A “kill switch” goes by many names, but the term describes VPN software that shuts off all network traffic in and out of your computer if the encrypted connection fails. A hiccup in your Wi-Fi or even with your ISP can cause a VPN to disconnect, and if you then maintain an unsecure connection—especially if the VPN software doesn’t alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic—that wipes out all the benefits of your VPN. We considered kill switches to be mandatory. And although we looked for apps that made it easy to add rules about when to activate kill switches, we considered special config files or manual firewall tweaks to be too complex. (iOS doesn’t support any kill-switch features; we address a few iOS-specific problems that apply to all VPN services in a separate section.)
One basic test for a VPN service is to check how long a VPN client takes to connect to a VPN server and get online. For our 2018 reviews, we installed each vendor's VPN client software on an HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2 laptop running Windows 10, an iPad mini and a Samsung Galaxy S8 Android phone. (In 2017, we used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga notebook, an Apple MacBook Air, a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and the iPad mini.) We used each device with each VPN service we tested.
This is when the VPN uses a gateway device to connect to the entire network in one location to a network in another location. The majority of site-to-site VPNs that connect over the internet use IPsec. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use career multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) clouds as the main transport for site-to-site VPNs.
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.
These VPNs have been rated as the top all-around VPN software providers and will be able to cater to any of your VPN needs. Whether that be unblocking Netflix, torrenting safely or simply browsing the internet privately and securely these 10 VPNs do it all. Let’s take a closer look and dive into the detail on exactly why we recommend these VPN services.
PrivateVPN is one of our top picks for providers that offer both robust privacy features and excellent global performance. It is also one of the cheapest options on the current market if you opt for the annual plan. If you’re looking for seriously fast speeds and super-easy access to a range of streaming services including Netflix and BBC iPlayer, look no further. Fantastic upload speeds on local connections combined with low latency make it a great option for torrenters, keen Kodi users and gamers alike.
Every VPN will tell you it is does not track your internet activity or is a “zero logs” VPN. In reality, delivering high performance across an extensive global network is impossible unless you are monitoring at least some connection details of your users. You could read a ton of privacy policies and terms of service to find out exactly what’s collected and for how long it’s stored or let us do that for you and just check the logging policy section of our review that explains this in plain language. Ideally you want a VPN that does not log your IP address at all and limits timestamp logging to just the date of your connection.
A mix of features and price make a good VPN, but plenty of bad VPNs masquerade as good ones. Look for articles written by trustworthy sources that discuss the merits of each service based on its features, versus simple rundowns and user testimonials, which are almost always polluted by a combination of fanatical users and corporate bootstrapping in attempt to get their names out to potential customers.
No company came closer to being a pick than ExpressVPN. It has a huge server network that performed well in our tests, plus easy-to-use applications on tons of platforms, and strong security technologies in place. A representative answered all our questions about company operations at length—except one. As noted in a PCWorld review of the service, ExpressVPN chooses not to disclose the company’s leadership or ownership. The company representative told us that this policy enabled ExpressVPN to build a private and secure product without compromise. “We think that this approach has been effective until now and that coupled with a stellar VPN product, we have succeeded in gaining a solid reputation in our industry. We are fortunate to be trusted by the many users worldwide who choose ExpressVPN.”
The number and distribution of those servers is also important. The more places a VPN has to offer, the more options you have to spoof your location! More importantly, having numerous servers in diverse locales means that no matter where you go on Earth you'll be able to find a nearby VPN server. The closer the VPN server, the better the speed and reliability of the connection it can offer you. Remember, you don't need to connect to a far-flung VPN server in order to gain security benefits. For most purposes, a server down the street is as safe as one across the globe.
Like Avast, Avira got into the VPN business to complement its antivirus offerings. Phantom VPN is easy to use and gives you up to 1GB of data per month for free, making this service ideal for vacation travelers who just need to check email. Its unlimited paid plans are reasonably priced, but it had slow downloads and dropped connections in our 2017 tests.
If you are depending on your VPN to keep your activities even mildly anonymous, you need some sense of security that the VPN isn’t just going to go down and dump all your traffic out into the regular internet. What you want is tool known as a “kill switch system”. Good VPN providers have a kill switch system in place such that if the VPN connection fails for any reason it automatically locks down the connection so that the computer doesn’t default to using the open and unsecured internet connection.
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.
For the Routing and Remote Access service, MPPE encryption strengths are configured on the Encryption tab on the properties of a remote access policy to use 40-bit (the Basic setting), 56-bit (the Strong setting), or 128-bit (the Strongest setting) encryption keys. Administrators should use 40-bit MPPE encryption keys to connect with older operating systems that do not support 56-bit or 128-bit encryption keys (this includes older Windows operating systems and operating systems from companies other than Microsoft). Otherwise, use 128-bit encryption keys. Encryption strengths for L2TP/IPSec connections use 56-bit DES (the Basic or Strong setting) or 168-bit 3DES (the Strongest setting).
PureVPN has a huge choice of 750 servers in 141 countries and counting. The sheer volume of features, toggles, and tools they provide makes it a top contender for the advanced users. There is a stealth browsing mode, online banking security, secure FTP access, multiple protocols and more. They have server lists optimized for P2P and video streaming, so switching is easy.
Access to restricted websites: Some websites and streaming content may only be accessed in certain countries. For example a TV program might only be broadcast in the UK – Trying to stream this program outside the country will return an error. Through the masking of your IP address, and thus your physical location, free VPN will allow you access to this restricted content and make it appear that you are located in the required region. Learn More