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.
TorGuard was consistently one of the fastest services we tested. When we averaged three tests performed at different times of the week with Internet Health Test, TorGuard was the fastest service when connecting in the UK and Asia, the second fastest in the US, and the third fastest in Central Europe. OVPN was the next most consistent, but that company’s small network doesn’t have any servers in Asia, and it ranked fifth in the UK. Our top pick, IVPN, was the third most consistently fast after TorGuard and OVPN. However, we tested with each app’s default settings—since we expect most people won’t change them—and TorGuard’s default 128-bit encryption gives it an advantage in speed tests over VPNs that default to 256-bit encryption, as most services do. Still, we think 128-bit encryption is fine for most people who prioritize speed, and TorGuard’s consistency makes it a good value as our budget pick.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a technology that creates a private tunnel over the internet. All your online traffic is redirected to the VPN server. All data passing between your device and the VPN server you have connected to is securely encrypted. This means that your internet service provider (ISP) and anyone else spying on your traffic cannot see your data. Your ISP is still needed to connect you to the internet, but all it does is connect you to the VPN server. After that, it cannot see which other websites you visit or other internet resources you connect to. For the more techy of you out there, the VPN server acts as a proxy.
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.
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.
Various countries around the world restrict access to one type of online content or another. Social networks, games, chat apps – even Google itself is not beyond the reach of censorship. In addition, many academic institutions and workplaces enable firewalls to limit access to websites for various reasons. These range from seeking to increase productivity to restricting inappropriate content.
As we’ve mentioned, free doesn’t always mean ‘free’. Given the sensitive nature of your personal information, it’s tough to trust any company that are willing to waive a charge. The best free secure VPN will keep your information safe, without outrageous limitations to their speeds and features. Essentially, trust is the most important aspect, and you could end up being burned if you go with a dodgy provider.
The student/worker. This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they’re not exactly shopping around. Also, if they’re worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
In such scenarios, you don’t need a beastly VPN provider with massive bandwidth to secure your email, Facebook, and web browsing activities. In fact, the same home VPN server model we highlighted in the previous section will serve you just as well as a paid solutions. The only time you might consider a paid solution is if you have high-bandwidth needs that your home connection can’t keep up with (like watching large volumes of streaming video through your VPN connection).
With a StrongVPN account, customers have the ability to choose which server location they want, even down to the specific city. This type of personalized, user-friendly service is also seen with their unlimited server switching, as well as the ability to have up to six simultaneous connections on different devices. StrongVPN supports Mac, Windows, iOs, Android, and even multiple routers, which is a huge plus.
When you're using a public Wi-Fi network, even a password-protected one, a VPN is your best friend. That’s because using public hotspots can be rife with hazards. From man-in-the-middle attacks to Wi-Fi sniffing, there are many different hacking methods that snoopers use to intercept your Internet traffic and steal your social media or banking passwords, files and photos.
That attitude to the safety and privacy of personal data creates an enormous online security risk. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous and convenient, are unfortunately also highly convenient for attackers looking to compromise your personal information. How do you know, for example, that "starbucks_wifi_real" is actually the Wi-Fi network for the coffee shop? Anyone could have created that network, and they may have done so in order to lure victims into disclosing personal information over it. In fact, a popular security researcher prank is to create a network with the same name as a free, popular service and see how many devices will automatically connect because it appears safe.