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When did the first anonymizing VPN services appear and why?

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Certainly an off-topic question. But i have to ask myself how and why did services like AirVPN come to be? Most of the providers i have been able to gather some information on AirVPN included started at or around 2010-2013. Obviously the latter correlates to the Snowden leaks; Clearly however this was a concern before the Snowden leaks but why? 


For privacy and torrenting reasons, why were VPN providers non-existant from the 1990's to 2010? ( The beginning of the modern web to their first appearance) 


From 1990-2010 there was obviously government surveillance and piracy occurring, so why were VPN's overlooked as a corporate utility for remote employees until 2010? What changed? 


After 2010 and the Snowden revelations in 2013 VPN's and VPN providers sprung up seemingly out of nowhere.


Removing the Snowden leaks from consideration, why were VPN's first used to protect the privacy and security of citizens in the first place when the technology was designed for a completely different reason? 

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Perhaps because there were relatively few users of the internet knowledgable and sophisticated enough about torrenting? Perhaps because most who went online gave little if any thought about the government spying on us until Snowden's revelations?


Those who were sharp enough to know that internet surveillance was going on, who were concerned enough and had the technological wherewithal, had to wait until around 2010 for a couple of reasons. (This is purely speculation on my part.) First, perhaps they had to wait for the software and hardware to be developed before the idea of VPN could be implemented. The other possible reason is they had to wait until 2010 for the potential market for VPN services to be large enough to make it viable to start one up. I'm sure the start up costs of establishing a VPN service are considerable and it makes sense to wait until you think there are enough potential customers to sign up so your business doesn't fail in the first year (or sooner)


There are others here in the forum with far greater knowledge and deeper insight about this subject, so let's hear it!

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I first became aware of commercial vpns about mid 90s. There was a Canada based one, forget the name, that had poor reliability and went out of business within a few years. Anonymizer started about the same time frame. Still there, but U.S. based and limited service. 


They started for the same reasons as current vpns, people wanted privacy and anonymity. But at that time the internet was much smaller and the number of people who knew about or cared about privacy was much smaller. Pretty Good Privacy from Zimmerman did a lot to facilitate and publicize email privacy/encryption. Still until Snowden, there was a much smaller set of internet users who used vpns. Usage has exploded now. I'd like to see everyone use vpn, encrypted email, messaging, phones, social media, and all websites be encrypted. Sadly the vast majority of people are still complacent about the importance of privacy.

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At the beginning of the 90ies, while I was working at CERN, we created or planned some privacy enhancing methods, but they were aimed almost exclusively to IRC, e-mail and gopher, aimed essentially to pseudonymity and were based on methods that could be used only by highly skilled and expert persons.


The World Wide Web was just being born and we had not yet the vision to imagine that it would have replaced gopher with something... with more impact power, which could have been easily used in every house and every public place in such an easy way that literally anybody (5 years old kid or 90 years old veteran) could use it extensively for almost every existing interest and life aspect.


We were anyway aware of the dangers of the current TCP/IP implementation/design to privacy, I think mostly thanks to the work and papers of David Chaum. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chaum


and we were also well aware of the paramount importance of cryptography. However, we did not understand fully the warnings by Chaum (at the beginning of the 80ies I think) who clearly wrote (somewhere I don't remember) that the current networking implementations opened the doors to a mass surveillance never seen in humankind history before.


As far as I recall, the real first, effective, and relatively easy to use service which was really able to bring an anonymity layer to anyone willing to experiment a little has been the Onion Router in 1996 or so.


About Virtual Private Networks on IP, the ideas came out much earlier (and of course not to build an anonymity layer, which is an incidental extension under precise conditions). Stan Hanks' RFC 1701 on GRE is dated October 1994:



Heh, 1701 :D


but Hanks thought about tunneling much earlier when he built TCP/IP over X.25.



Kind regards


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Back in the mid 1980s (1984?) I worked as a contractor for a US banking support corp called NCR for a bank client to use Data Encryption Standard for secure communications from PCs to central corporate applications when the mobility and flexibility of PCs using 1200 bps modems on voice phone lines or 9600 bps modems on special carrier supplied lines was a wildly exciting and popular productive new capability.


The DES C code became available from various sources and could be utilised by software development companies for various client custom applications. So the needs and requirements for network security have been similar through to the general availability of OpenVPN interoperability at present. But the encryption algorithms have improved immensely.


Another milepost on the road to VPNs was the development of Secure Sockets Layer in the mid 90s, to provide a standard API and interoperability over IP networks.  Largely from the Netscape precursor to Mozilla Firefox as an early developer of the World Wide Web, HTTPS, HTML etc.


But the need and development of anonymity has been driven by hostile governments as much as commercial/criminal espionage.

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If Tor counts, that was probably the first community offered anonymity service which supported any kind of outgoing TCP traffic.

When it was first opened to public in 2003 the setup was very non-trivial, you had to run Polipo and Privoxy, and there was no

browser which integrated it obviously. So if you had a chance to run Linux/BSD, the only supported platform at that time,

you could taste how "great" it was to browse a slow web with an already slow ISDN modem, but virtually for free.

SSL was not used almost on any website back then, so malicious exits were a real privacy threat.


OpenVPN didn't gain popularity and stability until about later in 2005, so this is the year where various VPN services started

to emerge. The main reason was the crackdown on P2P users, and installing it on a workstation (let alone a router) was considered

not a trivial task. PPTP was the main offered protocol, personally the first public VPN I used was a Swedish company called Relakks

with PPTP and shared 10mbit, somewhere around 2006.

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