VPNs are widely used to overcome geographical obstruction,
to access a remote network securely, and other different purposes. They are
extensively used by organizations to share resources across
various office locations. In recent times, VPNs have gained
widespread usage in bypassing country restrictions to access blocked services.
When people search the internet for ways to bypass website
restrictions, they have a natural inclination to find and opt
for free VPN services. Most people do not want to pay for a
service that they might not use frequently. But, should we use
free VPN services? Let’s find out if they really deliver the
services they promise.
Is A Free VPN Safe To Use?
In a recent study by The Commonwealth
Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(CSIRO),
researchers analyzed 283 Android VPN apps to study their impact
on user’s privacy and security. They found out that 75% of the
tested apps used third-party tracking libraries, and hence,
they can’t be trusted. 82% of the apps required permissions to
access sensitive resources such as user accounts and text
messages. Worst of all, the study published that more than 38%
had malware presence such as adware, trojan, malvertising,
riskware, and spyware.
Popular VPNs such as VPN Free, Tigervpns, Rocket VPN,
Cyberghost and EasyOvpn, which have been downloaded more
than a million times, were found out to be malicious.
“18% of the VPN apps implement tunneling protocols without
encryption despite promising online anonymity and security to
their users. In fact, approximately 84% and 66% of the analyzed
VPN apps do not tunnel IPv6 and DNS traffic through the tunnel
interface respectively due to lack of IPv6 support,
misconfigurations or developer-induced errors,” the study
Are Free VPNs really Free?
The short answer is: No. No VPN provider will offer their
services totally free for an unlimited amount of time. If you
are not paying your money, then rest assured that you are
paying them in other ways. The same situation was observed in
Facebook-owned Onavo VPN’s case.
Let’s look at some of the common ways through which free VPN
providers exploit you:
1. Tracking your data and selling it for profit
VPN encrypts and tunnels your data so your ISP cannot see
what you are doing online. This means ISPs can’t keep track of
you, but the VPN provider can. Free VPNs collect user data
through tracking libraries, which they can sell for advertising
and analytics to some other agency. Betternet’s free VPN app
was found to contain 14 different tracking libraries.
Injecting malware to your device is one of the common traits in
free VPNs. Such malware can be used to steal sensitive
information from your device or to encrypt your data as evident
from recent ransomware attacks.
3. Stealing of Bandwidth
Free VPNs might also be stealing your bandwidth and selling it
to other organizations. Would you like your PC resources to be
used to move traffic on the internet? Apparently, Hola VPN did
it. Israel-based Hola was found to be stealing bandwidth
from users and then reselling it through its sister
company Luminati. You can read this article to know
about how Hola duped its customers.
4. Browser Hijacking
This refers to redirecting your browser to websites without
your permission. HotspotShield free VPN promises its users
shielded connections, security, privacy enhancement and ad-free
browsing. However, the CSIRO study found that HotspotShield
redirects user traffic to alibaba.com and ebay.com through its
partner networks Conversant Media and Viglink, respectively.
The study mentions that “AnchorFree’s VPN app HotspotShield
performs redirection of e-commerce traffic to partnering
domains. When a client connects through the VPN to access
specific web domains, the app leverages a proxy that intercepts
and redirects the HTTP requests to partner websites.”
Which free VPNs are safe to use?
There are free VPNs which are indeed safe to use. Deny services
that promise unlimited free VPNs. They monetize through other
fraudulent practices and can impose a risk to your data and
Freemium VPNs give you the option to try out their
services for a limited amount of time with limited bandwidth.
It is generally a safe bet to use free services from VPN
providers that provide paid services after a limited amount of
time. However, such services will be slow and unreliable. If
you are planning to use VPN frequently, go for the paid services like Private
Internet Access as they are cheap nowadays. Some of the
recommended options are:
Hopefully, we have answered your question “Is A Free VPN
Safe To Use?” If you want to know more about the working of VPN
and its different components, don’t forget to read
our dedicated article on