Trusting a VPN is a hard choice, but IVPN’s transparency goes a long way toward proving that its customers’ privacy is a priority. Founder and CEO Nick Pestell answered all our questions about the company’s internal security, and even described the tools the company used to limit and track access to secure servers. The top VPN services gave us a variety of answers to these questions, some of which were frustratingly vague. ExpressVPN was the only other company to outline these controls and assure us that these policies were well-documented and not half-practiced.
Advanced leak protection – Perfect Privacy offers very secure apps to ensure you are protected against any and all leaks. In the Perfect Privacy review I discuss the three different levels of the kill switch and DNS leak protection. Users are also protected from IPv6 leaks because Perfect Privacy offers full IPv6 support across their server network (giving you both an IPv4 and IPv6 address for all your devices).
Given the aggressive pricing and marketing of other services that don’t measure up to our picks, IVPN’s most obvious downside may look like its price: At the time of this writing, the regular price for an annual IVPN subscription is $100 (about $8 per month). Promotions regularly bringing that down to $70 to $80 per year, but some services have regular pricing of half that. But you shouldn’t pay for a VPN you can’t trust, or one so slow or confusing that you avoid using it at all. We think IVPN’s combination of trust, security, and performance is worth the price. But if it’s too expensive for your needs, consider our budget pick instead.
Over the course of four months, we scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, and forums to compile the pros and cons of VPN services and different VPN protocols and encryption technologies. That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io stood out as two of the most thorough and unbiased sources of information. We interviewed Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Amul Kalia about government surveillance and VPN efficacy. We also got answers from Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPN providers are for their policies and terms of service, and how that relates to trustworthiness. Alec Muffett, a security expert and software engineer, also shared his views on the usefulness of VPNs to protect against various threats.
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.
PureVPN has servers in more than 140 countries and can be very inexpensive if you pay for two years up front. It also lets you "split-tunnel" your service so that some data is encrypted and other data isn't. But PureVPN was at or near the back of the pack in almost all of our 2017 performance tests. In October 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice disclosed in a criminal complaint that PureVPN had given the FBI customer logs in reference to a cyberstalking case, which kind of negates the entire point of using a VPN.
Cost: This VPN service comes in three plans: Basic, Pro, and Premier, any of which can be purchased on a six month, one year, two-year, or three-year basis. The premier plan is $5.83 /month if you pay all 36 months up front, the professional plan is $4.44/month if you buy all three years at once, and the basic plan is $3.06/month for three years. Basic also lets you pay monthly, for $5.99/month.
The first runs in the VPN client app on your computer, so if the VPN connection fails while the VPN client app is running, that VPN client app can turn off the computer or mobile device's internet connection. However, if your VPN connection has failed because the VPN client app itself crashed, then the kill switch may not work, and your IP and data may leak onto the internet.
Our Findings: During the test we found HMA delivering a pretty decent volume of speed. However, we noticed a bit of throttling and interruptions in the connection. Overall, the fast VPN test was fine, and we didn’t experience much downstream. We discovered that due to highly encrypted protocols tied up with HideMyAss network, its connection is slow compare to ExpressVPN and IPVanish.
We’ll get to the implications of a VPN’s location in a moment, but first, let’s get back to our secure tunnel example. Once you’re connected to the VPN and are “inside the tunnel,” it becomes very difficult for anyone else to spy on your web-browsing activity. The only people who will know what you’re up to are you, the VPN provider (usually an HTTPS connection can mitigate this), and the website you’re visiting.
Logging Policy – IPVanish has been involved in a case where the company handed over user information to Homeland Security. The user was suspected of involvement in child pornography. Again, commenting on the decision of IPVanish to assist agencies in catching a suspect is an ethical gray area that I choose my readers to discuss on what they think in the comment section. However, the brand has since changed ownership with the company StackPath. The CEO of the company clearly stated that they are committed to the no logs policy. I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt considering that they weren’t a part of IPVanish when the case occurred.
CyberGhost’s popular free tier might not offer amazing speeds, but its paid Pro tier is a real contender. It proved to be both quick and consistent in our speed tests. An “extra speed” feature can be toggled before you connect for an extra boost. Setup and use are novice-friendly, and live chat with customer support is available if you need a hand. Military grade encryption ensures all your data is safely tunneled to the VPN server, and CyberGhost does not store any logs of user activity or other identifiers.
We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about its service and troubleshooting. Most VPN companies provide technical support through online ticketing systems, meaning you'll need to wait for a response. This means that self-help support sites are even more important, because waiting for a reply while your connection is down can be frustrating. Response times to our support inquiries ranged from 20 minutes to a day.
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.)
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.