Ray Walsh is one of BestVPN's resident VPN experts. Ray is currently ranked #1 VPN authority in the world by agilience.com. During his time at BestVPN.com Ray has reviewed some of the world's foremost VPNs. Ray is an advocate for digital privacy, with vast experience writing about the political and social aspects of infosec, cybersec, and data privacy. Find him @newsglug on Twitter.
Beyond those two factors, it’s difficult to make blanket statements about what makes a trustworthy VPN. At the bare minimum, a good VPN provider should not collect and keep any logs of its customers’ browsing history. If it does, that puts your privacy at risk should someone access (or even release) those logs without authorization. But deciding when to a trust a logging policy isn’t easy. As the EFF points out, “Some VPNs with exemplary privacy policies could be run by devious people.” You don’t need to have done anything illegal to prefer that law enforcement and criminals alike not have access to a browsing history that may include your bank, medical websites, or that one thing you looked at around 2 a.m. that one time.
The router could be running outdated and compromised firmware. The router could actually be malicious and actively sniffing packets and logging your data. The router could be improperly configured and other users on the network could be sniffing your data or probing your laptop or mobile device. You never have any guarantee whatsoever that an unknown Wi-Fi hotspot isn’t, either through malice or poor configuration, exposing your data. (A password doesn’t indicate a network is secure, either–even if you have to enter a password, you could be subject to any of these problems.)
When we looked at just iPhone VPNs last year, our results yielded a very different breakdown. In our tests on iOS, we found that Hide My Ass, Golden Frog Vypr VPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, and PureVPN were the top performers. Hide My Ass and PureVPN dominated in the download speed tests, improving speeds by 10.1 and 6.8 percent, respectively.
Even when browsing online in the comfort of your own home, using a VPN is a pretty good idea. For instance, you may want to buy your little nephew a birthday gift online without being bombarded with toy truck ads for next six months. Or perhaps you need to do a quick research of health clinics without attracting your employer’s attention. If you live in the US, you may simply want to know that your ISP will not be able to sell your entire browsing history to the highest bidder.
Every user is going to have slightly different VPN needs, and the best way to pick the ideal VPN service is to take careful stock of what your needs are before you go shopping. You may even find you don’t need to go shopping because home-grown or router-based solutions you already have are a perfect fit. Let’s run through a series of questions you should ask yourself and highlight how different VPN features meet the needs highlighted by those questions.
Hotspot Shield depends on a custom VPN protocol that's not been publicly analyzed by independent experts. We don't know how private or secure it really is. The company has been accused of spying on users (it denies the allegations), and complaints abound online about Hotspot Shield software installing on PCs without users' permission. All this, and the company's U.S. location, may scare away customers who want to protect their privacy.
Trust and transparency issues are the foremost concerns in choosing a great VPN, and if a service doesn’t have enough locations to be useful to you, all the security features won’t make a difference. But after those concerns have been satisfied, we recommend that most people use connections based on the OpenVPN protocol, because of security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. (Experienced users may consider IKEv2, but because it has its own debated pros and cons, we ruled it out.) Though AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance.
Speedify the third and final free VPN service that we recommend thinking about signing up to. It's a little different than the two options above in that it's designed from the ground up to absolutely maximise your connection speed. So if you're on a laptop with ethernet and wifi connections, it'll utilize both to pull bits out of the internet to the max. If you're on a phone it can use your 4G and WiFi connections at the same time to do the same time - to maximise throughput of data, improving download speeds and render times. In our tests this all proved to be more than just hot air - it really did work to speed up our download and browsing speeds. At the same time it's doing all the things you'd want from a VPN, ecrypting and obscuring, so you're private, safe and anonymous. The catch here is that you only get 1GB of free data. You get 4GB in the first month but that drops down to 1GB after that which just isn't enough if you're planning to use it a lot.
The basic monthly allowance is only 2GB, but if you register with an email address, that jumps to 10GB. If you run out of data before the end of the month, you can always switch over to the even more generous Hotspot Shield.For even more free data, you can let Windscribe use your computer to mine cryptocurrency. That feature seems a bit creepy, but it's entirely optional and you can adjust the amount of power drawn.
VPN protocols play a significant role in connection speed. A VPN offers PPTP, L2TP, SSTP and OpenVPN protocol, all of them are dedicated to bypassing geo restrictions. PPTP and L2TP protocols are undoubtedly the fastest VPN protocols among all, but it depends on the location you are connected from. If you are experiencing slow VPN speed, then try switching between different protocols to ameliorate your VPN connection and turn it into a high-speed VPN.
Here's the problem with the internet: It's inherently insecure. When the internet was first designed, the priority was to be able to send packets (chunks of data) as reliably as possible. Networking across the country and the world was relatively new, and nodes often went down. Most of the internet's core protocols (methods of communicating) were designed to route around failure, rather than secure data.
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.
There are many things a VPN must do well to be useful, and one of the most important ones is to be fast. You can likely get around many other shortcomings. But if your VPN is slower than a dial-up modem (for those of us who remember them), there will be trouble ahead. Not only will you be less likely to use your VPN, but you will probably also curse it every time you do. It’s money well wasted.
One of the most important factors when you’re choosing a VPN provider is also the hardest to quantify: trust. All your Internet activity will flow through this company’s servers, so you have to trust that company more than the network you’re trying to secure, be it a local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, your campus Internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. In all our research, we came across a lot of gray areas when it came to trusting a VPN, and only two hard rules: Know who you’re trusting, and remember that security isn’t free.
Typically, when you try to access a website on the Internet, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) receives the request and redirects you to your destination. As your Internet traffic passes through your ISP, they can see everything you do online. What’s more, they can track your behavior and sometimes even hand your browsing history over to advertisers, government agencies and other third parties.
Not all the VPN protocols work fast. It is not that VPN doesn’t work fast, but all the protocols are designed to fulfill specific needs of the users. We have already discussed the fastest VPN protocols used in our VPN speed test. We are now detailing more features about each protocol to give you more reasons to choose the best one that fits your specific needs.
When using the OpenVPN protocol, many VPN apps will give you the option of using either the TCP or UDP protocol. TCP is the protocol that you normally use to browse the web and download files. UDP is more common for streaming applications such as video, music, and gaming. The difference is in how computers and servers send network packets, the unit of data used to exchange information over the internet.
Most people leave their privacy and security vulnerable in ways that are easier to fix with methods other than signing up for a VPN—methods that are potentially more effective. If you have a drafty house with paper-thin walls and halogen light bulbs, you'd get far more value out of every dollar by sealing cracks, insulating, and switching to LEDs than you would by putting solar panels on your roof. Similarly, before you rush to sign up for a VPN subscription, you should consider these other ways to up your privacy game.
To access your own home network, you want a VPN server running on either your home router or an attached device (like a Raspberry Pi or even an always-on desktop computer). Ideally, you’ll run the VPN server at the router level for best security and minimal power consumption. To that end, we recommend either flashing your router to DD-WRT (which supports both VPN server and client mode) or purchasing a router that has a built in VPN server (like the previously reviewed Netgear Nighthawk and Nighthawk X6 routers).
VPNs’ contribution to reclaiming Internet freedom and privacy is beyond skies, but the speed concerns that come with the VPN usage, cannot be ignored. So, what you want, online protection or fastest browsing that may end up ransomware payments for the rest of your life? Or both the things in one go? We have a list of fastest VPN services that won’t disturb your anonymity, but before that let’s enlighten why VPN technology ends up slow down the internet connection.
You may be considering going with one of the handful of free VPN services available. Why pay for something you can get for free, right? Unfortunately there’s a ton of limitations and risks with using a free VPN. Most offer tiny bandwidth allowances, limited server locations, even capped speeds, as they want to convert you into a paid customer to unlock the full product. Don’t expect to be able to stream more than a few Youtube clips, that’s for sure.
To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers to a manageable list, we first looked at reviews from dedicated sites like VPNMentor and TorrentFreak, research and recommendations from noncommercial sources such as That One Privacy Site and PrivacyTools.io, and user experiences and tips on various subreddits and technology-focused websites like Lifehacker and Ars Technica.
Some combination of the above. Odds are, even if you’re not one of these people more often than not, you’re some mix of them depending on what you’re doing. In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it’s just a matter of protecting yourself when you’re out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don’t want to get fired, or you’re just covering your own ass from the MPAA.
Tunnel endpoints must be authenticated before secure VPN tunnels can be established. User-created remote-access VPNs may use passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods. Network-to-network tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates. They permanently store the key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically, without intervention from the administrator.
IPVanish is one of the most recognisable names among all the VPN services out there. They've been going for years and if you've read about VPNs in the past you've probably seen some of their ads! IPVanish certainly isn’t going after the budget market here but it's still a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN. Like Express, IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial (although there is a seven day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t live up to your expectations). It promises to be the world’s fastest VPN, with more than 40,000 IP addresses, 850 servers in 60 countries, unlimited peer to peer sharing and up to five simultaneous connections. That's certainly a bonus over ExpressVPN which only offers three connections at a time - IPVanish could be the better option for you if you want to get the whole family on one plan, for example. There’s a no logging policy, too, which means the service isn’t gathering stacks of data about what you’re doing.
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.