiki page. And I thought I was the one with the full details

 

I would like to take this question to a deeper, theoretical level in order to help you to understand your threat model better.

 

Your question is lacking a very important moment - who is the adversary you are afraid of correlating your email and torrent activity?

If that's your ISP, you are probably fine. If that's your government, you are probably not. But the good news here is that the government

agencies that have access to such correlation data never care about copyrights and DMCA. I can't explain it (you will have to read about it)

but the best example I can come with, is that no one will bring a SWAT team on you for stealing a bubble gum in your local store.

 

Correlation is mostly done today in conjunction with products. It's not that the companies want to track you just for the sake of tracking,

they just want to keep their business models and reports, and to sell you their junk according to your personal profile.

 

 

Your only actual threat here would be:

Using the same email provider AND the same ISP at the same time.

Let's take AT&T as an example. If you both torrent and access webmail from the same AirVPN IP, there is a good chance they can

corellate it back to you and send you those DMCA notices. But probably nothing more serious than this.

 

Regards.


Occasional moderator, sometimes BOFH. Opinions are my own, except when my wife disagrees.

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