Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have long been a popular tool for online privacy. Businesses have implemented them to securely connect remote workers to corporate resources. Privacy-conscious individuals have used them to keep their browsing private on public networks. Savvy consumers of digital media have switched them on to access content only available in another geographic region or to download torrents (even legal ones) from P2P file-sharing sites.
Only in the past few years, however, have VPNs really begun to take off as a popular consumer service.
Perhaps that’s because of the increasingly alarming headlines about data breaches. Maybe it’s the rise of bring-your-own device (BYOD) workplaces, where employees would rather not reveal their browsing data to employers. Whatever the case may be, companies offering private VPN services have seen a relative surge in interest, particularly from those looking for access from mobile devices.
Because of the increase in demand, numerous private VPN providers have developed mobile apps. Some of these apps offer free access to a network, while others charge a monthly subscription rate for services.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), however, reports that most of the apps available on the Google Play Store don’t make the grade in their ability to protect users’ privacy or security.
Out of the 283 mobile VPN apps CSIRO reviewed, 18% create private network tunnels without any encryption, essentially negating their purpose. Even more concerning: 84% of the VPNs did not properly encrypt traffic between sites using the latest standards.
With VPN apps gaining access to your web traffic, it’s imperative that you find a provider worthy of your trust. Instead of helping, they could be doing you harm; providers might sell your data to marketers or hand it over to government agencies.
The authors of the CSIRO report suggest that you start by limiting your search to paid services. VPN infrastructure is costly, and it only makes sense that you will get what you pay for. CSIRO did find some worthy options, a few of which they name in their full report.