By Muyiwa Awosile
Since the Federal Government of Nigeria implemented the ban on Twitter, many Nigerians have resorted to using Free Virtual Private Network (VPN) software to bypass the restrictions put in place by the Internet Service Providers in the country (ISPs) on their networks. A VPN software works by creating a secure connection between a user’s device and the internet. When you connect to the internet through a VPN software, all the data traffic from your device is sent through an encrypted virtual tunnel and this can make you safer, anonymous and freer on the internet as you’ll be able to access websites and online services that would otherwise be blocked.
There are two main types of VPN software – the FREE ones (which are more popular with Nigerians) and the Premium ones which you have to pay a subscription for. Using a free VPN could actually make you less safe online, cost you more than you realise, and ruin your entire internet experience. Premium VPNs on the other hand offer a lot more protection, for a small fee, without the hidden dangers that Free VPNs expose users to. Before using a free VPN, you need to be aware of the drawbacks associated with them. Five of these are explained below.
Your Security could be Compromised
One of the primary purposes of a VPN is to protect you from hackers but unfortunately some VPNs actually contain malware, adware or other malicious software which can compromise your device leading to security breaches. A lot of the malware is related to advertising as free VPN software developers rely on advertising for revenue.
Online Activity Tracking
A major reason people use VPNs is to protect their privacy while browsing the internet but unfortunately many free VPNs have third-party trackers embedded in the software. These trackers are used to gather data on the user’s online activity, so advertisers are better able to target users with ads. So instead of providing users with privacy, the VPNs are doing the exact opposite, by collecting user information and selling it to the highest advertising bidder.
Limited Data Usage
Many free VPNs limit the amount of data you can use. They do this to push users into upgrading to a paid plan out of sheer frustration.
Slower Internet Speed
Free VPNs can also lead to slower internet speeds leading to a frustrating user experience. This is because traffic from the free version is sometimes deprioritised when compared to the paid or premium versions. Free VPNs can also slow down your internet speeds when targeted ads are displayed. The justification for the ads is that since users are not paying any monthly subscriptions, free VPNs need another way to make money off them.
Potential vulnerability to botnets
A botnet infects a large number of individual computers or devices with malware and harnesses them together to carry out an attack. Some VPN products are designed to harness the processing power from the devices of their free users and offer that power to their paying customers for profit. This is of serious concern as cyber criminals are able to exploit this vulnerability to launch attacks on unsuspecting VPN users.
VPNs are complicated software that require a great deal of investment to create and maintain. They constantly need to keep up with the ever-changing world of internet privacy. That is why Free VPN providers try to cover their costs and generate revenue from their users by embedding hidden tools and tricks. These tactics are not only dangerous and risky but completely negate the principles of security and privacy that VPNs are supposed to be built for in the first place.
*Muyiwa Awosile is a Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Consultant and Managing Director of Tros Technologies.