With the rise and fall of the SOPA and PIPA bills (not to mention ACTA), Deep Packet Inspection has come into wider circles of conversation, but it is still something often forgotten about when discussing data security. Since it can be used to protect users from privacy and slow connections, many people simply ignore it. It turns out that there is a growing controversy as to the other uses of deep packet inspection.
Deep packet inspection is a way for ISPs to monitor the internet traffic of millions of people simultaneously. PC World summarizes deep packet inspection by explaining that:
… Your PC packages all the information you send and receive online into packets of data. Internet routers read the labels on those packets to determine what they are, who they’re from, and where they’re going; this is how most Internet traffic works, and it’s how the firewall on your router distinguishes which packets of data make up that email message from your sister and which packets of data are from a spammer in Georgia.
Deep packet inspection is mostly used for good: blocking the spread of viruses, identifying illegal downloads, and used in ways to alleviate network congestion. But it does have the possibility of being used against you in more malicious ways.
… In the absence of strict legal restrictions, your ISP is free to root through all the information you exchange online and use it as they see fit. Personal data like your age, location, and shopping records can be logged and sold in anonymized batches to advertising companies, and law enforcement agents can monitor and curtail your Internet access without your knowledge. Without strict limitations to preserve user privacy, this sort of deep data filtering can significantly impair your ability to remain anonymous online.
This means that you may be risking your privacy every time you go online. Cnet remarks that “the easiest way to cover your Web tracks is to encrypt your data and network connection. The most popular encryption services use a virtual private network.” VPNs keep your data safe from both private and public eavesdropping, and so far has remained as the most consistent way to keep trackers at bay.