Using VPNs: What UAE Residents Need to Know
Dubai: The legality of using VPNs has not changed and not all UAE residents who use the technology automatically face imprisonment and fines of up to two million dirhams. Gulf News.
Confusion surrounding the impact of the law stems from “inaccurate reporting” by some foreign news sites, according to a UAE-based lawyer who specializes in communications, media and commercial laws.
What has been amended in the Cybercrime Law, which was passed in 2012, is the amount of fines violators will face, in addition to the current prison sentence.
Kellie Blyth, a senior associate at Clyde & Co, suggested that individuals, with the exception of corporate organizations, are not at risk of imprisonment and a fine as long as they do not use a VPN to commit a crime. However, any misuse of technology is still punishable.
“The legal position regarding the use of VPNs in the UAE has not changed. It has been and remains a crime to use a VPN to commit a crime, or to attempt to prevent its discovery,” Blyth said. Gulf News. Previously, possible fines ranged from Dh150,000 to Dh500,000. Now, it has been increased to any amount from 500,000 dirhams to 2 million dirhams. This is in addition to a possible prison sentence that previously existed.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) also issued a statement to make it clear that companies, banks and institutions are not prohibited from using VPNs, adding that the law can only be violated when Internet protocols are manipulated to commit a crime or fraud.
IT security experts and government officials also advanced, noting that VPNs are an integral part of the local economy.
“VPNs are essential for businesses or almost all businesses to securely exchange data between their branches and partners, and to allow their employees to work remotely. Without them, financial transactions would not be secure,” said one IT manager.
Hamad Obaid Al-Mansoori, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said: “The leadership of the UAE in the field of Internet applications and information technology in general, contradicts what was circulated by some media outlets regarding the use of VPNs.”
“It is known that the UAE is keen to embody the directives of the wise leadership of the UAE government regarding smart transformation, including smart government, smart cities, big data and the Internet of Things, in addition to promoting investment and competitiveness and focusing on building knowledge – on the basis of the economy and society.”
The use of VPNs took the spotlight this week after rumors on social media claim internet users could land in jail and pay heavy fines if caught using a fake or third-party address.
How does a VPN work
There are hundreds of thousands of VPNs available. Generally, they act like secret tunnels, allowing companies and individuals to access the Internet without revealing private information to prying eyes. It also provides an extra layer of privacy protection when people are browsing the web using a public Wi-Fi hotspot in a coffee shop, hotel, or other public places.
“A VPN creates a layer of security on your connection, which means that a third party cannot extract information about what you are doing inside the VPN tunnel,” said Nikolai Soling, Director of Technology Services at Help AG. Gulf News.
“One use case that is applied in businesses on a daily basis is when employees outside the organizational network use VPN to connect to internal company resources. Another example could be protecting yourself from attacks in public access infrastructure.”
And because their connection is encrypted, VPNs can allow users online to browse anonymously and appear as if they were somewhere else, so that blocked sites could be accessed. In the UAE, VPNs have become widely popular among users of video and voice calling applications such as Viber, Skype and other VoIP services.
The encryption feature is also useful for internet banking users. Some banks adopt a simple security measure to block IP ranges of countries that are known to carry out a lot of financial fraud. If you’re in one of those countries, a VPN can make it look like you’re accessing the site from another location, Soling said.
“In fact, encryption happens locally in a lot of apps now. When you go to online banking, utility payments, or social media sites, or use some smartphone calling app, the encryption is implemented locally using SSL in the browser or the app itself.”
The Cybercrime Law has recently been amended to include the following provision: “Anyone who uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) using a fake address or a third-party address by some other means for the purpose of committing or preventing a crime shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of not less than 500,000 dirhams and not more than two million dirhams, or one of these two penalties.”
The new amendment, according to Blyth, only increases potential penalties and shows the severity of the government’s campaign against cybercrime.
“The increase in the level of the fine means that the UAE government considers any breach of Article 9 of the Cybercrime Law a serious matter,” she said. It remains to be seen whether the change in the fine level will lead to increased prosecutions. “
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority endorsed this view in its more detailed statement on Tuesday which stated that the law is not new in essence and that the only changes were related to toughening the penalty or punishment for any violation.”
When VPN use becomes illegal
However, there are still some “crimes” that can increase the risk of prosecution. “Using a VPN to commit a crime risks prosecution,” Blyth said.
“Business users can be held accountable, like using any other technology if they are misused,” the TRA said. “Any misuse of services licensed and regulated in the UAE will lead to legal accountability. It is worth noting that the laws target those who misuse the services and not those activities that are consistent with the laws of the UAE.”
Blyth said examples of crimes that can be committed online using a VPN include accessing and using gambling services, accessing obscene material and watching or listening to television, movies and other media content that is not licensed for use in the UAE.
However, she will not give a definitive answer when asked if using a VPN to link to sites that are inaccessible in the UAE due to regional restrictions such as the French TV channel or Netflix US, can be considered illegal.
Some of the websites that cannot be accessed here are not necessarily prohibited by the government. The French TV channel, for example, is banned from broadcasting in this market by France. Effectively, when you access the channel with a VPN, you are violating French law, not UAE law,” said an expat from France who also works in the IT industry.
Few Examples of VPN Uses
1. Employees working remotely: Through the VPN, company employees who work from home can log into the organizational network and connect to the company’s internal resources
2. Data protection: Users of free public Wi-Fi hotspots can expose themselves to hackers. Soling said there are multiple examples around the world where people have been attacked or victimized by digital eavesdropping while using an open wireless network in a coffee shop or at an airport.
3. Electronic banking: To prevent hackers from accessing bank accounts, some banks block IP ranges for countries where financial fraud has been widely reported. If the customer happens to live in one of these countries, it may not be possible to access the online banking services. In this case, the VPN can make it appear as if the user is accessing the site from another site,
However, one of the downsides to allowing the public to use VPNs is that some people can use them for criminal activities.
“all of the [encryption features of VPN] It can also be applied by cybercriminals or even ordinary criminals to cover their tracks where they perform or plan activities and attacks.”
“A VPN tunnel can make an attacker appear to be stationed in a different country or location, thus covering their tracks.”
In fact, he said, VPNs can mask the malicious activities of certain groups that go out to harm the integrity of a country.
“For the same reason, the use of VPNs and encryption is a common concern of law enforcement around the world, and maintaining the right balance between privacy and security is a major balancing act that takes up a lot of space in newspapers and the media.”