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The Dark Side of Free VPNs: Hidden Dangers and How to Choose Safely

Miklos Zoltan

By Miklos Zoltan . 18 June 2024

Founder - Privacy Affairs

Alex Popa

Fact-Checked this

If you’re like many internet users, you’ve probably been tempted by the allure of free VPNs.

After all, who doesn’t love a good freebie? But before you hit that download button, it’s important to understand the hidden dangers lurking behind many free VPN services.

In this article, I’ll shed light on the risks associated with free VPNs, provide real-world examples of compromised security and privacy, and offer tips on how to choose a safe and reliable VPN service.

Let’s dive in!

The Hidden Dangers of Free VPNs

While free VPNs might seem like a cost-effective way to secure your online activities, they often come with significant risks. Here are some of the main dangers you should be aware of:

1. Data Logging and Selling:

Many free VPNs generate revenue by logging your online activities and selling your data to third parties.

This completely defeats the purpose of using a VPN for privacy. Your browsing history, personal information, and even your IP address can be tracked and sold to advertisers or other entities.

2. Weak Encryption:

Free VPNs often use outdated or weak encryption methods, which means your data is not as secure as you might think.

Hackers and cybercriminals can potentially intercept your data, putting your personal information at risk.

3. Malware and Adware:

Some free VPNs come bundled with malware or adware. Instead of protecting your device, these malicious programs can compromise your security, steal sensitive information, and bombard you with unwanted ads.

4. Limited Bandwidth and Speeds:

Free VPNs usually have limitations on bandwidth and connection speeds.

This can result in a frustrating user experience, especially if you’re trying to stream videos, play online games, or download large files.

5. Unreliable Connections:

Many free VPNs have a limited number of servers, leading to overcrowded and slow connections.

Additionally, free VPNs often lack the resources to maintain and update their servers, resulting in frequent disconnections and downtime.

6. Lack of Customer Support:

If you encounter issues while using a free VPN, you’re often on your own.

Free VPNs typically don’t offer reliable customer support, leaving you without assistance when you need it most.

Real-World Examples of Free VPNs Compromising User Security and Privacy

Several free VPNs have made headlines for compromising their users’ security and privacy. Here are a few notable examples:

1. Hola VPN:

Hola VPN, a popular free VPN service, was found to be selling its users’ bandwidth to a third-party botnet.

This means that users’ internet connections could be hijacked and used for malicious activities without their knowledge. The company faced significant backlash for this unethical practice.

2. Hotspot Shield:

Hotspot Shield, a free VPN with millions of users, was accused of intercepting and redirecting user traffic to partner websites, as well as inserting tracking cookies into users’ browsers.

These actions were in direct contradiction to the company’s claims of protecting user privacy.

3. Betternet:

Betternet, another widely used free VPN, was found to have poor security practices and a high number of embedded tracking libraries.

An academic study revealed that Betternet’s app contained 14 different tracking libraries, compromising user privacy instead of protecting it.

4. VPNMaster:

VPNMaster was found to have serious security vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to intercept user data.

Additionally, the service was caught logging user activity and selling it to third parties, despite claiming to have a strict no-logs policy.

5. SuperVPN:

SuperVPN, a free VPN service with millions of downloads, was discovered to be riddled with malware.

Researchers found that the app exposed users to man-in-the-middle attacks, allowing attackers to intercept and manipulate users’ data.

How to Choose a Safe VPN

Given the risks associated with free VPNs, it’s crucial to choose a VPN service that prioritizes your privacy and security. Here are some tips to help you make a safe choice:

1. Look for a No-Logs Policy:

Choose a VPN that has a strict no-logs policy. This means they don’t keep records of your online activities, ensuring your privacy is protected.

Reputable VPNs are transparent about their logging policies, so make sure to read the privacy policy.

2. Strong Encryption:

Opt for a VPN that uses strong encryption standards like AES-256. This ensures that your data is protected from hackers and cyber threats.

Additionally, look for VPNs that support secure protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard.

3. Positive Reviews and Reputation:

Do some research and read reviews from trusted sources. Look for VPNs with a good reputation and positive feedback from users.

4. Transparent Ownership:

Choose a VPN provider that is transparent about its ownership and location.

VPNs based in countries with strong privacy laws (like Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands) are often more reliable when it comes to protecting user data.

5. Trial Periods and Money-Back Guarantees:

Many reputable VPNs offer free trials or money-back guarantees.

This allows you to test the service risk-free and see if it meets your needs. Avoid VPNs that don’t offer any form of guarantee.

6. Comprehensive Features:

Look for VPNs that offer a range of features, such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling.

These features enhance your security and provide greater control over your VPN connection.

Recommended VPNs

Based on the above criteria, here are some highly recommended VPN services that prioritize your privacy and security:

1. ExpressVPN:

ExpressVPN is known for its strong security features, no-logs policy, and fast connection speeds.

It uses AES-256 encryption and supports multiple secure protocols. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try it risk-free.

2. NordVPN:

NordVPN offers robust security features, including Double VPN and CyberSec. It has a strict no-logs policy and is based in Panama, outside of surveillance alliances.

NordVPN also provides a 30-day money-back guarantee.

3. CyberGhost:

CyberGhost is user-friendly and offers specialized servers for streaming, torrenting, and enhanced privacy. It has a no-logs policy and uses strong encryption.

CyberGhost provides a 45-day money-back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to test the service.

4. Surfshark:

Surfshark is a budget-friendly option that offers unlimited simultaneous connections. It has a strict no-logs policy, strong encryption, and features like CleanWeb (ad blocker) and MultiHop (double VPN).

Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

5. ProtonVPN:

ProtonVPN is developed by the same team behind ProtonMail, and it’s based in Switzerland, known for strong privacy laws.

ProtonVPN offers a no-logs policy, strong encryption, and secure core servers. They also provide a free tier with no data limits, making it a safe choice for budget-conscious users.

Did You Know?

  • Free VPNs Can Be Costly: While free VPNs don’t charge you money upfront, they often make money by compromising your privacy and security. The real cost can be much higher in terms of your data and peace of mind.
  • Freemium Models: Some reputable VPNs offer a freemium model, where a limited free version is available with the option to upgrade to a paid plan for more features. ProtonVPN is an example of this.
  • VPN Jurisdictions Matter: The country where a VPN is based affects how it handles your data. VPNs based in countries with strict privacy laws (like Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands) are generally safer.
  • Public Wi-Fi Risks: Public Wi-Fi networks are often insecure, making it easy for hackers to intercept your data. Using a reliable VPN encrypts your connection, protecting your personal information.


While the lure of free VPNs can be strong, it’s important to be aware of the hidden dangers they pose.

Your privacy and security are worth investing in a reliable VPN service that prioritizes your protection.

By choosing a VPN with a no-logs policy, strong encryption, and positive reviews, you can enjoy the benefits of a secure and private internet connection without compromising your data.

Stay safe out there, and happy browsing!

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