Despite the bugs and the controversy, CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 has made a serious impact on gaming discourse. And one of the most important lessons you can learn from not only this game, but the cyberpunk genre, is that you need a VPN if you’re going to stay secure online.
A Little History of the Future
In the world of Cyberpunk 2077, there isn’t a global Internet in the same way that we have it today. In June of 2022, a hacker (or “netrunner”) named Rache Bartmoss wrote a virus that took advantage of an exploit in the code running the Internet. This virus, “DataKrash,” was able to destroy almost 80% of the ‘Net within a year. It required the creation of advanced AI to contain it.
Because the damage was so far reaching, we needed a whole new idea of what the “Internet” would be. So instead of a global network of tightly connected nodes, every corporation, organization, gang, and even individual people in some cases made their own ‘Net. Moreover, cybernetic enhancements were made to connect to local networks. Netrunners in the game can access these networks using built-in hardware and software. Once they do, they can look for data, control electronics, and even cause people’s cybernetic body parts to malfunction.
What does this have to do with how you need a VPN today?
Well, it’s not so much different in 2020 than it is in 2077.
Unsecured Networks Are a Nightmare
In the video game, main character V can instantly connect to almost any electronic device they encounter. The smaller ‘Nets of the game are very similar to modern day WiFi networks.
Think about it: you’re connected to a node where all of your phones, tablets, computers, and possibly other devices are communicating with each other. Potentially, they are sending and receiving data from the rest of the Internet in the process. That is a lot of data about you that somebody accessing your network could get a hold of.
But it gets worse: due to problems like spoofing, man in the middle attacks, advanced persistent threats, and other cyber threats, they might not even have to connect directly with your network to put your data at risk.
You need a VPN to help you avoid these threats with effective IP masking, time-tested protocols, and a strong, encrypted tunnel to send all of your data through, free of any holes for a wily spy to sneak through.
Logging and Detection
Being a Netrunner in Cyberpunk 2077 is a powerful ability. With the right programs, V can see the location of every device connected to a ‘Net. They can turn off people’s limbs, ears, or eyes. They can even cause direct harm to a person by attacking their cyberwear. All while hiding on a roof or behind a desk.
This sounds both frightening and game breaking, but there are countermeasures involved as well. V’s victims can run programs to find where the attacks are coming from and send people there.
The reason why somebody could be found on a network in real life is because everything on the Internet is given a unique ID number called an IP address. When you log into a game, browse a website, or even turn on your robot vacuum, you are finding the IP address of whatever you want and your computer is making a connection to it. Unfortunately, this also means that other people can see the address of your computer. They can use it to get all sorts of information about you, including your ISP, places you’ve visited online and, just like V, your location.
A virtual private network can help you avoid that. A lot of people need a VPN because it changes their IP address when they connect to it. This fools other computers into thinking that they are someplace else. Not only is this good to protect your privacy, it also helps you avoid content blocking based on geographical location.
It’s Not Just Hackers
One of the most important lessons of Cyberpunk 2077, and indeed the cyberpunk genre in general, is that the only person who should control your data is you, but that doesn’t prevent lots of others from trying to get it.
The biggest corporations in the world are ones who use your personal information as currency. They collect everything about your interests, your behaviors, your friends, anything to help their advertisers better sell you things. This is a business model responsible for trillions of dollars annually in transactions.
Governments are also responsible for data breaches of all sorts. The “Five Eyes alliance” refers to five anglophone countries (the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada) who made a series of secret agreements just after WWII to share intelligence with one another. Parts of these agreements make oversight impossible without violating one or several treaties. Since WWII, there have been even more agreements including the 9 Eyes, 14 Eyes, 41 Eyes, and Tier B Countries agreements, most of which have no reasonable transparency.
Even your Internet service provider (ISP) could watch what you do online to either sell it or control your access. Many ISPs will throttle speeds for types of connection that they don’t approve of, like peer-to-peer. They have the ability, since the repeal of Net Neautrality in 2017, to control how you access the Internet at will.
You Need a VPN Today
These threats are just some of the many reasons why you need a VPN.
The world of Cyberpunk 2077 is a corporate dystopia where our reliance on technology has given the providers and protectors of that technology astonishing power over every aspect of our lives. You need a VPN if you want to start clawing some of that power back.