Over 5.7 billion records were exposed due to a free VPN provider that catered to consumers in China.
According to a report by Cybernews (opens in new tab), the Airplane Accelerates apps (the Chinese version of which has over 3,000 ratings on the App Store) exposed a shocking amount of user data, including user IDs, IP addresses, domain names, and timestamps.
Researchers estimate that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Chinese users may have been impacted due to the app’s availability across many platforms.
And it’s even worse than your average data breach
Cybernews researcher Aras Nazarovas said, “This leak is noteworthy since the exposed data might be used to de-anonymize and follow the users of this app.” Analysis of the Android software likewise reveals that it can act as spyware and is equipped with remote code execution capabilities.
Scientists discovered an alarmingly high rate of permission requests being issued by the Android VPN software. These include the ability to view and record video and audio, as well as manage contacts, external storage, and even update software.
Although antivirus programmes do not indicate this app as harmful, Nazarovas says, “our research of it raises some big red flags.”
A month ago, when the leak was first found, Cybernews contacted AP Network PTY Ltd, the Australian business behind this free VPN service. Since they haven’t heard back from anyone, they’ve decided to release the study publicly because it’s in the public’s best interest.
Risk of Using a Free VPN
This is not the first time that using a free VPN service to protect sensitive information has backfired.
The long-term cost in terms of data security may be higher if you click on dangerous adverts, whether that’s because your activity is tracked, your personal information is exposed, or your device is infected with malware or viruses.
The question of who owns the company providing the free service can also raise eyebrows. Top10VPN’s (opens in new tab) analysis of the 30 most downloaded apps on Google Play showed that 59% of them masked Chinese ownership.
People in authoritarian states like China may face serious consequences if their use of a virtual private network (VPN) programme is revealed to the government, as reported by Cybernews. Because of this, we make sure to only ever recommend the most reliable providers on our China VPN list and are always adding new ones to it.
Privacy isn’t the only concern, though. Unlocking other catalogues on streaming services and attaining faster connection speeds are two further areas where many free VPNs fall short, contributing to their subpar overall capabilities.