What is Portals?
Portals is a decentralized VPN. Decentralization technology ensures users cannot be tracked (logged) in a central location by a single entity (e.g. VPN company).
How does it work?
Portals operates on top of peer-2-peer network of independent computers operated by unaffiliated people – a decentralized virtual private network, or dVPN for short. These computers run a piece of dVPN network software called node and serve as gateways into the Internet. Most of those computers are simple home computers or other devices (e.g. Raspberry Pi). Nodes running at home are called residential nodes and are providing residential IP service, which is great at unblocking restricted content. Another type of node is datacenter, in case node runner decides to run node on the datacenter, which is great for high speeds.
How’s Portals different than any other VPN?
All centralized VPNs (we call them legacy VPNs) pass your traffic through the servers they control and monitor (imagine how much historical logs data they (might) have). Therefore despite their claims VPN user is forced to constantly trust the good intentions of the company AND their staff (e.g. system administrators, software developers etc.) not to peak at your browsing activity, keep logs or at worst – expose your logs data, browsing logs to 3rd parties.
There were multiple instances where VPN claims of not logging were proven to be false and had huge negative consequences to the users (read here, here and here).
At Portals dVPN technology is designed to disable any single organization (e.g. Portals organization itself) of getting any access to activity logs.
Conceptually VPN vs dVPN is as different as downloading sensitive files from central servers (e.g. google drive / dropbox) vs downloading files from BitTorrent network (which is a peer-to-peer file sharing technology).
How’s Portals different than TOR
TOR is similar conceptually to dVPN technology, yet it has its own limits:
- TOR is aimed at ensuring anonymity and accessing dark web – it was primarily designed for journalists / undercover agents working in hostile locations. This is great, but …
- To ensure anonymity, TOR employs multi-hop technique (called onion layers), where user’s traffic is passed through at least 3 nodes.
- This makes TOR very slow, and one cannot achieve most typical day-to-day activities (e.g. watching Netflix / Youtube or other streaming content), browsing at a quick and unrestricted speeds.
- There are a limited number of TOR exit nodes and all of them are known and rarely changes, therefore …
- Most content / streaming providers (e.g. Netflix) are blocking TOR exit nodes.
- A lot of websites (e.g. google) constantly bombard you with captchas to make sure you’re not some kind of bot.
- As TOR is designed for high anonymity activities (mostly for something illegal like buying drugs in the darknet online), TOR raises red flags by your ISP/government right away.
- In TOR you can’t choose exit country easily (requires technical expertise).
- TOR is very complicated to use for global network protection (casual users will usually stick with TOR browser instead of their favorite browser).
dVPN technology tries to be in-between hardcore TOR anonimity and centralized VPN – providing quick speeds, raising less (or none) red flags, yet providing comfort of no centralized logs being possible.
Yet, for activities, that require very high anonymity, we’d still suggest to use TOR, as you would rather use tank than a jeep in the battle.
Security and Privacy
What is your logging policy? What information Portals can see?
We’re strictly against any kind of traffic / browsing history logging.
We can see only the basic information related to registration and payment. Specifically, we can see your IP address used when accessing our website, the apps you’ve downloaded, cost we’ve incurred from dVPN network for your account (we can extrapolate your general data usage). For payments, in case you’ve paid in credit card, we can see basic merchant payment information, for crypto, we can see your public wallet address we’ve received funds from.
What protections does the Portals app provide?
Basic Internet connections function by transmitting packets of data between two hosts (computers). In order to find their way, packets contain both a source and destination IP address. As packets move from the destination to the source, different routers and physical infrastructure require both of these addresses for the two-way connection to be established and maintained. This means that instantly and over time, the owners of the physical infrastructure are in a position to build a profile of Internet usage on their paying user (you!) and also to block content as the owner sees fit.
Typically these infrastructure owners are ISPs – mobile carriers providing phone data connections, home cable Internet providers, WiFi hotspot operators, and any Internet backbone operators that have peering agreements with user-facing ISPs. In all these cases, the ISP is in an advantaged position to monitor and/or restrict Internet usage. It is common in many countries for ISPs to restrict content so that users cannot load certain websites.
If you are not happy with or do not trust your existing ISPs or centralized VPNs, by using Portals you can currently limit their knowledge to knowing only that you are sending and receiving bytes through Portals Network, and completely block their ability to mess with the details of your traffic, unblocking the previously blocked content.
- Protection from websites seeing your real IP address and physical location
- Protection from the ISP from seeing what websites you are visiting and when
- Access to the open Internet – once a user can connect to Portals Network, they are not restricted by ISP level firewalls and can browse the entire Internet freely
Can Portals nodes monitor network traffic?
Yes, providers on Portals Network could monitor the bytes that come in and out of the node. However, all traffic carried over Portals Network from the user to the exit is encrypted at the protocol level, which is an additional layer of encryption. The final exit traffic is then decrypted by the exit node and sent to the destination. In many cases the underlying traffic will also be encrypted with protocols such as TLS, providing at least two layers of encryption.
However, not all traffic on the Internet is encrypted and Portals doesn’t fix that problem. So if the user sends an HTTP request, which has no SSL/TLS encryption, Portals will honor that request and cleartext information would be revealed to the Portals node. For this reason, you should always use SSL/TLS for sensitive Internet connections, even on Portals (or any other VPN). And even SSL/TLS encryption leaves metadata that the Portals node could monitor, including the destination address, hostname, packet sizes and the timing of packets.
Lastly, Portals works hard to financially incentivise good behavior of nodes and penalize bad providers via reputation mechanisms. Additionally, Portals apps shuffle nodes before each connection so on each connection the node will likely be different and, in case of bad actor, a single node would get only a tiny slice of logs in case traffic was unencrypted with SSL/TLS.
So I’m totally private and anonymous when I use a VPN like Portals?
No. As none of the existing VPNs (including TOR) can ensure total privacy and anonymity.
Portals is a tool that keeps private certain types of information from ISPs, websites, and providers. Portals adds layers that separate you from the content you are trying to access. If you login to Amazon, the website will know that it is you and can build out information about what you are doing on their website, even with Portals enabled. However, your local ISP or network provider will not know you are visiting Amazon. Amazon will not know where you are in the world, and will not get your real IP address.
Also certain apps or code running on your device could send de-anonymizing data out to the Internet or third parties. No VPN can prevent attacks from software running on your device, such as malware or a virus.
Furthermore, there are active areas of network security research into “traffic fingerprinting” that attempt to reveal private information by monitoring encrypted connections. By watching the timing and size of packets, an adversary watching an encrypted connection could get a good idea if a particular user is watching a video, browsing the Internet or downloading a large file, based on the timing and size of the packets flowing. Further analysis could reveal what websites are visited by seeing the sequence of things that are loaded— again, the timing and size of packets along with when requests are made. Other metadata such as the size of the browser window, type of pointing device used and other unique information could be used to “fingerprint” the user and potentially de-anonymize. These are attacks that affect all VPN users, Portals included.
What VPN protocols do you use?
Portals runs on a modern WireGuard protocol, which is much faster than older VPN protocols such as OpenVPN or IPSec.
What platforms / OS do you support?
Currently Portals supports Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android platforms. We are working hard on iOS (i.e. iPhone/iPad) support, while Linux and routers support is a bit further down the road.
What is residential IP?
Nodes running at home are called residential nodes and are providing residential IP service. It’s like using Internet from someone’s home.
Residential IPs are much harder if not impossible for content providers (e.g. Netflix) to block, as it’s a simple home user IP address (versus datacenter IP addresses employed by centralized VPNs).
To explicitly connect to residential IP, use checkmark under Portals tray icon (available on Windows and MacOS).
How many servers I can connect to?
The number of global nodes available is varying around 600-700.
What is estimated connection speed?
The speeds are varying as it’s a peer-to-peer network. In general speeds are similar to typical centralized VPNs speeds.
What is your money back policy?
30-day money back guarantee, no questions asked. Even after 30-day period has passed, we usually refund proportional amount timewise in case customer is unhappy.
What payment methods do you accept?
We accept credit card payments, google pay, and numerous crypto currencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, DAI, USD Coin, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash.