Free is my favourite word and if you can get something for free then why pay for it?
When it comes to VPN services though there are many hidden nasties in ‘Free' VPN services and in this guide, I'm going to take a look at 8 of them.
This is not an extensive list of reasons why you shouldn't use ‘Free' VPN services. It is, however, a round-up of some of the most severe issues and why I and many others steer well clear of ‘Free' VPN services.
You may be wondering why I've highlighted the word ‘Free' in this way, but as you'll see from below, ‘Free' VPN services are anything but free.
Here's a list of the quite scary reasons you'll want to avoid ‘Free' VPN services.
1. Install malware or other damaging apps
When you install a ‘Free' VPN app, they often install added extras that you weren't expecting, nor should expect.
In fact, in a study by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the research discovered that out of 234 ‘Free' VPN apps they tested, 38% of them contained some kind of additional malware.
The majority of this malware related to tracking users somehow, which goes to prove the old saying, if you're not paying for the service, then you are the service. ‘Free' VPN providers make money by hawking your data.
2. Utilise your internet connection
One of the most well-known ‘Free' VPN services Hola was found in 2015 to be using users' internet connections to power their VPN service.
This meant while you're receiving a VPN service, your home connection is being used to power the service for others. The dangers of this are clear and even quite scary. Anything other users do could be linked to your internet connection and then you would be responsible for explaining how and why.
3. Leakier than a dripping pipe
‘Free' VPN services are often under-resourced and under-staffed. This leads to a far inferior service than one you're paying people to maintain.
In early 2018 security researcher Paulo Stagno discovered that a whole host of VPN services were leaking IP Addresses by the historical WebRTC issue.
While most decent VPN providers had long fixed this issue although admittedly there were one or two commercial providers in the list, the overwhelming majority of providers facing WebRTC leaks were what would be considered ‘Free' VPN services.
IP Address leaks and DNS leaks should be avoided at all costs – sadly, many VPNs that aren't paid-for fall victim to these.
4. Slurp up your private information
If you think a ‘Free' VPN service will protect your privacy, then think again. Facebook launched their own VPN app called “Protect” but after much controversy about privacy issues it was pulled.
While Facebook already knows a little bit too much about you, their built-in VPN app will allow them to monitor what you do across your whole device because all of your data will pass through Facebook's hands.
For that reason, Facebook's VPN app and other ‘Free' VPN apps are best avoided.
5. When ‘Free' VPN services are nothing more than proxies
Free ‘VPN' services often market themselves as a VPN but are nothing more than a simple proxy. You'll know this when the app to install works only on your web browser and doesn't protect any of the other data passing over your connection.
While they're marketed as VPN services, they are not VPN services in the true sense of the word and do not protect users fully.
Not only is this risky but they're also likely to contain flaws. In a recent case, well-known browser extension ‘VPN' Hotspot Shield was found to be leaking user's private details.
6. Slower than a Snail travelling through glue
Give something for free that many people want and many people will jump on it. ‘Free' VPN services have limited funding because they use tactics like selling your data to generate funds.
Rather than each user paying this results in there being more users on the service than the service can cope with. The result is incredibly slow speeds. Forget downloading or streaming video in high-quality because it just isn't happening on a service you're not paying for.
7. Doesn't unblock many of the services you'll want
Due to the sheer numbers of users and the lack of funding to maintain the ‘Free' VPN service, it means many of the services that you're trying to unblock won't work.
Free VPN services are notoriously bad for allowing you to bypass restrictions and access video content. There's simply no way you're gaining access to many types of streaming services using ‘Free' VPN services.
8. Injects adverts into your connection
As if adverts online weren't bad enough, there are reports that some ‘Free' VPN services insert adverts into your connection.
For example, you could visit a website that doesn't contain adverts but the VPN service will add adverts into your connection which shouldn't be visible on that website.
Again, if you're not paying for the service, then the service wants to make money somehow. That can result in annoying adverts or pop-ups as you try to use the internet uninterrupted.
So, what can you do?
Although free VPNs sound like a great deal, the solution is to avoid them at all costs. You're probably safer, in the long run, using no VPN service than using a free one.
If you absolutely must use a free VPN service, then it's probably best to look for one run by a commercial VPN provider who also offers a paid VPN service alongside. At least this way you understand how the service is paid for.
Alternatively, there are plenty of other options in our VPN Comparison Guide to suit all budgets.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are VPNs safe for online banking?
If you need to access your online banking services on a public Wi-Fi network or any other network you are not familiar with, a VPN is crucial.
Public Wi-Fi networks tend to be insecure and it would be possible for someone to monitor your connection. While it's unlikely they could intercept your banking access due to it using HTTPS (encryption), it's certainly not worth taking the risk.
A VPN encrypts all of your data which means you can use public-Wi-Fi networks safely and with confidence.
If you are at home on your internet connection, a VPN is less important but it is still good practice if you want to be certain about security and privacy.
If you use a free VPN, the answer to this question would be very different. Free VPNs are generally very insecure themselves and they routinely sell user data to third parties.
This could include your online banking information so we would certainly not advise you to use a free VPN for online banking.
Instead, you will have to either avoid online banking on public Wi-Fi networks or invest in a premium VPN that is guaranteed to protect you.
How to use a VPN safely
Deciding to use a VPN to protect your privacy and security is just the first step on your journey to internet security. There are a few other things you will need to do before your internet connection is protected:
Choose the right VPN
Do your research and be sure you are choosing the right VPN provider for you. Our 5 minute challenge on how to choose a VPN is an excellent place to start.
This means finding a provider that has strong encryption, a no user logs policy, servers where you need them, and apps for all your devices.
Avoid Free VPNs
Free VPNs are just not worth the risk. They often collect and sell your data, can inject malware and adware onto your devices, offer substandard security, poor connection speeds, and limits on bandwidth.
A premium VPN costs just a couple of pounds a month and has none of these issues.
If you want to be sure you are always protected, look for a VPN with a kill switch.
This means your VPN will cut your internet if your VPN connection goes down. This eliminates the risk of your data or your real IP address being exposed and helps to ensure your internet connection is always secure and private.
Read the small print
No-one likes reading the terms when you sign up for something but it is vital with a VPN.
They will explain how a VPN protects your privacy, what data (if any) they collect, and what they do with this. It might be dull, but this is all information you need to know to make an informed decision.
Use on Public Wi-Fi networks
Once you choose your VPN provider, be sure to download their app onto all your devices.
The most important place to use a VPN is on public Wi-Fi networks when you are out and about so be sure you can protect any device you use on the move.
The benefits of a premium VPN
The only real attraction of a free VPN is the fact it won't cost you any money. But the truth is that you will end up paying for choosing a free VPN in many other riskier ways.
There are many benefits to choosing a premium VPN over a free VPN. Monthly subscription fees for premium VPNs can be less than a few dollars a month. You probably drop more money down the back of your sofa.
For that small outlay, you can not only avoid all the potential threats that come with a free VPN, which we have detailed in this article, but you can also enjoy the many benefits that a high-quality free VPN can offer.
Premium VPNs offer their users high-end encryption that ensures that their data is always as secure as possible.
Running a secure service is not cheap and as a result, a lot of free VPNs are not able to offer it. This means they are not able to protect your data as much.
Protecting Multiple Devices
Almost all free VPNs only allow a single connection. But most of us go online on multiple devices these days.
Premium VPNs usually offer at least five simultaneous connections with every subscription. This means you can keep all of your devices secure and private and even those of your immediate family too.
Unblock geo-restricted content
Premium VPNs can unblock all sorts of different websites and services that might be unavailable in your country or region.
This includes popular streaming sites like US Netflix and the BBC iPlayer as well as content and sites that might be censored where you live.
Premium VPNs do not cost much and if you look around you can find some great offers with as much as 75% off some deals.
Premium VPNs have no usage restrictions whatsoever. This means you can download and stream as much as you like without having to worry about exceeding your permitted limit.
Faster Connection Speeds
Premium VPNs can offer faster connection speeds than free ones because they invest in better infrastructure and have a bigger server network. They can also protect you from ISP throttling which can affect your access to individual sites.
Have you had a bad experience with free VPN providers? I would love to know in the comments section below, so why not share your story.
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