For the formal testing, we used an HP EliteBook X360 1020 G2 notebook, an Asus ZenPad S8 tablet (for Avira Phantom VPN) and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone (for Speedify). Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections were provided by a 200-Mbps cable broadband line. Each time we connected to a VPN service, we recorded how long it took to get online and noted how many times the service disconnected us.
Our top picks are proven to work with streaming apps and sites, reliably clock the fastest speeds and have the most useful set of privacy features. Their logging policies are the most transparent, fair and privacy-focused. Their apps are well-designed, quick to install and above all, easy to use. The best services also offer friendly customer support you can rely on to help you quickly should you get stuck.
Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), about whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if the company wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. After careful consideration, we decided we’d rather give up other positives—like faster speeds or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Given the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust.
Some virtual networks use tunneling protocols without encryption for protecting the privacy of data. While VPNs often do provide security, an unencrypted overlay network does not neatly fit within the secure or trusted categorization. For example, a tunnel set up between two hosts with Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) is a virtual private network, but neither secure nor trusted.
Unlimited broadband enhances user experience. Another advantage is that you can use up to 5 devices on the same VPN account simultaneously. P2P sharing is allowed, since there is no control over what you do on the internet. Tailor-made applications for Windows, iOS and Linux work like tight clocks, but that’s not all. The interesting ‘door open’ tool searches for unlocked doors on other secure networks, so you do not need to be greedy and ask for the password in a hotel or buy a super-charged bottle at an airport terminal.
We’re more than happy to help cut through all the jargon and ad copy to help get the bottom of things and, to that end, we’ve selected three VPN service providers that we have direct personal experience with and that meet our VPN selection criteria. In addition to meeting our outlined criteria (and exceeding our expectations for quality of service and ease of use) all of our recommendations here have been in service for years and have remained highly rated and recommended throughout that time.
One way to resolve the issue of trust is to be your own VPN provider, but that’s not a feasible option for most people, and it still requires trust in any company providing the hardware that your VPN would run on, such as Amazon’s cloud services. Multiple projects can help you cheaply turn any old server into a VPN, including Algo, Streisand, and Outline. By encrypting all the traffic from your home or mobile device to a server you manage, you deprive your ISP and a potentially villainous VPN of all your juicy traffic logs. But most people lack the skills, patience, or energy—or some combination of the three—to do this. If you don’t manage servers or work in IT, it may be harder to manage perfect operation and performance better than trustworthy professionals. Lastly, though you remove one threat from the equation by cutting out a VPN service provider, you also lose the extra layer of privacy that comes from your traffic mixing in with that of hundreds or thousands of other customers.
Osama is a staunch believer in the inalienable right of every citizen to freedom of expression. Writing about online privacy and security without regard to political correctness is his answer to the powers that be threatening our freedom. Deeply curious about Nature and the Universe, he is fascinated by science, intrigued by mathematics, and wishes to play guitar like Buckethead in some alternate version of reality.
We asked TorGuard detailed questions about the company’s internal policies and standards, just as we did with five other top-performing services. TorGuard CEO Benjamin Van Pelt answered all our questions, as he has done for other outlets multiple times since the company launched in 2012. Though TorGuard’s answers weren’t as in-depth as some other companies’ responses, Van Pelt is a public figure who has been willing to talk about TorGuard’s operations at length. In 2013, ArsTechnica got a close look at TorGuard’s engineering and network management skills as the company rebuffed repeated attacks on its servers. Even though the company’s marketing is wrought with overreaching claims about being “anonymous”—an inaccurate boast that makes some experts cringe—the technical and operational standards of the company are focused on protecting customer privacy. In one interview with Freedom Hacker, Van Pelt notes that if there were problems on a server, such as someone using it for spamming, the company couldn’t restrict a single user. “Rules would be implemented in that specific server which would limit actions for everyone connected, not just one user. Since we have an obligation to provide fast, abuse free services, our team handles abuse reports per server – not per single user.”
The app likewise prevents websites from collecting users’ private data, allowing for safer and more secure web browsing. To make things even better, the solution automatically connects whenever an unsecure Wi-Fi connection is detected, ensuring constant protection. It connects to the nearest server, resulting in optimum speeds. But one can also connect manually and be able to choose a preferred server.
First I just want to say what a great website you have created, very informative. I am using Avast VPN on a Windows computer and Google Chrome browser. Without a VPN I am getting download speeds up to 180 MB, and 24 MB up, using Ookla to test speeds. Using Avast VPN drops that to 40-60 MB down and 2-3 MB up, and I have tried using multiple locations from Miami to Atlanta, NY, Chicago and Jacksonville. Miami and NY are classed as P2P. My location is S Florida. When I download torrents my speed falls drastically. With one torrent downloading I get 6 MB down and up. 2 torrents simultaneously 2.5 MB down and 1.4 MB up. 3 torrents 2 MB down and 1.5 up, and 4 torrents 1 MB down and up. I have conducted dozens of tests over the course of the day to get an average of the speeds. I had previously used Private Internet Access, which was faster at the beginning of my one year subscription, but the speeds deteriorated towards the end of that one year subscription to speeds similar to Avast’s. Do you have any suggestions for a fastest VPN for streaming and torrenting? I only download torrents once or twice a month.
Inside the Preferences pane, you can also tick boxes to automatically launch or connect the app when you boot your device. Anyone using the Windows or macOS app should tick the box to autoconnect “when joining insecure WiFi networks.” You can also tag individual Wi-Fi networks as trusted or untrusted, to make sure you’re always protected even if you forget to connect the app manually. These network rules—not offered on most apps, including IVPN’s mobile apps or any of TorGuard’s apps—will make sure you don’t forget your VPN when you need it the most.
However, network performance is another thing entirely. First, keep in mind that if you're using a VPN, you're probably using it at a public location. That Wi-Fi service is likely to range in performance somewhere between "meh" and unusable. So, just the fact that you're remotely working on a mediocre network will reduce performance. But then, if you connect to a VPN in a different country, the connection between countries is also likely to degrade network performance.
Ironically, in many cases, the faster your standard internet connection, the more speed you “lose” in percentage. Even if you have a 50 Mbps connection and this interconnection is poor, you probably won’t be able to make the best of the VPN service. For example, if you have a 5 Mbps connection, you’ll lose just 10-20% of bandwidth, but if you have 100 Mbps, connecting to a VPN may cause you to lose more than a half of your speed.
Before anything else, understand that if you want to use a VPN you should be paying for it. Free VPNs are either selling your browsing data in aggregated form to researchers and marketers, or giving you a paltry amount of data transfer every month. Either way, a basic rule of thumb is that a free VPN will not protect your privacy in any meaningful way.
Also important is the protocol the VPN service uses. Connecting to a VPN service using the OpenVPN protocol generally yields a faster, more reliable experience. Plus, OpenVPN is, as the name implies, open-source. That means it has been picked over for flaws and exploits by thousands of volunteers. If you're concerned about speed and security, selecting a service that supports OpenVPN and makes it available by default is important.
If you are depending on your VPN to keep your activities even mildly anonymous, you need some sense of security that the VPN isn’t just going to go down and dump all your traffic out into the regular internet. What you want is tool known as a “kill switch system”. Good VPN providers have a kill switch system in place such that if the VPN connection fails for any reason it automatically locks down the connection so that the computer doesn’t default to using the open and unsecured internet connection.