As data attacks and hacking become more and more prominent, people are relying on VPN apps to help them secure their IP address from prying eyes. Since security and privacy are becoming more in the spotlight, the VPN industry is becoming increasingly competitive. They’ll do anything to get a lead on their growing competition.
Free online conversion sites and other popular websites rely on advertising to make a profit, and they’ll gladly display large adverts or create redirects on their site. Unlike regular adverts, more immersive, full-screen adverts can trick users into thinking that there is a severe issue with there computer and are more inclined to engage.
Described as “third party content,” websites redirect users to different websites, often disguised as reputable websites to gain user trust. Some adverts are smart enough to change based on what computer the user uses and adapts the screen accordingly.
An app called VPN Connect runs some of these adverts, disguised as Apple’s website. The full-screen message alerts the user that viruses were detected on the device, and if the user doesn’t take immediate action, severe damage may be caused.
It even has one of those exciting red countdown clocks that does nothing when it hits zero. It prompts the user to “install the recommended VPN and virus protection tool,” and redirects them to their app when they tap on the prompt.
Although the app seems free at first, it asks for the user to pay $9.99 a week later. It’s a scary thought that people fall for this and end up paying more than $500 a year because they thought that they didn’t have any other choice.
It’s not just small developers who use this trick. Big-name VPN and security company Norton VPN uses a similar tactic, redirecting users to a prompt, encouraging the use of their VPN to continue browsing safely. Their strategies are working, too. As of now, Norton VPN is the number one VPN on the Apple App Store.
Ytmp3, an online conversion service that contains code that redirects to “third-party services,” mentions that “we do not control and are not responsible for any Third Party Content.” They go on to say that “you may be exposed to content that is inaccurate, offensive, indecent, or otherwise objectionable or may cause harm to your computer systems.”
Almost every online conversion site, along with sites like EasyBib, incubate advertisements like these. Easybib is a site that many students rely on to cite papers, so it is worrisome that they support these advertisements.
Another popular VPN app, Nord VPN, uses a creative approach to drive users to there site. Instead of advertising on sites like Ytmp3, they take advantage of another website called Grabify. Grabify is a website designed to allow its users to create links that can access information about that device once clicked.
Grabify explains that their service can access the device’s IP address, Internet Service Provider, and approximate location. It can even access information such as if the device is charging, what orientation it’s in, and screen size.
This information can be used to orchestrate dangerous and highly believable phishing attacks on a device. Instead of a threat, Nord VPN found this as a business opportunity. In 2019, Grabify added a message to the home page of their website, stating “hide your IP from Grabify.”
The link redirects to NordVPN’s website, displaying the users’ IP address and internet service provider, encouraging them to start a free trial of their service.
While many can recognize the redirects as ads, less tech-savvy people might believe the message. Although these competitive strategies may seem relatively harmless, it can cause people to pay high prices that they may not be able to afford, cause anxiety, or install untrustworthy VPNs.
While many VPN services are harmless and ensure a more secure connection, other VPNs trick you into downloading it and then cause more harm than good. A sophisticated study concluded that 84% of Android VPNs would leak your IP address, 75% track you using third parties, 38% contain malware, and 18% are entirely ineffective.
Reliable and safe VPNs can offer you an extra layer of security. Still, it’s essential to realize that some VPNs, especially ones that use fear advertising, are overpriced or harm your system to make a profit. Before downloading a VPN, make sure to do your research, and don’t let red countdown timers intimidate you.