The best Free VPNs

In this digital age, protecting your online privacy is crucial. As we move into 2023, free VPNs are becoming popular for those looking to secure their internet use without spending money. But with so many options, it can be hard to know which ones are reliable. 

This article sifts through the market to find the best free VPNs available, focusing on the features that matter most for security and privacy without dipping into your wallet.

Our team, composed of VPN experts, has rigorously tested a variety of VPN services to bring you this curated list of the best free VPNs for 2023. We’ve spent hours analysing each service’s performance, scrutinising their security protocols, and assessing user-friendliness to ensure our recommendations stand up to the needs of everyday internet users. Our hands-on experience and technical expertise mean we can confidently guide you through the maze of options to the VPNs that offer robust protection without costing a penny.

How do we test free VPNs?

Our evaluation of free VPNs is thorough and methodical, ensuring that the services we recommend are not only cost-free but also secure, efficient, and versatile. Here’s how we assess them:

Security: We begin by testing each VPN’s security credentials. This involves running each service through DNS leak tests to check for vulnerabilities that could expose user data to Internet service providers (ISPs). A secure VPN should have no such leaks.

Server Availability: While free VPNs typically have fewer servers than their paid counterparts, the best ones still offer a reasonable selection across different locations. We look for free VPNs that provide a variety of servers, which is crucial for maintaining anonymity online.

Speed: Speed is a significant factor, especially for free VPNs that may impose limitations. We conduct speed tests on various servers to see how they perform against our baseline internet speed without a VPN. The top free VPNs manage to provide decent speeds despite being free.

Streaming Compatibility: Many users turn to VPNs to access geo-restricted content. We test each free VPN with multiple streaming services to see which ones can bypass geo-blocks effectively. The best free VPNs manage to work around these restrictions, allowing access to popular streaming platforms.

Data Limits: Free VPNs often come with data restrictions. We consider the data allowance provided by each service, as this will affect the overall usability of the VPN for daily tasks like browsing and streaming.

Simultaneous Connections: We also look at how many devices you can connect to the VPN at once. Even free VPNs should offer the ability to use multiple devices on a single account.

User Experience: A good VPN should be user-friendly. We test each VPN’s interface and setup process to ensure that it’s straightforward and accessible, even for those who are new to VPNs.

By applying these criteria, we aim to identify free VPNs that offer the best combination of security, performance, and user convenience without the need for a subscription.

Do free VPNs have limitations?

Free VPNs, while attractive for their lack of cost, inherently come with certain limitations when compared to their paid counterparts. These restrictions are not just about maintaining a sustainable business model but also about incentivising users to upgrade to paid plans.

Data Caps

One of the primary limitations of free VPNs is data caps. Unlike paid services that offer unlimited bandwidth, free VPNs often restrict the amount of data you can use each month. This can range from a few hundred megabytes to several gigabytes. While this may be sufficient for occasional browsing, it can be quickly exhausted, especially if you’re streaming video or downloading large files. This limitation is one of the most significant drawbacks for users who consume a lot of media or require constant online presence for work or communication.

Speed

Another area where free VPNs often cut corners is speed. Bandwidth is expensive, and free VPNs have to manage their costs by limiting the speed of their connections. This can result in slower download and upload speeds, longer connection times, and sometimes even intermittent disconnections. During peak times, when more users are online, these issues can become more pronounced, leading to a frustrating user experience.

Server Selection

Server selection is also typically limited with free VPNs. Paid VPN services boast extensive networks of servers across the globe, allowing users to connect virtually from any location. Free VPNs, on the other hand, tend to offer a more limited selection of servers, which not only affects the speed and reliability of the service but also reduces the users’ ability to bypass geo-restrictions effectively.

Simultaneous connections

Moreover, free VPNs may also implement limitations on the number of simultaneous connections. While a paid service might allow five to ten or more devices to connect at once, a free service might restrict this to just one or two. This can be a significant hindrance for a user with multiple devices or for families and households where several people need to use the VPN at the same time.

User data

Finally, the very business model of free VPNs often necessitates some form of revenue generation, which can come in the form of ads or, in some cases, the selling of user data. This can not only interrupt the user experience but also raise concerns about the privacy and security that VPNs are meant to provide.

In summary, while free VPNs offer a no-cost solution to online privacy and security, they do so with a set of limitations that can affect speed, data availability, server access, and overall user experience. Users must weigh these limitations against their needs to determine if a free VPN is sufficient for their use case or if a paid VPN might be a more suitable option.

The best free VPNs (2023)

1. ProtonVPN 🥇

The most reliable free VPN

  • Compatible with all major operating systems
  • 86 servers worldwide
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • No Data Limits
  • No logs policy and advanced security measures
  • Advanced anti-censorship features
the best free VPNs

ProtonVPN stands out as the best free VPN due to its strict no-logs policy and unlimited bandwidth, ensuring users can enjoy secure, private browsing without any data restrictions.

Additionally, its ability to bypass censorship and provide access to servers in multiple countries makes it a versatile choice for a free VPN service.

2. Windscribe

A trustworthy free VPN

  • 10GB of data transfer per month
  • Split tunneling, ad-blocking, and anti-malware protection
  • High-Speed Connections
  • Allows use on up to 999 devices simultaneously
  • No Mandatory Registration
  • Indefinite Access
the best free VPNs

Windscribe’s free VPN stands out with its generous 10GB monthly data allowance and a suite of advanced features typically reserved for paid services, such as ad-blocking and anti-malware protection.

Its allowance for simultaneous connection to up to 999 devices and the option to use it without registration make it a particularly user-friendly and versatile free VPN option.

3. Tunnelbear

A decent free VPN

  • 500 MB of free data each month
  • Audited multiple times, ensuring security and reliability
  • Verified no-logs policy
  • Available on all major platforms
  • Protect data during brief disconnections
  • GhostBear makes encrypted data less detectable to ISPs
the best free VPNs

TunnelBear’s free VPN is a solid choice due to its commitment to user privacy, demonstrated by its verified no-logs policy and multiple independent security audits.

Additionally, features like VigilantBear, which acts as an enhanced kill switch, and GhostBear, which disguises VPN traffic, provide an extra layer of security and make it harder for VPN traffic to be detected and blocked.

4. Hide.me

Capable and reliable

  • User-Friendly Interface
  • 10 GB monthly data limit
  • Comprehensive Security
  • Strict no-logs policy, confirmed by independent security audits
  • Reliable Connections
  • 24/7 technical support to all users
the best free VPNs

Hide.me stands out as a good free VPN option due to its strong commitment to user privacy, backed by a no-logs policy and independent audits that confirm no user data is stored or sold.

It also offers a user-friendly interface with a generous 10 GB monthly data allowance and robust security features like AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, and 24/7 technical support, ensuring a secure and convenient online experience without ads or data throttling.

5. AtlasVPN

A solid free VPN package

  • Fast connection speeds
  • SafeSwap rotates your IP address
  • Streamlined Protocols
  • Strong Security Features
  • Responsive Customer Support
  • Built-in Blockers
the best free VPNs

AtlasVPN’s free version is highly regarded for its fast connection speeds and unique SafeSwap technology, which enhances user privacy by rotating IP addresses.

Additionally, its inclusion of modern protocols like WireGuard, strong security features with military-grade encryption, responsive customer support, and integrated ad and tracker blockers provide a comprehensive package.

Free VPNs vs Paid VPNs

When comparing free VPNs to paid VPNs, it’s important to consider several key factors that typically differentiate the two services:

Cost

  • Free VPNs: No financial investment is required.
  • Paid VPNs: Monthly or annual subscription fees apply.

Security

  • Free VPNs: Generally offer basic encryption but may lack advanced security features. Some may also log user data.
  • Paid VPNs: Often provide stronger security protocols, no-log policies, and additional features like kill switches.

Data Limits

  • Free VPNs: Usually have data usage caps, which can restrict streaming, downloading, and extensive browsing.
  • Paid VPNs: Typically offer unlimited bandwidth, allowing for heavy usage without throttling.

Speed

  • Free VPNs: Often have fewer servers which can be congested, leading to slower speeds.
  • Paid VPNs: Invest in infrastructure to provide higher speeds and more reliable connections, even during peak times.

Server Access

  • Free VPNs: Offer a limited number of servers, which can lead to overcrowding and limited access to global content.
  • Paid VPNs: Have extensive networks of servers worldwide, providing more options to bypass geo-restrictions.

Privacy

  • Free VPNs: The business model may include ads or the selling of user data to third parties.
  • Paid VPNs: More likely to have strict no-logs policies, ensuring user data isn’t stored or sold.

Simultaneous Connections

  • Free VPNs: Typically allow fewer simultaneous connections, sometimes just one device at a time.
  • Paid VPNs: Usually allow multiple devices to be connected at the same time.

Customer Support

  • Free VPNs: Support may be limited or slower to respond due to the lack of revenue to fund customer service teams.
  • Paid VPNs: Often offer 24/7 customer support with quicker response times and more resources for troubleshooting.

Features

  • Free VPNs: Basic features are common, with advanced features being rare or non-existent.
  • Paid VPNs: Offer a range of advanced features, such as split tunneling, dedicated servers, and more.

Streaming and Torrenting

  • Free VPNs: May not consistently bypass geo-blocks on streaming sites and often discourage or prohibit torrenting.
  • Paid VPNs: Regularly update their servers to bypass geo-blocks and typically support P2P file sharing.

In essence, while free VPNs are suitable for users with minimal requirements, paid VPNs are generally better for those who need robust security, extensive usage, and a wider range of features.

The decision between using a free VPN or investing in a paid one should be based on an individual’s specific needs and concerns about privacy, security, and overall internet usage.

Are free VPNs legitimate?

The legitimacy of free VPNs can be a topic of concern for users who are cautious about their online security and privacy. To address whether free VPNs are legitimate, it’s important to consider various aspects of VPN services and the business models they operate under.

Firstly, there are indeed legitimate free VPNs that provide a basic level of service without charging the user. These services are often offered by companies that also have paid VPN offerings, using the free version as a gateway to their premium services. The free version may have limitations, such as data caps, speed restrictions, and a limited number of servers, but they are provided by reputable companies that are upfront about their policies and limitations.

However, the business model of a free VPN is crucial to understand. Running a VPN service involves significant costs, including server maintenance, infrastructure, and customer support. To cover these costs, some free VPNs may show ads, offer in-app purchases, or provide a freemium model where the basic service is free, but advanced features require payment. These practices are generally legitimate and transparent.

The area of concern arises with how some free VPNs may handle user data. It’s essential to read the privacy policy of any VPN service. A legitimate free VPN will have a clear policy stating that they do not log or sell user data. However, there have been instances where free VPNs have been caught logging user activity or using insecure protocols, leading to privacy breaches.

Moreover, the legitimacy of a free VPN can also be gauged by its transparency and the reputation of its developers. A VPN that is open about its practices, has a track record of positive user reviews, and is developed by a company with a history of reliability is more likely to be legitimate. On the other hand, a VPN that is vague about its operations, has numerous negative reviews, or is associated with developers who have a questionable history should be approached with caution.

Can a free VPN be hacked?

The question of whether a free VPN can be hacked is akin to asking if any online service is vulnerable to cyber threats – the answer is yes, but the level of risk varies. Free VPNs are not exempt from the vulnerabilities that any internet-connected service might face, and in some cases, they may be more susceptible due to the potential lack of robust security measures.

Free VPN services often operate with tighter budget constraints than paid services, which can lead to compromises in their security infrastructure. For instance, they may not invest as heavily in advanced encryption protocols or in the regular auditing and updating of their systems to patch vulnerabilities. This could make them easier targets for hackers looking to exploit weaknesses.

Moreover, the business model of some free VPNs may involve logging user data to support advertising or other revenue-generating activities. If a VPN service keeps logs of user activity, there’s a risk that these logs could be accessed by unauthorised parties in the event of a data breach. This risk is compounded if the VPN provider does not implement stringent data security measures.

It’s also worth noting that the very nature of VPNs means they handle all of your internet traffic, which includes sensitive information. If a hacker were to breach a free VPN, they could potentially intercept, view, or even alter this data. This could lead to a range of issues from privacy breaches to identity theft.

However, it’s not just free VPNs that are at risk of hacking – any VPN, or indeed any online service, can be compromised. The difference often lies in the response; paid VPN services typically have more resources to respond to and recover from cyber attacks, including technical support teams to assist users.

Is using a VPN legal?

The legality of using a VPN varies significantly from country to country. In most parts of the world, using a VPN is perfectly legal. Many businesses and individuals use VPNs legitimately to enhance their online security and privacy. VPNs protect sensitive data from potential hackers, allow employees to securely access corporate networks remotely, and enable users to maintain their digital privacy.

In countries with open internet policies, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia, the use of VPNs is legal and widely accepted. In these regions, the use of VPN technology is seen as a legitimate tool for protecting personal privacy and corporate data. Individuals also use VPNs for accessing geo-restricted content, such as streaming services that are not available in their region, which, while often against the service provider’s terms of use, is not typically illegal.

However, there are some countries where the government maintains strict control over internet access and imposes censorship, such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. In these countries, the use of VPNs is heavily regulated or outright banned. The governments in these regions may restrict VPN use to control the flow of information and prevent the bypassing of state-imposed content restrictions. In such environments, using a VPN without government approval can lead to fines or other legal penalties.

Even in countries where VPNs are legal, it’s important to note that illegal online activity remains unlawful, regardless of whether a VPN is used or not. VPNs may provide privacy, but they do not offer immunity from laws. Engaging in activities such as hacking, accessing illegal content, or committing fraud while using a VPN is illegal and punishable by law.

Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.

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