It’s no secret that nothing in life is free. Everything comes with a cost and this is particularly true when it comes to the Internet. The free services that we all enjoy and take for granted are a way for companies to collect your information and sell it to third parties for a profit.
Are free VPNs safe to use, though? Not really. While you’ll find a variety of options available on the market that provide their services for free, it’s important to know that unlike a paid VPN, using them usually comes with a few downsides.
Not only are your browsing habits tracked without you even knowing about it, but also pop-up ads fill your screen and ruin your online experience. In short, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Free VPNs have to make their money from somewhere, right? However, this usually comes at the expense of the user.
Limitations like the lack of server locations, security protocols, bandwidth, and features defeat the very purpose of using a VPN service which is to ensure that you are protected from any prying eyes while you browse the Internet freely with internet freedom apps.
6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Free VPN
So, what is a free VPN? Basically, it’s a service that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously without any hurdles for no cost. However, let’s take a closer look at the truth about how do free VPNs work and why using them is a bad idea:
1. You’re Tracked Consistently
Free VPNs are famous for tracking everything you do online: what websites you visit, how much time you spend once there, which location you’re accessing the Internet from, etc. – all of this information is collected by free VPNs, much in the same way as it’s collected by ISPs, governments, hackers, and corporations that want to get their hands on your personal data.
By using a VPN, you can easily avoid this sort of tracking and monitoring for good. However, free VPNs do the exact opposite!
2. Your Data is Sold to Third-Parties
Your online activity isn’t just collected by free VPNs but also sold to third-parties that want your information so they can bombard you with targeted advertising. As mentioned earlier, free VPNs have to stay afloat somehow, and selling users’ data allows them to earn the money they need to continue operations.
From advertisers and corporations to what not, there are many third-parties interested in getting a hold of your data.
3. You’re Served Ads That Could Be Malicious
Though selling the personal data of users is one way for these so-called ‘free’ VPNs to make money, the other and more common way of generating funds is by showing annoying advertisements. Contrary to a paid VPN, these services already aren’t reliable, offer sluggish connection speeds, and suffer from connection drops. And thus, being shown ads one after the other only adds to the frustration.
The worst part of all, these ads may be malicious and so clicking on them would most likely result in malware sneaking onto your device.
4. You’re Offered Limited Locations, Protocols, Bandwidth, and Features
When you use free VPNs, you’re offered outdated security protocols such as PTTP that leave your privacy exposed to any prying eyes that may be watching. Furthermore, there aren’t many server locations and IP addresses available, so you have to share bandwidth with thousands of other users and this leads to slower connection speeds.
That’s not all, however. Unlike paid options, a free VPN also lacks features like Internet Kill Switch, DNS Leak Protection, Multi-logins, etc. which ensure your true security on a VPN.
5. You’re Vulnerable to IP Address Leaks
A proper VPN acts like an invisible tunnel. All your Internet traffic passes through the tunnel, keeping it secure from any onlookers. As a result, it’s difficult to identify where it’s originating from. When it comes to free VPNs, the tunnel might not be as secure or not exist at all. Your personal data and IP address is left exposed, meaning that it could be tracked or monitored by anyone.
This is known as an “IP traffic leak”, in which your IP address is uncovered and visible to the outside world. While some paid VPNs also leak your traffic, they’re far less common. Plus, since most come with an Internet Kill Switch feature, your real identity remains protected at all times!
6. You’re Likely to Become a Part of a Botnet
Free VPNs could also make your computer or mobile device a part of a botnet for nefarious purposes, such as DDoS attacks. Don’t believe us? Back in 2015, a free VPN was found to utilize its users’ devices as endpoints, essentially turning them into a VPN server of sorts. In this way, they wouldn’t have to pay bandwidth costs for their free users. They also sold this bandwidth to a residential proxy network owned by their parent company.
This was brought to light when the operator of a site noticed they were being affected by DoS attacks which utilized the said endpoints through that service. As a result, researchers advised users to uninstall the free VPN as it allows them to be tracked and makes them vulnerable to hacking.
Paid VPN: 6 Reasons Why You Should Use One
Considering the reasons we’ve mentioned above, it’s obvious that free VPNs create more problems than they can solve. We bet that now you’d want to know more about a paid VPN, right? To set things straight, here are a few good reasons why you should go for paid options:
1. Better Security
When you use a paid VPN, you’ll always get foolproof security of your personal data. All your Internet traffic is secured with AES 256-bit encryption which not only conceals your online activity but also ensures the data you share over the Internet remains confidential.
PureVPN uses a variety of security protocols (such as OpenVPN, L2TP, IPSec, SSTP and IKEv2) to manage and encrypt all the traffic that goes through the VPN servers.
2. Faster Speeds
A Paid VPN can usually handle thousands of connections simultaneously without slowing down. Why you ask? That’s because they have strategically placed VPN servers around the world to help you get around any digital hurdles at high-speeds.
The closer a server is to your location, the better the connection speed. PureVPN has a global network of 2000+ servers in 140+ countries. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where you’re using the Internet from, you’ll always get a blazing-fast VPN connection.
3. 24/7 Customer Support
Unlike free VPNs who don’t cater to the needs of their users, you get round-the-clock support when you use a paid VPN service. The subscription you pay also includes top-notch customer support that you may need in the future.
PureVPN offers 24/7/365 customer support to assist you whenever needed. No matter what time of the day, you’ll find the customer support of a paid service to be quick and polite in resolving issues.
4. No Bandwidth Caps
Most free VPNs throttle connection speeds so they can save on bandwidth. With paid options, however, you get unlimited bandwidth on all VPN servers, meaning you can go about your online activities without worrying about any quotas.
PureVPN, for example, doesn’t put any caps on bandwidth per user as it’s totally against our mission to provide the ultimate freedom to all Internet users. If you want unrestricted access to all websites and services, it’s only going to cost you a few bucks every month.
5. Multi-Platform Support
Surely, you connect to the Internet using a number of devices – so why just secure your smartphone with a VPN? Fortunately, VPNs these days can be set up on almost any Internet-enabled device that you can think of.
PureVPN comes with proprietary VPN apps and software for all major platforms. It also provides easy-to-understand guides so that users can set up a VPN connection and use it on all supported platforms.
6. Top-Notch Features
Did you know that by using a paid option you gain access to a variety of features that enhance your online experience – all in one app or software? As mentioned earlier, this is where free VPNs fall short as they don’t offer as many features.
With PureVPN, you get features like Internet Kill Switch, DDoS Protection, 10 Multi-Logins, Ozone, NAT Firewall, DNS Leak Protection and Split-Tunneling, all of which ensure complete security, privacy, and accessibility.
A Study Exposes the Dangers of Free VPNs for Android
Most people decide a free VPN is the best option for them because, well, it won’t cost them anything in terms of money and they don’t want to pay for a premium service. They may need a VPN for reasons such as accessing blocked sites or using public WiFi networks securely.
However, a recent study by Australian and U.S. researchers indicates that free VPNs aren’t what they seem and certainly aren’t worth the risk at all. A comprehensive analysis of 283 different Android VPN apps was carried out, which brought a number of surprising facts to light.
The key findings of this study can be summarized as follows:
- 18% of these VPN apps implement tunneling protocols without encrypting users’ data (so your VPN connection is not secure).
- 38% of these VPN apps contain some sort of malware presence (so your data and browsing behavior is at risk).
- 66% of these VPN apps leak DNS traffic (so your privacy is thwarted).
- 84% of these VPN apps don’t route IPv6 traffic through the VPN tunnel (so your real IP address is at risk).
Keeping all these drawbacks in mind, you’re better off staying away from free VPNs and opting for a reputable paid one like PureVPN.
Security Flaws Discovered in Popular Free VPN Android Apps
Still looking for more reasons to use a paid VPN? According to a recent study by Top10VPN, a number of top free VPN apps for Android represent a huge security risk. Out of the 150 Android VPN apps tested, which have more than 260 million downloads on Google Play, 90% breached users’ privacy through a variety of ways, including DNS leaks, malware, and intrusive permissions.
The key findings of this study can be summarized as follows:
- 25% of these VPNs cause DNS leaks.
- 66% of these VPNs have intrusive permissions like asking for device information, camera and microphone access, or user location.
- 18% of these VPNs potentially contain malware or viruses.
If you’re a free VPN user, you can get a better understanding of how much your online privacy is at risk by going through the complete risk index here. As mentioned earlier on several occasions, free VPNs will always come with certain strings attached, but in spite of this most people continue to use them because they’re supposedly free – even though there’s no such thing!
For complete peace of mind, we’d strongly recommend that you consider paying for a VPN service instead.
Facebook Shuts Down Its Controversial App That Harvested User Data
Amongst the many examples of the unreliability of free VPNs is Onavo, which was a freemium VPN service offered by none other than the social media giant, Facebook.
Though it was promoted as a VPN that would help users anonymize their traffic, the VPN itself came under fire for being a data-mining tool. The VPN service used to route users’ activities via Facebook servers, ultimately allowing the social media service to track what users were doing.
As news regarding its shady (data-mining) practices spread like wildfire, Facebook started to pull the app from the major app stores. First, it removed the app from Apple Store and later from the Google Playstore.
Finally, in 2019, the social media giant announced that it would shut down its VPN service.
How to Choose a Reliable VPN Service
Now that you know which the better option is between free vs. paid VPN, here’s a list of questions you should ask yourself before selecting a paid VPN for your needs:
- Is the VPN based in a privacy-friendly country or region?
- How many servers does the VPN have and are they located worldwide?
- Does the VPN have a bandwidth cap?
- Does the VPN offer easy-to-use apps for all major platforms?
- What protocols and encryption the VPN offers?
- Does the VPN offer privacy and security features?
- Does the VPN unblock restricted content and websites?
- Does the VPN support P2P file-sharing?
- Is the VPN streaming friendly?
- Does the VPN offer multi-logins?
Is Your VPN Safe?
You’ve done your research and picked a paid VPN app that best suits your needs. However, is it actually safe to use? And would it make your Internet connection more secure? While these tools are a good way to improve your privacy and security online, it’s important to remember that not all of them are created equally.
With these tests, you can check whether your VPN is working or not:
When you use a VPN, it’s important to make sure that sites can’t see your original IP address – this would defeat the purpose of using this tool in the first place! Your IP address must be hidden and replaced with another one from the VPN server you’re tunneling through. Once you’ve connected to your VPN, go to What Is My IP and see if your IP address has changed.
WebRTC, or Web Real-Time Communication, is an open-source technology that provides mobile applications and web browsers with real-time communication capabilities via simple APIs. However, since it uses the STUN protocol for NAT and firewall traversal, your public IP address is made discoverable – even if you’re using a VPN.
Some VPNs fail to protect the DNS requests of your device even when the rest of your Internet traffic is passing through the secure tunnel. This is called a DNS leak, which allows unauthorized parties like your ISP, the government, or hackers to see what you’re doing online. Take this DNS leak test from DNSleaktest.com to determine if your DNS requests are leaking or not.
If your ISP provides IPv6 support and you visit a website with an IPv6 address, your browser will automatically connect to it outside of your VPN connection, revealing your real IPv6 address in the process. Disable IPv6 from your network settings or activate your VPN’s IPv6 leak protection and take this IPv6 leak test from Leaktest.online to see if you’re protected.
Wrapping Things Up
When you use a free VPN, you’re essentially compromising your online privacy and security with your own hands. This doesn’t necessarily mean that ALL paid VPNs are 100% trustworthy and secure, but with a little research, you’ll definitely come across services like PureVPN that give you the online experience you deserve.
Hopefully, we were able to answer all your free VPN vs. paid VPN questions. If you have anything more that you would like to add, feel free to use the comments section below!
Originally published on Feb 28, 2018, and updated on February 26, 2019.