The best way to think of a VPN is as a secure tunnel between your PC and destinations you visit on the internet. Your PC connects to a VPN server, which can be located in the United States or a foreign country like the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, or Thailand. Your web traffic then passes back and forth through that server. The end result: As far as most websites are concerned, you’re browsing from that server’s geographical location, not your computer’s location.
VPN technology was developed as a way to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources. To ensure safety, data travels through secure tunnels, and VPN users must use authentication methods -- including passwords, tokens or other unique identification procedures -- to gain access to the VPN server.
Every VPN will occasionally have a bad day or just a few bad hours where service is slow on a particular server or set of servers. Some VPNs have more high traffic periods or downtime than others. These are the ones to be avoided. Unfortunately, the test period for our reviews rarely lasts more than two weeks, so it’s difficult to predict what VPNs will encounter more issues in the long term at the time of writing.
Traditional VPNs are characterized by a point-to-point topology, and they do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains, so services such as Microsoft Windows NetBIOS may not be fully supported or work as they would on a local area network (LAN). Designers have developed VPN variants, such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocols (L2TP), to overcome this limitation.

Because a TCP connection is not used, L2TP uses message sequencing to ensure delivery of L2TP messages. Within the L2TP control message, the Next-Received field (similar to the TCP Acknowledgment field) and the Next-Sent field (similar to the TCP Sequence Number field) are used to maintain the sequence of control messages. Out-of-sequence packets are dropped. The Next-Sent and Next-Received fields can also be used for sequenced delivery and flow control for tunneled data.
One of today’s leading VPN providers and another worthy mention on our list of top 20 VPN services, PureVPN is known for its service quality and customer support. The service has 450 servers in 101 countries, allowing users to surf the Internet and use any online solution without having to reveal their IP address. This is very useful to those who want to bypass Internet censorship.
We didn’t audit any VPN services ourselves (though IVPN, our top pick, offered to arrange such an exercise), but we did ask detailed questions about each service’s operations as a way to judge whether a company was acting in good faith. Good faith is important, because there aren’t many avenues to penalize a VPN company that isn’t following through on its promises. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general. Joseph Jerome at CDT told us that companies violating their own privacy policy or claims about logging would be “a textbook example of a deceptive practice under state and federal consumer protection laws,” and in theory, “the FTC could seek an injunction barring the deceptive practice as well as potentially getting restitution or other monetary relief.”
L2TP for Windows assumes the availability of an IP network between an L2TP client (a VPN client using the L2TP tunneling protocol and IPSec) and an L2TP server (a VPN server using the L2TP tunneling protocol and IPSec). The L2TP client might already be attached to an IP network that can reach the L2TP server, or the L2TP client might have to use a dial-up connection to a NAS to establish IP connectivity as in the case of dial-up Internet users.
CyberGhost has more than 1100 Servers worldwide in 50 countries, making it easy for users to find a fast and secure connection. It does not collect any user data and all traffic information are protected by 128-encryption. Speed is fairly fast, allowing users to stream content, download files and do online shopping. The service comes in three plans, a one-month plan, a six-month plan or an annual package.
Finally, read the fine print to see if they restrict any protocols or services you wish to use the service for. If you want to use the service for file sharing, read the fine print to ensure your file sharing service isn’t blocked. Again, while it was typical to see VPN providers restrict services back in the day (in an effort to cut down on bandwidth and computing overhead) it’s more common today to find VPNs with an anything-goes policy.
There’s no point to a VPN that interferes with or logs your traffic—your ISP already does that. Free VPNs, such as Facebook’s Onavo, explicitly gather traffic data to resell or use it for marketing. We looked carefully at the privacy policies and marketing claims for each company we considered. In some cases, companies we considered had sworn in court filings that requests for data were impossible to fulfill. In other cases, we asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging.
VPN connections help provide the required security to enable the network segment of the human resources department to be physically connected to the intranet. In this configuration, a VPN server can be used to separate the network segments. The VPN server does not provide a direct routed connection between the corporate intranet and the separate network segment. Users on the corporate intranet with appropriate permissions can establish a remote access VPN connection with the VPN server and gain access to the protected resources. Additionally, all communication across the VPN connection is encrypted for data confidentiality. For those users who are not authorized to establish a VPN connection, the separate network segment is hidden from view.

Torrents get a bad rap, and if we’re honest, that’s for good reason. Using torrents is the number one way to download pirated material including movies, TV shows, music, and games. But that’s not all there is to torrenting. It’s a very efficient way to download legitimate software such as Linux distributions and authorized content from sites such as BitTorrent Now.
ExpressVPN attempts to build trust in other ways, even without a public face. Court records from 2017 demonstrate that when Turkish authorities seized ExpressVPN servers in the country looking for information, they found nothing of value, as promised by ExpressVPN’s no-logging policy. ExpressVPN also highlights initiatives such as open-source leak-testing tools, developer content about how the company implements different technologies, and support for the efforts of OpenMedia and the EFF. The ExpressVPN representative even offered to arrange a confidential call between our writer and the owners of the company. However, without being able to discuss their identities or learn about other senior leadership, we believed that wouldn’t have been enough to change our recommendation, so we declined. In the end, trust is such a crucial part of deciding which VPN to use that we had to pass on ExpressVPN.

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.
But even if you know who’s behind your VPN, you shouldn’t trust a free one. A free service makes you and your data the product, so you should assume that any information it gathers on you—whether that’s an actual browsing history or demographics like age or political affiliation—is being sold to or shared with someone. For example, Facebook’s Onavo provides an encrypted connection to Onavo’s servers like any VPN, shielding you from the prying eyes of your ISP or fellow network users. But instead of promising not to examine, log, or share any of your traffic, Onavo’s privacy policy promises the opposite. Covering the service, Gizmodo sums it up well: “Facebook is not a privacy company; it’s Big Brother on PCP.” Facebook collects information about your device, other applications you use, and even “information and other data from your device, such as webpage addresses and data fields.” And the company “may combine the information, including personally identifying information, that you provide through your use of the Services with information about you we receive from our Affiliates or third parties for business, analytic, advertising, and other purposes.” That means Facebook can collect anything it wants, and sell it to anyone it wants.
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.
×