Are free VPNs safe? What you need to know

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You’ve certainly heard of virtual private networks (often known as VPNs), and if you’re concerned about digital privacy and security, you’ve probably done some research and compared prices. You’ve probably also seen that there are some free VPN options available, which may seem too good to be true – after all, why would anyone give something for free if it costs money to operate?

That’s a good question, and as you might expect, there’s a catch with those “free” VPNs. Virtual private networks (VPNs) necessitate physical infrastructure (which costs money), therefore free providers must return their costs in some way. They usually accomplish this by collecting and selling your personal information to marketers, which implies they’re probably keeping track of your activities. This defeats the purpose of utilizing a VPN in the first place, which is to protect your online behavior, habits, and information from third parties and other snoops. In any case, are you willing to jeopardize your internet security in order to save a few dollars each month?

That isn’t to suggest that free VPNs are harmful in the sense that they don’t do what they’re meant to (encrypt your internet connection and redirect it through the VPN operator’s remote servers). Keep in mind that free VPN plans are usually somewhat limited. They may or may not have data caps, and they will almost surely have speed limits. If you have any authority over any of these, there will be limitations on which security protocols you can use, which devices you can use, and which global servers you can use to route your connection via. They also lack advanced features such as ad-blocking and malware prevention, making them much less secure. All of these are reasons why we recommend ditching free plans in favor of setting up a VPN with a reputable provider like NordVPN.

All of this said, good virtual private network providers frequently offer free “money-back guarantee” periods that function as free trials, allowing you to cancel your plan and receive a full refund (usually within 30 days), and some, such as NordVPN, also frequently run specials that include a few free months. This offers you some time to try out a VPN service and see if it’s a suitable fit for your digital lifestyle before committing to a long-term membership. More good news: considering the protection and peace of mind they provide, the best VPN services are actually not that expensive, and most provide a variety of options to pick from. Longer-term yearly plans offer the best value, costing only a few dollars each month on average.

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Here are the top four virtual private network companies we recommend, along with some further information about each, as well as pricing and whether or not they provide a free trial to new members.

Secure VPNs you should be using

  1. NordVPN — from $12/month
  2. ExpressVPN — from $13/month
  3. Surfshark — from $13/month
  4. IPVanish — from $11/month

 

NordVPN

There’s a decent chance you’ve heard of NordVPN, which isn’t surprising given that it’s the most well-known virtual private network provider on the market today. It’s also our personal favorite because it offers all of the features we look for in a VPN. It has over 5,000 servers in 59 countries, and you can use split-tunneling to choose which sites and services you want on the VPN and which you don’t (if you don’t want to encrypt 100 percent of your online activity to optimize performance for things like gaming, for example). It also has straightforward software controls that function well on both PC and mobile devices.

NordVPN plans range in price from $12 per month for the monthly tier to $89 per year for the two-year plan (which works out to only $3.30 per month, making it the greatest value by far). This lets you connect and utilize your NordVPN service on up to six devices at once.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is a strong challenger to NordVPN for the title of top virtual private network service provider. It costs a little extra, but the trade-off is that you get additional server locations to route your connection through — ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries (a total of 160 locations) — and there are no bandwidth restrictions. It’s also compatible with a wide range of devices, from laptops and mobile devices to smart TVs and game consoles, and it delivers fast speeds and a simple setup process.ExpressVPN is a touch more expensive than the competition, but it’s a great option if you want more regional servers and no-brainer device compatibility. The service options cost $13 per month, $60 for six months, or $100 for a year (which works out to $8.32 per month) for up to five devices to be used at the same time. You’ll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee if you don’t like it.

Surfshark

Surfshark is the finest affordable VPN if even NordVPN’s two-year plan is too much for you to pay all at once. Its server list isn’t as extensive as that of other big-name VPN providers like ExpressVPN, but it provides solid connection speeds, can be used on an unlimited number of devices (yes, there are no device limits! ), and does pretty much everything we want a VPN to do, including built-in ad-blocking and malware protection. Surfshark is a wonderful alternative for families and offices because it is inexpensive and can run on an unlimited number of local devices at the same time. The price is also very attractive. Although the monthly subscription is $13 (the same as ExpressVPN), you can save $60 by purchasing a two-year package for $120. That works out to $2.50 per month for a reliable virtual private network that you can use on all of your devices. What’s the point of a free VPN?

IPVanish

Last but not least, there’s IPVanish, which is a low-cost choice with several useful value-added services. The optional backup service add-on is the most notable of these. It automatically backs up data of your choosing in a secure encrypted cloud. This protects you not only from ransomware attacks but also helps you to recover lost data in the event of theft or hardware/software failure (such as a computer crash and the resulting file system corruption). IPVanish also has over 1,600 servers in over 75 countries across the world, and unlike Surfshark, there are no limits to how many devices you can connect to the VPN at the same time  

Because the backup service is an add-on, you have a wider range of IPVanish plans to pick from. The VPN itself costs $11 per month or $45 for the first year ($3.75 per month), after which it goes back to its regular price of $90 per year. The VPN + Backup subscription costs $13 per month or $50 for the first year (or $4.17 per month on average), then $100 per year after that.

 

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