Today, most digital devices can accommodate internet browsing. However, nothing else is as popular as mobile internet. Why? Because users can enjoy the vastness of the web in the grasp of their palms. Mobile browsing has become easy and fun. But the critical credit goes to popular platforms that have developed over the decade. One such operating system that reigns supreme today is Android. When it started, no one knew how revolutionary the OS would end up being. But with the advent of the official app store, we saw a rise in the availability of APKs, VPN or otherwise, that can be dangerous,
Android has over 2.8 billion active users. Consequently, many hackers and the like have shifted attention to its user base owing to the large potential market. Surveillance and targeted marketing also found their way. Thus, VPNs, too, started exploring options and numerous providers are active on the Google Play Store (the official Android apps marketplace). However, users have to understand that APKs can be dangerous. Additionally, when we talk about VPN APKs, the danger is twofold. Let’s clarify.
What is an APK File?
APK stands for Android Package Kit, i.e., Android application package. It is the file format the Android platform and derivative operating systems rely on to distribute and install applications. Thus, an APK file contains all the necessary codes and elements that an app needs for a successful installation. However, APKs are archive files. Meaning, they have multiple different files in a single package. For comparison, readers can look up ZIP or RAR—APK works the same way. However, APKs only work on Android and Android-based platforms.
An APK combines multiple files to make them more portable or compress them to save space. Since this archive distributes software, it is also known as a software package. Further, the latest Windows iteration, Windows 11, also uses a software package (APPX) to install apps. Like any other software package, when you open an APK file, it will contain instructions for installation on the Android OS.
Most of the time, when you visit an official Android app repository, the Google Play Store, it automatically installs the app. The store doesn’t download the actual APK package but directly downloads and installs it onto the operating systems. However, you can also manually download APK software packages from other sources and run them on your Android phone.
How can APKs be dangerous, VPN or otherwise?
This shouldn’t be surprising—like any other software package, you don’t know what’s inside. Thus, downloading a malicious file from a suspicious source can be harmful. Today, many users rely on their smartphones for most online activities, including financial ones. A malicious file can easily harm your interests. An app needs various types of permission to function. Blindly allowing any APK permission can easily backfire. Although files from official sources tend to be trustworthy, some services themselves can put users at risk.
Take a VPN, for example. Users willingly hand over their data to the vendor. In such cases, no matter which permission you grant, your data remain at their mercy. Thus, such APKs, despite being acceptable from a technical point of view, can still render your loss. VPN APKs, themselves are essential, for many countries actively block VPNs. Thus, a third party is necessary, so you can side-load VPN apps on your device. Again, not all APKs are trustworthy.
Some VPNs have alarming policies and dangerous monitoring models. They take advantage of the fact that Android users can side-load apps, and use them to infest your device with adware. Other supposedly legitimate APKs available on the Play Store can, in reality, be a trap with tons of unnecessary permissions and faulty logging policies. Recently, Google had made a list of suspicious or dangerous apps and removed them from the App Store and VPNs made a large portion.
VPN APKs carry these risks
VPN APKs can be perilous, as VPN itself works on a trust model, and application packages are popular. One wrong move and you can land into unwarranted trouble. Some potential hazards associated with VPN APKs are:
- Compromises security — Some VPNs include bugs and malware in their APK. When you load the app, you permit the malware to run rampant in the background. It is adware that is the primary source of revenue for free VPNs.
- Tracks online activity — Another practice is installing a tracker on your device via the VPN. These third-party VPN trackers are the type that follows you all over the internet, gathering data on your daily activities. A tracker defies the whole purpose of a VPN.
- False advertising — Many vendors claim geo-unblocking as a feature on their free app. Sadly, the reality differs. Save a few genuine apps (premium ones included) bypassing blocks on popular streaming services like Netflix is a hoax intended to lure customers.
- Bandwidth limit — Many free providers practice bandwidth restrictions. It bounds the user into a data cap and pushes for a paid upgrade, which isn’t a risk itself. Unfortunately, these practices drive users to go for alternate free VPNs when they run out.
- Adware infestation — Since these VPNs offer their network free of cost, they look for other avenues of profit. One such model is partnering with an advertiser and infesting the device with adware. You may expect free VPNs to have ads, but you’d be surprised at the number that may pop up in mere minutes.
- Selling your data — Yet another maleficence is data mining and engaging in data selling. Since VPNs have your data, they remain unperturbed while doing so. Taking things further, they also sell your data to willing third parties, which puts you at risk.
- Unnecessary permissions — This is a trick that plays on users’ carelessness and desire to quickly get things up and running. We mention some permissions VPN doesn’t require below.
Which VPN APKs are dangerous?
Here are some examples of VPN APKs that have proven to be dangerous.
- Yoga VPN — The VPN tops the list with six dangerous permissions, including actively reading your device state. Furthermore, the provider is also interested in your phone number and cellular network while you’re on a call. Why do they need it? Who knows! The provider is a mystery, with little to no information available on the internet, including its headquarters. Also, it lacks basic security parameters.
- proXPN VPN — The app seems to be dead on the Play Store since 2017, yet remains available for download? On another note, this app requires permissions like writing on your SD card, your current geolocation, and access to your calls.
- oVPNSpider — The service requires permissions for call logs, your present GPS location, and writing authority to your storage. This could be so they can backload malicious code or software. Despite its stellar 4-5 star reviews, the app screams adware or malware. Also, it regularly leaks DNS, defeating the purpose of the VPN.
- Hola Free VPN — Hola has a shady history. However, unlike Turbo VPN, which we haven’t included here, it remains a popular choice. It shares its network with third parties as it borrows servers. It doesn’t even encrypt your traffic, leaving it open for misuse on the Hola network.