In the era of continuous internet development and the possibilities it offers, there’s a lot of discussion about online security. Free VPN networks are gaining popularity as a natural response. Initially, using a private network was just a way to secure business network connections and enable access to the business network from home.
However, with the growing awareness of internet users, the use of VPNs has dramatically changed; they are now used for private and entertainment purposes, aiming to provide security and unrestricted internet surfing. Most operating systems have integrated support for virtual private networks, making the use of private network connections on various devices hassle-free.
When you connect to the Internet via a VPN, government agencies, companies, hackers, or other unwanted persons and institutions can’t see your IP address, so they can’t identify you. However, remember that your online privacy is never absolutely certain, even with a VPN connection, especially when opting for a free service.
This is because the network provider will have access to your real IP address and browsing history, and know the sites you visit. Therefore, it’s wise to explore VPN provider offers and start cooperating with a network you can fully trust. After all, it’s about security – you don’t want anyone tracking your activities online, nor do you want entities passing your information to third parties; agencies, companies, marketers, or government institutions.
How Much Does a Free VPN Really Cost?
Most private network providers charge for their services, but there are also free VPNs on the market. You might wonder why pay (often a substantial amount!) when you only need a VPN service to watch a movie abroad, and a free VPN can easily change your IP address. The answer is simple: nothing is truly free, and the price for using free VPN services is your data and more.
So, if you’re wondering whether a free VPN is safe to use, I have bad news. If online security is your priority, then using a free VPN service defeats the purpose. But if you have motives other than security for using a VPN service, let me explain why you should reconsider your priorities.
Free VPN Networks – How Do They Profit From Your Unawareness?
Let’s be clear: free VPNs need to make money and sustain themselves somehow. Many of them rely on selling your personal data to third parties, and some even place ads using information about you. They can also distribute your IP address, suggesting that criminal activity is taking place on your computer while hiding the IP addresses of real criminals.
Let’s not forget about proxies. Because a proxy server transfers internet traffic without encryption, anyone interested can read all your personal data. This means that private information about you sent through an unsecured connection can be intercepted and stored by the operator. Needless to say, identity theft is a major problem. A free VPN has all the tools to hand over your identity and sensitive information to unscrupulous individuals in a moment of weakness.
Main Threats of Using Free VPN Services
In my opinion, even using a cheap VPN service will be safer than entrusting your privacy to a free VPN provider. To convince you not to risk it, let’s list the potential threats associated with using a free VPN service.
Data Tracking and Selling for Profit
A well-functioning and paid VPN encrypts and tunnels data, making it invisible to your internet service provider. This means that no one other than the VPN provider you use can track you. The terms of the contract with a paid VPN provider prevent them from selling personal data, so you can feel safe. Free VPN services collect and store user data through tracking libraries, which can be sold for advertising and analytical purposes to other agencies.
VPN Connection Dropping at a Critical Moment and Lack of a Kill Switch
There are times when you really care about hiding your identity. Suppose you’re tempted to download pirated software using torrents. So, you start your browser, search for everything you need, change your IP address so no one catches you in this innocent theft—you’re doing it only for personal use, the software won’t bring you profit, and the cost of the program would definitely strain your budget.
You start downloading and occupy yourself with something else. Suddenly, something unexpected happens and your free VPN disconnects from the server, but the download continues. You have a problem! Remember that most paid VPNs offer a kill switch feature, which automatically stops the download if the VPN connection is lost. Additionally, a free VPN is likely to have a poor server location database, which may not be enough to find safe places to download torrents from.
Free VPNs can also participate in stealing your data transfer and selling bandwidth to other organizations. Would you like your computer’s resources to be used for transferring internet traffic? The VPN Hola didn’t care about user opinion and did just that.
It was found that Hola, based in Israel, steals bandwidth from customers and then resells it through its sister company Luminati. Of course, not every free VPN service entails such risk, but we will definitely find out too late how safe a free VPN connection is.
The infiltration of malware into your device is one of the common problems for users using free VPN services. Such malicious software can be used to steal confidential information from a device connected to Wi-Fi. A free VPN does not provide any guarantee of effective protection against such attacks.
Internet Browser Hijacking
Imagine your browser redirecting you to websites without your consent. This point refers to the blunder of the HotspotShield Free VPN network, which promised its users protected connections, security, privacy enhancement, and ad-free internet browsing.
However, a CSIRO study showed that Hotspot Shield was redirecting user traffic to alibaba.com and ebay.com through its partner networks Conversant Media and Viglink. When a client connected through a free VPN to access specific internet domains, the app used a proxy server that intercepted and redirected HTTP requests to partner sites.
The Best Free VPN
Is there a free VPN that’s safe to use? No, but there’s a compromise.
Some paid VPN service providers offer a basic version of their services for free. The basic version usually has limitations, such as slower transfer or a monthly data transfer limit. To access full speeds, unlimited bandwidth, and additional features, you need to purchase the premium version.
Remember not to be discouraged by the VPN provider immediately after using the unsatisfactory basic version – compare the paid tariff plan to assess whether it’s worth subscribing to the VPN service from that provider.
You can also use free VPNs provided by service providers who offer paid services after a limited time. This refers to free trial periods and warranties. A free trial version is a safe solution that allows you to use the full version of a paid VPN network completely free of charge!
Another option is to take advantage of a warranty policy, under which you can request a refund for the service if it does not meet your expectations within a certain time (usually 30 days). This solution allows you to use a VPN network without restrictions for a month.
However, remember that if you do not end the subscription in time, your free VPN obtained in this way will automatically deduct the fee for the next month from your account. Don’t forget to apply for a refund for the unsatisfactory first month.
I hope I have answered your question about whether a free VPN is safe to use. As you can see, ensuring the highest quality of VPN services is extremely important. While the phrase “internet privacy theft” may not sound very ominous at first, upon realizing the far-reaching consequences it may entail, I think you will think twice about installing a free VPN app on your device. Paid services, for the price of a subscription fee, offer security without the need to resell personal data to third parties.
A free VPN could ultimately cost you much more than a paid service, such as in the case of identity theft, while a paid VPN somewhat guarantees you privacy and protection of your information. A VPN network is a good investment, but only if you can trust its provider – be sure that your IP address will be hidden and that the price for a free VPN is not your safety.