Developed by the Chinese company Cheetah Mobile, CM Security claims to have been downloaded 500 million times. That may be so, but is this free VPN worth your time?
In this CM Security review, we cast our eye over one of the most popular free VPNs on the planet, assessing its pros and cons. Is this the free VPN we’ve been waiting for – one which blends security and speed? Let’s find out.
Before we get into details, it’s worth noting that CM Security is an Android app. It’s not available for any other platforms, so iPhone owners can stop reading right now.
It’s also a free VPN, and part of a wider group of tools called Security Master. These apps are all Android-centered and are marketed by Cheetah Mobile, a China-based tech company, which instantly raises some red flags.
A couple of things make CM Security stand out from other free VPNs. Firstly, CM Security uses OpenVPN as its major protocol, which is a reassuring move. OpenVPN is as secure as VPN protocols come, so your data should be wrapped up nice and tight as it zaps across the web.
One feature we loved was the wifi detector. This add-on allows you to scan public wifi networks for weaknesses before you log on. As public wifi is a major security risk, it’s a welcome addition.
The VPN also syncs up with other Cheetah Mobile apps, including the Intelligent Diagnosis phone scanner and antivirus tools. So if you want a suite of tools in one package, it makes sense.
However, Cheetah Mobile isn’t very forthcoming with details about encryption. There’s no mention of 256-bit AES encryption on its Google Play page or the Cheetah Mobile landing page. So we’re going to assume that it’s absent. And the actual nature of the encryption used is a bit of a mystery.
This is a huge problem which we need to emphasize. And it’s not something you’ll encounter with the best paid for VPNs.
Privacy should be any VPN’s number one priority, and there may be some room for concern here too. While this CM Security review is fairly positive about the VPN’s encryption and general leak protection, privacy is another matter.
The company automatically collects device information about everyone who logs on and “may be able to identify the general location of your mobile device,” which isn’t reassuring. It can also detect “the applications you have running in the background” – which, again, is a red flag.
Then there are some clauses which are simply baffling. For example, one part states that “We process your personal information to pay our taxes” – which you won’t find with any other VPN.
It has to be said that speed isn’t the specialty of CM Security. The VPN uses a very small server fleet, and Cheetah Media haven’t invested in the technology required to ensure lightning fast speeds.
However, don’t write off CM Security. Even in Europe, we found that speeds were serviceable for streaming and torrenting. They weren’t great, for sure, but they were good enough for less demanding users.
A VPN is only as good as the applications it works with – and CM Security does reasonably well here, at least as far as free VPNs go. Remember though, this is an Android-only client, so it’s no good for iOS, Windows or Linux users.
That said, the client itself is clean and very simple. There are few extra features beyond being able to choose one of 7 CM servers. But that’s all most users will ask for. What’s more, CM Security works well with some key apps, so let’s have a look at them now.
If you love to stream movies and TV on your Android phone, there’s a good chance you’re a Netflix user. If so, having a good VPN is essential. VPNs are a proven way to work around the geographical filters used by Netflix to limit the content available in different markets. So if you don’t want to be frustrated by missing out on hit American TV shows, you’ll want one on your phone.
CM Security effectively anonymises your IP address, which is the first step to accessing Netflix reliably. So far, so good. When we used the VPN in Europe, it logged onto servers in the US and loaded up American content without any problems.
Moreover, there are no data limits for CM Security users – another big plus for streamers. And the speeds, while not exactly top of the line, aren’t so bad that streaming is impossible.
What about using CM Security for torrenting? As you may be aware, many VPNs drastically limit the ability of users to run torrent clients, fearing repercussions from legal authorities (and resource issues on their servers).
However, CM Security doesn’t do this. Cheetah Media have no problems with users torrenting files, and the client is set up to ensure that P2P apps are protected. Those are big positives for any torrenter.
However, one drawback is the limited number of servers. If performance isn’t great when you log on, torrents can be fairly sluggish. And in some parts of the world like Latin America, coverage is very patchy. But in Asia, Europe, and the US, CM Security performs pretty well on the torrent front.
And remember: there’s a big question mark about CM Security’s encryption. If you’re worried about keeping your torrenting totally private, give it a miss.
We know that many readers will want to have the option of mixing their VPN with Kodi’s streaming app, so we tried CM Security with a Kodi setup. And it seems to work just fine.
It’s worth noting that there is no option to install CM Security onto Kodi boxes, and it’s a purely Android app. But you can use it when streaming onto your phone or casting onto Smart TVs. And there’s no noticeable slowdown.
Any good VPN should be able to defeat censors in repressive countries – especially the officials in Beijing who maintain the country’s “Great Firewall.” So how does CM Security do?
Admittedly, this CM Security review team couldn’t travel to China to put the VPN through its paces, but we were impressed with its IP anonymization. This should make Chinese users hard to track, although it’s not clear whether they can access blocked services like Twitter.
However, we need to return to encryption. If you need guaranteed privacy and unblocking abilities in China, opt for a paid alternative.
As you might expect from a free VPN, support is an area where the CM Security app really falls down. Cheetah Mobile isn’t a bad company, by any means. But it hasn’t invested in an in-depth help center, live chat, or any other premium support features.
Instead, users are pointed towards an email address ([email protected] if you were wondering). When you email this address, the staff do respond, although it might take a few hours. Presumably, they are based in East Asia, so this might account for the delays.
Expect clear answers to your queries, but don’t expect any great depth. And that’s fine – given it’s absolutely free.
CM Security is available by downloading the Security Master app from Google Play, so there’s no fee to pay and you don’t need to worry about paying for a monthly subscription.
Instead, as we’ve seen, the company earns revenue by delivering pop up ads and promoting other Cheetah Media products. This is the kind of setup that some VPN users will hate, while others can tolerate. For this CM Security review, the ads felt intrusive, but not deal-breaking.
Remember, CM Security is a free privacy and security suite. You aren’t paying for premium service, so some compromises are needed. If you have the patience to deal with some slowdowns and pop-ups, you’ll do fine.
All things considered, with CM Security you get what you (don’t) pay for. Namely, a basic VPN tool for your simple web browsing and geo-unblocking needs.
Everything else, including undisclosed (if any) encryption methods, negligible server count, the “privacy” policy, and the fact that it’s based in China, is cause for concern.
Simply put, if you want a free VPN, CM Security is worth checking out. Remember, however: if you don’t pay for it, you’re the product. So, if you’re willing to exchange your privacy for the US Netflix library, go for it. If not, go for something else.