Free VPNs May Still Come with a Price
If we’re being honest, many of us are consuming a lot of online content these days, whether it be for work, education, or sheer entertainment. I know my family is trying to balance what we need to do online, like meetings and classes, with fun activities like streaming movies, given that we are all spending more time safely at home.
But as a security professional what I’m really concerned about is how we are connecting to all this digital content. There has been a surge in VPN (virtual private network) downloads so far this year, showing that users are concerned about their online privacy, which is a good thing.
As you may know, a personal VPN is simply a piece of software that can establish a secure tunnel over the internet, offering you both privacy and freedom from IP-based tracking. It protects your identity and financial information by encrypting, or scrambling, the data that flows through the tunnel, and can mask your true location, making it appear as though you are connecting from somewhere else.
However, the myriad of VPN options—from free, to paid, to “freemium” (limited products offered on a trial basis for free, hoping customers will invest in more comprehensive, paid versions)—can be confusing and cause some customers to walk away unprotected. This is unfortunate, because here at McAfee we’ve recorded a growing number of network attacks, including targeted attacks against a variety of business and educational enterprises.
These threats mean that we need to do our best to ensure that our sensitive information stays safe, which is why I’d like to take a look at the difference between free VPNs and premium VPNs.
Sometimes a VPN is included in more robust security software, as it is in McAfee® Total Protection, but often it is a standalone tool, that is offered either at a monthly subscription rate, or for free. While it may be tempting to go for a free option, there are some serious considerations that you should take to heart.
Free VPNs – Risky Business
Since free VPNs are not making money directly from their users, many make revenue indirectly, through advertising. This means that not only are users bombarded with ads, they are also exposed to tracking, and potentially malware. In fact, one study of 283 free VPN providers found that 72% included trackers. This is not that surprising, given that advertisers depend on gathering your personal data to better target their ads.
But beyond the frustration of ads, slowness, and upgrade prompts is the fact that some free VPN tools include malware that can put your sensitive information at risk. The same study found that 38% of the free VPN applications in the Google Play Store were found to have malware, such as keyloggers, and some even stole the data off of users’ devices.
Also concerning is how these free providers handle your data. In one worrying incident, a VPN provider exposed thousands of user logs and API access records openly on the web, including passwords and identity information.
Privacy Worth Paying For – Paid VPN Benefits
VPNs are critical tools for enhancing our privacy and shouldn’t be an avenue for potentially opening the door to new risks. That’s why I always advise users to look for a paid VPN with the following features:
Unlimited Bandwidth —You want your network connection to stay secured no matter how much time you spend online.
Speedy Performance—We all know how frustrating a sluggish internet connection can be when you are trying to get things done. Whether connecting for productivity, education, or entertainment, we are all dependent on bandwidth. That’s why it’s important to choose a high-speed VPN that enhances your privacy, without sacrificing the quality of your connection.
Multiple Device Protection—These days many of us toggle between mobile devices, laptops, and computers, so they should all be able to connect securely.
Less Battery Drain—Some free mobile VPNs zap your battery life, making users less likely to stay protected. You shouldn’t have to choose between your battery life and safeguarding your privacy.
Ease of Use— As I’ve written recently, for technology to really work it has to be convenient. After all, these technologies should power your connected life, not serve as a hindrance.
Fortunately, we don’t have to sacrifice convenience, or pay high prices, for a VPN that can offer a high level of privacy and protection. A comprehensive security suite like McAfee Total Protection includes our McAfee® Safe Connect standalone VPN with auto-renewal and takes the worry out of connecting, so you can focus on what’s important to you and your family, and enjoy quality time together.