Virtual private networks (VPNs) have become increasingly popular over the last few years as users wish to find ways to ensure their privacy online or circumvent geo-blocking systems. While there are many high quality VPN providers offering a reputable service, it’s also possible to find websites offering apparently free VPNs.
Are these free VPNs just a convenient service or is there something about them that makes them unsafe? Unfortunately, with technology like a VPN it can be unwise to trust free services because you can never be sure with what you are getting. Remember that you are trusting any VPN provider with your data. It’s a misconception that using a VPN hides your online activity. In fact the VPN provider knows exactly what you are doing. Many paid services offer confidentially and privacy, but with free VPNs you can’t really rely on their service to provide this kind of protection.
Why are free VPNs unsafe?
If you are using a free VPN service it may be the case that the provider is making money from you in a different way than simply having you pay from your bank account. In this case the VPN service may be run by scammers. For example, it may be possible that your data could be stolen and then sold on. They might also look to use tactics such as blackmail as they will have full access to your internet history while you are using the VPN.
Even in the case that the free service isn’t deliberately trying to defraud you, it may be that the service simply is not secure. Free VPN providers have less vested interest in ensuring that the service they provide is good for their customers, so it could be the case that they don’t put in the necessary safety precautions.
Even if it’s safe, it probably isn’t good
Remember that security isn’t the only reason to avoid a free VPN service. It’s important to ask yourself – if a VPN is not free to run for the provider, how are they able to run the service? Unless they are willing to simply take the loss of revenue purely for your benefit, they are finding a way to make money from it. This could mean that there are additional adverts built into the service.
It’s also true that you’re likely to receive a poor service from a free VPN with slow speeds and even an unreliable connection that makes browsing very frustrating.
How to spot a bad free VPN
There are certain signs that you can look out for to check whether the VPN service you’re considering is legitimate or not. Firstly, it’s worth just using a common sense approach when looking at the website. Does it look professional or is it a template that could have been set up by anyone? Make sure that you check around for contact details and advice on how to deal with any problems that you encounter while using the service. If those details are hard to find or just don’t exist, then it is unlikely to be a legitimate service.
It’s also worth checking whether there is an option to upgrade the service to ‘premium’ – simply whether they are interested in making money in the normal way. If there is no paid upgrade feature, then this service makes all of its money some way other than charging its users.
You should also check that the service doesn’t require you to download any software in order to connect to the network. Most legitimate VPN services don’t make use of software so this is likely some form of malware that they are hoping to infect your computer with.