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Jim Markus | 22 Aug, 2023
Fact checked by Robert Johns

Are VPNs Legal? Hackr.io Reveals VPN Laws by Country [2024]

You’ve done your research, and you know what a VPN is, but now you want to know, are VPNs legal? This might be the most commonly asked question about virtual private networks, and the short answer is that yes, mostly they are! 

That said, laws can vary worldwide, which is why this article aims to answer the question, "are VPNs legal" by discussing VPN laws by country, how enforcement works, and whether to use a VPN for your online browsing.

Let’s dive in! 

The use of a VPN to cloak your IP address varies in legality depending on where in the world you plan to use it. We evaluated a bunch of these when we ranked our choices for the best VPN.

So, let’s break down the legality of VPN services by country, including where you can use them. We also discuss whether a country considers VPNs illegal and how to best follow local VPN laws. In short, VPNs are usually as legal as a password manager (like NordPass, which usually has some sort of discount).

You can also use the information from our article to decide whether to use VPNs for ethical hacking and cyber security, which is ideal if you’re looking to pursue a career in these areas by taking an ethical hacking course.

Are VPNs Legal In The United States?

When it comes to using VPNs in the USA, you're largely in the clear. The United States doesn't have any federal laws that prohibit the use of VPNs by private citizens. In fact, many businesses and individuals rely on VPNs to ensure data security and protect their privacy.

Now, while using a VPN is legal, the activities you engage in while connected to a VPN are still subject to U.S. law. Here's a link to how the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section Criminal Division prosecutes cybercrime.

Essentially, a VPN is a tool, and just like any tool, it's all about how you use it.

As for which specific VPNs are legal to use in the USA, pretty much any reputable service is fine. However, when choosing a VPN, consider other factors like their logging policies, encryption strength, speed, and server locations.

Some VPNs, for instance, might keep detailed logs of your online activities, which could be shared with third parties or handed over to authorities if demanded. Others might prioritize keeping your data private and have a strict no-logs policy.

It's always a good idea to do your homework and read reviews or comparisons before deciding on a particular service. Taking the time to do your due diligence is always a smart idea, which is the approach we took when curating our favorite laptops for hacking.

The key takeaway: While the act of using a VPN is legal in the U.S., always ensure you're using it responsibly and for legitimate purposes.

Are VPNs Legal In India?

In India, using VPNs is a bit of a nuanced subject. When we last checked, VPNs were not illegal for individual users in India. Many businesses, professionals, and private citizens use VPNs for legitimate purposes. That includes protecting their data, elevating privacy, and connecting securely to workplace networks.

However, the Indian government has expressed concerns about the potential misuse of VPNs, especially when they're used to bypass cybersecurity measures or engage in illegal activities online.

Like many countries, India maintains that while the tool itself (a VPN service) is not unlawful, any illicit activities conducted while using a VPN remain against the law. This includes unauthorized access to data, illegal downloading, or any form of cybercrime.

Additionally, the Indian government has occasionally discussed or proposed stricter regulations and monitoring of internet activity, including the use of VPN services. This is often in the context of national security or to combat illicit online activities. 

It's crucial for anyone in India or traveling to India to stay updated on any new regulations or policies regarding VPN usage.

When choosing a VPN for use in India, as with anywhere, it's essential to consider its reputation, logging policies, and encryption standards. It's always best to opt for a service that prioritizes user privacy and data security.

In summary, while VPNs aren't illegal in India, it's vital to use them responsibly and be aware of the broader landscape of internet regulation in the country.

Are VPNs Legal In Russia?

The landscape of VPN usage in Russia is significantly more restrictive compared to many other countries. Russia has specific regulations concerning VPN services and other internet anonymizers.

Recently, Russia implemented laws that require VPN services and internet anonymizers to cooperate with the government. Essentially, this means that VPN providers must adhere to the state's list of blocked websites and prevent users from accessing them. If they refuse to comply, they risk being banned in Russia.

So while using a VPN server in itself isn't strictly illegal, many popular international VPN services are not available because they haven't agreed to these terms set by the Russian government. 

Only those VPNs that abide by the state's requirements on internet censorship can legally operate. Furthermore, individuals caught using VPNs or other private internet access tools could face fines.

If you're in Russia or planning to visit and intend to use a VPN, use caution. Always be aware of the local regulations, and remember that the digital landscape in Russia is more monitored and controlled than in many other countries.

So, while you can technically use a VPN in Russia, the waters are murky, and it comes with caveats. Only a few VPNs operate within the boundaries set by the government, and attempting to bypass state restrictions can lead to severe repercussions.

Are VPNs Legal In China?

China's stance on VPNs is especially strict as the Chinese government censors internet access, meaning that any sort of private internet access raises concerns.

While VPNs themselves aren't outright banned, China mandated that all VPN providers must be licensed by the government. That means only state-approved VPN services, which comply with censorship regulations, are legal. 

Many popular international VPN services have been banned or have opted to withdraw from the Chinese market due to these restrictions.

So are VPNs legal here?

Technically, yes.

Should you use just any VPN service in China?

No.

The Chinese government ramped up efforts to crack down on the use of unauthorized VPNs. This includes targeting VPN providers and individuals who use these services. There have been instances where individuals were fined for using unauthorized VPNs. However, these cases are relatively infrequent, and many such incidents appear to target locals rather than foreigners.

Are VPNs Legal In UAE?

The UAE still takes a conservative approach when it comes to internet usage and, by extension, VPNs. That's not to say you can't use a VPN in Dubai.

The crux of the issue for VPNs in the UAE isn't necessarily using such a service. Instead, it's related to the country's Cybercrime Law.

It says that using a "fraudulent" computer network protocol address (which could be interpreted as using a VPN) for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery is punishable.

That means it's illegal to use a VPN provider for blocked content, unauthorized VoIP calls, or (of course) any form of cybercrime.

How Do Countries Enforce VPN Bans?

Enforcement of VPN-related laws varies by country and the specifics of the legal framework in place. Here's a general overview of how these laws are typically enforced in countries that regulate VPN usage:

Technical Blocks And Filters

Governments have a whole bag of tech tricks to discover and squash VPN traffic. Think of it like high-tech detective work. One of their go-to moves is called "deep packet inspection" or DPI. It's like they're looking at the secret envelopes your online data travels in. They peek inside to see if it's wearing a VPN disguise. If it is, bam! They might flag it and shut it down.

Now, imagine you're in countries like China or the UAE—places that take internet rules super seriously.

They've got a top-notch filtering system that can sniff out unauthorized VPNs.

It's like having a virtual bouncer at the door, checking if you're on the guest list. These filters are so clever that VPN providers struggle to keep up. They might block one sneaky server, and boom, the government slaps another filter in place.

It's like a tech showdown!

So, while VPNs can be your digital invisibility cloak, some governments have these high-tech glasses that can see right through them. If you're in a place with strict online rules, like China or the UAE, it might feel like a game of hide and seek.

Provider Cooperation

Picture this: in some countries, VPN providers have to follow a bit of a rulebook. They might need to get a fancy license or at least sign up with the government. And guess what? That license often comes with some strings attached. The authorities might give them a little nudge to cooperate. It's like being invited to a party but agreeing to follow all the house rules.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Those registered VPNs might have to play nice with the authorities. If the government comes knocking, they might have to hand over data or even share info about what users are up to. 

It's like your secret hideout suddenly got a peephole, and someone's watching.

But that's not all.

Internet service providers (ISPs), those companies that give you your internet fix, can also get pulled into this VPN drama.

Governments can wave their official wand and tell ISPs to spill the beans about VPN traffic. So, ISPs might have to keep an eye out for anyone trying to sneak past the rules using a VPN. It's like they become the digital security guards of the internet.

So, you see, the world of VPNs isn't just about being a sneaky ghost online. Sometimes, there's a whole bunch of paperwork and rules involved. And those local ISPs? They might be the ones who have to ring the alarm if things go sideways. It's like everyone's in on the game, whether they want to be or not!

Imagine you're in a country where the law gives the side-eye to VPNs for certain stuff. If you're caught with your digital hand in the VPN cookie jar, things can get real messy. We're talking fines that can make your wallet cry and legal drama that'll give you a headache.

Here's an example: the UAE.

Now, those folks are serious about the internet business. If you're using a VPN to do some sneaky cybercrimes or duck under VoIP restrictions (those calls over the internet, like WhatsApp calls), you might as well start counting your pennies. 'Cause hefty fines might just come knocking on your door.

It's like playing with firecrackers when you're not supposed to. You might think you're getting away with it, but if you're caught, things can blow up real quick. 

So, the next time you're tempted to pull a VPN move in a place where the law isn't vibing with it, maybe stick to streaming funny cat videos instead.

It's way safer and less headache-inducing!

Monitoring And Surveillance

Imagine living in a place where digital eyes are always watching. Creepy! But it's more likely than you might think.

Note that we built a whole guide to help you check if your phone has been tapped.

In countries with super tight online surveillance, your online life is basically an open book. They're keeping tabs on what you're up to, kind of like a virtual nosy neighbor.

Here's the thing: if you dare to go against the online rulebook, like using a VPN that's not on the official guest list, your move might light up like a fireworks show on the authorities' screens. It's like they've got a radar for anything fishy.

And if you get flagged, expect a digital interrogation.

So, it's like you're wading into a sea of digital scrutiny. The smallest ripple, like a rogue VPN, can set off alarms. It's like trying to tiptoe through a room without waking a bunch of very alert cats. 

If you're in one of these surveillance-heavy countries, think twice before going off the online path. It's a digital maze out there, my friend!

Want to dig deeper? Check out our evaluation of the best ethical hacking books.

Some countries have this power move called a takedown request. It's like saying, "Hey, that VPN app or website? Yeah, we're not cool with it. Take it down!"

And guess what?

These VPN providers and websites have to listen.

It's like getting a polite yet firm eviction notice. If they don't play ball, they might face the wrath of the law.

But wait, there's more drama. Some countries are completely hardcore with this kind of anti-VPN enforcement. They're not just sending eviction notices—they're throwing the legal book at local VPN providers who don't follow the rules. It's like saying, "You didn't listen? Well, say hello to our friend, Mr. Lawsuit."

So, if you're thinking of starting a renegade VPN app in one of these rule-heavy lands, you might want to think again. Governments aren't afraid to flex their legal muscles and show local VPN providers who's boss. It's like a digital showdown between the little guys and the big guys in suits!

Public Awareness And Deterrence About Using A VPN

Authorities might use publicized cases of VPN-related arrests or fines as a deterrent. By highlighting these cases in the media, they can create a chilling effect on the use of VPNs for illicit activities.

Regularly updating public guidelines and advisories about VPN usage is another method employed to make citizens aware of what's permissible and what's not.

VPN Whitelisting

In certain restrictive environments, only state-approved VPNs might be allowed. These VPNs may be mandated to adhere to specific guidelines, including potentially granting backdoor access to authorities or restricting access to certain content.

It's important to note that while many countries have laws related to VPNs, the intensity and methodology of enforcement can vary widely. In some nations, the rules might exist on paper, but enforcement could be lax, while in others, the authorities actively pursue violations.

There are many legitimate reasons to use a VPN. Most of them center on subverting internet censorship laws, accessing region-specific content, or hiding your IP address from an internet service provider. Here are the most common ways to legally use a VPN.

  • Protecting data from hackers, especially on public Wi-Fi.
  • Accessing a work network while traveling.
  • Bypassing internet censorship in countries with restricted internet access.
  • Keeping web browsing anonymous for personal privacy.

Looking for work as an ethical hacker? Our team evaluated cybersecurity certifications to help you land a job (or get started in the field).

So, you're looking for a VPN in the good ol' USA? You're in luck! You can pretty much pick from a bunch of them without any fuss. Here's a quick lowdown on some top choices:

  • NordVPN: The team at Hackr.io recommends NordVPN, which some of our members use regularly.
  • ExpressVPN: If speed's your game, this one's a champ. Plus, it's reliable and works on just about any device.
  • Private Internet Access (PIA): For those who value privacy, PIA's got your back. It's solid on the security front, and they're not into keeping tabs on your activity.
  • Surfshark: The new kid on the block. It's affordable, lets you connect a bunch of devices, and they're big on privacy.
  • CyberGhost: Super user-friendly and has a ton of servers. Great for streaming and torrenting, and they don't keep logs.
  • IPVanish: Fast and secure. And you can use it on as many devices as you want at the same time.
  • Mullvad: These folks are all about staying anonymous. You can even pay them in cash! No logs, and super private.

Tips When Shopping For A VPN:

On that same topic, let's discuss what to look for when shopping for legal VPNs.

  • Make sure they're not snooping on your browsing.
  • See where they're based. It can affect how they handle your data.
  • Check out their server locations, especially if you're trying to watch shows from other countries.
  • Look at their security features and how they encrypt your data.
  • Price and good customer service are always a plus. Some even let you try before you buy.

Just remember: VPNs are all cool in the USA, but doing shady stuff online, even with a VPN, is still a no-go. Stay safe and surf smart!

VPNs And Illegal Activities

Alright, so VPNs are totally cool and legal in the USA, but some folks get sneaky with them. Here's the scoop on the not-so-above-board stuff:

  • Piracy: Some peeps use VPNs to snag movies, tunes, or software without paying up. It's like sneaking into a movie theater or stealing a car, except it's digital. Yarrrr, ye can talk like a pirate, but don't be a pirate.
  • Netflix &... Nope: Ever had a friend watch shows that aren't available in the US? They're probably using a VPN to bend those geo-restrictions. It's a bit of a gray area, but technically this type of VPN usage isn't on the up-and-up.
  • Hacking: The shady hackers sometimes use VPNs as their invisibility cloak while they're up to no good. Ethical hackers may consider using a VPN for their work, but again this is a fine line to walk.
  • Scams and Shams: Some bad apples might use VPNs to try and pull fast ones on people, like scamming or stealing identities. Like most forms of cybercrime, local laws still stand when you're on the web.
  • Dark Web Shenanigans: VPNs can be a tool to slide into the dark corners of the web, where all sorts of sketchy deals go down. If you've heard of the dark web, you'll understand that there are all sorts of illegal activities happening there.
  • Playing Hide and Seek with the Cops: Folks doing dodgy stuff online sometimes use VPNs hoping the police won't catch them. Spoiler: It doesn't always work. VPNs help you protect online privacy, not illegal activities.
  • Jumping Digital Fences: In some places, certain sites are a no-go. VPNs can help jump over those virtual fences, but that might get you in hot water locally. While Russia heavily restricts internet usage, many citizens use VPN companies to circumvent these restrictions. If discovered, that can lead to punishment.

Looking to protect yourself from this kind of stuff? Check out these cybersecurity courses. Of those submitted by the community, these were ranked as the best online.

What Could Happen If You Use A VPN Illegally?

Enforcement differs by jurisdiction, but suffice to say you don't want to use a VPN service illegally. That means no circumventing content restrictions in China, no unmonitored internet connection in North Korea, and no cybercrime just about anywhere.

Can You Get In Trouble When Using A VPN?

Sometimes it's cool to use a VPN provider. Sometimes it's not. Here's a quick breakdown to show when to consider using a VPN.

When is using a VPN cool?

  • When you're using public Wi-Fi and don't want hackers peeking.
  • If you're traveling and need to connect to work stuff.
  • In places where the internet has too many "keep out" signs, it helps you sneak past those.
  • Or, if you just don't want people snooping on what cat videos you're watching.

When is it not cool to use a VPN?

  • Using a VPN doesn't make doing bad stuff online okay. So, no pirating movies or doing shady business. We're here for ethical hacking and programming. Stick to legal activities when using a virtual private network.

Is It Illegal To Use A VPN For Netflix, Hulu, And Other Streaming Services?

Hey there! So, using a VPN to binge-watch Netflix shows from another country? Many of us have been tempted, especially when you hear about that amazing show only available halfway across the world.

Here's the deal:

Netflix has different libraries for different countries due to licensing agreements. Some shows or movies are available in one region and not in another.

Using a VPN to hop onto another country's Netflix catalog is like sneaking into a private movie screening—while you're not gonna end up in jail for it, it's not exactly playing by the rules.

Netflix's terms of service explicitly state that you're only supposed to access the service in the country where you've established an account and only from territories where they offer the service.

If Netflix catches you (and they've gotten pretty good at spotting VPNs), they might block your access or give you a warning. Worst case scenario: they could terminate your account, but that's pretty rare.

So, is it a grand heist-level crime? No. But is it against Netflix's rules? Yep. Always good to know what you're getting into and make informed choices!

Wrapping Up

As we've navigated the intricate maze of VPNs, it's evident that these tools, designed primarily for privacy and security, are multifaceted. In the U.S. and many parts of the world, VPNs are perfectly legal, providing users the ability to browse the internet with an added layer of protection. However, it's crucial to recognize that, like any tool, VPNs can be misused.

Tapping into another country's Netflix library or downloading copyrighted content might sound like harmless fun, but it's essential to be aware of the boundaries and consequences.

Countries like Russia, China, and the UAE have established more stringent regulations surrounding VPN use, reflecting broader discussions about internet freedom, censorship, and national security. 

As digital citizens, our responsibility is twofold: to stay informed about the ever-evolving landscape of online regulations and to use tools like VPNs ethically and responsibly.

Whether you're a casual browser, a streaming enthusiast, or just someone concerned about digital privacy, the VPN world has something to offer. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

Are you interested in learning how to use VPNs and other cybersecurity tools? Check Out:

IBM's Introduction to Cybersecurity Tools on Coursera

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By Jim Markus

Jim Markus manages Hackr.io and a portfolio of sites at VentureKite. He hosted Frugal Living, a popular finance podcast, and co-created The Ink & Blood Dueling Society, a theatrical writing event that appeared at conventions across the United States. He is also an award-winning game designer.

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