VPN has always been the priority of internet users who value their privacy and security online. It is safe to use a reputable and strong VPN service provider for your online activities. However, some websites and services attempt to block or restrict VPN access. This has led to an arms race between VPN providers and services trying to detect and block them. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now being used on both sides of this battle.
How VPNs Work
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server, hiding your real IP address. Instead, your traffic leaves the VPN server’s IP address, masking your identity and location. A robust VPN service provider such as Surf sharkNordVPN and ExpressVPN prevent snooping through ISPs, other networks, and websites.
VPNs route your traffic through remote servers, often in different countries. This allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and censorship. For example, you can use a VPN to watch Netflix content that is only available in certain regions.
How websites try to detect VPNs
Many streaming services and websites want to restrict VPN access to enforce licensing agreements and prevent fraud or abuse. They use several methods to detect and block VPN traffic:
- Block IP address – Keep lists of known VPN server IP addresses and block them. This is easily circumvented by using VPNs that switch servers regularly.
- Traffic analysis – Analyze traffic patterns such as packet sizes and order to identify VPN tunnels. This is more advanced, but can still be fooled.
- Geolocation – Check the location of your IP address to see if it matches your billing address or other information. VPNs spoof locations, so this is not definitive.
- Browser fingerprinting – Use advanced techniques to fingerprint your browser, operating system, device, etc. VPNs can mask this information to avoid detection.
How AI is used to detect VPNs
AI and machine learning algorithms can analyze many data points in real time to automatically identify VPN usage patterns. This makes VPN detection much more advanced.
Some examples of how AI is used:
- Analyze traffic metadata such as packet timing, sizes, and counts to identify VPN tunneling patterns. AI can spot subtle cues that rule-based systems miss.
- Correlate IP addresses with location data and compare it to user profiles to detect mismatches indicative of VPN usage.
- Analyze browser fingerprints to identify anomalies. AI can model normal variations versus VPN spoofing.
- Process large amounts of network traffic data to identify clusters of similar activity indicative of VPN server farms.
- Constantly monitor and learn new VPN behavior patterns and server IP addresses. Human analysts can’t keep up.
Limitations of AI-based VPN detection
Although AI has improved VPN detection capabilities, there are still limitations:
- VPN protocols are constantly evolving to avoid detection. AI models need to be constantly updated.
- It is labor intensive to collect, store and analyze large amounts of traffic data needed to train AI models.
- VPN providers use an ever-changing network of servers. Maintaining comprehensive IP block lists is difficult.
- Advanced VPNs can mimic real users’ traffic patterns to avoid detection, fooling even AI.
- AI models can flag false positives, blocking legitimate users. Continuous training is required.
- Privacy laws can limit the collection and analysis of user traffic data necessary for AI.
Can VPNs also use AI?
Just as websites turn to AI in the VPN detection arms race, VPN providers are also starting to adopt AI to stay one step ahead:
- Analyze usage patterns to identify potential VPN blocks and proactively change server IPs and other parameters to prevent them.
- Profile traffic patterns from different sites and services to dynamically mimic real user traffic and bypass AI detection.
- Route user traffic through a changing mix of servers to prevent AI VPN traffic from clustering.
- Identify the most successful server IP addresses and connection parameters for accessing blocked sites to optimize the connection.
- Constantly scan the internet for new VPN blocking practices to update avoidance tactics.
The cat and mouse game continues
For now, the race between VPN detection and circumvention continues. Each party uses increasingly advanced AI and machine learning techniques. VPN providers need large amounts of traffic data to train their AI models. Websites have inherent data advantages to train their VPN detection models.
It remains to be seen whether one side will gain a decisive upper hand in the long term. But for now, AI-enabled VPNs offer better security and privacy for most users. However, for sensitive applications such as financial transactions, it may be wise not to rely solely on VPN protection.