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Opera adds a (sort of) VPN to its browser

In an effort to improve security, Opera has baked a free VPN (Virtual Private Network) into the latest version of its browser.

In an effort to improve security Opera has baked a free VPN (Virtual Private Network) into the latest developer version of its Windows and OS X browsers.

VPNs help you protect your data when you’re out and about by tunnelling through unsafe networks with an encrypted connection to a server you know and trust. Once you’re connected to your friendly server, it acts as your gateway to the internet.

The company’s announcement suggests this latest move is all about meeting users’ changing expectations around privacy:

Bringing this important privacy improvement marks another step in building a browser that matches up to people’s expectations in 2016.

It quotes Global Web Index stats that show more than half a billion people (24% of the world’s internet population) have tried or are currently using VPN services, and that young people are leading the way with almost one third of people between 16-34 having used one.

About more than just privacy

Because VPN connections are encrypted, they protect the traffic passing through them from attempts to snoop on it, tamper with it or block it. As Opera itself says:

Many countries, schools and workplaces block video-streaming sites, social networks and other services. By using a VPN you can access your favorite content, no matter where you are.

This new capability may be getting Opera’s proxy (it isn’t a true VPN, but I’ll go into that later) a lot of publicity, but I urge you to think twice before ignoring the policies of whichever network you’re on.

  • Free Wi-Fi services often block things like YouTube because their bandwidth is limited. Just because a VPN can allow you to hog the Wi-Fi, that doesn’t mean you should.
  • Bypassing your company’s security policy, which was probably the result of a great deal of careful deliberation, won’t win you any friends in IT.
  • In some countries, bypassing content blocking is illegal and could land you in very serious trouble.

How it works

Web developer and security engineer Michal Špaček took a look at how Opera’s new VPN works and concluded that there was more marketing than security in Opera’s VPN:

What Opera offers is not a VPN as such. It’s just a proxy for the browser. You still need a full VPN if privacy is what you care about (and you should care about your privacy). Other tools you use … won’t use this ‘VPN’.

In a nutshell, Opera’s VPN in your browser gives you a convenient VPN for your browser … but nothing more. A VPN protects all of your network traffic but Opera’s proxy only protects you when you’re surfing using Opera, not when you’re using Outlook, Skype or any other tool.

Nevertheless, Opera’s (sort of) VPN does still have something to offer: it doesn’t require a subscription and you don’t need to set up a server in your home or office. All you have to do is switch it on and – ta-da! – away you go.

Based on the SurfEasy VPN acquired by Opera Software in March last year, when switched on, the Opera VPN operates by sending API requests to a server belonging to SurfEasy and leveraging proxy servers owned by Opera.

So what, you may be asking yourself?

This means you have to trust Opera to take good care of you and your data because everything you do on the web will pass through its severs.

It seems that plenty of you are ready to place your trust in the Scandinavian company though – votes for Opera far exceeded its market share in our recent poll asking which web browser do you trust?

My verdict? Whether VPN or proxy, as long as you are realistic about its limitations, the Opera VPN is a win for security.

14 Comments

I find the stats here very hard to believe. I think the way the stats were gathered needs some scrutiny. I would imagine most of those on VPNs are folk using work laptops away from work and forced to by company policy.

I am the only person I know to have gone out and starting using a VPN for personal use.

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I use a VPN for personal use. I have two actually; one I built that I have at my house using OpenVPN and then I pay for a commercial VPN. It depends on the level of security that I am looking for and not wanting to spook people, like my bank.
As far as stats goes, I think that it is hard to say. Does my employer require me to login to the VPN everytime I utilize their laptop. No. Some hotels that we stay at have deep packet inspection and block VPN access. (Which is dumb) Hard to say!

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“Opera’s VPN in your browser gives you a convenient VPN for your browser.” Well, duh!

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The context is changed if you only quote some of the sentence. You missed off “… but noting more”. Ergo, it’s not a ‘proper’ VPN so don’t mistake it for one.

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Mark, those of us using webmail rarely need a VPN anyplace besides the browser. Yes, once in a while I use command-line FTP commands to move files to my non-confidential website, but the last time was months ago. I can’t remember when I made an internet access that wasn’t through the browser.

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Indeed, and that’s why I agree with Alison that this is a net win for security. If we hadn’t mentioned that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ VPN then the comments section would have been full of people telling us that we’d missed a trick and it wasn’t a ‘proper’ VPN instead of adding to the conversation with useful and informative commentary like yours :)

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Is it true that Opera is being sold for a hefty sum? If true then we should ask ourselves if we can trust the new owners with our data, not the Scandinavian company.

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I’ve had a good look at Opera’s VPN and for a free service I’m quite impressed. The browser feels rock solid and responsive and the speeds are reasonable. It did play Youtube video but like everything that’s free if you abuse it then expect the bandwidth to drop. It’s ideal for protection in a coffee shop for normal web browsing. i.e. Don’t abuse it! I can only commend Opera for their privacy enhancements in this developer edition.

There are, however, a few issues that you should be aware of:

Firstly, WebRTC will reveal your true IP. You can get round this by installing this addon:
https://addons.opera.com/en/extensions/details/webrtc-leak-prevent/?display=en
IMPORTANT! You need to configure it correctly:
IP handling policy – Disable non-proxied UDP (force proxy)
Legacy option – Tick both Prevent WebRTC options

Secondly, I would encourage everyone to have a look in the inner workings by typing opera://flags in the address bar. Pay special attention to what you are doing! There are some settings that not all users would feel comfortable with and can be disabled.

Thirdly, I found the adblocker to be inconsistent and actually had to install another adblocker extension to ensure all the ads were blocked. Perhaps it’s just the developer edition. (I’m not debating the right or wrong of this – I personally prefer security rather than take a chance with malware). I found these extensions useful:

Adblock Plus
Disconnect
Ghostery
History Disabler
HTTPS Everywhere
NoScript Suite Lite
User-Agent Switcher
WebRTC Leak Prevent

Lastly, Opera is using pretty good security with the TLS ciphers – I’m impressed to see the vast majority support forward secrecy and there were no obsolete ciphers present. Even sha384 and poly1305 ciphers are present – that’s good for security.

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Opera was sold to the Chinese for 1.2 Billion.
Now you do the math if you should trust their “VPN” or not.
I’m very very skeptic about this feature, and I’m sure many other understand why..

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Alison Booth sheds some GREAT light on the features of OPERA
1 You can avoid bandwidth limitations
2. You can remove your Company’s limitations on what you can view on the internet and view the same harmless content that you view from your home.
3. You can circumvent a repressive country’s censorship on the internet

I implore people to read more independent reviews on OPERA but
Its always nice to get the side of a Conformist Corporate Shill :)

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I look forward to the first dimwit that decides to start using that in my network. Good luck in the unemployment line.

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