If you’re seriously concerned about government surveillance—we explain above why that should be most people’s last consideration when choosing a VPN—some expert sites like privacytools.io recommend avoiding services with a corporate presence in the US or UK. Such experts warn about the “14 eyes,” a creepy name for a group of countries that share intelligence info, particularly with the US. IVPN is based in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. We don’t think that makes you any worse off than a company based in Switzerland, Sweden, or anywhere else—government surveillance efforts around the world are so complicated and clandestine that few people have the commitment, skills, or technology to avoid it completely. But because Gibraltar’s status has been a topic of debate in other deep dives on VPNs, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it.
When we looked at just iPhone VPNs last year, our results yielded a very different breakdown. In our tests on iOS, we found that Hide My Ass, Golden Frog Vypr VPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, and PureVPN were the top performers. Hide My Ass and PureVPN dominated in the download speed tests, improving speeds by 10.1 and 6.8 percent, respectively.
When you download a file from a server without a VPN, there’s a chance you will encounter network congestion, most likely on your nearby ISP network or at the download server itself. When you use a VPN service, you add a third potential bottleneck to the route. Whether because of server load or congestion on the network surrounding the server, there’s a higher chance that your speed will be affected while connected to a VPN.
Finally, you may want a VPN to spoof your location to download content you shouldn’t have access to, but this too has limits. A VPN used to be the go-to solution to watch U.S. Netflix overseas. That changed in 2016 when Netflix opened up to almost every country on Earth. Since then, the company has invested a lot in detecting and blocking VPN users. Even people using a VPN inside their own country will be blocked by Netflix if detected.
Since it takes research to find out if a VPN service has a history of good or bad behavior, we’ve done the legwork to find the best VPN out there. In order to win our seal of approval, the service has to protect online privacy; allow you to keep anonymity; offer a good variety of locations from which to direct your traffic; offer fast, reliable performance; and provide an easy-to-use interface.
The practical uses for a VPN service are plentiful. Want to access a website that your ISP has blocked? A VPN puts that website just one click away. Want to access the US version of Netflix from the UK? Just set your VPN to a US location and you're there. Want to access porn without your ISP or your business knowing about it? Want to download torrents without being blocked by your ISP? It's easy.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address", "dedicated IP", or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.
SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) is a suitable alternative to standard protocols in areas where VPNs are restricted because it can bypass most firewalls. SSTP is quite similar to OpenVPN but, unlike OpenVPN, it is owned by Microsoft, which means it is not available for independent auditing. Microsoft’s history of cooperating with the NSA does not inspire confidence in this standard.
As discussed earlier, the principal use of VPNs is to protect your online identity from authorities and data snoopers. Having a fast secure VPN installed in your devices give you complete relief that no one can stalk you anymore! With strong encryption protocols, it enables you to surf internet with complete anonymity and privacy. It is important to understand that every country has different censorship norms, so selecting a right VPN protocol is highly advisable.
Not all mobile VPN apps are created equal. In fact, most VPN providers offer different services (and sometimes, different servers) for their mobile offerings than they do for their desktop counterparts. We're pleased to see that NordVPN and Private Internet Access provide the same excellent selection of servers regardless of platform. These apps received an Editors' Choice nod both for desktop VPN apps and Android VPN apps.
Though TorGuard’s support site offers in-depth information, finding specific info is harder, and the site is not as easy to follow as those for our top pick or ExpressVPN. TorGuard provides helpful video tutorials, but they’re two years old now and don’t show the latest versions of the company’s apps. As with most of the VPNs we contacted, TorGuard support staff responded to our help ticket quickly—the response to our query came less than half an hour after we submitted it on a weekday afternoon. Still, if you’re worried about getting lost in VPN settings or don’t like hunting for your own answers, IVPN is a better fit.
Usually, it's the free services that throttle your usage in these ways. Some paid services will offer a trial, where you can transmit up to a certain data cap before being asked to sign up as a paying customer. That's actually pretty cool, because it gives you a chance to try out the performance of their service before paying, but it also gives the vendor a chance to make the money necessary to operate the service.
You heard us right on that last bit: a number of VPN providers have systems in place where they will accept gift cards from major retailers (that are totally unrelated to their business) like Wal-Mart or Target in exchange for VPN credit. You could buy a gift card to any number of big box stores using cash, redeem it for VPN credit, and avoid using your personal credit card or checking information.
The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.
CyberGhost gives Mullvad some stiff competition in the speed department, especially for locations in North America and Europe. It does a good job protecting user anonymity, too—requiring no identifying information and using a third-party service for payment processing—albeit not to the same degree as Mullvad. Add to that CyberGhost’s unique, easy-to-use interface, good price, and streaming unblocking (although not for Netflix), and this VPN is a solid choice. (See our full review of CyberGhost.)
The solution is also able to bypass firewalls through stealth connections. Additional security is provided through an ad and malware blocker, which can be switched on and off. For those who enjoy torrenting, the software supports such process, with certain servers optimized for P2P networks. This is designed to keep high-speed browsing on other connections. However, the service warns users to keep torrenting activities confined to specific cities around the world.
With Kodi, you can access your media over a local connection (LAN) or from a remote media server, if that's your thing. This is, presumably, where concerns about VPN enter the picture. A device using a VPN, for example, will have its connection encrypted on the local network. You might have trouble connecting to it. Using Chromecast on a VPN device just doesn't work, for example. Kodi users might have the same issue.
In this approach, the firewall must be configured with input and output filters on its Internet and perimeter network interfaces to allow the passing of tunnel maintenance traffic and tunneled data to the VPN server. Additional filters can allow the passing of traffic to Web servers, FTP servers, and other types of servers on the perimeter network. As an added layer of security, the VPN server should also be configured with PPTP or L2TP/IPSec packet filters on its perimeter network interface as described in “VPN Server in Front of a Firewall” in this section.
With hundreds of VPN services and clients available, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. We've extensively tested several popular VPN services that met three requirements: They had both desktop and mobile client software (with one exception), they had VPN servers in many countries, and they offered unlimited data use, at least in their paid versions.
Typically, when you try to access a website on the Internet, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) receives the request and redirects you to your destination. As your Internet traffic passes through your ISP, they can see everything you do online. What’s more, they can track your behavior and sometimes even hand your browsing history over to advertisers, government agencies and other third parties.
Since we last tested VPNs, we've given special attention to the privacy practices of VPN companies and not just the technology they provide. In our testing, we read through the privacy policies and discuss company practices with VPN service representatives. What we look for is a commitment to protect user information, and to take a hands-off approach to gathering user data.