A phone showing ExpressVPN app connection screen.

If you want to use the internet privately and securely, then you need a VPN. But with all the different types of VPNs available, how do you decide between using a VPN app and a VPN plugin (or a VPN browser)?

On the surface, it seems that using a VPN plugin is the better choice. After all, they’re almost always free and comparatively easy to install. And in the case of VPN browsers, the VPN already comes pre-installed in your web browser. What’s not to like with a VPN service that requires no payment, no subscription account, and only a few clicks to install?

Before you decide to entrust your online privacy and security to VPN plugins and browsers, here are a few things you should consider.

Most VPN plugins or browsers protect only your browser traffic

In most cases, installing a VPN plugin onto your web browser or using a VPN browser protects all of your browser traffic and nothing else. So if you have a VPN plugin on Chrome, all of your Chrome traffic is encrypted and protected from prying eyes. However, if you use Outlook, Skype, or any other tool that exchanges information online, that traffic will not be protected by a VPN plugin or browser (which can leak your IP address anyway).

In essence, there is not much technical difference between a VPN plugin and an encrypted HTTP proxy. Although you’ll see your IP address change when checking a “what is my IP” website, your other applications will still use your home IP, effectively de-anonymizing you and leaving your traffic vulnerable to snooping by internet service providers.

To completely protect all of your network traffic, you need a VPN app.

Using a free plugin or browser means you’re likely paying with your privacy

Virtually all VPN plugins and browsers on the market are free, which should be cause for caution instead of celebration. This is because maintaining the servers required to power a VPN service is expensive. So, if providers are not receiving revenue from customers, they are almost certainly making it from other means.

For example, some providers may choose to use cheap infrastructure to save money, resulting in slow and unstable connections. Others may decide to limit their technology upgrades and customer support in order to cut costs. Worse still, some providers may sell user logs and IP addresses to third parties, which defeats the purpose of a VPN in the first place.

Why the ExpressVPN browser extension is different

The ExpressVPN extensions for Chrome and Firefox offer the best of both worlds, because unlike standalone extensions, they work in partnership with the ExpressVPN app to protect your entire device, not just the browser. Available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, the extensions also spoof your location, block WebRTC, and include HTTPS Everywhere. Our subscription fees also ensure that we can continually invest in upgrading our technology and maintaining our hardware. The result is increased privacy, comprehensive security, and unlimited online freedom. And that’s something worth paying for.