It is no secret that free VPNs are tempting, and for a good reason. Most of us always look for ways to get out of paying for online services, including critical ones like VPNs. Chances are that you have probably asked yourself, ‘Should I pay for VPNs when I can get these services without shelling out any coin?’ Sure, free VPNs may provide you with protection that others charge you for, but there is always a catch. That free VPN may end up costing you more by draining your security and privacy.
Please read on to understand the risk that comes with free VPNs, ranging from the much-feared VPN malware to annoying ads and VPN leaks.
But Before We Look at That, Is a VPN Worth Getting?
Let’s do a minute recap of what a VPN is and what makes a good VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service that allows you to encrypt your internet connection between your device and the destination computer, which is controlled by the VPN provider. In short, what this means is that when you are using a hotel’s open Wi-Fi, other guests can’t view your traffic or steal your most-guarded information.
It also means that malicious entities and advertisers will not track your actual IP address. Even your ISP – who may be tempted to sell your personal information – will be kept in the dark.
So, is a VPN worth getting? The short answer is yes. But as you know, even the most robust technology isn’t 100 percent foolproof. Your traffic can still be intercepted even if it has gone through the VPN server. Unless your data is tunneled over HTTPS, there is no guarantee it can’t be stolen.
That brings us to the question: What makes a good VPN? You should demand the following essential features from your VPN provider:
- Security – A VPN should protect your data when you are using public networks.
- Reliability – Remote offices and employees should connect to a VPN with no challenge, and the VPN provider should offer the same quality to each user.
- Scalability – As your business or user-base grows, a VPN should be able to handle emerging needs.
Demystifying Free VPNs
You have probably heard this famous phrase: ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’ To put it in context, we could as well say, ‘There is no such thing as a free VPN’.
Here is the thing. Running VPN services requires a lot of money. First, you need to maintain data lines or servers. And if not that, you need to pay a cloud service like Azure or Amazon AWS to store every bit of data received or sent. So, let’s be frank: If you are not paying even a single dime, how do VPN providers pay for all that expense? You know the answer: it is you that pays the piper. An obvious trick that VPN service providers use is that they downgrade their free VPN services to push you into paying for a full license or use other uncanny tricks to let you pay indirectly.
You will probably get a clearer picture when you look at these two categories of free VPN services: freemium and unlimited VPNs.
- Unlimited VPNs: They let you access a VPN network for free and without restrictions – as if you had paid for the service. The main aim of these providers is to collect user information and sell it to other businesses.
- Freemium VPNs: For freemium VPNs, providers offer you a free sample, hoping that you will upgrade to a premium VPN package. The offer usually comes with some restrictions, such as a limited bandwidth for a specified period. In this arrangement, the paying customers will take care of the free users. But in some cases, nefarious developers may bundle such freemium with malware.
By now, it should be clear that using a free VPN means compromising your security, safety, and possibly even your private information, which could be more dangerous. And if you are still thinking of using a free VPN service or asking yourself, ‘Should I pay for a VPN?’, please hold on.
The Dark Side of Using a Free VPN
Here are the real dangers of using a free VPN service:
1. Free VPN Leaks: In most cases, the quality of the tunnel for a free VPN service is less robust when compared to paid VPNs. For this reason, your IP address and user information may leak through the gaps in the tunnel.
2. Free VPN Malware: One of the common traits of free VPNs is the injection of malware into your computer. Such malware can steal your personal information from your device. Once it has your data, it can wreak havoc in the following ways:
- Log into your online accounts.
- Steal money from your bank account.
- Steal your digital assets.
- Lock your device, then ask for a ransom.
- Display annoying ads.
3. Free VPNs Give Priority to Ad Network Traffic: Your free VPN provider may not sell your data, but it can earn money in other ways. In most cases, these providers generate revenue from advertising. In that case, ad networks have some privileges. Traffic from third-party advertisers will be prioritized because your free VPN service provider wants you to click their ads. Because of this, you may experience slower Internet speeds.
4. Free VPN Tracking: While VPNs encrypt your data, they can also collect your user information through tracking libraries. A CSIRO study found out that over 75 percent of free VPNs have built-in tracking capabilities. These free VPN providers usually sell your data to other firms to use it for analytics and advertising.
5. Stolen Bandwidth: Another way free VPNs can wreak havoc is stealing your bandwidth and reselling it to other businesses. Most likely you have heard the story of Hola VPN, a VPN provided by an Israeli-based company that was stealing bandwidth from its customers and selling it to unsuspecting buyers through an associate company. This revelation shows that there could be many other VPN providers who do this, only that they haven’t been exposed.
Bottom Line: Free VPNs are Not Worth Your Time
As we conclude, it is important to point out that there are free VPNs that are safe to use. Some reputable institutions, such as universities, may offer free VPNs to users. However, these providers may also suffer from resource constraints, which may lead to a stoppage or a slowdown.
It is generally safe to use free VPNs from providers that offer a paid service after the expiry of a trial period. But you should stay away from providers that promise unlimited free VPNs.
Identity theft has become rampant nowadays, so you should be extra careful when choosing a VPN service. In this age of information, guarding your personal credentials should be a top priority because they are worth more than gold.
By choosing a reputable VPN service provider, your personal information will remain safe and secure. As you choose a VPN service, ask yourself this question: What is the most secure VPN? You can use this resource to find the right VPN service.
That’s it. Do you think it is worth investing in a good VPN? Share your thoughts in the comments.