Best Free VPN

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Introduction

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used by internet users for quite different tasks. Free VPN services are quite appropriate for some of those tasks and less appropriate for others as most free VPNs have a limited monthly data allowance, limited download speeds and other restrictions. That's because the operators of these free services want to encourage you to upgrade to their paid VPN service.
 
An example of an appropriate task for a free VPN is connecting to a public wi-fi network in order to improve your internet connection privacy and security. Another would be while travelling overseas where the use of a VPN can not only improve general online security but also allow access to sites like Google and Facebook that might be blocked by foreign government firewalls.
 
A less appropriate use would include watching streaming media services such as HBO, Netflix and major sporting events that are restricted to users from particular countries. Here the bandwidth limitation and/or data allowance of most free services would be a severe limitation. Some free VPNs actually ban access to streaming video sites.
 
A totally inappropriate use of a free VPN would be for users such as journalists and whistle-blowers who require maximum anonymity. Free VPNs can provide a degree of anonymity but nowhere as much as VPN services that specialize in providing anonymity. Happily most average users don’t have such demanding anonymity needs.
 
BitTorrent users face a particular problem with free VPNs as most ban BitTorrent altogether, including the three top rated programs listed in our reviews below. And even for services where it is allowed, heavy BitTorrent users are likely to face issues with data allowance limits.
 
So in the end it’s another case of different strokes for different folks. Some will a find a free VPN service entirely adequate for the needs while others will find the opposite.
 
Whatever, our advice is to try a free VPN before you subscribe to a premium service. Even with the limitations imposed on most free services you may still find such services entirely adequate for your needs.
 
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In a Hurry?

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Discussion

Sample ProductTunnelBear VPN is a Canadian based VPN service noted for its ease of use and simple client installation. They provide both a free and paid VPN service, but what is unusual is that the free service is for the most part similar to the paid service except for a 500 megabyte monthly data allowance. The only other significant differences are first, users of the free service do not have access to the Australian based servers of the TunnelBear network and second you can only have one device connected to the VPN at any one time. If you only want to use a VPN to protect public wi-fi connections or for casual use when travelling, this a great choice.  Read full review

Sample ProductCyberGhost VPN is another commercial VPN provider that offers a free as well as a paid service. The free service based in Romania is notable in that it has no fixed data allowance limit and no deliberate throttling of download speed. That sounds great but the reality is not quite so rosy. CyberGhost limits the free service to servers in 15 countries as opposed to 31 for the paid service. The countries where there are no free servers include Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Furthermore at busy times users may have to queue to get access to the free servers and are disconnected after three hours or when they exceed certain data transfer limits. Once disconnected you will need to queue for a server again. Those inconveniences aside this is an excellent choice for those who don't want to be limited by the tiny monthly data allowances imposed by most free VPN services and can live with the inconvenience of being disconnected every three hours. Read full review

Sample ProductSurfEasy VPN is a Canadian based VPN service that started up in 2011 and is now owned by the folks from Opera Software, the company behind the Opera browser. Like most products reviewed here they provide both a free and paid service. The free service is data capped to 500MB per month and does not have the browser anti-tracking capabilities of the paid service but is not otherwise limited. The SurfEasy VPN network covers 13 countries including USA, Canada, the UK, Australia. The network speed was disappointingly slow but otherwise this is a solid service from a reputable company and can be recommended for casual users who can live with the 500MB monthly data limit.

Sample Product

Hotspot Shield is perhaps the best known free VPN service. Based in the USA their free offering is feature limited compared to their commercial service. It is also ad supported. The free version only has access to servers in the United States and has a data limit of 750MB every 24 hours for desktop clients and 256MB for mobile. Hotspot Shield Free does not allow access to NetFlix, Hulu and some other streaming video sites. Additionally the free VPN network runs so slow that it's likely you will see a lot of stuttering watching streamed video. The advertising feature of Hotspot Shield has been criticized because the program changes your browser settings in order to inject ads into your web browsing. Some have even labeled the product as spyware but in reality it is simply adware. Whatever, the company's rather open ended privacy policy does not re-assure. With its combination of ads, USA-only servers, data limits, streaming site bans, privacy concerns and pretty ordinary network speeds, Hotspot Shield’s offering is simply not competitive with the other free VPNs we tested.

 

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Quick Selection Guide

TunnelBear VPN

4
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Exceptionally easy to install and use, Uses same server network as paid version except Australian server is unavailable, No speed limits, Reasonable network speed, Minimal logging, Strong 256bit encryption using OpenVPN, No ads, Clients available for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android
BitTorrent not allowed, Monthly data limit of 500MB, No servers in Australia, VPN Protocol cannot be changed
2.5.2
11.5MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows Vista or later

CyberGhost VPN

4
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Fast network speed for a free service, No monthly data limits, Large number of servers, Secure 256 bit encryption over OpenVPN, No logging, Clients for Windows, OS X and Android
No BitTorrent allowed, Disconnects after 3 hours so you must reconnect, Have to queue for access to free servers, Free servers limited to 15 countries, No servers in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore and 11 other countries, Ads for CyberGhost Premium shown every 90 minutes, No free service for iOS
5.0.15
9.3MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows Vista or later

SurfEasyVPN

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Owned by a reputable company - Opera Software, Free service has access to all servers Can be used on 5 devices simultaneously, OpenVPN connection with 128 bit encryption, Minimal logging, Clients for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android Works with Windows XP
BitTorrent not supported, 500MB monthly data limit, Networks speeds not that fast, Free service lacks browser anti-tracking feature found in paid service
3.0
31.2MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP and later, OS X 10.7 and later

HotSpot Shield VPN

2
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Desktop versions have a reasonably generous 750MB data limit every 24 hours (mobile 250MB), Secure 256 bit encryption over OpenVPN, Easy to use clients for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android
Free service only has access to US servers, Intrusive advertising injected into your browser, Privacy policy is very open ended and thus quite worrying, No access to Netflix, Hulu and some other video streaming sites, The slowest network speed of any of the free VPNs we tested
4.15.3
9.74MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP or later
 
 

Editor

This category is maintained by volunteer editor gizmo.richards. Registered members can contact the editor with comments or suggestions by clicking here.

 

Tags

free, vpn, anonymity, security, privacy, review

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Comments

Much as I am an advocate of "free" PC content I have to say that in the case of VPN's you will be better off, safer and more secure by researching and choosing the paid ones.

VPNBook is an Editor's Choice at PC Magazine. Does anyone have further information on it?

VPNbook was actually on my shortlist for review but I dropped it after reading a damning post from the "Anonymous" hacktivist group. To quote "‘Logs from vpnbook.com and voxility.com have appeared in the court discoveries and indictments of some Anons facing prosecution for their involvement in #Anonymous activities. Do not use these services..." Now I have no brief for the Anonymous group but I have confirmed their claim is factually correct. This means that VPNbook logs personally identifying information. That ruled them out for these reviews.

Thanks for your reply. However, I'd like to follow up with a question which I intend to be respectful, not argumentative.

My interest in VPNs is to protect myself or my wife when connecting to the internet at a coffee shop, which you note as an appropriate use of a free VPN. For this use, how would it be a problem that a VPN is willing and able to turn over privately-identifiable information in a legal case?

You point out that a free VPN is inappropriate for journalists and whistle-blowers because of a lower level of anonymity. So why would VPNBook not be appropriate for the Free VPN category -- able to protect normal users at coffee shops, but not others who require absolute anonymity?

ZenMate for Google Chrome & Firefox...also free...https://zenmate.com/

I looked at ZenMate but decided not to review it as the server network for the free service is quite small - only 4 countries from memory. This could explain a number of user comments I read that complained about the network speed of the free service.That aside they have a few things going for them: German based, zero logging and clients for all major platforms. Most importantly they make their money by offering a premium service and that is a good thing. Much better to use a free VPN service with a clear commercial objective than one that appears to have none. In the latter case you have every reason to be suspicious as it costs serious money to run a VPN network. As the old saying goes "If a product is free then it is probable you are the product."

Do installed VPN's encryption cover all network traffic, and would that matter?

As a generalisation most VPNs do encrypt all network traffic from the PC on which the VPN client is installed. Traffic from other PC's on the network will normally be unencrypted. At a more detailed level the issue is more complex as there are a number of areas of potential leakage on the host PC as well as some options for encrypting all network traffic such as using a router based VPN. What this means is you should not take your security and anonymity for granted just by simply installing a VPN, particularly a free VPN from an unknown developer.

Is there any free VPN,which we can use on DD-WRT routers?

DD-WRT is Open Source Linux based firmware that is used to replace the firmware that is installed on commercial routers. Additionally you can purchase a router with DD-WRT firmware built-in. In fact some VPN companies sell DD-WRT routers pre-configured for connection to their service which is not a bad option as configuring a DD-WRT router for a particular VPN is not for the faint hearted. Now to answer your question. CyberGhost has a DD-WRT setup guide on their site at https://support.cyberghostvpn.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Article/View/667/184/how-to-configure-openvpn-for-flashed-dd-wrt-routers and TunnelBear has a Linux installation guide which should allow you to work through a DD-WRT installation https://www.tunnelbear.com/updates/linux_support/ I've not tested whether this works with their free service but from the documentation it looks like it should.

Personally I'd like to see everyone boycott the websites that enforce geo-restrictions. Good point by cressan regarding anonymity. Just because your told your invisible doesn't necessarily make it so.

Have you looked at VPN Gate? http://www.vpngate.net/en/

VPNGate is an experimental free VPN network created by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. It is an interesting project that utilises a large worldwide network of servers provided by volunteers. As a result network speed is incredibly variable. Apparently speeds in Asia are usable but when I tested it it ran even slower than Tor. I'm also not entirely happy about sending my traffic through servers hosted by volunteers.

The proliferation of VPNs is natural, given the paranoia generated by the press about privacy. Unfortunately, there is no way of verifying any VPN's authenticity, free or otherwise. And what about MS diagnostics, which has the potential to make encryption a moot point anyway.

So I use a password manager (LastPass) for login security. They have their own encryption, as do my financial institutions. If you use a VPN you are effectively double tunnelled.

The best use for a VPN is securing your portable when using public connections. This raises two questions on checking VPN effectiveness.

I use the Zenmate Firefox and Chrome addon on Laptops I set up. I use it because It is easy for the inexperienced to use, doesn't have ads or caps, and doesn't require an install (works with Linux).

I test by using OpenDNS with a filter set. OpenDNS without Zenmate should flag the filtered site. OpenDNS with Zenmate should not.
My 1st question, is that the best way to check for man in the middle vulnerability?

I also test for Flash leakage (many sites still use Flash) with Cloakfish.com, which will reveal a Flash leaked IP. My router is where my OpenDNS address resides, so the laptop IP is issued by the router (192.168.1.xx). The OpenDNS WAN issued IP is for the router, not the laptop.

My 2nd question is, with Flash turned on, Cloakfish.com reveals the Flash leaked IP as the router IP. How does the Flash plug-in know what the router IP is? (The Ipconfig command shows the laptop to router LAN IP as192.168.1.xx.)

Thanks

Andy

I have an answer to my 2nd question. The problem with a browser addon VPN is the tunnel only applies to the browser initiated ports. Flash sends info on unencrypted port or ports outside the browser's control, and the receiver of that data sees the router IP and returns it to the Flash plug-in.
This raises a question. Do installed VPN's encryption cover all network traffic, and would that matter? I think this is important and will raise it as a separate question.

Very useful for these days but why TOR software is not listed..?

Tor is an excellent product but is in a different product category than VPNs. See our review of Tor and similar services such as JonDo: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-anonymous-surfing-service.htm