Which browser does VPN offer

VPN in the browser: how good are the free add-ons?

With a VPN ("Virtual Private Network") protect your privacy online or defy country-specific IP blocks. The easiest way to use it is to use a corresponding add-on for the browser. In this post we introduce you to various free tools for Chrome and Firefox and show you whether you can keep up with the commercial offers. In addition, you will find out what other alternatives there are to use VPN in the browser.

What is a VPN add-on?

A VPN add-on is an extension with which a VPN functionality is subsequently made available in a browser.

Am I protected outside of the browser with a VPN add-on?

No. All other programs and applications that have access to the Internet continue to send using your real IP address.

Do add-ons for the browser have the same functionality as commercial services?

No. The selection of available servers and countries is usually limited, and not all Internet services (e.g. streaming) are always supported.


1. An overview of popular VPN browser extensions

1.1. NordVPN

The NordVPN add-on for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox is not a VPN in the classic sense, but encrypts your data traffic via a proxy. For this purpose, HTTPS is activated for most websites and the traffic is secured with the help of the so-called "CyberSec" function, an additional security feature that keeps malware away from your computer. This also guarantees that your Windows computer cannot be misused for DDoS attacks.

Unfortunately, you cannot select a specific server via the extension.

The extension secures your entire data traffic (either all or nothing) with TLS v1.2., But works exclusively in the browser. NordVPN replaces your “real” IP address with one of a total of 5200 addresses available in 60 countries. This also gives you access to content (e.g. on YouTube or Netflix) that is subject to local restrictions. However, it is not possible to select a specific server in a specific country.

The NordVPN extension also includes an option that allows you to turn off the WebRTC protocol used by Firefox and Chrome by default. In this way, your IP address is protected from unwanted glances at all times.

According to the manufacturer, the add-on should work very quickly and efficiently, but unfortunately we had to notice significant speed losses in our test.

Good to know: NordVPN isn't actually free. However, the manufacturer offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, thanks to which you can test the service for one month free of charge and without risk. This is ideal if you only need VPN access temporarily for a short period of time.

1.2. ZenMate VPN

The Berlin VPN service ZenMate has been around since 2013. It is subject to the strict German data protection guidelines, which will especially please users who value a high level of protection from government surveillance (See also “Good to know” box).

The browser extension is available for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. After registering with the provider, a small green sign next to the address bar shows the activity of ZenMate. Click to view the connection status or Use the "Change your Location" button to switch between different servers from Germany, the USA, Romania or Hong Kong. This means that you not only move around the net undetected, but can also access blocked content.

With ZenMate, surfing security is guaranteed by TLS encryption and an additional firewall. However, the protection is limited to the browser, all other programs continue to communicate with the real IP address.

Good to know: The term "14 eyes" describes the amalgamation of secret services from different countries that arose from the UKUSA agreement. This primarily serves to combat international terrorism. However, if the headquarters of your VPN provider is in one of these countries, there is also a certain security risk associated with it, as the release of user data and connection protocols could be forced.

2. Opera comes with an integrated VPN

Opera is the first (and so far only) popular browser to integrate a free, unlimited VPN service. While in the earlier versions users still had to choose between turbo mode (a kind of accelerator for website calls via a proxy) and VPN, the former has now been "eliminated". VPN is simply more advanced.

Just like the add-ons already mentioned above, it only protects the user within the browser session. All other applications that have a connection to the Internet continue to transmit their “real” IP address to the network. If you value complete anonymity, you should therefore choose an alternative such as CyberGhost VPN or Kaspersky Secure Connection instead.

If only surfing is to be protected, the Opera VPN is a good choice. In terms of user-friendliness in particular, it is way ahead of the competition with VPN add-ons, as subsequent installation and set-up are completely unnecessary.

You can easily activate Opera's VPN service in the settings.

You can easily activate the VPN add-on using a slider in the Opera settings. The secured connection is then displayed via an icon in the left part of the address bar. Click it to change the virtual location of the VPN server. You have the choice between "Europe“, „North and South America" and "Asia". However, it is not possible to assign the IP address of a specific country.

Tip: With Opera Portable you can use the VPN functionality on the go, e.g. from a USB stick or an external hard drive.

3. Anonymous through the web with the TOR browser

If you want to be on the safe side, it is best to use the proxy service TOR ("The Onion Router"), in which your IP address and user information are hidden behind several layers. The browser is based on Firefox and establishes a secure connection to the network via a client. The entire traffic is routed through several anonymization servers and the data is encrypted and transmitted between the individual nodes.  

The TOR browser encrypts all data traffic and routes it through several anonymization servers.

When you try to follow your path through the Internet, only the IP address of the last node passed is known, the originally requesting client remains anonymous. However, not all connections are 100 percent encrypted here either: The traffic from the client to the entry node and from the exit node to the target computer is unencrypted.

As the TOR browser maintains a permanent VPN connection that routes all data traffic via (at least) three other computers, it is, however, significantly slower than a "normal" browser. In addition, the encryption and decryption processes at the communication points also cost an enormous amount of time.

You can use all Internet services with TOR (including instant messaging, SSH or IRC, for example), but the program reaches its limits when streaming films with high resolution.

4. Conclusion: The free VPN add-ons are good for that

Bandwidth-intensive activities such as video streaming are unfortunately not possible with the TOR browser due to the lack of speed.

The bottom line is that there are some good (free) ways to use VPN in the browser, but even the most secure of them are not entirely risk-free. The tools are limited to browser protection, which means that all other programs that have an Internet connection will continue to reveal your true identity. The selection of countries and servers is also very limited for all add-ons; the assignment is usually carried out automatically via an algorithm.

Many providers also add a limit to their free extensions that can only be removed by upgrading to a premium service. With the integrated VPN from Opera and the TOR browser, however, it fails because of the speed: Unfortunately, bandwidth-intensive activities such as excessive video streaming are not possible with this. Some of the providers even forbid it completely.

All in all, one can say that the free options (with the possible exception of the TOR project) have so far not been able to hold a candle to commercial services. If you want to make as few concessions as possible in terms of speed and also not only want to secure your browser, you would be much better off with a premium service.

For some more VPN services for Google Chrome, check out the video below:

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VPN in the browser: how good are the free add-ons?
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