SafetyDetectives spoke with Denis Vyazovoy, Chief Product Officer (CPO) for AdGuard VPN, about how much it has grown in the past two years, what makes it stand out in a crowded VPN market, the role VPNs play in protecting data and privacy, and much more.
Can you please talk about your background and your current role at AdGuard?
Over the past 10 years, I’ve been building my own startups in various fields and have gained quite a lot of experience in launching projects from scratch.
In 2019, AdGuard made the decision to develop its own VPN, and I joined the team as the CPO of this new product. I remember that at the time, we only had one browser extension, a few dozen users, and a highly competitive market that we sought to enter. Since then, however, we have done a huge amount of work on all fronts, and I am glad that we have managed to achieve such growth and create a high-quality product.
I understand that AdGuard is celebrating its second birthday. Can you talk about some of the company’s accomplishments so far?
That’s not quite right. AdGuard VPN is a product but June 1 is AdGuard’s 14th anniversary. In the last 2 years we have more than doubled in size and our user base has grown to 70+ million people worldwide.
Every month 35 petabytes of encrypted traffic are routed through our VPN servers and about 6 billion ad requests are filtered by our Ad Blocker every day.
AdGuard has quite a few open-source products. We have a transparent policy and are committed to continually contributing to the development of technology. Last year we made AdGuard DNS v2.0 publicly available. And this year we plan to do the same with our VPN protocol.
What makes the AdGuard VPN stand out in a crowded market?
The VPN market is really huge, and most of our competitors have been around for more than 10 years. However, we have been able to develop several unique features that distinguish us from other players in this market:
- Proprietary protocol. We realized that none of the existing options met our needs 100%. That’s why we decided from the very outset that AdGuard VPN would have one major difference from its competitors – we would use a proprietary VPN protocol instead of just taking one of the ready-made solutions. Choosing a VPN service, people often face a trade-off between fast vs. safe. The AdGuard VPN protocol is a perfect blend of speed and security, so you don’t have to bear slow internet connection or make privacy sacrifices.
- Website exclusions. With AdGuard VPN you can flexibly configure on which websites VPN will be enabled or disabled. This is very useful if you need to use VPN only on certain sites or use it everywhere but a couple of exclusions.
- Choosing a DNS server. Using a DNS server provided by your ISP can be insecure because it might see which websites you’re visiting. That’s why in AdGuard VPN you can choose any DNS server from known providers, including AdGuard. Thanks to this, you will not only protect your privacy but also be able to block ads, trackers, protect your device from malware and, for instance, block adult content.
These are not all the differences between AdGuard VPN and its competitors, but, in my opinion, the most significant ones.
How does a VPN protect a user’s privacy and data?
The main thing a VPN does is encrypt all of your incoming and outgoing traffic. This can protect you if bad actors try to intercept your traffic and find sensitive information, such as logins, passwords, bank card details and other personal data. Using a VPN is particularly important when you connect to public Wi-Fi networks, where the risk of unauthorized access to your data increases.
In addition, in some countries, ISPs are required to record and store all user traffic data and provide it to government authorities upon request. In such cases, using a VPN becomes essential for those who want to keep their data secure and private.
What are the different VPN protocols, and does it matter to the average user which one they use?
In my opinion, many users underestimate the importance of protocol selection. However, as practice shows, this is a hot topic. All popular VPN protocols (OpenVPN, WireGuard, IPSec and others) have two main drawbacks:
They are easily detected and blocked at the network level.
If you try to conceal their use, you lose performance.
It was because of these disadvantages that we started developing our own protocol. It has two main differences from the others:
- We use the HTTP/2 transport protocol which makes the AdGuard VPN protocol nearly impossible to detect and distinguish from normal HTTPS traffic. At the same time, high speed is maintained.
- The AdGuard VPN protocol operates with data, not packets. This means that AdGuard VPN establishes a separate “tunnel” for each connection. Through this tunnel AdGuard VPN transmits data. This allows us to speed up our work by reducing the amount of confirmation packets, because we can merge the data of several packets into one before sending it to a VPN server.
In conclusion, I would like to note that we have tested our protocol twice in the last year. The first time after a massive Internet blocking in Iran and the second time in Russia. And in both cases, we kept working, while most other VPN services simply stopped functioning.
Can you clarify any common misconceptions about VPNs?
Over the years, I have encountered many misconceptions about VPN services, and I can highlight a few most common ones:
- A VPN provides complete protection.Unfortunately, this is not true. A VPN cannot guarantee complete security. For example, one of the most popular types of scams is phishing. In this case, you are redirected to a fake site (masquerading as your online banking or a harmless online store), where you yourself enter your card details or login and password.Therefore, you must always check the address of the website you are visiting. Note that if you need to enter personal data, then before the domain name of the website there must be the HTTPS protocol.
- Why pay for a VPN when there are free options?This is a very popular question. I wouldn’t want to delve into this topic, so I’ll answer with the popular phrase, “If you’re not paying for a product, you’re the product.”I wouldn’t recommend using free VPN services because your security and privacy are at stake here. Use products from companies that have a reliable reputation.
- Why do you need an ad blocker if a VPN already blocks ads?This question is especially relevant in our case. Most VPN services have a built-in ad-blocking feature. But the thing is that ad blocking is only performed at the DNS level there. Even in our VPN you can choose to block ads and malicious trackers in AdGuard DNS settings. However, this is not a 100% guarantee that it will be effective. A standalone AdGuard app will provide a completely different level of blocking and no built-in VPN solutions can achieve the same result.