VPNs are essential security tools. Without them, hackers would be able to spy on your online traffic and steal your sensitive data. Not to mention advertisers will have an easy time tracking your online movements and preferences with your IP address.
If you decided to start using a VPN, you probably thought of one thing – why not use a free VPN instead of a paid one? It’s more convenient, after all.
That’s true, but you have to ask yourself – are free VPNs secure to begin with? Not all VPN services are trustworthy, after all – especially free ones.
The tl;dr is that no, they aren’t more secure than paid VPNs. If you want to find out why, keep reading – we’ll cover all you need to know in this article.
Why Free VPNs Aren’t Safe to Use
Here are the main reasons we find it hard to trust free VPNs:
They Log & Sell Your Data
Despite being free, these VPN providers still need to make a living. And they do that with your data. Don’t forget – if the service is free, you’re the product.
Basically, free VPNs keep usage logs – they collect your IP address and browsing history. Then, they sell that data to advertisers (who pay a lot of money for it). Soon after, you’ll start getting bombarded with creepy personalized ads everywhere you go online.
They Lack Important Security Features
Free VPNs often offer poor security. They don’t use bank-grade encryption as paid VPNs do, and they don’t have high-end VPN protocols (like OpenVPN and WireGuard). Instead, they use unsafe protocols like PPTP (whose encryption can be cracked).
Also, free VPNs often don’t have kill switches – security features that shut down your online access when the VPN disconnects (to prevent traffic leaks).
And free VPNs usually lack ad blockers. As the name implies, those features block ads. However, they can also block malicious sites to keep you safe from phishing.
They Expose You to Ads & Malware
We know that free VPNs are supposed to be, well, free. But they still have to make money somehow – renting servers isn’t free or cheap!
Since they don’t ask users for money, free VPNs do something else – they expose users to ads to make a profit. If that wasn’t annoying enough, some ads might also be malicious!
What’s more, some free VPNs (especially the ones you find on Google Play) were found to contain malware. Downloading and installing them on your device means letting hackers take over your personal data.
They Hijack Your Bandwidth
Some free VPNs operate on a peer-to-peer model. That means that they don’t use rented servers. Instead, you connect to the Internet using other people’s IPs, and they do the same in turn (they browse the web with your IP).
Unfortunately, that means people can use your IP to do illegal things – like downloading copyrighted materials, making bomb threats, harassing people, or worse.
Also, the P2P VPN could sell your bandwidth to the highest bidder – as Hola did in 2015. That essentially means your network can be turned into a botnet – you know the kind of botnet that gets used in DDoS attacks!
They Leak Your Data
Free VPNs suffer data leaks very often. That means the VPN doesn’t encrypt all your traffic – more often than not, your IP or DNS traffic is left exposed.
We tested over 50 free VPNs for leaks, and 40 of them always suffered an IPv6, DNS, or WebRTC leak (or all of them).
If you want to run a leak test yourself, use this tool. Connect to it without the VPN, take a screenshot of the result, and then use it while connected to the VPN. Compare the results with the screenshot – if you see your original IP and DNS addresses, you’re dealing with a leak.
Other Reasons Free VPNs Aren’t Good
- They have very slow speeds.
- They have bandwidth caps.
- The apps are usually buggy and don’t work well (they crash a lot).
- There’s little to no customer support. You either have to rely on a dead forum or wait for days to get an email reply (which isn’t usually helpful).
Are All Free VPNs Dangerous?
Not exactly – there is such a thing as a “good” free VPN, one that’s trustworthy and safe to use.
Basically, some free VPNs have a legitimate business model – they’re not entirely free. By that, we mean the VPNs have a free plan and paid plans (so they have a sustainable business model).
So should you use a free VPN like that?
Well, before you do, here’s something you should know – legitimate free VPNs come with limitations. They often:
- Limit how much data you can use each month or day (500 MB or 2 GB).
- The speeds on the free plans are slower than on the paid plans.
- You don’t get access to all the features with the free plan.
- You can’t torrent or unblock streaming sites.
- The free plan only gives you access to a few VPN server locations.
- With the free plan, you don’t get dedicated customer support (just an FAQ section).
ProtonVPN is a good example of a legitimate VPN that has a good free plan. It’s one of the only free VPN plans that have unlimited bandwidth and fast speeds. But you can only use the VPN on one device at a time, and you’re limited to three VPN server locations.
Overall, legitimate free VPN plans are a good way to test the VPN before you buy it. But you’re still better off with a paid VPN.
Bottom Line – Should You Use a Free VPN or Not?
We don’t recommend doing that. The top paid VPNs have cheap long-term plans and good refunds (usually 30-day money-back guarantees). It’s better to just pay for a good service than risk your data and deal with an annoying online experience (slow speeds, bandwidth caps, no streaming, etc.).
How do you feel about free VPNs, though – do you think they’re okay or unsafe? Please let us know in the comments.