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Say I am only using a vpn for privacy (as is recommended by many people, especially on public wifi etc). How I understand it is that many people are using the same servers and have the same ip online.

If I am only using a vpn for privacy and somebody else decides to connect to the same server to do something illegal (downloading copyright material, visiting illegal sites, hate speech etc), is that not a concern for me?

I don't want to be linked with any of that stuff but want to use my vpn for my own privacy.

For arguments sake let's say I don't want to pay for a dedicated ip or setup my own vpn and wish to use the servers of a large provider.

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    You need to ask yourself, "privacy from whom?". You want a VPN for public wifi so that you get privacy from those in the same wifi network. – schroeder Jan 27 at 20:49
  • What do you believe will happen if another VPN user does something illegal? – schroeder Jan 27 at 20:50
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Quick review of generally how VPN's work: your computer, which is assigned an IP address by your ISP, connects to a remote VPN server, which has a different IP address assigned to it. The VPN server agrees to send and receive traffic for you, basically acting like a mail forwarder. Normally when you visit a website or check your mail the servers which you connect to will see your IP address as the originator of that traffic. When you're connected to the VPN server and you access a website or check your mail, those remote servers only see the IP address of the VPN server that you're connected through.

Now your question: since I'm connecting to the VPN's server at the same time as other folks, if they happen to do a Bad Thing and the FBI or other Three Letter Acronym Agencies get called in, will I be implicated since my traffic is also coming from this server?

The answer: very unlikely. The FBI/TLA's first line of investigation will be to identify and contact the owner of the IP address (ie: the VPN provider). If the VPN provider keeps logs of who was connecting to what (yikes), then they'll provide that to the FBI/TLA for correlation analysis. If the VPN provider does not keep logs, then that's up to them to fight that legal battle. While there may be public traces out there of you accessing other servers via the VPN (say, while logged in to a bulletin board which also logs your source IP address), that evidence is very circumstantial and is not likely to lead to any legal actionable investigations anytime soon. Legal investigation aside, any security analyst worth their salt that happens to be looking into an attack and traces it back to a VPN IP will assume that the attacker is using this VPN to mask their identity and will not conclude that every user of that VPN is also malicious.

tl;dr: Using a shared VPN is not likely to lead the police to your door anytime soon.

  • PS: If you're the one doing a Bad Thing... probably want to make sure that your VPN doesn't keep logs. – mttat Jan 27 at 21:24
  • please define "popo" – schroeder Jan 27 at 22:08
  • @mttat It doesn't matter if your VPN keeps logs or not. Their upstream ISP does. – forest Jan 28 at 3:28
  • @forest True, the upstream logs would potentially show VPN user connections coming into the VPN (A) and outgoing traffic (B) from the VPN (to user-requested remote resources). But unless the ISP is logging every packet or at least a timestamp for every packet (neither of which is outside the realm of possibility...), that's not enough to correlate user (A) with traffic (B). Your point is valid. – mttat Jan 28 at 5:12
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    @mttat Nation states certainly don't always win, as various leaks have shown, especially if the traffic isn't going initiated and terminated in the same compromised AS. Even FVEY/SSEUR isn't a true GPA. – forest Jan 28 at 5:36
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@schroeder puts it perfectly. Privacy from whom?

If you are going with any reputable VPN company then there is no issue. No sain or reasonable country would pursue you because of connection to/use of an IP address in which someone has done 'something illegal'.

Anyhow, the key question here seems to be privacy from whom? If you want privacy from people snooping on public wifi or locally on the network then any encrypted VPN will grant you this. It won't grant you privacy from the government, or from the VPN company. If it is that you are after a start might be thinking about how it is you are going to pay for these services with privacy?

Although you've said for argument's sake you don't want to setup your own VPN, it seems this is actually the best option given the information provided. If you only wish to encrypt your connection and protect yourselves from eavesdroppers on public networks, I would reccomend setting up your own VPN on a VPS. This can be done cheaper than paying for a VPN, and with your own dedicated IP in a region of your choosing.

However, you stated you don't wish to do that.

So if you still have worries, many VPN services offer the option of a dedicated IP.

  • many VPN services offer the option of a dedicated IP.: I believe this is more a liability than an asset. With a shared IP you have the plausible deniability line of defense: it's a shared IP, they have to prove it was me, not the various other clients sharing this IP. With a dedicated IP, it was you, no doubt about that. – ThoriumBR Jan 27 at 23:16
  • @ThoriumBR This is a common misconception. With a shared IP, you still have a unique IP:port combo that a destination website can log and use when demanding logs from the VPN to deanonymize you. – forest Jan 28 at 5:15
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I don't want to be linked with any of that stuff but want to use my vpn for my own privacy.

You won't be. The computer accessing the sites you visit isn't yours, but from the VPN provider. They are responsible for it.

somebody else decides to connect to the same server to do something illegal

They can do, and that is not of concern for you. A VPN provider is a shared resource, so it could be anyone using its services, not you. If something illegal happens, and the responsible was sharing the same IP as you, VPN provider will either fight the subpoena, ignore it if they aren't under the jurisdiction of the government suing them, or give them the user responsible on a silver plate - and that user is not you (as you want to protect your privacy, not commit crimes. Right?).

I don't want to . . . setup my own vpn

That's a smart move. If someone somehow breaks into your private VPN server and use it to commit crimes, you are on the hook. You must prove it wasn't you, and good luck with that.

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