A VPN app is supposed to give you privacy and security online: that is a fundamental pillar of the technology. As we’ve said in the past, it’s very difficult to tell whether you’re getting that privacy or not because most people aren’t security experts.
And this is why we have also said it’s important to use a VPN from a reputable provider who doesn’t hide their ownership of the service. After all, ultimately you are putting your trust in that service to keep your activity private and inaccessible to prying eyes.
Recently, VPNpro investigated some of the top-ranking free VPN apps in the Google Play store and found hideous vulnerabilities which would allow anyone to see which websites you were browsing and just about all other data being sent from your Android device to the VPN provider’s server – including usernames and passwords.
That’s because they are badly coded and in some cases were simply not encrypting sensitive data at all. Others used hard-coded encryption keys which were stored within the app, meaning that anyone who knows what they’re doing can use those keys to decrypt the data and view it.
Some of these apps are still available in Google Play including:
- Best Ultimate VPN
- Korea VPN
- VPN Unblocker Free unlimited Best Anonymous Secure
- Super VPN 2019 USA
It’s worth pointing out that the worst offender – in terms of number of installs – has now been removed by Google from the store. SuperVPN had over 100M downloads, and had a critical flaw which allowed a so-called ‘man-in-the-middle attack’ which could be used to steal your data.
Other similar apps have been removed recently including Wuma VPN-PRO, VPN Download and Power VPN Free VPN but it does rather highlight the problems with Google Play Protect which is supposed to protect your device from harmful apps by checking them before they can be downloaded to your phone.
What Protect will do, however, is notify you if an app is removed from the Play Store because it’s found to be able to access your personal information. So at least you’ll get a prompt to remove it, and hopefully before any damage is done.
Watch out for fake app reviews
What this shows is that you shouldn’t trust an app just because millions of people have downloaded it.
Also watch out for fake reviews. Often, dodgy app developers use malware that hides in the background and posts fake reviews of apps without you knowing. And the sheer number of five-star reviews can propel any app to the top of the charts as people believe them and install the app.
You can usually spot these false ratings because multiple reviews use the same phrases and typically also are written in poor English.
Is it safe to use a free VPN app?
Yes, it is so long as you use trustworthy websites for recommendations. We have a roundup of the best free VPN apps, all of which are available for Android.
There are disadvantages of using a free VPN as opposed to a paid-for service but in the case of those we recommend, there are no compromises on security or privacy.
For more you can read free VPN vs paid VPN.