Hola (http://hola.org) is an extremely popular free VPN provider. Not least because of the price. According to their website, over 47 million people use Hola. Many of the user are using Hola for unblocking geographically restricted content such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer to name a few. If you are a user, we strongly recommend you to read through their FAQ. If you know what they are up to, you’ll probably wish you’d never installed the app in the first place.
We’ve previously covered Hola, and in principle we liked the idea of building a distributed VPN network and thus being able to offer a free peer-to-peer style encrypted network. However, in general, we advise people not to use free VPN solutions as a rule of thumb – as there will always be a catch.
Hola Networks Limited was launched in late 2012 by two Israeli entrepreneurs and quickly gained high popularity. The promise of a free VPN is compelling. However, if you’re a user of Hola we strongly recommend you to read their FAQs on how the service works. The reality will most likely make you delete Hola from you computer immediately and wish you never installed it in the first place. Here’s why.
The Hola company claims the following: “The Internet is slowed down by server response times, Internet congestion, round trip times, and poorly written communication stacks in operating systems. Hola removes these bottlenecks by securely caching content on peers as they view it, and later serving it up to other nearby peers as they need it. Hola also compresses communication between peers to further speed the net.”
The problem with Hola is every user in reality is contributing to the VPN network. Each computer becomes a node.
Over the past few days it has surfaced that Hola in fact are reselling this collective bandwidth under a different brand called Hola for Business – or, Luminati (http://luminati.io).
Normally, when you signup for a VPN you get access to the company’s infrastructure of servers. This number can be anywhere from 1 to 1,000. For instance, the popular VPN provider HideMyAss Pro VPN currently has 848 servers in 193 countries boasting 100,522+ IP addresses. IPVanish VPN, another popular VPN provider has 140 servers in 61 countries totaling 14,000 IP addresses.
Compare this to Luminati. Every single free user of Hola effectively becomes a IP endpoint because Hola will use any idle bandwidth ressource on Luminati. Luminati boasts of having “More than 9,761,015 exit nodes” on their website.
So not only will your idle bandwidth be consumed by Luminati. New evidence brought to light by Frederick Brennan, the moderator of the 8chan forum, suggests that the type of traffic that runs through your IP is in fact supporting illegal activities. The 8chan forum had multiple denial of service attacks, and Mr. Brennan was able to identify Hola’s Luminati as the providing network.
So even if you decide to get rid of the Hola app from your mobile phone you may have problems getting rid of it. After uninstalling Hola from a mobile phone, evidence by a reddit user showed that Hola was still consuming 99% of his bandwidth.
Button line is you don’t want your computer to contribute bandwidth and IP address to illegal activities. As such, it’s a high price to pay for a free VPN service. We recommend using a regular, premium VPN service or, potentially TunnelBear – but make sure to read their TOS and FAQ before installing!