In recent times, VPN services have made giant leaps in growing from niche online products hidden away in a dark corner of the internet to almost must-have services for anyone with an internet connected device. VPN is very much in the mainstream now and luckily that broadened appeal has done wonders for the usability of the services themselves - there are some brilliant options available in 2018.
It's not just the bad guys who are watching your traffic. Congress, for example, has granted internet service providers the right to sell anonymized metadata about your activities online. That's unfortunate, for a number of reasons. Fortunately, a VPN makes it much harder for even your ISP to monitor your activity and helps keep your privacy in your hands.
Servers – It is a bad idea to talk about the number of servers under NordVPN at any given point in time. This is because NordVPN’s server list is like my problems: they just never stop increasing! Currently, it is offering more than 4,700 servers, but don’t blame me if it adds a hundred more by the next day. There is no other VPN with a server network as large as NordVPN. As such, NordVPN comfortably ranks higher above all other VPNs when it comes to servers.
Tunnel endpoints must be authenticated before secure VPN tunnels can be established. User-created remote-access VPNs may use passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods. Network-to-network tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates. They permanently store the key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically, without intervention from the administrator.
We’ve shown you how to build your own VPN for remote gaming and browsing that also protects your security, shown you how to make a VPN even more secure, and shown you dozens of services that operate free and paid VPNs you can sign up for and use. We’ve even put the question to you several times to tell us which VPN service providers you think are the best. So how do you pick a solid VPN service?
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.
Compatibility – Device compatibility is something that has become more important with the passage of time. With an increased number of brands of computers and advances in mobile technology, virtually any software today should be compatible with various devices and operating systems. You should always make sure your VPN is compatible with your device before you make up your mind.
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service that offers fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind that you'll need to connect every device in your home individually to the VPN service, so just two or three licenses won't be enough for the average nested pair. Note that many VPN services offer native apps for both Android and iOS, but that such devices count toward your total number of connections.
If you're using a service to route all your internet traffic through its servers, you have to be able to trust the provider. Established security companies, such as F-Secure, may have only recently come to the VPN market. It's easier to trust companies that have been around a little longer, simply because their reputation is likely to be known. But companies and products can change quickly. Today's slow VPN service that won't let you cancel your subscription could be tomorrow's poster child for excellence.
Server switching is a feature -- offered by most VPN service providers -- that allows you to change what region or country you're going to connect to. Most providers allow you to switch as often as you'd like (although you usually have to disconnect, then change your configuration, and reconnect). This may be useful if you're trying to hide your location, or if you're running into some communications glitches on the server you're currently using.
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.
As we previously noted, we don’t recommend relying on our picks to get around geographic restrictions on copyrighted content. The practice is likely illegal, and it violates the terms of service of your ISP, VPN, and content provider. On top of that, it often doesn’t work—we couldn’t access Netflix over any of the services we tried, and of the four streams we loaded on BBC iPlayer, only two worked a few days later.
Remote access data encryption does not provide end-to-end data encryption. End-to-end encryption is data encryption between the client application and the server that hosts the resource or service being accessed by the client application. To get end-to-end data encryption, use IPSec to help create a secure connection after the remote access connection has been made.
Typically, when you try to access a website on the Internet, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) receives the request and redirects you to your destination. As your Internet traffic passes through your ISP, they can see everything you do online. What’s more, they can track your behavior and sometimes even hand your browsing history over to advertisers, government agencies and other third parties.
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.
There's a reason why all these VPNs are paid. Providing encryption and VPN services to millions of users is a resource-intensive work that requires servers across the world. A free VPN might be enough for something minor like checking foreign news occasionally. If you need a VPN on a regular basis, however, you’re better off with a reliable paid service.
Our VPN reviews instead stress value and technical excellence. The number of devices that can be used with an account is, in our opinion, more important. We also prefer VPN services with lots of servers and a good geographic distribution of those servers. VPNs that are easy to set up and use for first timers and include a well-made local client also go a long way toward getting PCMag's endorsement. And, of course, price is a major issue. The average monthly price of a VPN right now is $10.48. If a VPN is charging more, it had better be offering something compelling.
The main reason to use a VPN is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too. VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
While it hides your IP address, a VPN is not a true anonymization service. For that, you'll want to access the Tor network, which will almost certainly slow down your connection. While a VPN tunnels your web traffic to a VPN server, Tor bounces around your traffic through several volunteer nodes making it much, much harder to track. Using Tor also grants access to hidden Dark Web sites, which a VPN simply cannot do. That said, some services, such as NordVPN, offer Tor access on specific servers. IVPN offers a similar feature called multi-hop VPN, which lets you route your web traffic in tricky ways.