There are several reasons why Internet users feel the need to use a VPN. Perhaps, due to where they live, they’re consistently faced with Geo-blocking, or maybe they are doing their best to remain anonymous online.
There are multiple choices when it comes to selecting a VPN, and many of those are free options. However, before deciding to use a free VPN, you might wonder if it’s safe to do so. Are there situations where a person might want to stay away from using a free VPN? I’m going to answer those questions for you now, and I’ll also take some time and educate you about some of the more common dangers that you may face when using a free VPN. And of course, I’ll provide you with some recommendations.
Is It Safe to Use a VPN?
Yes, and no. If you’re using a VPN that is a free version offered by a provider that also sells premium versions, you typically should be safe. The catch here is that these free versions are used to convince you to purchase the paid version. The software is excellent, but the services available to you on the free version are limited.
If you find a free VPN that is completely free, and not just a gimmick to get you to upgrade, be suspicious of how the provider is generating revenue.
Interestingly, the people most likely to opt for a free VPN are likely the people that are looking for a way to circumvent any kind of restrictions and blocks on content. Or they are people who are looking for a safer way to download torrents. These people likely only have infrequent needs for a VPN, so it makes sense for them to consider a free instead of a paid service.
A study performed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found that 75% of the free Android VPN’s tested used third-party tracking libraries, and 82% of them required permission that gained access to sensitive information.
The Common Dangers of Free VPNs
There are many examples of free VPNs that have compromised numerous users. For example, read these insights on Hola VPN, and see for yourself how scary things can get.
So what are some of the dangers?
Tracking and Selling Your Data. Remember how I mentioned above that you may need to be suspicious about the revenue source of a free VPN? Since it’s doubtful your VPN is a charitable organization, it’s quite likely that they are tracking your data in some way and selling it to third parties for profit. Customers sign up for a VPN so that their data is encrypted, and their IP’s remain anonymous. However, your VPN provider still has access to all of that information. There are countless organizations that would love to have information on the sites you visit so they can target you with advertising.
Injecting Malware. Perhaps an even more insidious way of mining your data, it is common for free VPNs to inject malware into your device or computer. This malware, in turn, finds and steals sensitive information. For example, many recent ransomware attacks have been let loose due to malware that has been installed when customers download the free software.
Phishing Attacks. Last year, there were attacks on MyEtherWallet, where users had funds stolen from their accounts. This was due to users of the free VPN extension, Hola. Hackers gained access to Hola and redirected users to a phishing site. Simply having the extension installed on Google Chrome was enough to put users’ crypto wallets in jeopardy.
I don’t know about you, but that would be enough for me to never use a free VPN.
Browser Hijacking. This is where your browser redirects you to another website without your permission. The study mentioned above found that HotSpotShield was redirecting users to Alibaba and eBay through several of its partner networks.
All of the above should be enough to make you wary when it comes to using a free VPN. However, as mentioned already, if a VPN is offered free as a tactic to get you to ultimately upgrade to a paid version, you should be safe.
There are also several reasonably priced VPNs that one can choose from. If you take a little bit of time and do a little bit of research, you should be able to find an inexpensive VPN that provides you with the features necessary. Whether you are looking for a VPN to hide behind while you download, or you would like to be assured of safety when you’re conducting sensitive transactions online, there should be something that fits into your budget and price range.