F-Secure Freedome is a virtual private network, or VPN, from noted security company F-Secure. With it, your Internet traffic is secured against snooping and your IP address is shielded. But F-Secure goes further, shielding you from phishing sites, malware, and ad trackers. It’s powerful protection, but the cost adds up quickly if you have a lot of devices to protect, and it lacks some of the advanced features found in among the best VPN services.
What Is VPN?
You might have the best antivirus software installed on your computer and maybe you even guard your Android with security apps. But what about the information flowing in and out of your devices? Sometimes vital information is transmitted in the clear, or can be intercepted by ne’er-do-wells on the same public Wi-Fi network.
With a VPN, your Internet traffic is encrypted from the prying eyes of hackers and government snoops alike. When engaged, it creates a secure tunnel between your computer and the secure server provided by the VPN company. Your IP address is also hidden, letting you breeze past online ad trackers. A VPN service can also be used to spoof your location, unlocking region-locked content like BBC streaming (though some companies like Netflix are fighting back). But that spoofing can be called to a higher purpose, when it’s in the hands of political dissidents and journalists who use it to circumvent government Internet controls.
Pricing and Features
In our testing, we used a Dell Latitude E7250 ($799.77 at Amazon) running Windows 8.1. F-Secure’s website notes that Freedome is compatible with Windows 10 ($139.00 at Microsoft Store) , which isn’t always the case for VPN services. The company also offers downloadable clients for Mac OS X, iPhone, and Android. Windows Phone users are out of luck. The Windows version of the software is the focus of this review.
Freedome lacks a monthly plan, which is unusual among VPN services. That’s unfortunate, because variable billing schedules give users more freedom to use VPN protection in a variety of situations, such as buying it for a long vacation, or maybe for a semester abroad. Freedome’s yearly price sounds like it’s on par with the other VPN products we’ve tested, with a year’s subscription costing $49.99. The problem is that that fee includes licenses for just three devices. Protecting seven devices would cost you $79.99 a year. TorGuard VPN ($4.99/Month with promo code PCMAG at TorGuard) , and most other VPN services we’ve reviewed, are more generous with licenses, usually offering five or six for the base fee. Note, too, that Freedome also doesn’t offer deals on multiyear subscriptions, so you can’t lower your costs even if you commit to it for the long haul.
There is no free version of Freedome, but F-Secure does offer a very generous 14-day unrestricted free trial of the service along with a 30-day money back guarantee once you subscribe. A credit card is not required for the free trial, which we appreciate. Should you decide to buy, F-Secure accepts credit cards, PayPal, PayNearMe, wire transfer, check, and money order. BitCoin investors may want to look to Editors’ Choice winner Private Internet Access ($8.45/Month at Private Internet Access) , which accepts the cryptocurrency, as well as nearly every payment method under the sun.
Under the Dome
Freedome is straightforward as VPN services go. After accepting the software’s terms and conditions, the installer displays a big white circle with the word Install in the middle. Click, and the software handles everything else. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
The desktop app retains the same cool blue colors and minimalist design of the installer. A central button connects or disconnects you from the Freedome VPN service. It’s flanked by stats showing how much of your Web traffic has been protected, how many malicious sites have been blocked, and how many attempts to track your online activity have been thwarted. We really like this slick presentation, which is on par with that of other apps like Spotflux Premium and Hotspot Shield.
Your VPN server of choice is displayed below the connect button, and you click to select from Freedome’s 27 global servers. This includes eight in North America, three in Asia, 13 across Europe, and single servers in Mexico City and Australia. The selection screen includes national flags and a moving globe, showing more design chops than any other VPN service. There are, however, no specialized servers like NordVPN’s ($3.49 Per Month at NordVPN) double encryption server or TorGuard’s BitTorrent friendly servers. Still, if you travel to Europe frequently or want a European persona (don’t forget, laws for data collection and retention are much stricter in Europe than in the U.S.), Freedome gives you a lot of options.
Tabs down the side give fast access to more of Freedome’s features, including browsing and tracker protection. These are switched on by default, so you probably won’t need to mess with them. One interesting feature is the Tracker Mapper. This launches a standalone application that monitors your Web traffic and demonstrates how advertisers can track you across the Web. As you surf the Web, the map becomes populated with more sites and more trackers, and eventually you’ll see how the same trackers on multiple websites can communicate to give advertisers a clear picture of your movements online. The Tracker Mapper also displays malicious sites blocked by Freedome.
We found the previous version of Freedome to be overly pushy with upsells and opportunities to convince your friends to buy Freedome. Thankfully, F-Secure seems to have eased up a bit on this.
Speed and Performance
By their very nature, VPN services degrade Internet speed and performance. There’s no way around it. But some services affect speeds more than others. In our testing, we use both the speed test software from Ookla (also owned by our publisher, Ziff Davis) and from Speedof.me. We test speeds with the VPN engaged through a server in Australia, and then again without the VPN for a baseline comparison. With Ookla, we use a test server in Fairbanks, Alaska for each test. Speedof.me does not allow us to select a test server, and it defaults to New York for baseline tests and Sydney for VPN tests.
In our Ookla tests, we found that Freedome increased latency by 301.3 percent. Download rates were slowed by only 7.66 percent, but upload rates were reduced by 31.6 percent. These results are among the best we’ve observed with Ookla, second only to HideIPVPN ($6.99/Month at HideIP VPN) . Speedof.me showed a 1,519 percent increase in latency, a 10.1 percent reduction in download rate, and a 25.5 reduction in upload rate. This was the highest increase in latency we recorded, though it was followed closely that of by Spotflux Premium.
These might seem like shocking numbers, but remember that latency is measured in milliseconds. Generally, we find in our hands-on testing that browsing the Web with most VPN services feels only marginally slower than without. We were surprised that surfing the Web with Freedome felt more sluggish than we’d expected. Even pages with only a few media elements took longer time to load, and a few pages behaved strangely. YouTube videos were slow to load, and videos on Netflix (Free at Apple.com) could be viewed in HD, but also took longer than expected.
Streaming 4K movies from YouTube is a good test of how the network handles extremely large files. In the case of Freedome, the 4K video was all but unviewable. TorGuard, by comparison, did quite well in our hands-on testing.
Dome of Protection
Any VPN will defend your Web traffic, but Freedome also protects against malware and phishing websites. We are pleased to see that the Freedome app advises users to visit the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO) website in order to validate the app’s malware protection. This is the same way we confirm malware detection, and it’s good to see F-Secure supporting this standard. We found in testing that F-Secure successfully detected the benign AMSTO test payloads which are intended to be detected as malware. We were especially impressed that the service was able to detect payloads that were inside compressed files, like .ZIP files. We noted, however, that it did not protect against a drive-by download.
Ads are a major annoyance on the Web, but they can also be used to spread malware. So-called malvertising uses legitimate ad services to distribute attacks to unsuspecting victims. We were pleased to see that Freedome blocked most ads it encountered but, like Spotflux, it let a few slip past.
Simply changing your IP address isn’t sufficient to stop ad networks from tracking you. These networks use other factors to tie you to multiple IP addresses to keep track of your activity. Using the free Ghostery plugin, we found that Freedome blocked just over half of all trackers it encountered. That’s pretty good on both counts, but you’ll probably want standalone ad blocking software to really clean up your view.
On top of all that additional protection, Freedome also blocks malicious websites known as phishing pages. These are websites that mimic legitimate websites, like ones from the IRS, in order to trick victims into willingly handing over their personal information. Using the list of fresh phishing sites at Phishtank.com, we found that Freedome blocked nine out of ten phishing sites. That’s excellent.
Spotflux also offers malware and phishing protection, but uses proprietary black lists. This makes comparing its efficacy with other products difficult.
Dome Sweet Dome
When we first reviewed F-Secure Freedome, we found it remarkable that an antivirus company was moving into VPNs. But that is changing as more security products seek to not only protect customers from malware, but from a broad spectrum of attacks. Hopefully this will make VPN as common a consumer product as antivirus, making the job of hackers, advertisers, and government surveillance that much harder. Its wide device support and numerous servers the world over are also excellent.
Freedome offers customers excellent protection far beyond that of a pure VPN service, from a recognized name in security, F-Secure. Chances are that this will be important to anyone who cares enough about security to use a VPN. On the other hand, it has limited billing options and doesn’t provide many device licenses, and it had bit more impact on Internet responsiveness than we would have liked. For the security-conscious user and those with only a few devices, to protect, it might work very well, however. For everyone else, we highly recommend Editors’ Choice winners Private Internet Access and NordVPN for their approachable interface, rich features sets, and more attractive pricing schemes.