Have you heard of VPN technology? Perhaps you’ve caught wind of it because some YouTube videos (and channels) are sponsored by big VPN companies like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, Surfshark, or Cyberghost. You may have seen an ad elsewhere too. Virtual Private Network technology, commonly abbreviated as VPN, has become one of the most hyped topics of discussion in the IT realm.
This is for multiple reasons e.g. VPNs can unblock geoblocks for streaming, unblock censorship, the Snowden surveillance revelations, and outright privacy and security. VPNs are a very versatile tool that also offers protection from data collection (ad tracking) as well as encrypting the connection they intake. This is also a tool that can be very useful for businesses, in countries where internet access is censored, all the while being offered for a very reasonable price.
In this article, you will find out the many uses of a VPN and get pointers on the cream of the crop when it comes to VPNs. However, be prepared to set aside a bit of cash for ultimate peace of mind, although legitimate free VPNs exist. At the end of the day, we want to understand exactly that. Which free VPNs can you safely use?
It can safely be said that VPNs have brought in a global audience and thus commercialization to the infosec (information security) realm i.e., attributing a factor of coolness to this otherwise ‘geeky’ world of IT terms and tedious technicalities. VPN technology was initially available as Microsoft’s PPTP or Point-to-Point-Tunneling protocol, decades ago. Like everything else in IT, not much is new under the sun. The wheel has not been reinvented yet, since the birth of the internet itself. Even though we are at the precipice of a new wave of revolutionary technologies after a long uninventive hiatus (think A.I and quantum technology) the underlying technologies in all major and popular tech today were already built a long time ago, and have simply been advanced since.
The same goes for VPN technology which has its roots in academic and scientific research, just like every facet of information technology does.
What is a VPN Technically Speaking?
A VPN is tunneling software. It works at the operating system level of a computer or device and does not impact system performance in any significant way. Any system, from Linux, Windows to Mac, and even Android can be boosted with a VPN. It is like a third virtual stage away from the primary physical stages of the source of where we get the internet from, which is underground cabling and switches under our streets.
That cabling then ends up in our home or business wireless or wired routers and finally, we can access the internet with our internet browser i.e., internet source under the street/switching box > internet router > VPN > access to the internet via a browser.
Modern VPNs, especially premium VPNs at large, use very sophisticated features such as 256-bit encryption and advanced kill switches. They also offer the ability to connect to several proprietary servers all over the world, effectively transplanting the user’s internet connection to that country/city. These programs are offered by numerous providers across app stores and via direct download from websites (although only a small portion of VPN providers are truly high-quality.)
Apart from being cybersecurity and network obfuscation tools, VPNs are also extremely useful when it comes to marketing and research, due to the ability to replace a user’s current IP address (a number that indicates the physical location of a computer to the ISP and the rest of the internet) with another one in a completely different country.
Which Free VPNs are Safe to Use?
As far as free VPNs are concerned, this is where it gets complex and you may not like the final answer. Yes, you do not have to pay to use a VPN, however, this also determines the quality of the service you are going to receive, as well as the quality of the product and team behind it overall. Who would you trust more; someone fixing your heating in your house for free or someone qualified to do it who you have to pay? That is pretty much the gist of it.
Let’s narrow it down. Usually, it is not recommended to use a free VPN unless you know what you are doing. This is because free VPNs do not need to comply with any standards, privacy policies, terms of service, and all the other compliance. Furthermore, free VPNs have been known to be run by shady management that can spy on you, and even hijack your devices. After all, you are entrusting (handing over) your internet connection to VPN software.
Free VPNs almost always are limited with what they can do, even if they are legitimate and verified services by the community. You will have speed limitations, internet freezes, no advanced features or a solid encryption protocol, as well as issues with customer support (or experience a total lack of customer support.) VPN providers have to make money somehow, and this could mean the sale of your data, use of your internet connection for other purposes, or ad targeting at the very least.
You should always go for a premium VPN provider to have that peace of mind, some of the top being; NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, and Cyberghost. Now, as far as free VPNs are concerned, it is recommended that if you so chose that you select one of the following which has been verified; PrivadoVPN, ProtonVPN, Hide.me, TunnnelBear and Windscribe.
Most of these services will do the job and obfuscate your internet connection, however, do not expect i.e., advanced encryption protocols, effortless unblocking, unlimited data, high speeds, and excellent customer support from a free VPN service. Perhaps more free VPNs are on the horizon, but again remember that these companies have to make a profit somehow for their business model to be feasible, and you need to research your desired free VPN service before using it.