VPNs encrypt your data as you use the web. They keep your most precious information like banking details, contact information, and more secure.
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That’s why VPNs, both free and premium, have exploded in popularity recently. 25% of all internet users have accessed a VPN sometime in the last month. Since everybody enjoys saving a little money, it makes sense that a decent percentage of these are “free VPN” apps.
With so much valuable data at stake, you should be inherently suspicious of anybody who offers to provide this service for free. What’s the catch? And there always is one.
Learn about the concealed threats of VPNs and how you can get the security you need from a premium VPN for less than a few dollars per month.
Before We Begin: A Good VPN Won’t Cost You Much
As you’ll see below, free VPNs simply aren’t worth it. They put you at serious risk. However, that doesn’t mean a high-quality VPN has to cost you much either.
As you’ll see for all the reasons below, whatever free VPN you’re using now is likely costing you in much more serious ways than you probably realize.
Best of all, you can find plenty of deals, especially on annual plans, along with promotions like a NordVPN that can save you even more on affordable and excellent VPN service. Do some price shopping, and you’ll find the right deal out there no matter your budget. Between free trial periods and money-back guarantees, you really have nothing to lose!
Why Are There So Many Free VPN Apps Anyway
There are many free VPN apps out there for the same reasons: tons of free games, productivity, messaging, and other types of apps. There’s not only demand, but a way to make money with them.
As you may have noticed with many free apps, you may have seen a lot of advertisements in whatever free VPN you’ve chosen to use. That’s one of the top ways these types of apps make money.
Since security is trendy right now, it makes sense that some developers have found a way to capitalize on this by selling those annoying ads in free VPNs. Here are just a few of the other not so great ways free apps have found ways to monetize and how this can be putting you at risk.
1. Free VPNs Might Be Selling Your Data
Nothing online can be truly free. Websites cost money. Traffic costs money. App development costs money. All of these costs have to be paid somewhere.
Free VPNs find a variety of ways to make money off your data. According to a CSIRO study of 283 VPNs, 75% of free VPNs had trackers embedded in their source code. These trackers allow them to collect and sell user data.
Some of the free VPN services claim to provide privacy and security for all your devices. In reality, these contain not only a dozen different trackers but also malware, meaning it’s extremely risky to have on your phone.
Even if the VPN isn’t selling your data, it may still be sharing it. The built-in Opera VPN is one such example of this. Opera was the first mainstream browser to offer a VPN. On the surface, it sounds like a total win. You don’t need a separate extension or client because everything is packaged in one.
Aside from the issue of this only protecting the browsing data going through your computer’s web browser and nothing else, security analysts quickly found out the Opera both logs and shares your data. In addition, a Chinese consortium purchased Opera a few years ago, which as well all know, is a country that doesn’t have the best reputation for safeguarding user privacy. Is it a coincidence they began offering a free VPN soon after?
This is why you have to pay close attention to see who owns the VPN app, paid or free, that you’re using.
2. May Contain Malware
In the same CSIRO study, researchers found the number of free VPNs that contain malware to be alarmingly high. Nearly 40% of all free Android VPNs contain malware that could hijack online accounts, steal credit card information, target ads and spam emails, or lock you out of your devices via ransomware.
Malware is never out on the open. If you use a free VPN, you should scan it immediately to make sure it doesn’t contain anything harmful.
3. Free VPNs May Be Stealing Your Bandwidth
Some free VPNs steal user bandwidth then sell it to third parties. Effectively it works like a P2P network where users there can use your bandwidth.
And it’s not even hidden. You’ll find it directly in agreement, “you may be a peer on the Illuminati network.” In addition to performance drawbacks, this also puts you at an increased risk of the threats mentioned above.
4. Data Leaks
The whole purpose of using a VPN is to protect your data. VPNs should encrypt all the data between your device and the server.
However, many free, along with several paid VPNs, were found to have VPNs leaks meaning encryption failed, and IP and DNS information became exposed.
In VPN testing, the CSIRO study found that 84% of free VPNs exposed user IP addresses. At the same time, 66% of them leaked DNS requests exposing user browser history and location.
Data leaks are something you should take extremely seriously. It only takes a fraction of a second for cybercriminals and other snoops to access your valuable browsing data and find ways to leverage against and put your security at immense risk.
5. Buffering and Functional Issues
Anybody who’s used a free VPN knows just how painfully slow they can be. Aside from privacy and security improvements, many people get a VPN to access their favorite content.
Most free VPNs simply don’t have the resources to go undetected by streaming platform services and are often blocked outright. If you attempt to access them too many times, your account may even get banned.
And forget about being able to choose a server in different locations. You’re lucky if you can get a functional one in your own hometown!
Even if you do access a site, buffering can take forever. And you may get served up additional ads in the process. The time alone that free VPNs cost you simply isn’t worth it. You shouldn’t have to make a compromise between browsing safely or having enough performance to enjoy everyday internet activities.
How to Choose a “Premium” VPN
We use the word “premium” here very lightly. Just because you pay for a VPN, it doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg. In fact, you can get an excellent VPN that is not only extraordinarily secure but also way faster and more reliable than any free VPN out there for about the same monthly price as a cup of coffee.
Think about that the next time you’re waiting 20 minutes for a 3-minute-long video to load and buffer.
Not only that, but premium VPN providers also offer discounts and promotions all the time. Once you find one you like, lock into annual or longer deals, and you can save some serious cash.
Just remember that not only premium VPNs are the same. Do your homework, compare their main features, and take advantage of a free trial period to see which one is the best fit for you.
There are a few main things to pay attention to as you do your research. The most important is the security standards the VPN uses. If they use WireGaurd and AES-256 encryption technologies, you’ve been on the right path to finding a quality VPN. Even if you don’t exactly understand what these things do, they’re signs of a security-focused and forward-thinking VPN provider.
There are other signs of a good VPN provider. In general, the larger number of servers that a VPN offers is a sign of higher performance since they can better distribute user load. As an added perk, you’ll have more places to choose from to unlock different content from around the world.
Finally, pay attention to some of the details. Nobody likes reading terms of service agreement but pay attention to what they do with your data. Be on the lookout for specific terms like “VPN kill-switch” and “no-logs.” A VPN kill-switch stops your internet connection in case your VPN connection is dropped for any reason, keeping your data much safer. Likewise, a “no-logs” policy means the provider doesn’t keep a record of your activity on your server. That’s another sign of a company that you can trust.
Don’t put your data and privacy at risk any longer. Stop using dangerous free VPNs and upgrade now to a paid option. It won’t cost you much to do so, and you’ll see the immense performance and security benefits. Don’t you think that’s more than worth a few dollars per month?