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Beware Hola VPN

Israeli-run Hola boasts 7 million users of its Chrome extension alone. Following a DDoS attack last week, the owner of imageboard website 8Chan, Fredrick Brennan, did some investigation, and did not like what he found!

No Hola

Beware Hola!

Although most users probably do not realize it, Hola works much like Tor. Every user of Hola also acts as a potential exit node for every other Hola user.

When a user installs Hola, he becomes a VPN endpoint, and other users of the Hola network may exit through his internet connection and take on his IP. This is what makes it free: Hola does not pay for the bandwidth that its VPN uses at all, and there is no user opt out for this.

This is likely to be something many users will be very uncomfortable with, as it exposes them to the same kinds of risks that a Tor exit node user is vulnerable to. Because the apparent IP address of any Hola user is the IP address of another user, that user can be held responsible for the actions (criminal, hacking, DDoS attacks etc.) of users. As Brennan observes:

‘On the other hand, with the Tor onion router, users must specifically opt in to be exit nodes and are aware that completely anonymous traffic can pass through their connections, which means they should be ready for abuse reports for child porn, spam, copyrighted content and other ills that come with the territory.

Co-founder of Hola, Ofer Vilenski, has defended this setup. He explained that Hola has never hidden how the service works:

We have always made it clear that Hola is built for the user and with the user in mind. We’ve explained the technical aspects of it in our FAQ and have always advertised in our FAQ the ability to pay for non-commercial use.

Luminati VPN

However, what was never made clear (until its FAQ was quickly updated last Wednesday as news spread of Brennan’s findings), is that Hola sells its users’ bandwidth through its sister company, Luminati (an archived version of the older FAQ is available here.)

Luminati Hola VPN

This means that Hola is selling the bandwidth of every one of its almost 10 million users. Most almost certainly without either their knowledge or consent. A Brendan notes,

‘[Hola boasts] more than 9,761,015 exit nodes on their website, and based on what I saw in the past week I have no reason to doubt it. The only silver lining is their greed: they charge $20/GB to use lines that cost them nothing, their software simply mooches off of the unfortunate users who have installed the proprietary Hola software… Hola is the most unethical VPN I have ever seen.

This lack of ethical business practice was also pointed out by Lantern founder Adam Fisk, who told Motherboard that,

The bottom line is they're trying to figure out how to run a profitable business, and they're essentially selling out their users to try to figure that out.

Security researcher Raphael Vinot also chimed in with a similar opinion,

If it works the way it is explained, it's a terrible idea to use it. Because you end up being responsible for what the other users of the service are doing… Honestly, that level of trickiness is art.

Hola users desperate for a free alternative VPN service can check out our 5 best Free VPN services.

However, is a few bucks a month too much to pay for a great VPN provider, that will not sell you out for sheer greed?

We think not!

Written by: Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

20 Comments

  1. Jason
    on September 15, 2016
    Reply

    To Mr Douglas Hi Mr Douglas your website was very informative thanks a lot, i just wanted to ask you about something. Today morning i installed the hola app on my samsung s7 edge through the play store. I had it installed in my phone for about 2 hours before uninstalling it. Is my IP address at risk of being stolen and misused because i used my WI-FI to download hola? thank you

    1. Douglas Crawford replied to Jason
      on September 16, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Jason, The Hola app hijacks some of your bandwidth so that Hola can re-sell it. Once you have uninstalled the app you should have no further problems.

  2. Harry
    on May 14, 2016
    Reply

    Will Hola create any problem if i use it for downloading small files which are blocked in my country. My point is, can I enable Hola whenever I require it and disable it later, will that create any problem, and the files which i am talking about is in kb's size.

    1. Douglas Crawford replied to Harry
      on May 16, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Harry, As long as you are aware of the issues involved (as discussed in this article), then it should not cause any problems using it for your limited purposes.

  3. Trae
    on May 1, 2016
    Reply

    My daughter and I have been using a free trial of HOLA to get on the USA Netflix since it seems Canada doesn't get some of the best shows/movies. We had fully planned on paying for it and keeping it when the trial was over. I cannot thank you enough for writing this article. I realize the article is from awhile ago but you have still possibly saved us from some really nasty fallout. Companies like this should not be allowed to run. They could very well ruin people's lives because of their greed. I am one of the billions of people who don't really read all the fine print before clicking 'yes I read it all'. Even when I do attempt to read it, I cannot understand most of it due to all the legalese in it. We really cannot thank you enough. I am going to post this to my Facebook as a public article and hopefully pass it on to someone else who uses HOLA and doesn't realize what they have signed up for. Thank you, thank you, thank you again!!

  4. Anna
    on April 2, 2016
    Reply

    Hi! I've had Hola unblocker as a chrome extension for about a year now, I've deleted it a few weeks ago but since reading this article I'm worried. Do you think they can still use my IP and computer? My computer (a PC bought in 2015) has slowed down since I uploaded Hola and deleting it hasn't improved my computer. Thank you so much for this article! I think it's very important people know what they are really working with...

    1. Douglas Crawford replied to Anna
      on April 5, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Anna, Hola, for all its ills, is not a virus, so if you have uninstalled it then I'm pretty sure its gone. Diagnosing PC slowdown is a bit beyond the scope of this website, but I suggest going to Start -> Run -> type msconfig -> Startup (older Windows) or right-click Taskbar -> Task Manager -> Startup (Windows 8.1 (?)+) and removing unwanted programs from the Startup list.

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