Free VPNs are a great way to introduce yourself to the world of Internet privacy. If you’re worried about understanding what a VPN is and how it works, installing a free one can help you get comfortable with the technology. The first thing to know is that “VPN” stands for “virtual private network,” a methodology that applies unyielding encryption to prevent anyone from spying on or recording activities on the Internet.
We’ve already done all the heavy lifting for you, by compiling a list of the free best options from reputable providers. You might have seen websites with “https://” in front of them, that extra “s” on the end of the protocol name stands for “secure.” When you see that in the address field of a browser it means that all the traffic that passes between a computer and server for that particular web page is encrypted.
Information travels over the Internet in chunks, however, slicing up communication data creates a certain amount of administration work. These sliced-up sections of data get bundled into a structure called a “packet.”
The data goes in the payload of the packet, and the information goes in a header. With HTTPS, the payload of a packet is encrypted. With VPNs, the whole structure, including the header, is encoded with encryption. Routers that forward messages from one network to the next get packets to their destination, but they need to be able to read the target’s address in the header of a packet, first.
The header also contains the address of the message’s origin. These addresses get expressed in a format defined as an “IP address.” The fact that every message that comes out of your computer includes your IP address, means that you can be traced. There is a lot of information that snoopers can detect just by reading the header, so this system still imperils privacy even if the contents of a payload are encrypted.
When the entire packet gets encrypted, the routers along the journey of the message aren’t able to read the intended destination, which means that they can’t forward the packet onwards. To get around this problem, the VPN software on your computer puts the entirely encrypted packet into another carrying packet and sets the address of its associated server on the front.
When a VPN is engaged, all of the traffic that comes out of your computer will go to the VPN server, no matter what address the application that created that message puts on the front of packets. A VPN’s server forwards your request on to the intended destination but substitutes its address for the original one into the header.
The target server only has the VPN’s address to reply to, and so it doesn’t even know you exist. Thus, no one can tell what website or service your connection is communicating with, as it travels to the VPN server, and the actual origin of the request is also hidden from the VPN’s servers all the way to the destination server.
VPNs don’t just help corporations with trade secrets to protect. Ordinary Internet users also need to have a VPN, to protect their privacy: since more and more restrictions are getting placed on what you are allowed to do these days. A lot of government’s ban access to certain sites, and Internet service providers also snoop on their users and try to control access to a wide range of applications.
Copyright holders are trying to stamp out the free downloading of entertainment. A lot of sites also restrict access to their content so people from other countries can’t get in, even if they are prepared to pay for the privilege.
One more consideration is the problem of malicious personal attacks.
People can now pay just a few dollars to get your IP address attacked, which blocks Internet access for a few minutes. These types of attacks are particularly prevalent among online gamers. So, there are many reasons to get some extra protection on the Internet, that wasn’t necessary a few years back.
Our Recommended VPNs
If you want to try out a VPN without paying for it, take a look at these five best free VPNs on the market today. Once you have the software on a computer, you’ll notice that it’s very easy-to-use. Some free VPNs can be installed as add-ons, which means that you can use them directly from within a browser, forgoing the hassle of having to install an app.
The VPNs in our list are above all, free and easy-to-use. They will prevent the government from blocking access to sites you want to visit. And ISPs won’t be able to check which sites you visit either, so they can’t stop any torrenting activities, and they can’t slow down connections to streaming sites.
Copyright holders won’t be able to track you down, and the obfuscation activities of VPNs, provide access to sites under regional restrictions. Paid VPNs are better than free ones, because to get the job done well, companies need to invest, and they expect a return on their investment.
The best free VPNs to look out for are the loss-leader companions to paid services. In this cases, the VPN you get for free will have some restrictions and inconveniences in place, which are there to tempt you into paying for a subscription.
TunnelBear is an excellent service, for casual users, who want to protect their data with a free VPN service. Plus it comes with browser extensions as well.
TunnelBear works as a browser plug-in, and you have the option of selecting from 20 servers around the world. You can try out the service for free, and find out which server works best for you.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to access a geo-restricted website, select a server in the same country as that site.
If the website is banned by the government of the country that you’re in, then choose a server in another one. The app and website have a cool design and come with 500MB of free data each month, which gets bumped up to 1GB if you comment about the service on social media.
TunnelBear provides great privacy and applying the VPN to a connection doesn’t impair its speed at all. The only problem with the free version is that it isn’t very good at getting around regional restrictions and you can only have one connection at a time.
Why We Like It
TunnelBear is fun and easy-to-use as a browser extension, and you can even turn it on and off with keyboard shortcuts.
It also has apps for:
The restrictions on the free service are not intrusive.
However, the 500MB limit per month is rather miserly, so don’t forget to increase it via social media sharing.
CyberGhost’s user interface is a beautiful piece of software, since a fashion-conscious crew designed this VPN, and its quirky themes give the VPN a consistently fun identity across its apps, website, advertising and even its offices.
The service’s free version imposes a penalty of overlay ads that last for two minutes, before connecting. These ads stop you from doing anything until the countdown finishes.
CyberGhost is based in Romania; a former Communist state that’s asserting its identity as a great location for digital service companies.
The EU keeps trying to force its member states to implement digital disclosure laws, but the Romanian High Court throws out every attempt to impose any such rules within its country.
Making Romania a perfect place for VPN companies, since there’s certainly no data-logging going on, copyright holders can forget trying to force CyberGhost’s hand over activity logs.
There’s no need to log-in or give an email address either. If you do decide to pay, you can only get a subscription through a third-party billing company.
Why? Well, CyberGhost refuses to hold any user account information, so a separate billing company issues customers with a digital ticket, which is used to activate an account.
Why We Like It
CyberGhost provides completely anonymous access to servers in 13 countries on the free service — while the paid version has servers in 29 countries.
There are no limits on throughput with the free version.
However, the company makes sure that you don’t get the same speeds that paid users enjoy; as the Premium plan is five times faster than the free one.
The app’s free version sports pretty good anonymity, since you don’t even have to set up an account to start using the service.
Just download the installer, let it do its thing and then run the app.
CyberGhost has a neat activity selection screen that adjusts a connection according to your needs.
However, you won’t be able to get into many streaming services with the free version.
SaferVPN offers a free 24-hour trial and a proper free version that can be used as an app or browser plug-in. The browser version is only available for Chrome, but it is worth getting, because it’s the only version that continues to work after the 24-hour free trial terminates.
You don’t have to enter payment details to get the free trial. However, the service does require a valid email address. The plug-in works with a data limit of 500MB per month, which is remarkably similar to TunnelBear’s offering. You can access servers in 30 locations, which include major areas like:
The service offers strong encryption to prevent snoopers from identifying your Internet traffic. However, even SaferVPN’s paid version can’t get into top streaming sites with strict VPN detection methods, such as Netflix. Which indicates that the service’s cloaking technology probably wouldn’t be good enough to avoid detection in authoritarian nations.
Why We Like It
Access to SaferVPN’s full network is ideal for people looking for servers in often overlooked nations, like New Zealand or South Africa.
You can increase the data throughput limit in a month by 500MB, by recommending the service to a friend (and that friend then pays to use SaferVPN).
Mentioning the service on Twitter or Facebook, nets you an extra 100MB for that month.
There’s no limit to the number of times you can get this bonus, so, give it a like on Facebook every day, and you’ll probably never hit the data limit!
In 2016, the service was taken over by the Chinese company, Qihoo. Although SurfEasy insists that Qihoo’s involvement is just an investment, just to be on the safe side, it is probably better not to rely on the privacy afforded by this VPN when in China.
The paid version of SurfEasy has servers in 25 countries, and the free version enables access to 16 of those. The free locations include:
The app has a nice privacy feature, that kicks in automatically if a laptop or mobile device comes within range of a Wi-Fi Hotspot. The app has some attractive features that include a map, showing server locations and also a live data throughput monitor. One easy way to maintain anonymity with SurfEasy is to set up a webmail account and use that to get the activation code — thus, your usage can’t be traced.
EasySurf allows users of the free version to benefit from their high-speed network, without any throttling.
It is a good idea to install the browser add-on, because although you initially get an allowance of 600MB per month, that limit goes up by 250MB after installing the browser add-on.
You can also raise the limit by:
Using SurfEasy from a different location
Confirming your email address
Recommending it to a friend
Mentioning the service on social media
The company states explicitly on its website that it caters to torrenting users and insists that it keeps no activity logs.
You don’t get access to all of the server locations the company operates in, the only site you can connect to is in the US. However, there is a way around this restriction. Download the browser extension, which is also free, since it has no data usage limits. The browser extension can connect to servers in:
Unfortunately, the US and the UK are blocked off. The other penalty imposed on free users is the imposition of advertising. However, these adverts are not intrusive and don’t appear in the app. Instead, the app opens up the company’s web page in your default browser — and for most people; this is not an unbearable inconvenience.
Hotspot Shield performs well when trying to breaking into geo-restricted media sites. However, it can’t dodge the proxy detection system of Netflix — few VPNs in the world can.
Why We Like It
Hotspot Shield is an attractive app that sports unlimited data usage; a pretty rare feature among free VPN services.
As well as strong encryption on connections, the VPN offers automatic Wi-Fi protection, and it includes phishing and malware detection.
It is worth installing both the app and the browser extension, since doing so gives access to servers in a lot more countries.
Like CyberGhost, users don’t have to give up any personal details to access the service, just download the installer, and the program installs HotSpot Shield — you can also get an extension for Chrome or Firefox.
Unfortunately, for free users in the UK, you won’t get the option of a server in that country with the app or the browser extension.
Be very cautious if you’re considering a free VPN. A study by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found that 18% of all pro-bono VPNs didn’t include encryption or offer any security protection at all.
As all commercial VPN services usually include a version for Android, the 283 examples used in the study most probably covered every single VPN service in the world.
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And just picking a random VPN service because it’s free can screw up your computer — CSIRO found that more than a third of all the VPNs they tested included malware. However, the five best free VPNs in our list all check out, since they are important services provided by bona fide companies.
Have you had a bad experience with a free VPN? Do you know of another free VPN that works well, which you’d like to recommend to others? Take a moment to leave a message in the comments section below and share your experience — thanks for sticking around till the end!
Note: Although not free, ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, and it’s a pretty kick-ass VPN service, so check out our ExpressVPN review here for full details