Threat actors are smart when it comes to finding vulnerabilities or setting up scenarios to attack you. Of course, there are multiple ways to defend yourself. For example, you may use a VPN to protect your connection, but that may not help if you use a free one. So, are free VPNs safe?
Free VPNs are not safe. Some are ridden with malware, others are full of vulnerabilities, and a handful of them are compromised by their owners. At the same time, no free option will protect your data: in some cases, the owner themselves will store it and sell it to the highest bidder.
Some VPNs won’t protect your privacy – but actively work to diminish it. Unfortunately, that’s the business model of certain companies. Others don’t have the resources to provide protection. Does that mean that all free VPNs are the same?
- How Safe Are Free VPNs?
- Should You Use a Free VPN?
- How Do Free VPNs Make Money?
- 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Free VPN
- Free VPN vs. Paid VPN
- Do You Have To Use a VPN?
- Are VPNs Legal?
- How to pick a VPN
How Safe Are Free VPNs?
Free VPNs are not safe or efficient. They suffer from poor infrastructure and lack the proper controls to avoid vulnerabilities. At the same time, some will collect your data to sell it to third parties, which is a terrible thing for your cybersecurity.
In recent years, we’ve seen free VPNs leak data from millions of users. We’re also catching up on certain practices, such as storing and selling data. Others will experience the bad side of free VPNs themselves: facing intrusive ads, which feel a bit like malware.
Should You Use a Free VPN?
Using a free VPN isn’t the same as using a commercial one. For that reason, it’s better to avoid connecting anywhere if you don’t have the chance to pay for encryption. Ideally, you’ll avoid unsafe networks altogether.
Think about it: a VPN is there to encrypt your information to prevent third parties from accessing it. However, companies that offer VPNs free of charge have to make money somehow – and some will sell your information to third parties, which defeats the purpose of using a VPN.
How Do Free VPNs Make Money?
Companies offering free VPNs make money by using ads, selling information, or malware. In other words, they’ll inconvenience you to make money, so you can use their services for free, which will cost you more money in the long run.
A few years ago, news broke about a free VPN using malware to turn their clients’ devices into part of a botnet.
While that’s far from the norm, other companies will sell your information without you knowing or use that information to improve their ads. In other words, using a free VPN ends with your information being shared with others.
5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Free VPN
1. They May Sell Your Data
We can’t stress enough how dangerous using a free VPN is. You may not face the consequences right away – but you may have to do so in due time. These companies sell your information to third parties or have little infrastructure to protect it from threat actors. So your data ends up leaked one way or the other.
2. They May Not Provide Enough Protection
As you know, some of these VPNs sell your information to third parties. How do they do that? Using trackers. That means you’re using a surveillance device on top of your VPN. If a hacker finds a vulnerability to access that tracker, your information is as good as leaked.
3. They May Limit Your Access to Websites
You connect to websites using a different IP address than your own when you use a VPN. Companies need a lot of servers to get a lot of IP addresses for their clients to get one each. Unfortunately, free VPN companies don’t have a lot of money, so they assign the same IP address to multiple clients, which results in you getting banned from several websites.
4. They May Slow You Down With Ads
One of the most intrusive ways companies make money is with ads. We see them everywhere (unless you use an ad blocker, which is highly recommended). Sometimes, they’re designed in such a way that you can’t close them unless you click on them – and several free VPN companies will ruin your internet experience by showing you countless of these ads.
5. They May Cost You More Than It’s Worth
One of the biggest data breaches ever took place because employees used a free VPN. It cost millions of dollars in damages. In other words, doing the same could end up with a bankruptcy claim on your behalf. The average VPN service costs $10 a month – and it won’t look like much when you’re facing thousands in damages after a data leak.
Free VPN vs. Paid VPN
- Safety. It’s ironic that certain VPNs won’t protect you – but that’s the truth. Free alternatives often come at a high price. They may be ridden with malware, have lots of vulnerabilities, or exist to sell your data. In contrast, it’s highly unlikely that a paid VPN will resort to any of these tactics to make money because they charge you for these services, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research before picking one.
- Speed. Browsing the web isn’t expensive – but it isn’t free either. That means VPN companies have to pay so you can surf the web using their servers. Free VPNs have a smaller budget than paid ones for obvious reasons, meaning you’ll have to deal with poor infrastructure when you use the free option. At the same time, certain freemium VPNs offer a paid upgrade, so they’ll stall your connection to make you pay.
- Privacy. A VPN that comes for free will collect your data in one way or the other. They may do so for terrible practices such as selling your information to the highest bidder or do so to see which ads are better for you. It’s a huge blow against privacy either way.
- Price. The biggest disadvantage paid VPNs have is pricing – but even then, most brands make an effort to have competitive plans users can afford. At the same time, the free alternative may be costlier in the long run.
Do You Have To Use a VPN?
You should use a VPN in certain scenarios, though you don’t have to do so every time you surf the web. For example, you may have no need to use one when connected to your secured home network.
In contrast, you should use a VPN when you’re connecting to a network you have no control over. It could be anywhere from your local coffee shop’s or friend’s WiFi.
However, it’s always a good idea to take a few extra steps when you don’t have control over the network you’re using, such as scanning devices and never handling sensitive data when you do so.
Are VPNs Legal?
Using a VPN is legal. That doesn’t mean you can do anything you want while using one. At the same time, certain websites will ban you for using one – and doing so isn’t illegal either.
Here’s an easy example: you can use a VPN to access region-locked content from certain streaming websites. That’s fine. However, you can’t use your VPN to download movies illegally. The result is the same, but how you get there is completely different.
Some websites will ban you if they catch you using a VPN. For that reason, you should use this type of service to protect your information alone (instead of bypassing controls). You’ll need to know how to pick a VPN to do that right.
How to pick a VPN
- Do Research. The very first step is searching for information online. Complete beginners should look at what a VPN is, how it works, and why users need one. More advanced users should research VPN companies individually to see if they’re safe, whether they had issues in the past, and what they offer.
- Read Reviews. People love to voice their opinions online, so you’ll have no trouble seeing what others are saying. However, reading reviews isn’t easy as before: the internet is full of fake reviews from people trying to sell you something. Figure out who’s honest and who’s not – and disregard the latter.
- Try Some. You have to see for yourself which VPNs are better for you. It’s all about personal preference and technical aspects. For example, certain companies will have their servers closer to your location, so you’ll experience a faster speed – but you’ll only know so when you try them.
- Shop Around. Look for deals and discounts before you pull the trigger. Most companies offer a free trial to hook you, so you won’t have an issue trying a few of them before you get to this step. Most offer seasonal deals (e.g., black Friday deals or New Year’s Eve deals), so try to take advantage of that to stay protected at an affordable price.
Are free VPN options safe? Not at all! We at U.S. Cybersecurity think they cause more trouble than they’re worth – and may cost you money in the long run. These companies store and sell your data, offer services ridden with vulnerabilities, and don’t have the infrastructure or willingness to protect your privacy.