We considered native apps for Windows, Mac, and Android to be mandatory because they’re easier to use than open-source or third-party VPN apps like Tunnelblick; that in turn makes it easier to stay secure. For more-advanced users, adding VPN connections to Wi-Fi routers can help secure all connections on a home network without having to manage devices individually.
TorGuard offers applications for every major platform, including Windows, macOS, and Android. And unlike our top pick, it also supports OpenVPN on ChromeOS. (Though TorGuard does offer an iOS app, it doesn’t natively support the OpenVPN protocol that allows for the easiest and most reliable secure connections.) Using these apps, you can manually select a server, click Connect, and not worry about the rest. But otherwise, the applications aren’t as refined or easy to use as IVPN’s. New users are likely to find themselves out of their depth when modifying anything but the most basic functions, such as auto-connecting at launch or minimizing the app.
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.
Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) can tunnel an entire network's traffic (as it does in the OpenVPN project and SoftEther VPN project) or secure an individual connection. A number of vendors provide remote-access VPN capabilities through SSL. An SSL VPN can connect from locations where IPsec runs into trouble with Network Address Translation and firewall rules.
There are a number of ways to use VPN. The most common scenario is when a remote user accesses a private network across the Internet using a remote access VPN connection. In another scenario, a remote office connects to the corporate network using either a persistent or an on-demand site-to-site VPN connection (also known as a router-to-router VPN connection).
VPN services can also be defined as connections between specific computers, typically servers in separate data centers, when security requirements for their exchanges exceed what the enterprise network can deliver. Increasingly, enterprises also use VPN connections in either remote access mode or site-to-site mode to connect -- or connect to -- resources in a public infrastructure-as-a-service environment.
Because it is impossible to update separate user accounts on separate servers for the same user simultaneously, most administrators set up a master account database at a domain controller or on a RADIUS server. This enables the VPN server to send the authentication credentials to a central authenticating device, and the same user account can be used for both dial-up remote access and VPN-based remote access.
While a VPN can protect your privacy online, you might still want to take the additional step of avoiding paying for one using a credit card, for moral or security reasons. Several VPN services now accept anonymous payment methods such Bitcoin, and some even accept retailer gift cards. Both of these transactions is about as close as you can get to paying with cash for something online. That Starbucks gift card may be better spent on secure web browsing than a mediocre-at-best latte.
Known for its speed, ease of use and native clients, HideIPVPN supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android platforms. Its Smart DNS service is known to be able to unblock some sites. The service supports a variety of protocols, which include SSTP, OpenVPN, SoftEther, PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. With the service, torrenting is allowed although only on German and Dutch servers, this is due to the fact that it only has seven server locations in North America and Europe.
Using Wi-Fi on the Windows laptops, we timed how long it took to connect to websites, measured latency times (how long it took a server to respond), and recorded upload and download speeds with Ookla's Speedtest meter, both with and without the VPN activated. We also timed how long it took to download a large video file, both with and without VPN activation.
PPTP is undoubtedly one of the fastest VPN protocols that are pre-installed in major operating systems and consoles. The only downside of PPTP protocol is its low encryption method that is a prime concern of VPN users who take serious notes on privacy. It supports 128-bit encryption that is somewhat less secure than other VPN protocols. However, if your goal is to use VPN for streaming then using PPTP is a way to go. PPTP protocol is also considered as the fastest VPN protocol because it is very easy to setup, and you can get high-speed VPN connection in just a few clicks and taps.
When we initially researched and tested VPNs for this guide in early 2018, technical and legal reasons prevented app developers from using the OpenVPN protocol in apps released through Apple’s iOS app store. During 2018, both the technical and licensing hurdles were removed, and VPN providers started adding OpenVPN connections to their iOS apps. We’ve already noted that our top pick, IVPN, has added it, as have ExpressVPN and PIA. In a future update, we’ll specifically test these upgraded iOS apps, but in the meantime the updated IVPN app has worked as promised for several Wirecutter staffers who use it regularly. Because this OpenVPN support makes it much easier for anyone with Apple devices to create a reliably secure VPN connection, we wouldn’t recommend a service without it to anyone with an iPhone or iPad.
You want to skip PPTP if at all possible. It’s a very dated protocol that uses weak encryption and due to security issues should be considered compromised. It might be good enough to secure your non-essential web browsing at a coffee shop (e.g. to keep the shopkeeper’s son from sniffing your passwords), but it’s not up to snuff for serious security. Although L2TP/IPsec is a significant improvements over PPTP, it lacks the speed and the open security audits found with OpenVPN.
Mac users often told that they don’t need antivirus software because Mac is not prone to viruses; get a life man! This is not true at all, even the first well-known virus; Elk Cloner, affected Apple computers, not MS-DOS computers. Currently, the state of Mac malware is evolving, with more and more threats targeting the so-called impervious machines. We have already witnessed Mac threats appearance recently; on malwarebytes.com a mac user from Miami who had his DNS settings changed and were unable to change them back.
Voluntary tunneling occurs when a client computer or routing server creates a virtual connection to the target tunnel server. To accomplish this, tunneling client software and the appropriate tunneling protocol must be installed on the client computer. For the protocols discussed in this technical reference, voluntary tunnels require an IP connection (either LAN or dial-up).
We’ll get to the implications of a VPN’s location in a moment, but first, let’s get back to our secure tunnel example. Once you’re connected to the VPN and are “inside the tunnel,” it becomes very difficult for anyone else to spy on your web-browsing activity. The only people who will know what you’re up to are you, the VPN provider (usually an HTTPS connection can mitigate this), and the website you’re visiting.
Because few VPN companies offer live support, we appreciate when they at least provide easy-to-follow resources on their websites. Detailed setup guides with step-by-step instructions are available for every platform IVPN supports, and it breaks down troubleshooting advice into language that’s easy to understand. ExpressVPN also has clear, helpful support articles, but other services aren’t as straightforward. It’s harder to find the right information on TorGuard’s support site, and its articles aren’t as novice-friendly. If you need to submit a ticket for a specific problem, you can expect a quick response from all the companies we tested—IVPN and TorGuard both responded to us in minutes, and PIA took the longest at one day. ExpressVPN was the only one of our finalists that offered tech support over live chat. (Other companies provide live chat only for sales and signup support.)
Think about it this way: If your car pulls out of your driveway, someone can follow you and see where you are going, how long you are at your destination, and when you are coming back. They might even be able to peek inside your car and learn more about you. With a VPN service, you are essentially driving into a closed parking garage, switching to a different car, and driving out, so that no one who was originally following you knows where you went.