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Your free VPN app could be a trojan: how to spot fake VPNs

A fake VPN could steal your private information and track your every move online. If you’ve accidentally downloaded a fake VPN app, uninstall it now.

Zen Bahar

Zen Bahar

Your free VPN app could be a trojan: how to spot fake VPNs

What is a fake VPN app?

Often developed by hackers, fake VPN apps are commonly free. You’ll find them sitting amongst legitimate VPN apps in app stores waiting to prey on unsuspecting users.

A fake VPN app will claim to keep your connection private and secure, but in reality, it will try to get into your phone, to find your personal information and abuse it for fraud.

Sometimes, fake VPN apps can even install malware and spyware on your phone, so that the people behind the app can hack your camera and watch your every move.

Why are fake VPNs dangerous?

Fake apps slip past the radar all the time. Just last month Google removed over 200 infected apps from its Play Store, urging customers to delete them. Meanwhile, some of the most popular apps like NewProfilePic are being investigated for being owned by Russian spies.

If your VPN is a scam, your connection is not secure or private. The owners of the app, whether they’re hackers or corrupt developers, will be able to watch everything you do online, infect your devices, and sell your data for money.

What can fake VPNs do to me?

Here are 4 things a fake VPN can do to you:

A fake VPN will sell your data

If you thought your ISP (internet service provider) was criminal for bandwidth throttling, and selling your data to third parties, you’ll be horrified to hear that fake VPNs can do the same thing.

When you use a fake VPN, all of your traffic is routed through their servers, which means they can store it and sell it to third parties for profit.

Fake VPN apps will steal your WiFi

Fake VPN apps could use your device in a botnet. A botnet will slow down your device and internet connection to an insufferable degree since it uses the collective power of infected devices to fuel another project.

Having dedicated servers is one of the most expensive aspects for a VPN company. Servers need to be located, managed, secured, and encrypted, so free or fake VPNs will often try to wriggle out of that cost.

Fake VPNs may plant malware on your device

Fake VPNs can inject your device with malware simply by installing the app. Once infected, the fake VPN provider can bombard you with spam emails, hijack your online accounts, steal your payment information, and even lock you out of your devices and hold you to ransom.

In 2020, a dangerous strain of malware called DanaBot was hidden inside malicious software disguised as VPNs, anti-virus programs, or online games. DanaBot is now apparently spreading through pirated or cracked versions of software. This Trojan malware can steal anything from your online banking credentials to your passwords – so be careful out there.

A fake VPN might not even encrypt your data

Encryption is a complicated process perfected and maintained by security developers. Even if a fake or free VPN claims to encrypt your data, the developers could still have access to the server itself, which could allow them or potential hackers to see your online activity.

By comparison, NordVPN uses 256-bit AES data encryption, an excellent firewall, and is end-to-end encrypted. That's how NordVPN protects the privacy of its customers.

Are free VPNs fake?

If a free VPN isn’t keeping your connection private and secure like a VPN is supposed to, then you could call it a fake VPN. Free VPNs need to make money somehow, and they usually do that by selling your data to advertisers and third parties. It’s worth noting, however, that there are some rare exceptions when it comes to free VPNs. But, it's always worth following our advice below, on whether you should trust it or not.

If you want to guard your privacy and stay secure online, don’t risk it on free VPNs owned by questionable entities. You can get NordVPN for less than $4 a month and use it on up to six devices at the same time.

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How to spot a fake VPN app

There are four ways to spot a fake app. If it has a vague privacy policy, strange contact details, and bad reviews, or if it hasn’t listed its encryption method. Here’s a quick checklist of what to look out for:

A vague privacy policy

Fake VPN apps might claim to keep your online activities private, but they probably won’t make the effort to form a detailed privacy policy. If it seems vague or doesn’t even exist, it could be a fake VPN.

If you can find one, note what data it collects, how long it stores it, and how it uses it. By contrast, here’s a clear indication of how NordVPN protects users' privacy.

Strange contact details

A legitimate company makes it easy for customers to contact it. If the contact details listed are a random Gmail address, chances are you’re dealing with a fake VPN app.

Legitimate VPN apps will list numerous ways to contact them, including a business address and an email address with a company domain.

Bad reviews

Sometimes it's good to follow the crowd. If hundreds of people have given the app poor ratings, trust those ratings. Sacrificing your privacy, identity, confidential information, and online activity to cybercriminals for the sake of a few dollars just isn't worth the risk.

If in doubt, look on the app’s website (if it has one) for FAQ pages, active community forums, and customer support. You could also check its social media presence to see how fast they respond to customers.

Weak encryption

Fake VPN apps probably won’t list the type of encryption they use, since they don’t intend to keep you truly private. However, the best VPNs use AES 256-bit encryption, and anything less is cause for concern.

Remember, it's far better to subscribe to a trusted, reputable VPN app than download a risky free VPN or what could be a fake VPN app.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

Also available in: Svenska.

Zen Bahar
Zen Bahar Zen Bahar
Zen likes to use her cybersecurity knowledge to help protect the privacy and freedom of others, otherwise, you can find her playing with paints in her studio in London.