Opera VPN: Is It Strong Enough To Keep You Safe?
Without effective browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera, we’d all be wandering around lost in cyberspace. Browsers do incredible things using complex crawlers and extensive indexes but, as the threat of online attacks, cybercrime, and government censorship increase, so they are bundling new security features into their browsing technology.
From private browsing sessions to adblocking, web browsers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, since the demise of Opera’s standalone VPN in April this year, Opera has bundled its VPN technology into its browser instead.
You may be wondering why that’s a problem, after all, all VPNs ar1e created equal – or are they? There’s a big difference between a browser extension and a full VPN service. To get a better idea of what that is, we’re going to take a look at the increasingly popular cybersecurity solution and whether it’s strong enough to keep you safe online.
Opera VPN Review: A Short Summary
Designed to provide a simple cybersecurity solution that operates in conjunction with the Opera browser, the Opera free VPN requires no installation or set up. To get started with Opera VPN, you simply go into your Opera browser settings and enable the VPN using the easy setup menu.
Speed & Bandwidth
The Opera free VPN gives users unlimited bandwidth without charging a cent. As any Opera browser review will tell you, this isn’t the only additional security measure available, and users can opt to block both adverts and tracking using the privacy settings available. Simple as it is, Opera VPN does a decent enough job of masking your IP address too.
Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Although many cybersecurity experts have noticed a negative impact on browser speed once the Opera VPN is activated, when we tested it, it proved marginally faster, increasing download times by 0.11 Mbps and upload speeds by 1.58 Mbps.
Opera VPN has just three server locations which is a drop in the ocean compared to the big guns like ExpressVPN which has 95. Unfortunately, this means it has its limitations. The absence of a server in the UK, for example, means you can’t use it to access BBC iPlayer from overseas.
Although Opera VPN will automatically select the optimal location, giving you the fastest speeds, you can select your desired server location by clicking on the VPN button in the browser address field and selecting it from the drop-down menu. Locations are vague, to say the least, with the US server simply listed as ‘Americas’ and the other two also defined by continent rather than by country or even city.
Limited servers not only mean that all Opera VPN users’ traffic is forced through the same three bottlenecks, but it also means it has limited IP addresses, making it easier for streaming sites like Netflix to detect and block access.
Accessing Block Content
Trying to access the Netflix US library proved challenging even when using Opera VPN’s Americas servers. Even though we were connecting from South Africa via a fake US IP address, we were redirected to Netflix Sweden! Even without going via Sweden, however, it seems Opera VPN isn’t capable of bypassing Netflix’s geographical restrictions.
Initially, things look good and Opera VPN will let you open the Netflix US library. Once you click on the title of the content you want to watch, however, you’ll be greeted with the depressing sight of a Netflix Site Error message. On the plus side, Opera free VPN will let you access regionally restricted YouTube content, which is a bonus but doesn’t offer much compensation if you’re in a country with less than 10% of the Netflix content available in the US.
Opera VPN lacks the advanced features of a full VPN service but, as it’s completely free, that’s not too much of a drawback. On paper, Opera VPN looks like the perfect solution, but the reality is, it’s putting users at risk.
The Problem with Opera VPN
A true VPN protects all the traffic traveling to and from a specific device by encrypting it. A browser extension like Opera VPN works more like a proxy service, encrypting only the traffic traveling through the Opera browser itself. In other words, there is no protection against phishing attacks and no encryption when you use a different browser or torrent client.
In terms of cybersecurity protection, using Opera VPN is the equivalent of locking your doors and turning on the alarm, but leaving all your windows open. As it protects only the data being handled by the Opera browser, users engaged in WhatsApp chats or P2P file-sharing will be entirely exposed during those activities.
Data Retention & Privacy
Being based in privacy-conscious Norway should be an advantage for Opera VPN but not only is Norway required to comply with European data retention legislation, but it’s also a member of the Nine-Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.
This means Norwegian internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunications companies are legally obliged to retain certain data, such as call records, the location of the user, and data associated with that user’s network traffic. It also means that authorities have greater legal power when it comes to requesting access to your browsing history and original IP address.
Some users may also be uncomfortable with how closely Opera VPN is associated with Chinese gaming consortium, Beijing Kunlun, given China’s history of online censorship and surveillance, although Opera VPN is not part of the consumer browser division owned by Beijing Kunlun.
In recent announcements that Opera VPN will soon be available for Android devices as well as Mac, Linux, and Windows, Opera representatives were keen to reiterate that it is a Norwegian company operating under Norwegian law and remains legally unchanged by its Chinese associations.
No Logging & Privacy
“We ensure that we never log browsing history, traffic destination, data content, IP addresses, or DNS queries. Therefore:
- We do not know which user ever accessed a particular website or service.
- We do not know which user was connected to the VPN at a specific time or which VPN server IP addresses they used.
- We do not know the set of original IP addresses of a user’s computer”.
This gives users a clearer picture of precisely what ExpressVPN’s no-logging policy means while also giving further reassurance about its respect for user privacy.
A short session on the live chat support offered by leading VPNs like ExpressVPN and Surfshark will give you an idea of what Opera VPN ought to be offering. What is actually on offer, however, is quite different.
Admittedly, there is an online help section available that contains a 300-word section about its VPN service and a few FAQs are also floating around should you experience problems with the service. Beyond that, however, there’s very little, so contacting a customer support representative is simply not an option.
In comparison, Surfshark’s super-efficient and informative live chat support is available to prospective customers as well as existing ones, offering in-depth answers to product queries and troubleshooting technical issues.
What Do We Think of Opera VPN?
Other drawbacks include:
- Unclear jurisdiction and data retention obligations
- Limited servers
- Inconsistent speeds
- Lack of customization
- Few advanced features
- Limited VPN functionality
Why Paid is Preferable
With such an abundance of free VPNs and free VPN browser extensions to choose from, opting for a paid VPN service may seem foolish. The truth is, by handing over a few dollars a month, you can ensure you have the best online protection and the benefits of fast speeds, complete anonymity as well as the ability to torrent and stream privately.
Even the best free VPNs have their drawbacks, whether it’s capped bandwidth, limited servers, or reduced speeds. What’s more, is that few VPN providers give their non-paying customers the same level of customer service with many providing only email support to users of its free service.
As we noted earlier, free VPNs like Opera VPN often struggle to bypass geographical restrictions, like those in place on streaming sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. If your free VPN only gives you access to three servers, none of which are situated in the UK, then you won’t be able to stream BBC iPlayer.
A further problem occurs with Opera VPN, for instance, because it uses fixed IP addresses. This means its easier for websites that restrict access to identify those IP addresses as belonging to a VPN and subsequently block them.
VPN browser extensions have even more limitations than free VPNs and Opera VPN, for example, won’t be able to offer any cybersecurity when torrenting. This is because, like your email software, your torrent client runs outside of Opera and therefore your torrent feed will bypass the Opera VPN.
A free VPN, like TunnelBear, for example, will protect all your traffic, up to 500MB per month. While this is not nearly enough for streaming or torrenting, at least the safeguards are in place.
What Sets the Best VPNs Apart from the Rest?
The best VPNs, like ExpressVPN and Surfshark, will require a little more effort in terms of the installation and set up process but are generally fast and simple. Opera VPN takes seconds to activate, whereas Surfshark, for instance, will take a few minutes.
Once installed, however, Surfshark offers over 1,000 different server locations and a wealth of additional features, including split-tunneling, double VPN protection in the form of its Multi-Hop option, and an adblocker.
ExpressVPN focuses more on delivering the most important aspects of cybersecurity. Not only is it recognized for its fast speeds and reliable connections, but it also operates on a zero-knowledge system, meaning it has no data relating to your online activity and is, therefore, unable to share any such information with law enforcement agencies or other third parties.
Like Surfshark, ExpressVPN has a global distribution of servers that makes Opera VPN’s three locations look decidedly meager. While ExpressVPN’s server network is by no means the largest (that accolade is shared between CyberGhost with 5,532 and NordVPN with 5,567), it nonetheless has over 3,000 servers in 95 different countries, meaning users can enjoy reliable, high-speed connections even from the most remote corners of the globe.
Boosting Browser Protection
Although Opera has added a few new features to improve security, it’s still nowhere near the level of protection offered by the best VPNs. As a browser, Opera is pretty impressive and its attempts to improve the user experience no doubt have Google Chrome reconsidering its own security measures.
While Opera has both a VPN browser extension and an inbuilt adblocker, Chrome is better when it comes to updates and, although it doesn’t have an adblocker as such, finding a reliable free one is simple enough. Chrome’s Incognito Mode is similarly effective and, as most Opera browser reviews indicate, makes Chrome the preferred option when it comes to security.
While using Opera VPN is probably preferable to heading out into cyberspace with no protection at all, it’s severely limited and struggles to compete with the best free VPNs, let alone the best VPNs overall. As a browser extension rather than a full VPN, Opera free VPN is more of a proxy and simply masks the user’s original IP address with one from a secure VPN server.
For Opera VPN, the problems begin with its limited coverage and end with its inadequate no-logging policy and unclear data retention processes. Not only does its limited server locations mean potential traffic jams and congestion, but its fixed IP addresses also make it easier to detect, which is why it struggles to bypass Netflix’s geographical restrictions.
Opera VPN is the equivalent of wearing a negligee in a downpour – it’s better than nothing at all, but only marginally. If you want to weather the ongoing cyber storm, you need to buckle up, hand over the money and don the cloak of invisibility offered by market leaders, ExpressVPN and Surfshark.