Heavy Reasons Why Digital Nomads Need a VPN in Southeast Asia

There’s plenty of reasons why you need to use a VPN in Southeast Asia. Here’s about 10 of them.

We’re back in Chiang Mai meeting up with Digital Nomad Escape Plan readers, Bitcoin enthusiasts, friends, colleagues, and working in the occasional group –and I keep noticing that Westerners are taking bad internet security habits with them to Southeast Asia.

And it needs to stop (for your own good, honest).

Bad Habits, the West, and the Internet

After noticing a lack of security among my peers, I decided to do a little research. As it turns out, Westerners have a lot of bad habits when it comes to their internet security.

28% of Americans don’t have a passcode set up to access their mobile device.

40% only update their smart phone apps or operating system “when convenient”, and 14% of Americans will never update their phone’s operating software (source).

To make matters worse, another survey by Global Web Index revealed that only 5% of Americans use a virtual private network (VPN). And then there’s the meagre VPN use of Germans (6%), the United Kingdom (5%), and Australians (4%).

If you’re taking this lax approach to online security with you abroad, you’re asking for trouble.

digital nomad vpn
“What do they know that we don’t?”

Nerd alert

VPNs aren’t sexy talk. I understand you.

But they’re cheaper than a night at a hostel –in some cases you only need to pay once for lifetime access, and using one sure beats sharing a jail cell toilet with a bunch of unsavoury characters for the rest of your short life. Heck, a VPN would probably cost you less than a soap-on-a-rope.

With the number of fine folks I’ve met recently who are not using a VPN, I thought I’d write one last post about this subject to really drive the point home.

In this article I’d like to look at what a VPN is, why we need one, and the consequences of not using one.

What is a VPN?

For a level of brevity unheard of on this blog, if you don’t know what a VPN is I strongly recommend you take a gander at this article –fittingly enough, it’s called “What is a VPN?”.

Coles Notes? From the article;

“A virtual private network allows internet users to access blocked content around the web. They also allow users to secure their online experience and remain anonymous through tools like encryption”.

That desciription seems simple enough; a VPN will protect you from the internet bogeyman by shielding your internet traffic from its source to your device.

Why Do I Need a VPN?

As far as day to day life goes, a VPN can allow a user to view regionalised content from other countries that isn’t typically available in their own.

Going up the totem pole, a VPN can also prevent insecure networks and “man in the middle” attacks from compromising whatever data you’re transmitting one way or another. That means all of your work, cloud drives, and bank accounts are less likely to get broken into.

But there’s a darker side.

Things that we did every day back home may not be legal in the country we’re in, and those laws could bleed into our online activity. It’s generally best to keep our online activities seperate from our offline activities.

Facebook, Bitcoin, Grindr –all of these are tied to some sort of crime in one country or another.

Brunei, Myanmar, Malaysia, and the provinces of Aceh and South Sumatra, the city of Palembang, and also Jakarta in Indonesia all have laws prohibiting sexual acts with the same sex in some capactity.

Countries in Asia are generally pretty sketchy about cryptocurrencies, with countries like Indonesia and Vietnam outright banning them as a form of payment.

They’re Listening

Governments are listening; news stories are common where it’s clear a government is using heavy-handed defamation, la majeste, and antiterrorism laws to send people to jail for things they say and do online, while censoring the internet in some cases.

“It never crossed my mind that a joke would cause this much trouble for me,” he told reporters. “I really regret it.”

Microsoft, Noooo!

And finally, Microsoft is cozy with many governments around the world, empowering them with access to computers running the Windows operating system –something that Mac OS users don’t have to worry about (yet).

From Privacy International;

As described in Privacy International’s recent report “Who’s That Knocking At My Door? Understanding Surveillance In Thailand”, the Thai government has a certificate authority in Microsoft Windows Certificate Store.

This means that Windows users who use Internet Explorer, Edge or Chrome (or any program that rely on the Microsoft Certificate Store) could be vulnerable to a miss-issuance from the Thai Government or a Man-in-the-Middle attack, particularly when using the internet from within Thailand.

–Fret not, that same article also shows you how to remove the certificate. Although, non-technical people may prefer to simply use a VPN.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, I hope all of our readers take care. When you don’t quite understand the laws that relate to your day to day activity, you’re unsure of the security of the networks you’re using (either nationwide, or in a cafe), and you’re handling sensitive information –it’s in your best interests to consider using a VPN.

What do you think? Did I go too far, or not far enough? Let everyone know in the comments.

Nomad Blog - Michael Hulleman

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