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.
Trusting a VPN is a hard choice, but IVPN's transparency goes a long way toward proving that its customers' privacy is a priority. Founder and CEO Nick Pestell answered all of our questions about the company's internal security, and even described the tools the company uses to limit and track access to secure servers. IVPN goes further than the other leading candidates we considered by being transparent about who runs the service and who is responsible for your privacy.
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.
Free VPN services are generally subpar when compared to premium providers, or they’re posited as a ‘trial’ version of the service. Most aim to retain their customer base by getting them to upgrade to the full-fat version, but a free version is still better than browsing without one. On the other hand, lots of free users also help to give a company legitimacy; especially if they’re dropping down five star reviews like it’s going out of fashion. Offering a solid free service is a great way to get some positive attention, and the market is fairly crowded.
When we test VPNs, we use the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.) This test provides metrics for latency, download speeds, and upload speeds. Any one of these can be an important measurement depending on your needs, but we tend to view the download speed as the most important. After all, we live in an age of digital consumption.
In addition to blocking malicious sites and ads, some VPNs also claim to block malware. We don't test the efficacy of these network-based protections, but most appear to be blacklists of sites known to host malicious software. That's great, but don't assume it's anywhere near as good as standalone antivirus. Use this feature to complement, not replace, your antivirus.
A popular VPN service, TorGuard has servers in over 50 countries and enables users to unblock websites and get around censorship. This ensures that wherever you are in the world, there is bound to be a TorGuard server near you. By default, the service enables users to make five simultaneous connections. This lets users run the service on all their devices. To better protect users, the service has a kill switch. However, this feature is not available on mobile devices. Likewise, a Domain Name System leak protection works on Windows and OS X.
Latency is a measurement of time between when your computer sends a request and when it receives a response. It's often called ping time. Lots of things can affect latency; the distance your request physically travels through fiber has a big impact, for example. Latency is measured in milliseconds, however, so even a large increase may not be noticeable to the average user. Latency is very important when playing video games over a VPN, as lower latency means a more responsive experience with less lag.
A lot of people avoid using VPN providers based out of the United States on the premise that US law would compel those providers to log all VPN activity. Counterintuitively, there are no such data logging requirements for US-based VPN providers. They might be compelled under another set of laws to turn over data if they have any to turn over, but there is no requirement they even keep the data in the first place.
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
All VPNs have to do some kind of logging, but there are VPNs that collect as little data as possible and others that aren’t so minimalist. On top of that, some services discard their logs in a matter of hours or days while other companies hold onto them for months at a time. How much privacy you expect from your VPN-based browsing will greatly influence how long you can stand having your provider maintain your activity logs—and what those logs contain.