Since VPNs route your traffic through another network, you can also make it appear as if it’s coming from another location. That means if you’re in Sydney, Australia, you can make your traffic appear to come from New York City. This is useful for certain sites that block content based on your location (like Netflix). It also allows some people (we’re looking at you, Australians) have to deal with insanely high import taxes on software that see them paying twice (or more) what US consumers pay for the same products.
CyberGhost’s popular free tier might not offer amazing speeds, but its paid Pro tier is a real contender. It proved to be both quick and consistent in our speed tests. An “extra speed” feature can be toggled before you connect for an extra boost. Setup and use are novice-friendly, and live chat with customer support is available if you need a hand. Military grade encryption ensures all your data is safely tunneled to the VPN server, and CyberGhost does not store any logs of user activity or other identifiers.
StrongVPN is a great choice, as it meets the needs of both power users and casual users alike. Prices start at $10 a month and drop quickly, when you purchase a year of service at a time, to $5.83 a month. The ease of setup is fantastic–if you’re new to VPNs and/or don’t have extra time to fuss with manual settings, you can just download their setup app for Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android to automate the setup process. If you want a more granular control or need to manually configure devices like your router, you can follow one of their many guides for different operating systems and hardware to do it manually.
For VPN connections, however, IP datagrams sent across the Internet can arrive in a different order from the one in which they were sent, and a higher proportion of packets can be lost. Therefore, for VPN connections, MPPE changes the encryption key for each packet. The decryption of each packet is independent of the previous packet. MPPE includes a sequence number in the MPPE header. If packets are lost or arrive out of order, the encryption keys are changed relative to the sequence number.
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote... See Full Bio
Some VPN services will limit the total amount of data you can send and receive, either in one connection session or over the period of a month. Other VPN services will limit the speed of the data, effectively sharing less of their pipe with you than might be optimal. That could slow your browsing experience to a crawl or completely prevent you from watching streaming video.
Wi-Fi attacks, on the other hand, are probably far more common than we'd like to believe. While attending the Black Hat convention, researchers saw thousands of devices connecting to a rogue access point. It had been configured to mimic networks that victim's devices had previously connected to, since many devices will automatically reconnect to a known network without checking with the user. That's why we recommend getting a VPN app for your mobile device to protect all your mobile communications. Even if you don't have it on all the time, using a mobile VPN is a smart way to protect your personal information.
The best VPN services offer a robust balance of functions, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards surrounding location constraints that companies place on their apps and services, and others are focused on people who download a lot of content and want some privacy while they do.
Their best plan is 1-year subscription plan: $6.99 ($83.88). While their monthly price of $11.95 is at the high end of the spectrum (and they did lose a few points for that), their yearly price of $83.88 is lower than most our contenders. And yes, they also have a full 30-day refund policy. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. They do offer $3.99/month price ($95.75/2-year) .
DNS servers are a bit like the phone books of the Internet: You can type in “thewirecutter.com,” for instance, and one of the many DNS servers behind the scenes can point you to the IP address of a server hosting the site. Most of the time, your DNS requests automatically route through your ISP, giving the ISP an easy way to monitor your traffic. Some VPN services rely on third-party DNS servers, but the best ones keep DNS servers in-house to prevent your browsing history, or your IP address, from getting out.
MS-CHAP version 2 (MS-CHAP v2) is an updated encrypted authentication mechanism that provides stronger security for the exchange of user name and password credentials and determination of encryption keys. With MS-CHAP v2, the NAS sends a challenge to the client that consists of a session identifier and an arbitrary challenge string. The remote access client sends a response that contains the user name, an arbitrary peer challenge string, and an encrypted form of the received challenge string, the peer challenge string, the session identifier, and the user's password. The NAS checks the response from the client and sends back a response containing an indication of the success or failure of the connection attempt and an authenticated response based on the sent challenge string, the peer challenge string, the encrypted response of the client, and the user's password. The remote access client verifies the authentication response and, if correct, uses the connection. If the authentication response is not correct, the remote access client terminates the connection.
Torrenting/P2P Support – Many individuals use a VPN to download torrents and performing P2P networking. Although we do not encourage piracy, the conscientious personal use of copyrighted files is a bit of a legal and moral gray area. To maintain freedom and neutrality on the web, torrenting should be supported and available to users. As such, support for P2P networking is a feature that a true VPN should possess.
If you're trying to connect to a remote media source with Kodi, a VPN would likely play a different role. It might, for example, prevent your ISP from determining what you're up to. It might also be useful if you're connecting to a third-party service for Kodi that allows streaming of copyright-infringing material. Keep in mind, however, that some VPN services specifically forbid the use of their services for copyright infringement.
Hotspot Shield is the free version of the popular Hotspot Shield Premium VPN. You don’t need to input any information to download and begin using their app. Although the service is totally free, you will stumble upon ads only on the Android app. Other platforms are ads free. This is a major advantage, due to security aspects. Same as on the Premium version, Hotspot Shield committed to a zero log policy. They even confirmed their zero log policy by a 3rd party independent test.
If you’re not looking to take advantage of its Channel Bonding functionality, users still benefit from a few tools designed to ensure users have a stable connection at all times. This includes its error correction algorithm that reduces packet loss and its automated, seamless network switching that acts as a failsafe should users step out of WiFi range or their primary connection fails.
In the most recent round of testing, we've also looked at how many virtual servers a given VPN company uses. A virtual server is just what it sounds like—a software-defined server running on server hardware that might have several virtual servers onboard. The thing about virtual servers is that they can be configured to appear as if they are in one country when they are actually being hosted somewhere else. That's an issue if you're especially concerned about where you web traffic is traveling. It's a bit worrisome to choose one location and discover you're actually connected somewhere else entirely.
Even if none of the above really sound right to you, you can still benefit from using a VPN. You should definitely use one when you travel or work on an untrusted network (read: a network you don’t own, manage, or trust who manages.) That means opening your laptop at the coffee shop and logging in to Facebook or using your phone’s Wi-Fi to check your email at the airport can all potentially put you at risk.
The student/worker. This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they’re not exactly shopping around. Also, if they’re worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
In addition to hiding your online activity from a snooping government it’s also useful for hiding your activity from a snooping Internet Service Provider (ISP). If your ISP likes to throttle your connection based on content (tanking your file downloads and/or streaming video speeds in the process) a VPN completely eliminates that problem as all your traffic is traveling to a single point through the encrypted tunnel and your ISP remains ignorant of what kind of traffic it is.
As a business grows, it might expand to multiple shops or offices across the country and around the world. To keep things running efficiently, the people working in those locations need a fast, secure and reliable way to share information across computer networks. In addition, traveling employees like salespeople need an equally secure and reliable way to connect to their business's computer network from remote locations.
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.)
Security when connecting to public Wifi networks: Many people use public Wifi networks – You can find them in airports, cafes, bars and public libraries for example. People use these Wifi networks freely and without any forethought for their security. How do you know that network is secure? How do you know there isn’t someone attempting to break into that network? A VPN can be used to securely connect to a Wifi network and protect your data integrity. Learn More
Whether the VPNs you’re familiar with are the ones offered by your school or business to help you work or stay connected when you’re traveling or the ones you pay to get you watch your favorite shows in another country as they air, they’re all doing the same thing. For much more detail on what VPNs are, how they work, and how they’re used, check out this How Stuff Works article.
TRY THE FASTEST VPN RISK FREE: ExpressVPN is currently running an offer of 3 free extra months with their 12 month plan here, this works out as a 49% discount on the monthly price. This deal includes a risk free 30 day money back guarantee, so in the unlikely event you are unhappy with the speed, or want to cancel for any other reason you can get a full refund.
When we ran our recent Hive Five on VPN service providers, we heard from VPN providers begging to be included, angry CEOs who claimed their company was maliciously left out, and others accusing some of the contenders of illegal or unethical behavior. We took at look at the poll and the claims, and while there’s no definitive proof the poll was gamed, we decided to come up with our own top five, based on our own research rather than reader feedback, that are great whether you’re the privacy advocate, the student, or the downloader.
Traditional VPNs are characterized by a point-to-point topology, and they do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains, so services such as Microsoft Windows NetBIOS may not be fully supported or work as they would on a local area network (LAN). Designers have developed VPN variants, such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocols (L2TP), to overcome this limitation.
VPN technology was developed as a way to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources. To ensure safety, data travels through secure tunnels, and VPN users must use authentication methods -- including passwords, tokens or other unique identification procedures -- to gain access to the VPN server.
Many companies proudly display “warrant canaries” on their websites. These are digitally signed notices that say something to the effect of “We have never been served a warrant for traffic logs or turned over customer information.” Law enforcement can prohibit a company from discussing an investigation, but in theory, it can’t compel a company to actively lie. So the theory goes that when the warrant canary dies—that is, the notice disappears from the website because it’s no longer truthful—so does privacy. The EFF supports this legal position, though other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done. Such notices may provide a nice sense of security, and they are important to some people, but we didn’t consider them essential.
Early data networks allowed VPN-style remote connections through dial-up modem or through leased line connections utilizing Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) virtual circuits, provided through networks owned and operated by telecommunication carriers. These networks are not considered true VPNs because they passively secure the data being transmitted by the creation of logical data streams. They have been replaced by VPNs based on IP and IP/Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) Networks, due to significant cost-reductions and increased bandwidth provided by new technologies such as digital subscriber line (DSL) and fiber-optic networks.
VPN protocol: We always recommend users avail of OpenVPN when available, as it is the most secure and open-source protocol available. You may, however, opt for a speedier protocol. IKEv2 is secure and works well especially with mobile data connections. You might or might not notice a difference with L2TP/IPSec or SSTP, depending on your device hardware. PPTP is generally regarded as the fastest, but has known security flaws that make it unsuitable for anyone who values their privacy.
Remote-access VPNs come in two forms. One is a network access server (NAS), which is a dedicated server, or an application running on a shared server. In this case, users need to connect to the NAS over the Internet to access the VPN. Users key in their credentials to access the VPN, which is validated by the NAS either by using a separate authentication server or its own authentication process.
One of the most popular VPN services in the market, HideMyAss has a myriad of features that are sure to attract anyone who wants online anonymity. It uses a variety of servers that work with any operating system or mobile device. Aside from PPTP and OpenVPN protocols, the service supports L2TP, which is more difficult to block. Ideal for getting around censorship and firewalls.
To be fair, not all pay VPN services are legitimate, either. It's important to be careful who you choose. Over on ZDNet's sister site, CNET, I've put together an always up-to-date directory of quality VPN providers. To be fair, some are better than others (and that's reflected in their ratings). But all are legitimate companies that provide quality service.
However, you've got no choice but to run TunnelBear's client software (unless you use Linux), which may concern some privacy-minded users, and there's no option to set up TunnelBear connections on routers or other devices. Last but not least, this tiny Canadian firm is now owned by U.S. antivirus giant McAfee, which may mean TunnelBear is subject to U.S. search warrants.
Hotspot Shield VPN does not log your browsing activity. Almost all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) track your browsing history. So when you use a VPN like Hotspot Shield, there is no record of the websites you have visited and which apps you use. This prevents hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in these websites/apps to get to your personal information.
The second thing that happens is that the web application you're talking to does not get to see your IP address. Instead, it sees an IP address owned by the VPN service. This allows you some level of anonymous networking. This IP spoofing is also used to trick applications into thinking you're located in a different region, or even a different country than you really are located in. There are reasons (both illegal and legal) to do this. We'll discuss that in a bit.
We use the most trusted and widely used VPN protocol available, OpenVPN for your Windows device. This protocol is open source which means you have the reassurance that no unknown proprietary codes can access your data. And to boot we use OpenSSL libraries and run the whole operation over UDP ports so you always get the best speeds when using our free VPN trial. Our VPN protection for Android is built on OpenVPN, the most widely used and trusted VPN protocol available. It’s the most trusted protocol because it’s open source meaning no unknown proprietary codes can do anything with your data. We also use OpenSSL libraries as well as running the whole thing over UDP ports. The result? The best speeds possible for you when using our free VPN trial. Our VPN protection for Android is built on OpenVPN, the most widely used and trusted VPN protocol available. It’s the most trusted protocol because it’s open source meaning no unknown proprietary codes can do anything with your data. We also use OpenSSL libraries as well as running the whole thing over UDP ports. The result? The best speeds possible for you when using our free VPN trial. We use the IPsec protocol for our iOS implementation which is built entirely on Apple’s proprietary stacks. The result? A super fast connection speed each time you switch on your AVG Secure VPN for iPhone. Our macOS implementation of AVG Secure VPN uses the IPsec protocol and is built entirely on Apple’s proprietary stacks. Which means that you get the best in performance and compatibility for your Mac when you connect using our free VPN trial.
Here's the problem with the internet: It's inherently insecure. When the internet was first designed, the priority was to be able to send packets (chunks of data) as reliably as possible. Networking across the country and the world was relatively new, and nodes often went down. Most of the internet's core protocols (methods of communicating) were designed to route around failure, rather than secure data.
When a VPN server is in front of a firewall and connected to the Internet, inbound and outbound packet filters on the VPN server need to be configured to allow only VPN traffic to and from the IP address of the VPN server’s Internet interface. Use this configuration if the VPN server is in a perimeter network, with one firewall positioned between the VPN server and the intranet and another between the VPN server and the Internet.
Despite some of the drawbacks, ZorroVPN is a very interesting service if you are looking for advanced online anonymity. With their OpenVPN file config generator, you can create unique VPN chains with the Tor network and proxies (up to four hops). Unlike with Perfect Privacy, however, these multi-hop configurations cannot be dynamically changed within the VPN client.
You can pay for a Windscribe subscription with bitcoin, and you don't even have to provide an email address. The service is based in Canada, which may appeal to users wary of U.S. authorities. The only feature lacking is a kill switch to stop all internet activity if the VPN connection is lost while in use, but Windscribe argues that its built-in firewall prevents data leakage.
VPNs are necessary for improving individual privacy, but there are also people for whom a VPN is essential for personal and professional safety. Some journalists and political activists rely on VPN services to circumvent government censorship and safely communicate with the outside world. Check the local laws before using a VPN in China, Russia, Turkey, or any country with with repressive internet policies.