Can You Really Trust Opera VPN for Privacy and Anonymity?

Opera VPNIn 2016, Norwegian tech firm Opera Software became the first major browser developer to fully embrace virtual private networking.

The company’s first VPN browser integration was initially launched within its desktop development channel; a few months later, Opera released a free VPN app for mobile iOS devices and later for Android.

While desktop users wait for the next-generation Opera browser to be publicly released, the company seems to be focusing on mobile users first, which can be expected since Opera commands a significant share of the mobile browsing market.

While the Opera VPN initiative is certainly welcome, users who are concerned about privacy and security should carefully evaluate what this Norwegian company actually offers at this time. Competing browsers such as Google Chrome are also looking into VPN integration, and it is safe to assume that they are keeping a close eye on how Opera manages safer browsing.

What Opera VPN Really Offers

VPN is no longer something that appeals exclusively to online privacy and anonymity enthusiasts. Over the last few years, revelations of the global Internet surveillance conducted by the United States National Security Agency have increased awareness about the need for private and secure browsing.

It’s not just the NSA that Internet users have to worry about. Cybercrime is at an all-time high, and major Internet firms from Google to Apple and from Microsoft to Yahoo are engaged in massive data collection for their own commercial purposes. Furthermore, online censorship and blocking of regular Internet access is a problem that has grown beyond nations such as China.

VPN browser integration is not exactly new; it has been available for a couple of years within ultra-secure packages such as Tails, a special operating system that focuses on advanced security features such as anonymity via the TOR network, plausible deniability and absolute deletion of browsing history.

Looking at the Opera VPN app for iOS and Android, users get some of the standard features available from other VPN solutions: secure browsing, the ability to change IP to a few geographic locations, an ad blocker, a basic network analysis tool that alerts users about risky Wi-Fi hotspots, and encrypted communications.

Opera VPN iOS
It is important to note that the free Opera VPN mobile apps do not limit their functionality to their branded browsers. Once installed the VPN service will try to extend its functionality to device connection and to the rest of the apps. This is very useful when, for example, someone using the YouTube or Netflix apps wishes to access content that is not available outside of the United States.

There are two caveats of the Opera VPN apps. First of all, the ad blocking feature is limited to the browser, and it actually displays some ads broadcast by Opera; these ads are by no means intrusive but they are a reminder that Opera Software is a company that needs to earn revenue even as it offers a free service. The other caveat is that the Opera servers may throttle bandwidth during peak usage, and this is something that could affect the growth of the service.

How Much Privacy Does Opera VPN Offer?

Opera has been offering VPN-like services for a while. This revolutionary company introduced Turbo browsing and mobile data compression years ago. These features essentially acted as a proxy and routed traffic from the company’s Norwegian servers to considerably speed up user experience.

VPN browser integration is proven to work for most Internet navigation needs. Opera is certainly a trustworthy company, and thus users can feel comfortable about features such as the AES-256 encryption and the ability to change their IP to unblock content and to circumvent censorship measures such as the Great Chinese Firewall. To this effect, Opera VPN users should not feel unprotected as long as they are using an Opera browser and the address bar indicates that the VPN feature is on.

As far as the rest of the smartphone and tablet apps being protected, users cannot be reassured unless the app itself has a feature to check how it connects to the Internet. Even within the Opera browser, plugins such as WebRTC for browser-based video calling may not work well with the VPN integration; however, this is something that will likely be improved in the future.

Users who are concerned about their online privacy might be better off sticking to VPN solutions that specifically change the IP of the device. Some free services and all paid services include a feature that pings outside connections to test them and ensure that all apps are protected. This is important when using apps such as Skype, instant messenger, games that connect players through the Internet, etc.

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Another concern is related to websites and streaming services that block content on a regional basis. Since Opera products are moderately popular, companies such as Netflix and Hulu will likely map the VPN servers used by Opera and proceed to block them. Thus far, Netflix has been notorious for doing this.

Smaller, commercial VPN providers are more likely to fly under the radar and avoid being blocked. To this end, some proactive VPN companies offer users the ability to connect to servers in different cities; in fact, some of them suggest strategies that consist of jumping from one server to another throughout browsing sessions.

In the end, Opera Software deserves praise for its free VPN initiative, which will surely inspire other browser developers to follow suit for the purpose of making privacy more accessible to everyone. Nonetheless, users should keep in mind that these VPN solutions are mostly browser-based and not all-encompassing.

9 Comments
  1. Reply
    Angela September 7, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve uninstalled Opera and switched to Chrome a while back as I have around 50k bookmarks – I know, crazy, but they’re almost all work related so… – and Opera started to load super slow. I have a lot of private documents in my laptop so I really need to figure out a way to keep them safe. Until Chrome gets to the point where it had a built-in VPN feature – and not an addon I have to download at my own risk, I’m going back to Opera. I only hope the new version is bookmarks-friendly.

    • Reply Altoster
      Altoster May 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      Angela, i too didn’t like the way Opera handled (or didn’t handle) bookmarks. Not sure if i just figured it out or if they improved but… now i click and drag from “all bookmarks” (or favorites) to folders already existing. You can select for them to go to the toolbar as well which is nice sometimes.

  2. Reply
    Victor September 8, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    I’m curious how Firefox ranks compared to Opera, I currently use both but I have to admit that VPN isn’t something I took in consideration. The only thing I think I do right is to skip the remember passwords feature in all browsers, I enter them myself. Granted, I don’t have that many accounts so this isn’t too complicated right now. I was a tad surprised I could see my location and IP on this site, I had to double check just to make sure…

  3. Reply Anton Hammarstad
    Anton Hammarstad February 28, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    What is the point of Operas VPN when all locations to choose from is hosted by Google anyhow? If you do a WebRTC leak check you can see that every DNS from every country to choose from on the VPN function in Opera is hosted by Google, and as you should know Google sells information. You say Opera is a trustworthy company? Well i guess that depends on how you look at it, but you should at the very least name this in the “article” so you don’t make yourselves un-trustworthy as you now are in my eyes.

  4. Reply Zeroth Seven
    Zeroth Seven March 12, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Despite its nomenclature, however, this Opera VPN feature is really a proxy service rather than a true VPN. A true VPN encrypts your entire internet connection, while Opera’s “Free VPN” only encrypts the data from your browser…

    So to me this is a HOAX in this sence that they trigger people with it. The “for free” tool does the trick. Unless you pay for the service at their backbone company “Surfeasy” then you ‘might’ have true VPN but then, how can you check this/its function thoroughly ?

    I dream of the following Browser/VPN merger and waiting maybe to become real. MAXTHON and CYBERGHOST getting together. ;^)

    • Reply
      TonyL July 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Not a hoax, zeroeth seven. pretty legit but it has ads, isn’t 10/10 in terms of bandwidth and the speed you get, and there’s a debate whether the encryption is on the same level as established vpn providers like ivacy and nord maybe. otherwise, i’m pretty sure this is one thing chrome and firefox might soon try and integrate into their browsers

  5. Reply
    vpn June 15, 2017 at 7:36 am

    Anton is correct.

    Open up Opera VPN and load dnsleaktest.com in a browser.

    Google provides the servers for the VPN. I understand it is a free service, but using Google does not protect a user’s privacy as your surfing behavior could still be tracked.

  6. Reply
    luc barbituric July 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    http://www.macworld.com/article/3067774/data-center-cloud/operas-launched-an-ios-app-to-expand-its-free-unlimited-ad-blocking-vpn.html

    There are tons of very bad reviews like this one …
    You need to trust a vpn to use it, there is too many problems with Opera Vpn to use it with confidence

  7. Reply
    OperaVPNSuxx October 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

    OperaVPN is broken in the worst way: Data corruption (looks like MiTM attack or just incompetence).
    I just tried to download this:
    https://github.com/transmission/transmission-releases/raw/master/transmission-2.92-x64.msi

    The Netherlands Opera VPN server (default) keeps corrupting the download, and kept doing it for LibreOffice, TOO (hence why I’m even installing a Torrent Client in the first damned place). FUCK Opera VPN for not keeping a better integrity of data. Nothing should corrupt my files, but this (and Cloudflare SSL instead of REAL SSL on the above server-side) causes a 234MB file to claim to be “completed” at just 16MB, or “network error” when attempting the download, etc. Just worthless and a couple of HOURS of my time wasted trying to download a 234MB file (not excessive, you’ll agree). Slow would have been fine, as long as it wasn’t corrupt. Opera VPN = made of fail.
    ____________________________________________________

    Evidence:
    ____________________________________________________

    SHA256 correct checksum for the above file as quoted on the official site: 8cee6436e79d48409d76a85bbb1bb506c8c76c8f686551b9e7e13b9a2ca2299d

    Corrupt files have the same name but wrong checksum (changes every time):

    1f22bc2f093399cd2a36f2c1961ca41a9626f7d69da737fcca86bf4604850f63

    1a916db2c8c0ab014dae84f3051fd00de67745c01f43f1b6d94ec98dc96b13b8

    01d7b191d821e28ecaf9ccca7666964597266803c39760af38f9278265007f60

    3017ca04728cc4c1d977663085407e0645b514c68b10b7c14ad59b2c50ec1f8f
    ____________________________________________________

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