4 Hidden Costs of A ‘Free’ VPN

4 Hidden Costs of A ‘Free’ VPN

In Uncategorized by bertie

As more employees work from home, more businesses are calling for them to use a virtual private network.

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, create a secure internet connection wherever you choose to browse — be that at home, in the office, or on a public WiFi connection — to keep your data private. 

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, exploding demand has led to a surge in free VPN providers. And while many of the products claim to offer a safe, secure, and private online experience free-of-charge, we’re seeing users unwittingly expose sensitive data via less-than-secure services.

After all, VPNs are expensive to run. They require vast networks of servers and robust infrastructure to keep devices secure. And like every business, they need to turn a profit. 

If you’re currently using (or considering) a free VPN, please stop and think:

— ‘How does this business make money?’ 

It could be using one of several tricks of the internet trade to generate revenue. If it is, this free VPN could actually be making you less safe online.

Spare three minutes of your day, and you’ll find out how.

How Free VPNs Make You Less Secure Online

The best providers charge a small fee to make money. That way, you can see all the costs upfront and know the level of service to expect.

Free products make money in less transparent ways. They force you to trawl ‘Privacy Policies’ or ‘Terms of Service’ to understand how a free service could come at a cost to your privacy by doing any of the following:

1. Tracking Your Activity

When you use a product to keep your data out of sight, it’s unnerving to learn a third-party may be tracking your digital footsteps.

A review of 283 VPN apps found that 72% of free VPNs use third-party trackers. This means nearly three-quarters of services are keeping tabs on the clients they’ve sworn to protect. And this begs the question, ‘Why do they need to know what I’m doing online?’ The reason…

So that the service provider can sell your browsing data to advertisers who can then better target you with ads. Meaning rather than keeping you out of the crosshairs, the VPN is putting you in the center of the advertiser’s sights by selling the information you’re trying to safeguard — but you’d only know this was the case if you found the line in the privacy policy that reads:

‘We sometimes use advertisements to support our service, which may use technology such as cookies and web beacons. Our advertising partners’ use of cookies enables them and their partners to serve ads based on your usage data.”

The selling of data is a small price to pay for some, but an ironic injustice for others: if you’re the latter, a premium VPN will offer the protection you crave.

2. Exposing Your Device To Malware

VPNs exist to stop hackers from accessing your device.

It’s somewhat alarming to learn that certain free services contain malware. The same analysis of 283 VPN apps revealed upwards of 38% of free VPN services show signs of cyber-risks, which makes sense given what we’ve just learned: free VPNs make lots of money off targeted advertising.

And a lot of advertising links back to malware. Pay for the service, on the other hand, and the VPN should offer an ad-blocker as standard — keeping malware at arm’s length.

3. Selling Your Bandwidth

As if making money off your personal data isn’t enough, some VPNs find even more intrusive ways to profit from users…

Say, by selling your device’s processing power. In doing so, VPNs essentially use your bandwidth to power their paid-for service, meaning running costs are lower, and the provider can generate a higher margin. The VPN may spin the setup in altogether more favorable terms by saying,

“Users who want to enjoy the network without contributing their idle resources can do so by joining the premium service for $5 per month.”

…but this only translates to, ‘if you don’t want us profiting from your bandwidth, then pay.’

You may think losing excess bandwidth isn’t a concern: it’s surplus to requirements, after all. However, one brand which follows the practice was recently taken over by a botnet (a botnet uses individual computers to carry out a cyberattack) — which could mean:

  • If you let a free VPN use your bandwidth…
  • …and the VPN becomes the victim of a botnet…
  • …a cyber-criminal can use your device to power their crimewave.

And botnet attacks are on the rise. While they prey on more vulnerable networks. If you choose a free service, you could inadvertently involve your device in criminal activity.

4. Slowing Down Your Internet Connection

“…But that’s not putting me at risk, right?” Right, a slow internet connection isn’t a sign of an insecure connection — however, if your internet speed drops off when you connect to your VPN:

  • It may either signal that your VPN provider is displaying lots of ads (which come with the risks highlighted in point two)…
  • Or the VPN could be selling your bandwidth to power its premium service

Either way, be wary of the dangers of a slow VPN connection.

Why It Pays To Pay For A VPN.

Even the best virtual private network apps aren’t that expensive. 

You can subscribe to most for just a few dollars a month as well as enjoy a thirty-day free trial of their paid-for service. And if you continue to pay, you’ll not only avoid the hidden costs. 

You’ll enjoy many benefits, including:

  • Absolute security: no third-party trackers, no malware, no weaknesses at all
  • Unlimited usage: no data restrictions, no slow browsing speeds
  • Multi-device protection: keep your desktop, laptop, and smartphone secure
  • Unrestricted access: stream Netflix, Hulu, and other content from anywhere in the world by bypassing geo-blockers

The temptations of a free service are easy to understand. And if the hidden costs don’t concern you, by all means, choose a top-rated free service (some are incredibly secure, after all).

But if you want absolute peace-of-mind…

It always pays — to pay.

———

A VPN is a great way to guarantee network security.

Give Mid-Coast Tech a call on 207-223-7594, and we can help you get your VPN set up in no time.