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.
L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with Internet Protocol Security): L2TP is not secure itself, so it's generally paired with the IPsec secure-networking standard. The combination of the two was once thought to be very secure when properly implemented, but some VPN services suggest that you use OpenVPN instead. L2TP/IPsec has native support in Windows, OS X/macOS, Android, Chrome OS and iOS. Most VPN services support it.
Also, do be aware that some broadcasters have developed increasingly sophisticated methods to determine whether the IP address you represent is the IP address where you're located. The VPN may be able to protect your original IP address from being seen, but there are characteristics of proxy communications (like a slightly longer time to transfer packets) that can be used to identify users who are trying to bypass watching restrictions.
PureVPN has servers in more than 140 countries and can be very inexpensive if you pay for two years up front. It also lets you "split-tunnel" your service so that some data is encrypted and other data isn't. But PureVPN was at or near the back of the pack in almost all of our 2017 performance tests. In October 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice disclosed in a criminal complaint that PureVPN had given the FBI customer logs in reference to a cyberstalking case, which kind of negates the entire point of using a VPN.
That said, many VPN providers are based outside the US, which complicates enforcement. Jerome continued: “Users can file complaints in a local jurisdiction, and local data protection laws may have more effective enforcement mechanisms. For example, privacy and confidentiality of communications are fundamental rights in the European Union. Data protection authorities in EU-member states are empowered to handle complaints brought by individuals and then provide users with information about the outcome of any investigation. But it is unclear how effective any of these remedies will be.”
And they manage to do all of this without sacrificing performance, offering one of the fastest download speeds (83 Mbps out of 100 Mbps) and the best 24/7 customer support in the industry. The only downside? It’s a little on the pricey side, with monthly plans starting between $6.67 and $12.95/mo. But it’s a small price to pay for excellent performance in almost every category.
As we said above, there are plenty of drawbacks to free VPN services. If you need a full, trustworthy service with unlimited bandwidth you're going to need to sign up to a full, paid service. The best VPN right now is ExpressVPN. Prices start at just $6.67 per month - that's about the price of a pint of beer in the UK! And for that you get the best VPN in the world, without any security concerns, with 24/7 customer support, guaranteed access to Netflix US, almost constant uptime and a 30-day money back guarantee (no questions asked) if you change your mind. Check out ExpressVPN!
MPPE provides only link encryption between the VPN client and the VPN server. It does not provide end-to-end encryption, which is data encryption between the client application and the server hosting the resource or service that is being accessed by the client application. If end-to-end encryption is required, IPSec can be used to encrypt IP traffic from end-to-end after the PPTP tunnel is established.
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.
When a VPN connection drops, you might just lose your connection. But because the internet is very good at routing around failures, what is more likely to happen is your computer will reconnect to the internet application, simply bypassing the VPN service. That means that -- on failure -- your local IP address may "leak out" and be logged by the internet application, and your data may be open to local Wi-Fi hackers at your hotel or wherever you're doing your computing.
These folks have been around since 2010, and don't log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.
Something pretty great about Speedify is that you can use it for free without even making an account. The moment you install and open the software, you're immediately being protected behind a VPN and can do anything a user can, like change the server, toggle encryption on and off, set monthly or daily limits, and easily connect to the fastest server.
Avast SecureLine VPN offers good overall performance and steady connections, and it was the best of the limited-feature services we tested in 2017. But at $80 per year for software installation on five devices, it's more expensive than any full-fledged VPN service that doesn't limit installations. A single Mac or PC license is $60, while iOS or Android licenses are $20 each.
VyprVPN is one of very few providers to own and control its network infrastructure. Most VPN providers use 3rd-party companies to host their VPN servers, but not Vypr. This is a big draw for privacy concious users because their data is protected from end-to-end and never leaves VyprVPN's site. We strongly recommend avoiding its PPTP-only basic plan, but VyprVPN otherwise offers a great selection of features, such as a SmartDNS service, robust customer support and port selection. VyprVPNs “Chameleon” stealth technology is great for defeating censorship in places such such as China or Vietnam.
VPN services are entirely legal and legitimate in most countries. It's completely legal to mask your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic. There is nothing about using a VPN that's illegal and VPN services themselves do not and cannot do anything illegal. The only thing that's illegal is if you were to break the law while using a VPN - for instance if you were to infringe on someone's copyright. But that's the action of infringement that's illegal, not the use of the VPN.
How much should a VPN cost? Hotspot Shield can be as little as £119.99 for a lifetime or £5.99 a month if you'd rather sign up for a year. For your money you get a decent range of features including up to five devices, private browsing, virtual locations and good if not stellar performance: we did notice a slight increase in latency when Hotspot Shield was enabled, although it wasn’t too dramatic. There’s a seven-day trial that gives you more than enough time to put it through its paces.
The IVPN app's default settings are great for most people, who should be happy just smashing the Connect button and not fiddling with settings. On a desktop or an Android device, the company supports only the OpenVPN protocol we recommend and uses AES 256-bit encryption (what we consider the standard at this point). Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker (but also acceptable) AES 128-bit encryption unless you manually change it.
This is important to understand. Consumer VPN services protect your transmission from your location to their location, not from your location all the way to the destination application you're using. If you think about it, this makes sense: A consumer VPN service is operated by a completely different company than, for example, Facebook or your bank.
Even though Tor is free, we don’t think it’s the best option for most people. If you aren’t familiar with Tor, this handy interactive graphic shows how it protects an Internet connection, and this series goes into more detail about how Tor works. Runa Sandvik, a former researcher with The Tor Project who is now part of the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), described it as “a tool that allows users to remain anonymous and uncensored.” When we asked expert Alec Muffett about whether he personally used a VPN, he told us he actually spent most of his work time using Tor. But Tor has a reputation for slow connections, can be blocked by some websites, and isn’t suitable for some peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent.
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.
Spies—and, more frequently, advertisers—can glean a lot about your movements online. By capturing your IP address, an observer can divine your approximate geographic location. With a VPN it's a different story. Because your web traffic appears to be coming from the VPN's server and not your computer or mobile device (yes, there are Android VPN apps and iPhone VPN apps), any observer will see the VPN server's IP address and not yours. That makes it much harder to correlate your movements across the web.
When we tested other aspects of IVPN’s performance, it also satisfied our requirements. On the default settings, our real IP address didn’t leak out via DNS requests or IPv6 routing, let alone a standard IP address checker. The DNS-requests check indicated that the app was using the company’s internal DNS servers and that they were correctly configured. None of the 12 services we tested disclosed our true IP address (though some showed mismatched IPs). Every VPN we considered had to operate its own DNS servers in-house and not rely on ISP servers or public options like Google’s, which give third parties a chance to log or analyze the sites you visit. IVPN currently disables all IPv6 connectivity, though the company is looking at solutions to securely support it soon. Most companies we considered do the same; OVPN was the only company to support IPv6 addresses at the time of our testing.
The encryption and decryption processes depend on both the sender and the receiver having knowledge of a common encryption key. Intercepted packets sent along the VPN connection in the transit network are unintelligible to any computer that does not have the common encryption key. The length of the encryption key is an important security parameter. Computational techniques can be used to determine the encryption key. Such techniques require more computing power and computational time as the encryption key gets larger. Therefore, it is important to use the largest possible key size.
NordVPN also nudged out ExpressVPN in terms of speed, with a few caveats. Most VPN apps select a location, and then the app automatically selects the best server in that location. NordVPN is not so good at this. The auto-select on a couple occasions put us on servers that were complete duds, which resulted in a test result so bad it qualified as a statistical outlier and had to be thrown out. Thankfully, the app allows you to manually select a specific server and view the load capacity on all servers, where we had much better luck. Servers are optimized for specific streaming channels, torrenting, or security measures.
Corporate and Exit Locations: Depending on what you’re using a VPN for, your service’s location—and the exit locations you can choose—are important to consider. If you want to get around a location restriction and watch live TV in the UK, for example, you want to make sure your VPN service provider has servers in the UK. If you’re concerned about privacy or state-sponsored snooping, you may want to pick a service operated outside of your home country. Similarly, if the service is based on the US, they’re subject to US laws, and may be forced to turn over usage data to the authorities upon request. Many people make more of this than they should (we’ve seen overseas services turn over their data to friendly governments without any hesitation repeatedly), but it’s important to make sure a VPN has servers in multiple locations—or at least the location you’re interested in—when shopping.
Google has launched Chrome on Google Daydream View and the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream. If you have one of these headsets, you can launch Chrome directly from your homepage to browse and interact with any webpage while in VR. Chrome aims to be a universal browser on all types of devices and operating systems. This is also true for the new VR version. All the features you love on Chrome, from voice search to incognito mode to saved bookmarks, are now accessible on your Daydream headset.
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.
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.
Privacy features – The privacy features you want/need really varies for each person and depends on your threat model. For a higher level of online anonymity, you could use a multi-hop VPN, or possibly chain different VPN providers together. This could be done by using one VPN on a router, and then connecting through a second VPN on your computer. This can also be accomplished using virtual machines.
VPN use, for example, allows an IBM employee to work from home in a Chicago suburb while accessing the company intranet located in a building in New York City, as if he was right there on the New York office’s network. The same technology can be used by consumers to bridge their phones and laptops to their home network so, while on the road, they can securely access files from their home computers.
A client running the Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 operating systems uses a DHCPINFORM message after the connection to request the DHCP Classless Static Routes option. This DHCP option contains a set of routes that are automatically added to the routing table of the requesting client. This additional information is available only if the Windows Server 2003 DHCP server has been configured to provide the DHCP Classless Static Routes option and if the VPN server has the DHCP Relay Agent routing protocol component configured with the IP address of the DHCP server.
Here you should remember that before being sent and received over the Internet, any data needs to first be split into packets. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN service wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation. This exterior packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and it is the core element of the VPN tunnel. When the data arrives at the VPN server, the outer packet is removed to access the data within, which requires a decryption process.
One major limitation of traditional VPNs is that they are point-to-point, and do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains. Therefore, communication, software, and networking, which are based on layer 2 and broadcast packets, such as NetBIOS used in Windows networking, may not be fully supported or work exactly as they would on a real LAN. Variants on VPN, such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and layer 2 tunneling protocols, are designed to overcome this limitation.
Some combination of the above. Odds are, even if you’re not one of these people more often than not, you’re some mix of them depending on what you’re doing. In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it’s just a matter of protecting yourself when you’re out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don’t want to get fired, or you’re just covering your own ass from the MPAA.
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.
Insist on a VPN that has Kill Switch protection. There is a security vulnerability that can reveal your private information if your VPN connection is lost, even just for a few seconds. The solution is to be sure that you’re protected by a Kill Switch. A Kill Switch stops all data from being sent to the internet until a secure VPN connection has been re-established. If your VPN software does not have a Kill Switch, your computer might be leaking your private information without your knowledge
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.
It is also possible (emphasis on "possible") that VPNs may be able to save net neutrality repeal. Kind of. For those who are unaware, net neutrality is the much-discussed concept that ISPs treat web services and apps equally, and not create fast lanes for companies that pay more, or require consumers to sign up for specific plans in order to access services like Netflix or Twitter. Depending on how ISPs respond to a newly deregulated environment, a VPN could tunnel traffic past any choke points or blockades thrown up by ISPs. That said, an obvious response would be to block or throttle all VPN traffic. We'll have to see how this plays out.