What is 4Chan?
The 4Chan imageboard site is a riotous, internet version of a Wild West town. Visitors to the site include kids looking for funny cat pics to post on Facebook, hacktivists, pranksters, child pornographers, and anime and manga enthusiasts. The whole range of web life is here. Users of the site can post messages anonymously. However, arrests of users and traces of posters have shown that the system is not quite anonymous enough. If you don’t want to be falsely accused of misdemeanors because of the company you keep, it is probably better to mask you identity when using 4Chan.
The 4Chan website began in 2003. A 15-year-old New Yorker, Christopher Poole, created it to meet fellow Japanese animation enthusiasts. As the site is free to use and minimizes advertising, it has never been a commercial success. However, 4Chan does attract millions of users. It is also a constant source of scare stories that fill the pages of the mainstream media.
You don’t have to set up an account in order to use 4Chan. In fact, you don’t have to give any personal details at all. The default name for any post on the site is “Anonymous.” Some claim that this was the origin of the Anonymous hacktivist group. Users often organize pranks and attacks on the site, and it’s the source of many viral memes. Posts on 4Chan form rallying calls to those who want to hijack public votes or wreck attempts to shut down torrent sites.
The 4Chan site is an imageboard. The main section of the websites is a series of category pages where visitors post pictures and graphics. A subsection of the site is a text message board. As such, you don’t need a picture to post a message on 4Chan. Although the site is patrolled by volunteer moderators, the threshold of what is deemed acceptable is set pretty low. More or less anything goes.
Although the site claims that it doesn’t record visitors’ identities, Christopher Poole did reveal in a court case in 2010 that the site’s audit logs keep a record of users’ IP addresses. That court appearance was during the United States of America vs David Kernell case. Evidence against Kernell included 4Chan logs. 4Chan handed the logs over to the FBI in response to a search warrant.
The incident highlights the need to protect your identity when using 4Chan. You can achieve this with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN can also get around other difficulties that you may encounter when trying to get into the site. These include blocks on access imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and gateway filters on company, institutional, and educational networks that prevent access to 4Chan.
You can find out more about how VPNs work later on in this article. First, let’s take a look at the five best VPNs for 4Chan.
Quick Links to our 5 best VPNs for 4Chan
Best VPNs for 4Chan: Summary
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- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Servers in 94 countries
- Fast server network
- Strong security
- Has stealth technology
- Only three simultaneous connections allowed
Our review of ExpressVPN found that it has plenty of servers and a very fast network. The service is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention laws. The app is self-installing and very easy to use. You can get versions for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. The VPN can also be installed on Linux machines, set-top boxes, and routers. The service is praised for its customer support team, which can be reached online at any time of the day, should you need help with the VPN.
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- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Servers in 37 countries
- Based in Hungary
- No logs
- Easy-to-use app
- No live chat for support
This company is based in Hungary. It assiduously deletes all activity records as soon as a user disconnects. There would be no chance for the FBI to trace your true identity through a raid on Buffered's offices. The app is very easy to use and it installs itself. The interface was designed to work well on smartphones, so the main screen has very few options. You just scroll through a list of servers and double-click on the location of your choice to connect.
- Three-day free trial
- Based in Hungary
- No logs
- Proprietary cloaking method
- Allows five simultaneous connections
- Weak encryption on the Basic package
This is another VPN company that is based in Hungary. The staff is very well-versed in privacy procedures. The company was foundered by activists who wanted to ensure security and freedom on the web for all. When reviewing VyprVPN we found that they keep no logs, so your activities on the 4Chan site could never be traced back to you. VyprVPN came up with its own system to make its encryption methods unidentifiable to VPN detection systems. This makes the service very good at getting around even the most stringent access blocks, such as those operated by China and by streaming services, such as Netflix. Avoid the Basic package because it doesn't include the cloaking system and its encryption is weaker than that used in the Premium service.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Based in Panama
- No logs
- Servers in 58 countries
- Up to six simultaneous connections allowed
- Customer service not so hot
NordVPN is based in Panama and the company takes advantage of the country's lack of data retention laws to enforce a strict no logs policy. You can connect to the VPN on six different devices simultaneously. This gives you the option to bring down the cost of using the VPN service by sharing an account with friends. The app shows a map of the world with all of the server locations marked on it. The interface is very easy to use. You just double click on a server location marker to connect.
- Seven-day money-back guarantee
- Based in Bulgaria, HQ in Switzerland
- No logs
- Servers in more than 60 countries
- Good for China
- Customer service not attended 24/7
This VPN company is registered in Switzerland, but has its operating base in Bulgaria. Both of these locations are good for privacy and don't impose data retention rules on VPNs. Therefore, VPNArea is legally able to implement its no logs service. The company is great at evading detection and would be a particularly good choice if you expect to connect to 4Chan from China. You get an allowance of six simultaneous connections, so this is another good option for those who would like to share an account.
An indication that the 4Chan site is not anonymous lies in its rules of use. 4Chan can ban you from the site. In order to ban you, it has to be able to trace you. However, the terms of service (ToS) include a “no rules” clause, which also applies to the actions of moderators. So, you can be banned from the site on the whim of a moderator. The fact that bans are possible is made clear by a couple of exceptions to the “no rules” philosophy. The ToS explains that users will be banned if they post child pornography, if they are under 18 and access adult channels, or if they participate in “invasions” of other sites.
So, 4Chan administrators can uniquely identify you even though you don’t have to log in or identify yourself before posting content. The only way the site could impose bans on individuals who have given no personal information is if it records visitors’ IP addresses. Not only would it have to log identifiers for users, but it would also have to keep those logs for a long period of time. As the David Kernell court case revealed, 4Chan will hand those logs over to the US authorities with little to no resistance.
Your IP address is a vital piece of information. It can be used to control your activities on the web and can even land you in court. IP addresses uniquely identifies every user connected to the internet. This is essential because if a browser sends a request to a web server for a page, then that server has to know exactly where to send the page to.
You can’t have two people connected to the internet from different locations using the same IP address at the same time. However, that doesn’t mean that an IP address is like a Social Security number. Each address has to be unique on the internet at the moment. Thus the same address can be assigned to different users at different times.
Each VPN company owns a pool of thousands of IP addresses. When you connect to the VPN, it assigns you one of these addresses. Until you disconnect, every message that the VPN server sends out on your behalf will carry this IP address to represent you. No one gets to see your real IP address.
Under these circumstances, 4Chan cannot ban you from accessing its site. The moderators can only mark off the IP address that you used on your last visit. The next time you connect to the VPN, you get a different IP address, which the moderators didn’t put on their blacklist. Thus you will be able to get in.
If the FBI raids the 4Chan offices with a search warrant, it will get its hands on records of all the IP addresses that connected to the site. Your IP address won’t be on that log. Instead, it will hold the various IP addresses that your VPN assigned you on your separate visits to the 4Chan site.
An IP address has to be visible to routers and networking devices in order to get a message across the internet. All internet communication is broken up into a series of chunks, each of which is carried in a packet. The front of the packet contains the source and destination address in a header.
Network owners and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can control internet access at the point that a packet passes through a router or gateway. It takes just a simple line of program code to drop a packet. When the packet comes in, the router reads the destination address. It then checks whether that address is on a banned list. If the address isn’t on the list, it looks up which of its neighboring routers will get that packet to its destination and then sends it on. If the destination address is on the blacklist, then processing ends and the router sits and waits to receive another packet.
A blocked packet simply disappears. However, it is a standard routine for the router to send back a message to the browser with a code explaining that the destination the packer requested is banned. This is how network owners and ISPs can block access to 4Chan.
Why You Should Use a VPN with 4Chan
The VPN software on your computer intercepts every packet and encrypts it. The HTTPS protocol protects internet traffic from snoopers by encrypting all of the data in a packet. However, this still leaves the header visible. VPNs encrypt the header as well. If routers can’t read the header, they can’t decide to drop the packet because they won’t be able to see the blacklisted destination address. However, if the router can’t see the destination, it can’t send it on, so the packet would get dropped anyway.
VPNs encapsulate encrypted packets. They put that packet inside another packet. Before you turn the VPN service on, you have to select a VPN server. This is the location that you will appear to be in as long as the VPN is engaged. The VPN client program puts the IP address of your chosen VPN server on the front of its outer packets as the destination. The destination address on the outer packet is visible to the router, but it is not on the blacklist so the router forwards it on.
When the packet arrives at the VPN server, a program there strips off the outer packet, decrypts the inner packet and substitutes a temporary IP address for yours in the header of the packet. It then sends that packet on to the 4Chan server. For the duration of the connection, the VPN client on your computer and the VPN server will coordinate to pass all packets back and forth between your browser and the 4Chan server.
Best VPNs for 4Chan: Conclusion
The case against David Kernell illustrates the importance of logs. It shows that you can only be protected by a VPN if that service keeps no logs. Certain countries have particularly strong data retention laws to make sure that all digital service providers keep logs. This makes information available to the authorities, should they get a court order.
You don’t want to get caught up in a raid against terrorists just because you posted a cat pic on 4Chan. Therefore, it is important that you use a VPN when you access the site. Make sure that your VPN cannot hand over records of your connections to the authorities.
Pick a VPN that keeps no logs and which is located in a country without data retention laws. All of the services on this list of the five best VPNs for 4Chan are located outside of the US and keep no activity logs. You can keep yourself safe while visiting the 4Chan site by using any of these five VPNs.