Hidden Risks with Using a Free VPN Service (Quick Guide)
The dangers netizens have to face on the internet are growing speedily. Hackers and cybercriminals continue to be innovative with the methods and fervency of their attacks. Due to the advancements in technology, many companies now have most of their operations online. Family and friends across borders keep in touch using various online systems. All of these present opportunities to various bad actors.
One way users have found to stay safe is through using a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is software that encrypts your internet connection. It creates a secure tunnel for your internet traffic to pass through. This makes sure that your data is not exposed to any form of security threats.
VPNs are of two forms: free and paid. Many people are opting for the free versions because of the perceived benefits they obtain using them. However, these free providers also come with hidden risks for users. In this review, we look at the hidden threats users can face using a free VPN service.
What are Free VPNs?
Free VPNs are free because they do not charge any subscription fees. Typically, a paid VPN requires users to make periodic payments. These payments could be monthly, bi-monthly or annually. Some go as far as offering users the option of paying for up to 3 years worth of subscription at one go. The prices for the plans vary across the VPNs, although, generally, the prices reduce the longer the plan is for.
On the other hand, free providers do not require that users make payments before getting on the service. Thus, you need only download, install and run the VPN service. Free providers fall into two distinct categories: totally free VPN providers and providers who offer free trials. For the totally free ones, users need not make any payments at all before using the service. Additionally, there is usually no limit on the time length the user can use the VPN service. For providers who offer free trials, users use the service for varying periods before the offer gets cut off. Free trial periods run from within 3 to 7 days. Needless to say, providers in this category are more than those in the former.
The advantage of free providers is that the VPN protection comes at no cost. Thus, you get the improved security and other perks a VPN provides free. However, this gift also has some downsides. In the next section, we look at some of the dangers of using a free VPN.
Hidden Risks with Using a Free VPN Service
When it comes down to it, free VPNs are anything but free. You expose yourself to dangers and even compromise your security when you take advantage of such offers. Here are the specific risks you get exposed to with a free VPN service.
1. Logging and Data Retention
This is perhaps one of the biggest security threats you can face with a free VPN. Unfortunately, it is also the commonest.
Free VPNs are wont to track and gather user data. You must understand that when you use a VPN service, it blocks third parties from accessing your data. Third parties in this scenario include your Internet Service Provider, hackers, and even the government. However, because VPNs run your traffic through their service, they have access to your data. They can track, collate and sell your data to anyone they want to – and some actually do that.
In the vast majority of cases, these providers sell their data to third-party advertisers. Hence, these advertisers use the information to better target individuals they want to advertise to. This is the reason you often get bombarded with ads after using a freer VPN service. In general, this is harmless enough.
However, your data could fall into the wrong hands this way. These providers could deliberately sell your details to hackers, or your details could get to cybercriminals if the provider is careless. Thus, while looking to keep yourself safe, you could be opening yourself up to more security challenges.
Admittedly, some of these providers disclose that they track and sell users’ data to third parties. However, not so many people read through the privacy policies of providers before jumping on an offer. Even more so, others do not bother revealing that they collate or use users’ data. In any case, it is best to avoid any service that logs and tracks your data – including free VPN services.
2. Subpar Security Features
As stated in the introduction, cybercriminals are employing more sophisticated measures to access users’ data. Brilliant hackers can get around firewalls and algorithms set up to fight them off. Thus, providers who will keep you safe need great security features to stand a chance against these bad actors. Features that have become the mainstay of great VPN providers include the AES 256-bit encryption model, support for great security protocols, etc.
Unfortunately, free providers often do not have these security features. Due to a lack of consistent revenue, they often do not upgrade their services to meet global standards. Therefore, they lack some of the features just listed above. The result is that hackers get around their blocks easily and are able to access users’ data directly. If you use a free provider, you could actually be making yourself a target of attacks.
3. Security Breaches
The primary job of a VPN is to keep you safe from cyberattacks of any form. Thus, it is ironic that free VPNs can do the exact opposite. Some of these providers release apps infected with malware and adware of all sorts. These bugs can affect your device (and your security) in different ways. For instance, it is not uncommon to notice that your device’s battery life gets reduced when you use any such service.
However, even beyond that, bugs could host potentially dangerous malware. They could open up a back channel for hackers to have access to your information. Hence, beyond the minor glitch that these bugs could cause you, there are potentially disturbing risks you could face when such incidents occur. Paid VPN providers, on the other hand, usually employ malware and adware blockers. They make sure that external bugs do not interrupt your service or affect your security.
4. Data Caps
Most free VPNs have a cap on the amount of data you can expend on their service. Others combine this with a periodic limit, say 3 days or 7 days. As soon as your data limit expires, you get cut off from the service. This may not seem dangerous unless you look closely at it. When your data limit gets exhausted while you are carrying out a sensitive task online, you immediately get exposed. For instance, torrenting is one of the high-risk tasks you can carry out on the internet. Most enthusiasts use a VPN to keep safe. When you use a free VPN, and your data cap gets exhausted midway, you can get exposed. Hackers and cybercriminals on the service can then access and even attack you.
5. Speed Throttling
Free providers are also famed for deliberating throttling the speed of their users. They do this to incentivize them to get on a paid subscription offer. In other cases, these providers slow down users’ speed so that paid users can have blazing-fast security. Whatever the reason is, lags and slow speed could also expose you to danger.
As explained above, hackers wait for any window of opportunity to attack internet users. When your internet speed lags, a window pops open, and bad actors can swoop in then. Thus, it might even be better to avoid a free VPN altogether as you will be more mindful of security threats when you aren’t deceived by the supposed security from a free provider.
It may seem like a good bargain taking advantage of a free VPN provider’s offers. However, it really is not. You could be opening yourself up to security challenges this way. Most free providers are not often transparent about the security challenges you could face using their services. Fortunately, we have listed some of them here. If you are looking for a free VPN service you could use momentarily, your best option is to use a paid VPN provider’s money-back window offer. We have discussed two of the best providers that offer such services.