The use of encryption on the internet has been growing for years. The majority of that growth has come from the use of SSL/TLS for encrypting web and streaming protocols (which are used for the vast majority of traffic on the internet). But over the past few years, the use of VPN services has begun to steadily rise as more consumers seek to shield their traffic from anyone that may want to look at it. This year, VPN growth continued, with VPN traffic accounting for almost 2% of downstream traffic and over 5% of upstream traffic.
Sandvine tracks over 70 different VPN services, as well as standard VPN protocols (which catch services that we do not identify uniquely) as part of our standard application identification solution. These services often cost anywhere from 5-15 dollars per month and target specific user types. These services are growing in popularity for a number of reasons on the internet:
1) Privacy concerns - Some users use VPNs to hide their traffic from anyone that may be looking at it, whether that is their network operator, their employers, the government, or law enforcement. These users are legitimately protecting their privacy, attempting to hide their activities from monitoring (and sometimes monetization), or simply don't believe it is anyone's business what they are doing online and use VPNs to hide their activities. Hiding the fact that you are file sharing to avoid DMCA notices is one example of this, and many VPN services target piracy consumers as their primary target audience; this segment is growing.
2) Location hiding or shifting - Many services cannot be accessed from specific geographies, whether due to rights issues or regulatory issues. Many VPN services offer the ability to location shift so you can watch video streams from the US while traveling to get around geolocation blocking. Others offer the ability to avoid content filtering systems that may be in place to block web traffic required by governments. This is a big source of growth in the space, as these services tout their speeds, which are needed if you want to stream video over a VPN.
3) Business Services - Many businesses require VPNs to access corporate resources, so VPNs have always been background noise on the internet for business users. This segment is not where the growth is coming from, but it has remained steady.
As consumers continue to grow more aware of security and privacy issues, we expect to see the use of VPN services grow. More users are being convinced that simply encrypting all of their traffic is the answer. However, they are essentially putting all of their trust now in the VPN provider, who may of may not be worthy of that trust, as they may be penetrated, or even be malicious in how they manage and handle your traffic. We'll see if this growth accelerates over the next few years.
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