The Internet Great Escape (or VPN for Dummies)

by Andy
Posted on 1st September 2016

Internet communication is one of the most powerful tools for mission work. It allows us to share prayer requests, keep in touch with family and colleagues, and access ministry resources. Unfortunately, the places that are most in need of people to share and demonstrate the good news about Jesus, are often those that are the most sensitive to internet security - meaning that certain 'unsuitable' sites are blocked and internet usage is monitored. If you want to access your mission organisation's website or Bible resources without raising suspicions, or if you want to visit a blocked website (such as the commonly censored Gmail, Facebook, or YouTube), what can you do? The solution is to use a VPN - a Virtual Private Network.

Imagine the VPN as a tunnel, like in The Great Escape: Your computer is connected to the internet in your local country, but a VPN allows you to 'tunnel' to a computer (called a VPN server) located in different country where the internet isn't censored. And because the computer has tunnelled into a country which has less restrictions, it can now access blocked websites. The good VPN 'tunnels' are encrypted, so that any information is scrambled (like websites you are reading or emails you are sending) so it is unreadable.

However, it is important to understand some of the limitations. VPN usage can be tracked by the authorities - like in The Great Escape, the prisoners dig 3 tunnels, named Tom, Dick and Harry. But the Nazi guards discover Tom and Dick, and so the prisoners end up using 'Harry' to escape. The reality is that you may use 'Tom' VPN for a few weeks, but then the authorities find and block it, so you have to find another tunnel. It's good to subscribe to a VPN that has servers in multiple countries, and multiple types of VPN, so you can switch if your connection becomes blocked. Some people subscribe to multiple VPN companies to give them options if one is blocked or is very slow at a particular time.

It's also important to know what your host country's legal policies on VPNs are - especially given that they can check if you are using one. For example, this year the UAE have banned VPN usage along with all internet phone software (such as Skype and WhatsApp - The situation may vary depending on how you use the VPN. This report explains that users of VPNs on mobile networks had their number temporarily disconnected - but fixed phone lines were not affected in the same way. (

Another problem you may encounter is that VPN 'tunnels' can be quite narrow - just like in the Great Escape. Only one prisoner could escape through the tunnel at a time, so the plan takes longer than if Steve McQueen and co. had just busted open the front gates and escaped en masse! So with VPNs only a few 'packets' of data can travel through at a time, either because of the encryption process, or authorities limiting the speed, thus downloads can be slow. This is only usually an issue with video streaming such as YouTube, but can be frustrating if you are in need of some English language TV to relax! You can minimize this by choosing a VPN server closest to your location, although often the cause is more to do with the general quality of the local internet than the speed of the VPN.

quoteopen A VPN should be one part of a complete digital security plan quoteclose

It's important to know that using a VPN is not a security silver bullet. A VPN should be one part of a complete digital security plan. It's no good unblocking websites and sending emails via a VPN if you have these on a smartphone which can be unlocked and read by anyone, or a computer without full hard disk encryption. Your weakest security point is often passwords for your computer or email - so make sure you choose a strong one. Furthermore, it would not make sense to use a VPN to unblock Facebook only to post your prayer requests on them - if the authorities can block these websites, they are perfectly capable of searching them for information about you or your friends. It's also possible to analyse photographs of people or places and discover their identity and location. With modern computers, facial recognition is no longer science fiction but just a few clicks away.

When choosing a VPN provider there are a few options to consider. Is your priority speed or security? Do you need technical support? Do you need VPN access on your tablet or smartphone? Check out the payment plans carefully too - you can usually get a discount if you subscribe to an annual rather than a monthly plan.

Finally, it is also important we have the right spiritual attitude to digital security. Ultimately, national governments who monitor the internet are not our enemy - the devil is. At best, they are just doing what they think is the right thing for the security of their country. Although this may curtail freedom of speech, in many cases the vast majority of blocked websites are pornography - which is surely a good thing. We also need to have prayed and considered whether our digital security measures are in line with Biblical principles. This does depend on the situation - especially when the are authorities are trying to prevent the spread of the gospel. We need wisdom on which situation to follow the authority's guidelines in our country (whatever they are) and when not to. The Apostle Peter understood this difference:

Acts 5:28-29 "'We gave you strict orders not to teach in [Jesus] name,' ...Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than human beings!'"

1 Peter 2:13 "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good."

If we do decide to use VPNs we should make sure we are not placing our 'emotional confidence' in them, but in the protection that God has promised. We need to be willing to be a witness to him even if our gospel work gets 'found out', like in Acts 5 - whatever the consequences.

Why not try Jungl VPN - ? Jungl tunnels and encrypts your Internet traffic - making if very difficult for your ISP / government / Employer to spy on you. The system works on Mac, PC, Linux, iOS & Android. 'Pausable' monthly subscriptions are available, as well as discounted annual subscriptions. Prices start from less than £6 per month.

Andy runs, a password protected blog platform with advanced security features and enough flexibility to customize your blog, without having to do any web design. Made by cross cultural workers, for cross cultural workers. Perfect for multimedia communication with home! Includes domain name, SSL certificate for website encryption and personalized setup. Free trial available.