Is a VPN Safe to Use? Or Is It a Dangerous Service?
Many users believe that a VPN is a guarantee of safe and anonymous web surfing.
But as a recent study has shown, in many ways this is nothing more than a misconception. It turns out that many services are not able to properly ensure security on the network, and some themselves transmit data to third parties.
Why should you stop using free VPN services and what is better to use instead? Read our article.
VPN services with a free trial period here.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a “virtual private network” — that is, a network enclosed in a “capsule” inside another network (in our case, the internet.) The “capsule” is the encryption of traffic for an outside observer.
According to the original idea, the VPN was supposed to perform the functions of combining remote computers into a single network, including devices not registered in this network, and later such functions as anonymity appeared
In general, the work of a VPN is very similar to a proxy server. All requests to the remote server pass through the internet provider to the intermediate server, and from it, you can access the blocked resource.
Only unlike a proxy server, a VPN allows you to create end-to-end encryption of traffic, which in its way completely protects the channel along the entire route. Therefore, using a VPN channel is preferable, because it allows you to save your data from hacker attacks.
It is worth noting that while the use of VPN services may not violate the law, the actions that are performed in the created encrypted channel may violate the law.
What is the difference between paid VPNs and free ones?
VPN services differ in security, purpose, protocols, and access price. In the latter, the difference between paid, and free solutions are particularly interesting.
In the case of paid VPN services, there are no questions about monetization. The user pays money for using private the network, and these funds cover technical expenses, employee salaries, and other costs.
It’s more difficult with free VPNs. There is no charity, so the benefit of the owners is indirect. They could be monetized by advertising, but the implementation in that case is problematic. So the question arises — what’s the catch?!
And it’s all about the cooperation of the owners of VPN services with partners who are interested in the information transmitted with their help.
What is the problem with a free VPN?
The main problem is that it is an intermediary that provides communication between the user and the site. And what this intermediary does with traffic is unclear.
For example, employees of the TheNextWeb site investigated the work of 117 popular VPN services. It turned out that 26 of them collected logs and other data, although they claimed in user agreements that they did not conduct surveillance of their users.
Another problem is anonymity on the web. Most users do not pay attention to this, because by and large, they are not doing anything illegal. However, there are situations when anonymity is necessary. But free VPNs often do not hide the real IP address. Therefore, you should think before trying to maintain total privacy through a free service. There may not be anonymity there, despite marketing promises.
Are all paid VPN services reliable?
Most VPNs do not have any free features at all — unless there is a short test drive for a few hours or a couple of days.
But really good companies have an honest return policy within 30 days, as a rule. And it works — I checked it myself once on Proton VPN.
Firstly, all commercial VPN services have their basic advantages over any “free” ones that are looked at first. For example, it concerns speed, connection stability, traffic volume per day/month, and protection.
Secondly, there is no way to avoid a fly in the ointment. Some paid services also distinguished themselves on several points above. For example, in VPN Hotspot, according to the results of an independent test, automatic redirection of traffic from visitors to various sites on the internet to partner sites was revealed.
1. Viruses, malicious code in programs
Is a VPN safe for your PC? More than 50% of tested free VPNs contained malicious code.
To connect to any VPN, we use special programs (each VPN provider company has its own), which we install on the device. It is not known what can be written in the application code. It turns out that dangerous virus scripts are often specially prescribed there.
Then everything depends on the goals pursued by the developers of this VPN application: from showing advertising banners to users anywhere, to getting remote access to a computer (or smartphone) with all the consequences.
2. Sale of personal data with serious consequences
A typical user will not suspect that data about them is freely leaking into the network, being transferred to 3rd parties and even sold for the implementation of the dirtiest plans by an unscrupulous company — for example, to steal money from accounts.
Storing, transferring, or selling personal information about “clients” is one of the most popular ways to compensate for the cost of maintaining free VPN services.
Here is how that can pose risks for users (we will list only the main ones):
- Redirecting traffic to partner resources of interest to the company. For example, you go to an online store, and you are redirected to another resource to earn money on you through a third-party affiliate program.
- Your device (it doesn’t matter if it’s a computer or a phone) can be used as a separate “server” and other users of the company can connect through you.
- VPN services can sell your bandwidth. And then not only will websites and online applications open slower, but there is also a risk of all sorts of communities using your bandwidth for criminal purposes.
- In the case of selling data to 3rd parties whose goal, in turn, is to earn even more from you, you can easily become a victim of cybercriminals stealing logins and passwords to websites and programs — all the way up to stealing money from accounts.
- The transmitted user information that companies collect may contain everything you do on the internet. For example, what sites you visit, what you are looking for in search engines, what data you send and receive, and from where you connect to the network. The information can be used by 3rd parties as they like, and you can also accidentally become interesting to the authorities.
- Showing you personal advertisements, since your data can be transmitted to advertisers who know what you are looking for and what you are interested in.
3. Lack of encryption, data leakage to the network
In free VPNs, in addition to the fact that the companies themselves earn on their users in more than 90% of cases in different ways, they also do not provide high-quality protection of their network tunnels (with rare exceptions.)
Imagine you are transmitting a packet of information over the internet which, due to weak or missing encryption, is intercepted by someone else. Or with an unstable connection, in the event of an abrupt interruption of VPN access, the data remains unprotected, or “naked.”
All this is just as dangerous as working in an unsecured Wi-Fi network under the same password for all users and paying for something in an online store or interacting with an online bank. Data can be intercepted.
Good companies provide a strong level of encryption (military level) of requests, for example, AES-256 with appropriate security protocols such as OpenVPN and the complete absence of data leaks into the network.
4. Built-in advertising in applications and on websites
Perhaps this is the most harmless issue. Only as practice shows, the vast majority of free VPNs are not limited to this at all and earn extra money on everything listed above.
The point is, for the company to somehow cover its costs of supporting people using the product for free, they show ads.
In this way, VPN owners either bring in new paying customers who are fed up with the ads and decide to buy full access to get rid of them, or they earn money from users clicking on ads (if they don’t sell you to other advertisers, as well).
5. Dangerous VPN installation services
Among other things, a type of fraud associated with installing a VPN for money has been gaining popularity recently.
It is important to know 2 things:
Installing and configuring absolutely any VPN is no more difficult than any other simple program. If you have installed anything on your computer and phone at least once, then you will be able to do it yourself 100%. So why pay a few hundred dollars for it?
Remember that those offering such services are not honest people, and they profit from increased demand for VPNs due to the blocking of numerous internet resources in various locations.
How not to leave traces on the internet and not be in danger
Do you want to be safe and secure on the internet? So that no one knows your current location, your search history, personal correspondence, and much more?
Then forget about insecure VPN services. It’s time to abandon scam projects and pay attention to the decentralized Utopia P2P network.
In this article, you can find more information about Utopia P2P.
Utopia P2P is a decentralized blockchain ecosystem built on peer-to-peer architecture without a single data storage server. It ensures users’ anonymity, security, privacy, and data confidentiality.
Utopia is a place free from censorship, surveillance, data tracking, and data storage. No one knows the real name and address of the users, because the registration is anonymous. You do not need to enter personal data: name, phone number, passport data, email address, etc.
For the convenience of users, the network has all the built-in tools you need for communication, information retrieval, data transfer, making online payments, and much more. Most importantly, all tools can work simultaneously without additional registration in each of them.
In this article, we compared Utopia P2P with VPN services. You can read it and decide what is best for you.
Imagine a VPN in the form of a special corridor through which your data goes to bypass closed doors or locks. If you paid for the passage, no one is interested in your information. If not, there is a camera in this corridor that captures the actions.
At the same time, there is not just a flow of information about the sites you use along the corridor. Logins, passwords, and other information that you value can go with it hand in hand.
Given all the information described above, it’s worth thinking a few times before using VPN services.