Watching movies online used to be a mixed blessing. If you remember the days of Limewire, meaning you’re probably reading this on a fax machine, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But so will veterans of later streaming sites. Yes, you got the movie, even if the quality was dubious. But you also got plenty of risk: viruses, dodgy ads, and a whole screenful of things that you really, really didn’t want to click on.
These days, there are more streaming options available. As well as paid services like Netflix and Hulu, there are free places to stream movies. The mighty Putlocker may be down, but there are still plenty of sites where you can stream movies without shelling out.
The trouble is, though, that when you use them, you can be putting yourself at risk.
The dangers of watching movies for free
When you connect to a streaming or torrent site, you’re assigned an IP address by your internet service provider. That IP address can be used to trace your location, to within a zip code.
Torrent sites are especially risky because they add your IP address to the torrent swarm, where anyone peering or seeding that torrent can view it — including rights holders, who will then contact your ISP and send you warning letters that can be the first step to prosecution.
But if you’re only streaming — even if it’s perfectly legal — you’re still at risk. Streaming data is a common target for man-in-the-middle attacks. Hackers intercept the data stream and use it to spy on you, skimming all kinds of data including financial information and personal data which they then sell on the dark web for use in identity theft or other crimes.
This is a risk even if the website itself is totally legitimate. So whether you’re using an unofficial IPTV service like TeaTV, or an official one like fuboTV, you could be at risk.
So how can you protect yourself when you’re watching movies online free?
Protect yourself with a VPN
The answer you’re looking for is a VPN.
A VPN does two things: it encrypts all your traffic, and it conceals your IP address.
Hiding your IP address means that if you do use a torrent site and you get caught out violating copyright through no fault of your own, you’re untraceable anyway; the IP address that’s added to the torrent swarm can’t personally identify you.
More importantly, encrypting your traffic means that even if it is intercepted by hackers in transit, they can’t do anything with it. It’s unreadable to them. Good VPNs will typically use 256-bit AES encryption, which is effectively unbreakable, so you’re definitely safe.
Look for a VPN that’s optimized for streaming, and make sure it works with your device. Most good ones will have apps for multiple devices, including all the major phone platforms, but it makes sense to double check. It’s also a good idea to road test one or two on their money-back guarantee before you sign up for a long-term deal, even though those longer deals are much more cost-effective.