Servers – The number of servers and geographical distribution of these servers is another important factor that determines the quality of a VPN. The greater the server network, the fewer problems you are likely to encounter such as overcrowded servers and downtime. A strong server infrastructure signifies a high standard of VPN performance standard.
Private Internet Access' client interfaces aren't as flashy or cutesy as some other services' software, but they're clear and simple enough for newbies to start right away. A toggle switch reveals all the settings a VPN expert would ever want to play with. You can also skip Private Internet Access' software and connect directly to the servers, or use a third-party OpenVPN client.
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.
Every service we tested accepts payment via credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin. That’s plenty of options for most people, and you can always use a prepaid debit card if you don’t want your billing information tied to your VPN account. IVPN and OVPN are the only ones to accept cash payment through the mail, if you really don’t want to make a payment online. Private Internet Access and TorGuard accept gift cards from other companies—IVPN doesn’t, but that option isn’t worth the additional hassle for many people when other secure, private methods are available.
If you’re seriously concerned about government surveillance—we explain above why that should be most people’s last consideration when choosing a VPN—some expert sites like privacytools.io recommend avoiding services with a corporate presence in the US or UK. Such experts warn about the “14 eyes,” a creepy name for a group of countries that share intelligence info, particularly with the US. IVPN is based in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. We don’t think that makes you any worse off than a company based in Switzerland, Sweden, or anywhere else—government surveillance efforts around the world are so complicated and clandestine that few people have the commitment, skills, or technology to avoid it completely. But because Gibraltar’s status has been a topic of debate in other deep dives on VPNs, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it.
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.
Speed should not be all you consider when shopping for a VPN. For one thing, your internet experience will almost certainly be faster without a VPN. For another, speeds depend so much on which server you use, where you are, what your network environment is like, and so on. You might find that the service that's lightning fast today is dog slow tomorrow.
The downsides to the free plan are that you'll see more ads, at least on the Android app, your choice of connections will be limited to Hotspot Shield's U.S. servers and you won't be able to get around geographic restrictions on Netflix, Hulu or BBC iPlayer. We were also a bit annoyed that the desktop software tries to hide the free plan when you launch it for the first time.
Some VPNs will also let you define the specific context in which the VPN functions. TunnelBear VPN, in particular, lets you mark a network as trusted and will only activate when you're not connected to one of these trusted networks. This will protect you from bad guys, but it will leave you open to tracking and surveillance by governments and your ISP when you're on trusted networks.
Jurisdiction – From the point of view of privacy, nothing is more important than the jurisdiction in which a VPN provider operates. VPN providers based in countries like the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have to follow data retention laws and cooperate with agencies for surveillance purposes. However, if a VPN provider truly follows a zero-logging policy, then users can consider their privacy secure even if the VPN is based in one of the countries as above. Nonetheless, given the choice, you should avoid VPNs that fall in the jurisdiction of agencies notorious for their surveillance programs.
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
Avast SecureLine and Avira Phantom VPN are run by antivirus companies as complements to their primary businesses. These services are also limited to Windows, Mac, iOS and Android and don't work without client software. But they offer few features, have a couple of dozen servers at most and don't let you pay anonymously. However, the companies are known quantities, and the services are handy for occasional travelers.
If you’re going to use torrents, however, life is easier if you use a VPN—especially if the network you’re on blocks torrenting. There are many VPNs among our top picks that could be used for downloading torrents, but our preferred choice is Private Internet Access. This no-frills VPN has an absolute ton of servers, good speeds, and a nice amount of country locations to remain relatively anonymous. (Read our full review.) The price is right at less than $40 a year, and its privacy policies have been tested in court. Plus, advanced users can adjust their level of encryption for data encryption, data authentication, and handshake.
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.
Beyond those two factors, it’s difficult to make blanket statements about what makes a trustworthy VPN. At the bare minimum, a good VPN provider should not collect and keep any logs of its customers’ browsing history. If it does, that puts your privacy at risk should someone access (or even release) those logs without authorization. But deciding when to a trust a logging policy isn’t easy. As the EFF points out, “Some VPNs with exemplary privacy policies could be run by devious people.” You don’t need to have done anything illegal to prefer that law enforcement and criminals alike not have access to a browsing history that may include your bank, medical websites, or that one thing you looked at around 2 a.m. that one time.
For inbound traffic, when the tunneled data is decrypted by the VPN server it is forwarded to the firewall, which employs its filters to allow the traffic to be forwarded to intranet resources. Because the only traffic that is crossing the VPN server is traffic generated by authenticated VPN clients, firewall filtering in this scenario can be used to prevent VPN users from accessing specific intranet resources.
We also dove deeper into the desktop apps of the top-performing services. Great apps have automatic location selection, easy-to-use designs, and detailed but uncluttered settings panels. We set up each service's Android app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. We took into account how easy each one was to set up and connect, along with what options were available in the settings pane.
Reassurance that your personal IP address is hidden, and your confidential data is kept safe. Many people don’t realize that using the internet gives websites and businesses information that can be traced back to their IP address which can then be sold for marketing purposes. It’s not only irritating, it’s invasive and extreme. This can also create an entryway for hackers. Our free VPN servers prevent companies and hackers from getting to you and your IP address remains hidden.
It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.
Windscribe offers unlimited device connections. Yes you heard that right! The reason is that unlike the others above on this list, it doesn't offer unlimited data. So you're limited by bandwidth and data, not by devices. You get 10GB every month, and there's a free plan also but that only allows one device. There are apps for Windows, Mac and iOS but not Android, and the service also offers browser add-ons with useful features such as ad-blocking. Short range performance (to US sites) is good, but we noticed lag with transatlantic connections. However, if you’re looking to protect the data from a whole bunch of devices - an office, perhaps, or just a smart home - the support for unlimited connections is a real stand-out feature.
To be sent on a local area network (LAN) or WAN link, the IP datagram is finally encapsulated with a header and trailer for the data-link layer technology of the outgoing physical interface. For example, when IP datagrams are sent on an Ethernet interface, the IP datagram is encapsulated with an Ethernet header and trailer. When IP datagrams are sent over a point-to-point WAN link, such as an analog phone line or ISDN, the IP datagram is encapsulated with a PPP header and trailer.
Usually, it's the free services that throttle your usage in these ways. Some paid services will offer a trial, where you can transmit up to a certain data cap before being asked to sign up as a paying customer. That's actually pretty cool, because it gives you a chance to try out the performance of their service before paying, but it also gives the vendor a chance to make the money necessary to operate the service.
Some VPNs offer “split tunneling,” which routes all traffic through your VPN except specific services or sites that you allow. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. But these types of rules are complicated to implement without also leaking other important information, and we didn’t assess how effective they were in practice.
Cost: PureVPN is much more affordable than most providers and gives a myriad of payment options, like credit card, PayPal, Alipay, CoinPayments, Cashu, Payment Wall, BlueSnap, and more. You can purchase a one-year plan for $5.41/month, a two-year plan for $3.54/month, or pay monthly for $10.95/month. PureVPN is also currently running special pricing of $2.92/month for a 3 year plan when you pay $105 every three years.
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a quick and easy solution to making your computer appear to be coming from a different location. They accomplish this by creating a virtual network that routes all of your PC or smartphone’s network traffic through an encrypted tunnel and out the other side, making it seem to the world that you’re actually in whatever location the VPN server is located. This can help you bypass geographic restrictions, avoid censors, or keep you (relatively) anonymous online.
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.
Last on our fastest VPN list is OpenVPN, which is a blend of highly secured encryption keys, up to 256-bit session, and fast VPN nodes. It is an open source application that utilizes OpenSSL library SSLv3/TLSv1 protocols. OpenVPN uses both UDP and TCP protocols where UDP is faster while TCP is best known for breaking the firewalls. The downside of OpenVPN is that it doesn’t support any platform, but with the help of third-party softwares, you can install a fast VPN connection on your desired OS/Device.
We'll go into greater explanation about these three metrics and how we collect them below. But choosing which is most important is tricky. Mostly, it depends on how you're using your internet connection. We assume that most people reading are major consumers of content. Reading the news, streaming movies, using BitTorrent, or listening to music on the web all require that your device pull down data more or less continuously. With that in mind, we've settled on download speeds as the most important benchmark.
SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) is a suitable alternative to standard protocols in areas where VPNs are restricted because it can bypass most firewalls. SSTP is quite similar to OpenVPN but, unlike OpenVPN, it is owned by Microsoft, which means it is not available for independent auditing. Microsoft’s history of cooperating with the NSA does not inspire confidence in this standard.