Free VPN services have become popular thanks to increasing threats against online privacy. Unfortunately, just like in the case of using pirated software, users often do not fully understand the risks of what they seek.
Using free VPN services (legal, by the way) could expose users to higher danger levels than using hacked or cracked software. It is important to note that there are various kinds of free VPN services, and the distinction is essential. Still, there are viable VPN service providers that provide some form of free services. Here are our favorite free VPN brands.
In the vast universe of free VPN services, ProtonVPN shines brightly as a stellar option. Developed by the scientists at CERN and protected by Swiss privacy laws, ProtonVPN is a free VPN service that places a high emphasis on user privacy and security. Their free plan offers features often only found in premium VPN services.
Unlike many free VPNs that monetize through ads or selling user data, ProtonVPN is subsidized by its paid users, ensuring your browsing history stays private. It offers a unique set of VPN Accelerator technologies that can improve speeds by over 400%, providing a high-speed and unrestricted internet experience.
For their premium plan upgrades, ProtonVPN charges in Euro since they are based in the region. Expect to pay more for month-to-month subscriptions. You'll save the most on their 2-year plan, with monthly prices dropping to around $5.43. That's still pretty steep compared to some premium brands like NordVPN at $3.99/mo.
PrivadoVPN's free service offers a commendable range of features typically found in premium VPN offerings. This includes access to 12 server locations worldwide, which is quite impressive for a free service. It also provides a zero-log policy, meaning it doesn't record your online activities.
What sets PrivadoVPN apart from many other free VPN services is its commitment to providing a high-speed and unrestricted internet experience. While many free VPNs limit your data usage or throttle your speeds, PrivadoVPN offers a generous 10GB of monthly data with no speed restrictions.
It's certainly a cut above some brands that claim to offer a free plan but cripple you with so many limitations to be practically unusable. Give PrivadoVPN a try today, you won't be disappointed. While their sign-in process is a bit unusual, the overall quality of service is pretty good.
AtlasVPN has established itself as a reliable and trustworthy VPN provider. Despite being a free service, it offers a range of features that are on par with many premium VPNs, making it a popular choice among users who prioritize online privacy and security. So impressive was the original service that AtlasVPN was acquired by Nord Security, makers of NordVPN.
Still, it remains independently branded and continues to provide its free plan to everyone. It offers three free server locations, no speed limits, and allows for unlimited devices. This is quite impressive for a free service and provides users with a level of flexibility and freedom that is often lacking in other free VPNs.
With its robust features and user-friendly interface, AtlasVPN is a strong contender in the realm of free VPN services. Even if you hit their free plan limits, AtlasVPN's premium plan upgrade is much more wallet-friendly than most other free VPN providers.
4. Hotspot Shield
In the crowded landscape of free VPN services, Hotspot Shield distinguishes itself as a leading contender. Known for its blazing-fast speeds and military-grade encryption, Hotspot Shield has earned a reputation as a reliable and trustworthy VPN provider. Founded in 2005, the brand has survived admirably through the years.
Today it offers both free and paid services. Here comes the real shocker, though. Hotspot Shield does not impose any monthly data caps on their free plan. However, there are some catches, such as the inability to game or stream videos with the service. It's a small price to pay for unlimited privacy, right?
Unfortunately, you're also limited to a single virtual location. We still feel, though, that having no data cap is a pretty good deal. The only questionable part about having a single location is the potential impact on your digital privacy. Their premium service removes those restrictions but will set you back a whopping $7.99 monthly if you sign up for an annual plan.
TunnelBear offers perhaps the least amount of data on their free account as anyone is the market. 500MB per month isn’t enough to fit a gnat through and I can guarantee you’ll be facepalming in frustration within the first few hours of using their free service.
There is a way to worm around this quote though since they offer users who tweet about their service a bump up with an additional 1GB of bandwidth. I’m not sure how often you can exploit this promo but I’m pretty sure you’ll get sick of Tweeting for bandwidth very quickly.
However, they do have a decent reputation in the market, and opting for their paid service will open a larger network of servers you can use. Opting for their annual plan works to around $4.99 per month based on annual billing.
One more thing to take note of is that Tunnelbear was bought by McAfee in 2018, so their integrity might become a little suspect.
Hide.me is another free VPN provider that certainly doesn’t believe in modesty. I’ve typically found that any VPN service provider which includes the word ‘fastest’ in their marketing spiel, generally isn’t. The free option for Hide.me comes with 2GB of data and allows a single device to connect to any of five locations.
The limitations are serious and real but offer VPN novices a good opportunity to test out what the experience of using a VPN is like. If you get tired of those restrictions and feel the need to choose Hide.me as your provider of choice, their Premium paid plan starts from $5.41 per month.
Moving to that gives you unlimited bandwidth and increases the number of servers you can connect to. You also have the option to change your mind since there is a 30-day money-back guarantee that comes with their paid plans.
The free version of Windscribe gives you access to around ten VPN servers. These are located mostly in the US or Europe and do not cover the Australasia region. 10GB per month of bandwidth isn’t enough to cover a regular connection, but it could be useful in a pinch if you just want to cover sensitive situations.
They have a range of apps that you can install on quite several devices. This includes desktop client applications for Windows, Mac, or Linux. Aside from that, you can opt for a browser extension on either Chrome, Firefox, or Opera. If you’re using Windscribe on mobile, they have mobile apps for iOS and Android. Other devices covered include some TVs as well as routers based on either DD-WRT or Tomato firmware.
If 10GB per month of bandwidth isn’t enough for you then you need to look towards their Pro plan which is billed either monthly or yearly. Yearly plans offer the greatest savings, working out to a rate of roughly $4.08 per month.
Types of Free VPN
VPN services take a great deal of capital expenditure not just to roll out but to maintain and operate. There is no possibility that a company will spend huge amounts of money needed for hardware, software, and technical expertise just to give away a free service.
Let’s consider the free VPNs on the market today. There are two main types of free VPN services, unlimited and limited.
Unlimited Free VPN
When companies splash out huge amounts of cash on infrastructure and equipment, they need to recoup it from somewhere. By offering you a free, unlimited service, they have reduced their main source of potential revenue to zero.
This means that they will lose money not just on their investment but operate at an ongoing deficit. To offset this, those companies need to earn money from another source. Some of the ways they can earn money are by inserting ads or even selling your data.
There is also a chance that free VPN service providers use your bandwidth to ‘piggyback’ other users’ connections, saving them cost but eating up your bandwidth.
One possible example of this would be ThunderVPN. We've reviewed this service before and found much to be desired in their operations. Not only does the company make many false claims, but it liberally copies content from other sources and releases as little information about the company behind it as possible. These are all big red flags that should warn users to avoid the service.
Always be cautious of any VPN provider that claims ‘free, unlimited’ services.
Limited Free VPNs
You will also find many other VPN service providers offering you limited free access to their service. These usually don’t charge you fees but impose crippling restrictions that will ultimately limit the usefulness of the freebie.
Typically, they will limit what servers you can connect to, the time you can spend connected, or, most typically, the amount of data that you can transmit through the service. The reason why they do this is to try and encourage you to sign on for their paid services.
Personally, I dislike this method of baiting users. Even if you were only to sign on to test the service to sign on as a paying subscriber, limited access would not allow you to fully test their service and make a good decision.
They also can be used as a sort of ‘sandbox’ which allows users who are new to VPN services to experiment and discover their own needs. Some legitimately decent VPN providers work this sales model.
What do the Experts Think About Free VPNs?
We asked Larry Trowell, Principal Consultant at Synopsys, for his opinion on free VPN services, and what he said was sobering;
“The injection of ads and the sale of private data are points in which these free services may not obscure their user's identities. Many free VPN applications may not be actively or intentionally collecting your information.
However, then again, you may be installing malware on your devices by downloading free VPN applications with little or no actual intended benefit. Sometimes, a free VPN could act as little more than a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, attempting to trick users into installing a malicious certificate so that an attacker can skim passwords and/or other private transactional data.”
According to Aaron Zander, Head of IT at HackerOne, free VPNs present many issues around privacy, security, and more. From some companies offering VPNs for teens and abusing the developer/ enterprise processes to get valuable insight on kids, to ones that basically sell all of your traffic to whoever wants it, others snoop on your information and use it against you.
Aside from privacy issues, Zander commented that free VPNs have even been used to install malware, report data about you to your hostile government, and more.
Verdict: The Free VPN Model is Flawed
Certainly, I can understand that some people may not be able to afford premium VPN services or simply want to use them in limited circumstances. VPNs aren't for everyone after all. However, as you can see, most of these free VPN services are relying on a low-performing free service to bait users into signing up for their paid services.
You see, several free VPN services use what is known as bandwidth piggybacking to use an open server to convey user traffic. The provider of this open server may have intentionally left ports open to attack unsuspecting users.
Personally, we feel as if the top-tier VPNs in the market that don't do this are much more affordable and offer far superior services. Take, for example, NordVPN or Surfshark. We've reviewed both services and found them to be excellent and much cheaper than these free VPN services offer.
NordVPN costs $3.99 per month for 2-year subscriptions, while Surfshark is only $2.99 per month on a 2-year plan. Both have free trial periods, so why rely on a free service when you can test, then sign up for great VPNs at low prices?
Comparatively, these two offer much larger and faster networks of VPN servers combined with a better price and excellent market reputation than any free VPN service providers.