5 Ways a Free VPS Can Endanger Your Privacy
Looking for a free VPS? Before we get started, we should discuss what a VPS is.
A virtual private server (VPS) is a virtualized server remotely hosted on a machine owned (or leased) by an internet hosting provider. The machine itself is physical, while the VPS is part of a virtual environment, and the operating system which you will choose is a server OS.
VPS hosting is not usually described as affordable. For hosting websites with high-performance requirements, you’re looking at $50 a month, minimum. Usually aimed at business customers, a VPS often comes with some useful features like SSL/HTTPS built in. Such servers are typically used for online stores.
Using a VPS as a personal VPN, however, requires far less in the way of hardware resources. This makes it the perfect solution for hosting your VPN.
Whether you plan to use a VPS long term or just to try it out, you might consider a free VPS host. While some VPS hosts offer free trials, often these are little more than a scam, a gateway to your bank details.
Worse still, that’s just the beginning.
1. Free VPS Located in a Place With Sketchy Laws
When you’re looking to subscribe to a hosted VPN, one of the most important considerations is its location. It’s an advantage if the service resides in a nation without data retention laws. Better still is a VPN host that doesn’t fall under the auspices of the 5-Eyes surveillance alliance .
Similarly, if you’re planning to set up a personal VPN on a free VPS host, the location of the VPS server is paramount.
While this may not be your only privacy concern, if the VPS isn’t registered in a safe location, avoid it.
2. Can You Trust the Free VPS Host With Your Data?
You need to trust the VPS host before you sign up for it.
Signing up for a service means submitting your personal data as part of the sign-up process. For free trials, you may also need to use a credit card. Once you’ve done that and your account is created, you’ll need to set up your VPS (which involves installing the server software onto the virtualized server).
Another issue is whether logs are kept of your activity. Can you trust the VPS not to retain logs of when you log on, your IP address, or monitor your connection of evidence of activity? Can you be certain that this information won’t then be sold to advertisers or given away under legal duress?
No, you can’t.
3. A Free VPS Could Be a “Man in the Middle”
The potential for security and privacy abuses by the owner of a free VPS doesn’t end there.
A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) occurs when you log into what appears to be a legitimate destination (a router, server, or website). The MITM attacker then uses the fake or compromised destination to capture your login, passwords, and other personal data. These scams usually go after financial information.
4. Is the Free VPS Free of Vulnerabilities?
Whether the free VPS host offers Windows or Linux, vulnerabilities can always exist.
After all, why would the owner of a free VPS spend time updating software and hardware? They’ve probably got paid customers to service. Checking the available operating systems and ensuring they’re regularly updated is wise whatever VPS you’re using.
But if the VPS environment isn’t offering up-to-date OS options, there’s a risk that your VPN installation can be subverted. Consider, for example, the hardware vulnerabilities in AMD and Intel processors, Meltdown and Spectre. If mitigation isn’t in place for these flaws, they can potentially be exploited.
While an extreme example, it nevertheless illustrates that the VPS host is not obliged to maintain a free server.
5. A Free VPS Server Could Be a Scam
Finally, very few genuine free VPS services are available. Among those that are, the aim is almost certainly to onboard potential customers with the promise of gratis hosting. While the trial-period offers are oftentimes legitimate, a few disreputable hosts abuse the concept.
When a scam is in operation, the free VPS does not exist. Victims are encouraged to sign up, choose the free VPS option, but provide card details. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the free VPS doesn’t exist.
Instead, it is a scam, and victims’ credit cards are charged.
Given how freely scammers misuse their victims’ data (see above), don’t expect this to be the end of it.
Forget Free VPS Providers
Free trials are useful. Whenever a reputable VPS offers them, they’re worth trying before buying.
However, free VPS providers that don’t have that layer of trust should be avoided. Privacy is key when hosting a VPN. If you cannot trust your VPS host with a single item in this list, then it’s time to reconsider.
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