When we test VPNs, we generally start with the Windows client. This is often the most complete review, covering several different platforms as well as the service's features and pricing in depth. That's purely out of necessity, since most of our readers use Windows (although this writer is currently using a MacBook Air). We currently use a Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running the latest version of Windows 10. We periodically upgrade to a newer machine, in order to simulate what most users experience.
HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.
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.
When it comes to servers, more is always better. More servers mean that you're less likely to be shunted into a VPN server that is already filled to the brim with other users. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard currently lead the pack with well over 3,000 servers each—NordVPN is at the forefront with 4,875 servers. But the competition is beginning to heat up. Last year, only a handful of companies offered more than 500 servers, now it's becoming unusual to find a company offering fewer than 1,000 servers.
VPNs secure your traffic and route it through an intermediary server so it can’t be traced. But if privacy is not of chief concern to you, then there are other alternative proxy methods that offer faster speed. A SOCKS proxy, for example, does pretty much the same thing as a VPN without the encryption. Without having to encrypt and decrypt traffic, SOCKS proxy users can get faster speeds and still mask their IP address.
Protocol: When you’re researching a VPN, you’ll see terms like SSL/TLS (sometimes referred to as OpenVPN support,) PPTP, IPSec, L2TP, and other VPN types. We asked Samara Lynn, Lead Analyst for Networking and Small Business at PCMag, whether or not a user shopping for a VPN should shop for one over another. “SSL is what is commonly used these days. All of these protocols will provide a secure connection,” she explained, and pointed out that most solutions are invisible to the end-user anyway. Strictly, each protocol has its benefits and drawbacks, and if you’re concerned about this (specifically, PPTP vulnerabilities,) you’re probably already aware of them. Most users don’t need to be concerned about this—corporate users on the other hand, are probably all using IPSec or SSL clients anyway.
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.
Google has launched Chrome on Google Daydream View and the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream. If you have one of these headsets, you can launch Chrome directly from your homepage to browse and interact with any webpage while in VR. Chrome aims to be a universal browser on all types of devices and operating systems. This is also true for the new VR version. All the features you love on Chrome, from voice search to incognito mode to saved bookmarks, are now accessible on your Daydream headset.
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.
Like most well-known VPN companies, IVPN supports a variety of privacy groups and causes. Pestell told us he worked with the Center for Democracy & Technology to improve trust in VPNs with a handful of transparency initiatives before they were announced. Neena Kapur of The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter) information security team noted that IVPN’s leadership transparency and its relationship with CDT were significant pluses that contributed to its trustworthiness. Pestell was also the only representative we spoke with to offer to arrange for one of our experts to audit the company’s server and no-logging policies.1 We cover trust issues with VPNs at length elsewhere in this guide, but we believe that IVPN takes an active role in protecting its customers’ privacy and is not a dude wearing a dolphin onesie.
The table below will give you, at a glance, all the high-level information on what I consider to be the top VPN providers. For each service, you will also find links to a full review, multi location speed tests and a complete list of servers. If you need a bit of help knowing what to look for, please take a look at my article on how to choose a VPN.
Subscribing to CyberGhost is a superb way to introduce yourself to the world of VPNs at a very low price point. There is no bandwidth limit, encryption is great and setting up the service is easy. CyberGhost’s user-friendly apps makes connecting to the VPN simple and straightforward. CyberGhost is based both in Romania and in Germany, the latter being responsible for most of the software development. With both teams united by a common credo for internet anonymity, CyberGhost is a major supporter and promoter of civil rights, a free society and an uncensored internet culture. Our kind of folks!
The main drawback with ZorroVPN is that they do not offer custom VPN applications. This means you will need to use third-party VPN apps, such as Viscosity or Tunnelblick, and that setup will be more complex. Some people, however, prefer open-source applications, but regardless, they are also working on creating their own app for Windows and Linux (still in beta).
Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was initially developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for IPv6, which was required in all standards-compliant implementations of IPv6 before RFC 6434 made it only a recommendation. This standards-based security protocol is also widely used with IPv4 and the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Its design meets most security goals: authentication, integrity, and confidentiality. IPsec uses encryption, encapsulating an IP packet inside an IPsec packet. De-encapsulation happens at the end of the tunnel, where the original IP packet is decrypted and forwarded to its intended destination.
There are some minor disadvantages to using a dynamic IP. If someone who previously had the IP address you've been assigned did something nefarious on a service you use, it's possible that IP address might be banned. Usually, VPN providers are very careful about checking their IP addresses against blacklists, so the chances of this being a problem for you are slim.
IVPN goes further than the other leading candidates we considered by being transparent about who runs the service and is responsible for your privacy. The company lists its core team on its website, and its small team has an online presence on a variety of platforms. In contrast, only one employee at ExpressVPN has a public face: VP of marketing Harold Li gave us detailed answers to questions about policies and internal security, but couldn’t tell us much about who else worked there. (We discuss ExpressVPN in more detail in the Competition section—that company was almost our top pick but for this issue.)
Windscribe has always been one of our favorite free VPNs. Compared to other free services, Windscribe gives you more – 10GB data allowance per month! This is pretty amazing because Windscribe is actually trying to encourage people to buy its premium service. What’s more, this VPN has strong encryption and keeps zero logs – making it fantastic for privacy. With unlimited simultaneous connections permitted, this VPN is truly outstanding.
Though PIA doesn’t list its leadership on its website, that information isn’t hard to find. The founder, Andrew Lee, has been interviewed by Ars Technica; the CEO, Ted Kim, is also on the record; and privacy activist and Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge is listed as Head of Privacy on the company’s blog. PIA can also point to court records showing that when approached by law enforcement for detailed records, the company had nothing to provide. PIA boasts a huge network of servers and locations around the world, and though the PIA app isn’t as polished as those of some competitors, it is easy to use. Like our top pick, IVPN, its iOS app also added OpenVPN support in mid-2018. But in our speed tests, PIA was just okay, not great. When we averaged and ranked all of our speed tests, PIA came in fifth, behind our top picks as well as OVPN and ExpressVPN.
To send on a 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 an IP datagram is sent on an Ethernet interface, the IP datagram is encapsulated with an Ethernet header and trailer. When an IP datagram is 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.
If you’re an online gamer who uses a VPN to access another region’s servers (or because you got IP banned), the most important factor in choosing a VPN is latency. The ping time between the game servers and your computer or console is mostly what determines how much lag you’ll experience. If you want to stay competitive, figure out where the game’s regional servers are hosted and choose the nearest VPN server.
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.
VPN use, for example, allows an IBM employee to work from home in a Chicago suburb while accessing the company intranet located in a building in New York City, as if he was right there on the New York office’s network. The same technology can be used by consumers to bridge their phones and laptops to their home network so, while on the road, they can securely access files from their home computers.
When it comes to VPNs, however, speed is one of the most difficult factors to accurately quantify. We always run speed tests as empirically as possible when we review a VPN provider, but the fact of the matter is that the fastest VPN for where you live is not necessarily the fastest VPN for where I live. The fastest VPN for streaming video might not be the speediest for online gaming. Even the fastest VPN service at noon probably isn’t the quickest at midnight.
Whereas most providers say they log nothing, that’s not always the case. Some record very little data like the day you subscribed, the amount of data you’ve consumed, and delete those logs when you end the session. Other providers log your IP address, the servers you used, and store those logs. If they’re based in the US, UK or any other country with data retention laws, they can be compelled to hand over that data to law enforcement.
You want to skip PPTP if at all possible. It’s a very dated protocol that uses weak encryption and due to security issues should be considered compromised. It might be good enough to secure your non-essential web browsing at a coffee shop (e.g. to keep the shopkeeper’s son from sniffing your passwords), but it’s not up to snuff for serious security. Although L2TP/IPsec is a significant improvements over PPTP, it lacks the speed and the open security audits found with OpenVPN.
This configuration is known as compulsory tunneling because the client is compelled to use the tunnel created by the FEP. Once the initial connection is made, all network traffic to and from the client is automatically sent through the tunnel. With compulsory tunneling, the client computer makes a single PPP connection. When a client dials into the NAS, a tunnel is created and all traffic is automatically routed through the tunnel. An FEP can be configured to tunnel all dial-up clients to a specific tunnel server. The FEP could also tunnel individual clients, based on the user name or destination.
TorGuard is incorporated in St. Kitts and Nevis, and operates out of offices mostly in the US. But most people shouldn’t be worried about the legal jurisdiction of their VPN’s offices—we detail the reach of government surveillance above. In short, we think a privacy-focused VPN with public leadership that can be trusted not to collect information about their customers is a better choice in any country, rather than an opaque company run from the most liberty-ensuring country on the planet.
PPTP is undoubtedly one of the fastest VPN protocols that are pre-installed in major operating systems and consoles. The only downside of PPTP protocol is its low encryption method that is a prime concern of VPN users who take serious notes on privacy. It supports 128-bit encryption that is somewhat less secure than other VPN protocols. However, if your goal is to use VPN for streaming then using PPTP is a way to go. PPTP protocol is also considered as the fastest VPN protocol because it is very easy to setup, and you can get high-speed VPN connection in just a few clicks and taps.
Unlimited broadband enhances user experience. Another advantage is that you can use up to 5 devices on the same VPN account simultaneously. P2P sharing is allowed, since there is no control over what you do on the internet. Tailor-made applications for Windows, iOS and Linux work like tight clocks, but that’s not all. The interesting ‘door open’ tool searches for unlocked doors on other secure networks, so you do not need to be greedy and ask for the password in a hotel or buy a super-charged bottle at an airport terminal.
In this approach, the firewall must be configured with input and output filters on its Internet and perimeter network interfaces to allow the passing of tunnel maintenance traffic and tunneled data to the VPN server. Additional filters can allow the passing of traffic to Web servers, FTP servers, and other types of servers on the perimeter network. As an added layer of security, the VPN server should also be configured with PPTP or L2TP/IPSec packet filters on its perimeter network interface as described in “VPN Server in Front of a Firewall” in this section.
What a VPN does do is make it much harder for an attacker to simply hoover up your information along with hundreds or thousands of others. That alone can help protect you from many of the large attacks and mass surveillance that have defined the last few years. Digital security, after all, is often really about economics. Spies and attackers would much rather go after the low-hanging fruit than try to crack or circumvent a VPN connection. Just remember that using security tools isn't an excuse for not also using a healthy dash of common sense.
Trust.Zone offers inconsistent speeds that vary considerably from one server to the other. Users might find it excellent for certain locations like the UK and Germany, but not fast enough for others. The privacy and security features of Trust.Zone are its strongest attributes, making it a great option for users seeking protection at acceptable speeds.
Secure connections for business: For businesses who operate at multiple nationwide locations, or for employees who travel on the road, a VPN can provide a fantastic means of security. Instead of connecting to your work network via the public internet, you can instead connect via the FreeVPN.se connection. This will encrypt your data, hide your devices IP address and ensure that any sensitive business information remains untouched and private. Learn More
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.
ExpressVPN has a wide range of client software, a dedicated proxy service for streaming media and its own DNS service. But in our 2017 tests, it dropped many connections and its overall performance was in the middle of the pack. It also allows only three devices to be connected simultaneously per account, and it's one of the most expensive services we evaluated.
Developed by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, VLANs allow multiple tagged LANs to share common trunking. VLANs frequently comprise only customer-owned facilities. Whereas VPLS as described in the above section (OSI Layer 1 services) supports emulation of both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint topologies, the method discussed here extends Layer 2 technologies such as 802.1d and 802.1q LAN trunking to run over transports such as Metro Ethernet.
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.