Free VPN are stripped down versions of full-featured, more secure premium VPN services. Free VPNs should be used cautiously and with the knowledge that the service provider could be monitoring the users’ activity. Free VPNs can also put the user’s data at risk with advertising infected with malware.
Before comparing free VPNs with premium services, is important to recognize that VPNs do not offer absolute protection against cyber attacks. A VPN cannot not prevent a user from downloading a cleverly concealed piece of malware after visiting an insecure website or compromising a password by opening a scam email.
Rather, a VPN is like an invisible mobile shield. A VPN hides the user’s IP address and conceals the user’s location. In addition to VPN the user needs anti-malware protection, a solid password strategy, file encryption, as well as common-sense security practises. Those practises include using only secure websites (i.e., the HTTPS protocols) and being aware that hackers rely on user trust, curiosity, carelessness, and gullibility.
What all VPNs have in common?
Read this article for details on how a VPN like Surfshark works.
To summarize, a VPN runs interference for the user and provides protection against net censorship and geo-blocking. For businesses and home users, a VPN can provide privacy and anonymity for all devices router supports. For mobile computing, the VPN encryption tunnel provides privacy when using a public Wi-Fi. Insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots are the hunting grounds of tech-savvy hackers.
Also, VPN bypasses net censorship and geo-blocking by virtue of its ability to log in to multiple overseas servers. The founding principles of the Internet were free and open access. Net censorship and geo-blocking violate those principles, and using a VPN is a tool in keeping the internet free and open to all.
Free VPNs abound
Freedom includes the right to privacy and protection against cyber criminals. In these days of high-visibility data breaches, VPNs have continued to grow in popularity. Smartphone owners, who now outnumber PC users, can access Wi-Fi at home and in public to reduce smartphone data consumption costs. The latest Mac iPhone comes with a free VPN, and Android VPN apps are available for free download.
Desktop/laptop users also have a choice of thousands of free VPNs. They all promise to keep the user safe and secure online, with no extra cost.
All that free stuff sounds too good to be true. It is, because many VPN providers are exploiting their users.
Free comes at a cost of privacy
Consider Google, Twitter and Facebook. They give free access to their platforms and communication services. Their millions of users are the source of the big data bonanza marketers and advertisers mine for nuggets of user preferences and behaviour trends. Selling that data to the highest bidder is how Google and company generate their huge income.
So, VPN providers want a piece of all that action, and they do it by offering a free, but necessarily limited VPN service. Those free services can in some ways be hazardous to the user’s privacy and data protection.
The true cost of “Free” VPNs
Rather than charging a subscription fee, free VPN providers exploit their users to make money in several (and sometimes disturbing) ways:
1. Free VPNs track the user’s online activity.
The purpose of a VPN is to mask the user’s online activity. However, VPN Mentor cites one study that showed that over 70% of free VPNs come with embedded third-party trackers. The trackers collect data on the user’s online habits and destinations and can target the user with tailored online ads. They also sell all that collected data to marketers.
2. Free VPNs can slow down the user’s internet connection.
Users on the free side of a VPN provider’s service will often take a back seat to paying customers when it comes to bandwidth availability. Also, free VPNs are supported by internet advertisers. Ad popups can slow browser performance as they load in the background, jump around the page and provide a distracting user experience.
3. Free VPNs are a tempting secondary target for hackers.
VPN Mentor found that free VPNs were more likely to contain malware than their paid counterparts. Not surprisingly, most of the malware in the free VPNs were related to advertising.
Finally, in other alarming developments, one VPN provider freely admits making money by selling the user’s device processing power—i.e., its bandwidth–to paying customers. That same provider opened the gates to a botnet network attack where free VPN users had their networks taken over by cyber-criminals.
Why Premium VPNs are a better choice
Invest just a few dollars per month in a VPN service like Surfshark, for the following benefits:
- A Premium VPN like Surfshark can guarantee a “no-logs” policy where the user is never tracked online. Surfshark, for example, maintains no connection or activity logs for any user.
- Premium VPN services provide best-in-class connections and top-grade 256-bit encryption.
- Data leakage is not a problem with a premium VPN. For example, Surfshark features a “kill switch” that will close the user’s connection if the VPN server goes down.
- The best premium VPN hides the user’s web activity from their internet provider. The IP cannot detect VPN use.
- Premium VPNs are most effective in bypassing geo-blocking. Users can, for example, log on to overseas Netflix services, which routinely block free VPN proxies.
- A paid VPN service like Surfshark can provide attractive extras. For example, a web app called CleanWeb™ blocks ads, trackers, malware and phishing attempts.
Summary and Conclusion
There are many free VPN services available, but they are stripped down and less secure versions of what full featured versions offer. Free or premium, a VPN alone will not protect the user from cyber crime and hacks. A VPN must be part of an overall strategy that includes malware protection and online security consciousness.
Free VPNs can expose the user’s online activity through tracking. Free VPN connections are often slower and come with intrusive ads and malware. Premium VPNs like Surfshark have a “no-logs” policy, provide faster and more secure, leak-proof connections, and do a better job in bypassing geo-blocking.
Paid VPN services like Surfshark also provide extra features like ad blockers, and detection of malware and phishing attempts.