When we initially researched and tested VPNs for this guide in early 2018, technical and legal reasons prevented app developers from using the OpenVPN protocol in apps released through Apple’s iOS app store. During 2018, both the technical and licensing hurdles were removed, and VPN providers started adding OpenVPN connections to their iOS apps. We’ve already noted that our top pick, IVPN, has added it, as have ExpressVPN and PIA. In a future update, we’ll specifically test these upgraded iOS apps, but in the meantime the updated IVPN app has worked as promised for several Wirecutter staffers who use it regularly. Because this OpenVPN support makes it much easier for anyone with Apple devices to create a reliably secure VPN connection, we wouldn’t recommend a service without it to anyone with an iPhone or iPad.
All that being said, we currently name TorGuard as the fastest VPN service. It doesn't take the top spot in all of our tests, but has remarkably low latency and had the best performance in the all-important download tests. Fittingly, it offers many add-ons such as dedicated IP addresses that, along with its speed, will appeal to the BitTorrent users it is designed to protect.
Of course that brings up another problem. Since there are so many services to choose from, how can you tell which ones are worth using? PCWorld has taken care of much of the legwork with its Best VPN services roundup. [Spoiler alert: It found Mullvad to be a great all-around VPN for its above-and-beyond commitment to user privacy, and NordVPN to be the current choice for watching U.S. Netflix from abroad.]
We like that the company offers a connection kill switch feature and, for those who need it, there's an option to get a dedicated IP address. VyprVPN is a standout in their effort to provide privacy, and thwart censorship. When China began its program of deep packet VPN inspection, Golden Frog's VyperVPN service added scrambled OpenVPN packets to keep the traffic flowing.
The best VPN services offer a robust balance of functions, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards surrounding location constraints that companies place on their apps and services, and others are focused on people who download a lot of content and want some privacy while they do.
We're not cryptography experts, so we can't verify all of the encryption claims providers make. Instead, we focus on the features provided. Bonus features like ad blocking, firewalls, and kill switches that disconnect you from the web if your VPN connection drops, go a long way toward keeping you safe. We also prefer providers that support OpenVPN, since it's a standard that's known for its speed and reliability. It's also, as the name implies, open source, meaning it benefits from many developers' eyes looking for potential problems.
OpenVPN: OpenVPN is very secure, open-source and widely used. Most VPN services support it, but except for Chrome OS and Linux, few operating systems do. This protocol can be used in either TCP (web) or UDP (streaming) mode; the latter is sloppier but faster. You'll need either the VPN service's client software or one of the many free alternatives. Either way, you'll still need to pay for the VPN service.
Cost: To be billed every 7 days, you can subscribe to ZenVPN on a weekly basis for $2.95, which is equivalent to around $11.80/month. Another option is to just buy it a month at a time for $5.95/month. A third option is to buy a whole year at once (for $49.95) for what comes out to be $4.16/month. The unlimited option is more expensive, at $5.95/week, $9.95/month or $7.96/month if you pay $95.50 for the whole year.
However, you've got no choice but to run TunnelBear's client software (unless you use Linux), which may concern some privacy-minded users, and there's no option to set up TunnelBear connections on routers or other devices. Last but not least, this tiny Canadian firm is now owned by U.S. antivirus giant McAfee, which may mean TunnelBear is subject to U.S. search warrants.
While a VPN can protect your privacy online, you might still want to take the additional step of avoiding paying for one using a credit card, for moral or security reasons. Several VPN services now accept anonymous payment methods such Bitcoin, and some even accept retailer gift cards. Both of these transactions is about as close as you can get to paying with cash for something online. That Starbucks gift card may be better spent on secure web browsing than a mediocre-at-best latte.
PPTP - PPTP has been around since the days of Windows 95. The main selling point of PPTP is that it can be simply setup on every major OS. In short, PPTP tunnels a point-to-point connection over the GRE protocol. Unfortunately, the security of the PPTP protocol has been called into question in recent years. It is still strong, but not the most secure.
Using VPNs, an organization can help secure private network traffic over an unsecured network, such as the Internet. VPN helps provide a secure mechanism for encrypting and encapsulating private network traffic and moving it through an intermediate network. Data is encrypted for confidentiality, and packets that might be intercepted on the shared or public network are indecipherable without the correct encryption keys. Data is also encapsulated, or wrapped, with an IP header containing routing information.
You heard us right on that last bit: a number of VPN providers have systems in place where they will accept gift cards from major retailers (that are totally unrelated to their business) like Wal-Mart or Target in exchange for VPN credit. You could buy a gift card to any number of big box stores using cash, redeem it for VPN credit, and avoid using your personal credit card or checking information.
I recommend always using a VPN when using someone else's Wi-Fi network. Here's a good rule of thumb: If you're away from the office or home, and you're using someone else's Wi-Fi (even that of a family member or a friend, because you never know if they've been compromised), use a VPN. It's particularly important if you're accessing a service that has personally identifying information. Remember, a lot goes on behind the scenes, and you never really know if one or more of your apps are authenticating in the background and putting your information at risk.
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.
If the only use case you care about is securely accessing your home network to, then you absolutely do not need to invest in a VPN service provider. This isn’t even a case of the tool being overkill for the job; it’s a case of the tool being wrong for the job. A remote VPN service provider gives you secure access to a remote network (like an exit node in Amsterdam), not access to your own network.
There's one other strong free VPN offering that's easy to recommend and that's Windscribe. This free VPN actually offers 20x as much free data as TunnelBear above, so if you're planning on staying connected at all times or streaming video/music through the VPN, this one will get you most of the way there. Of course, there's nothing to stop you installing more than one of these services at the same time and switching between them. Windscribe is easy to sign up for and doesn't require any personal information (makes sense to give your email address though, otherwise you'll be locked out if you forget your password). Windscribe will boost your data by 5GB if you send out a tweet about the service, and if you refer a friend who subscribes to the paid tier you'll be given access to that higher tier at no charge!
The VPN server can be configured to use either Windows or Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) as an authentication provider. If Windows is selected as the authentication provider, the user credentials sent by users attempting VPN connections are authenticated using typical Windows authentication mechanisms, and the connection attempt is authorized using the VPN client’s user account properties and local remote access policies.
If you are interested in an added level of protection, there are intriguing gadgets called Tiny Hardware Firewalls. These devices range from about $30 to $70 and connect via a network port or a USB slot to your laptop. They make the initial network connection, and so your computer's communication is always blocked before it calls out to the internet.
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.
Reassurance that your personal IP address is hidden, and your confidential data is kept safe. Many people don’t realize that using the internet gives websites and businesses information that can be traced back to their IP address which can then be sold for marketing purposes. It’s not only irritating, it’s invasive and extreme. This can also create an entryway for hackers. Our free VPN servers prevent companies and hackers from getting to you and your IP address remains hidden.
Extensible Authentication Protocol-Message Digest 5 Challenge (EAP-MD5 Challenge) is a required EAP type that uses the same challenge handshake protocol as PPP-based CHAP, but the challenges and responses are sent as EAP messages. A typical use for EAP-MD5 Challenge is to authenticate the credentials of remote access clients by using user name and password security systems. EAP-MD5 Challenge can be used to test EAP interoperability.
IPVanish wasn't the top performer in our 2017 round of testing, falling in about the middle of the pack. But it was one of the most reliable VPN services, connecting smoothly and staying connected every time we used it. IPVanish has excellent client software, although you can connect to the company's servers manually, and a decent array of about 850 connection points in 50 countries. However, its subscription price is kind of high, and its U.S. base may be a negative for some potential customers.
TorGuard offers applications for every major platform, including Windows, macOS, and Android. And unlike our top pick, it also supports OpenVPN on ChromeOS. (Though TorGuard does offer an iOS app, it doesn’t natively support the OpenVPN protocol that allows for the easiest and most reliable secure connections.) Using these apps, you can manually select a server, click Connect, and not worry about the rest. But otherwise, the applications aren’t as refined or easy to use as IVPN’s. New users are likely to find themselves out of their depth when modifying anything but the most basic functions, such as auto-connecting at launch or minimizing the app.
ZenMate has a lightweight app that is really simple to use. It offers good security and connects with any server of your choice almost instantly. The speeds remain fairly stable across servers and is faster than dozens of other VPNs. I would recommend its free browser extensions, as there are better premium apps available for lower rates than ZenMate.
Windscribe, one of the best free VPNs out there, is definitely a user favorite. While its adblocker and firewall can be a little aggressive, Windscribe’s generous data allowance and commitment to privacy easily make it one of our top free picks. Not only does it allow 10 GB of data month, you get an extra 5 GB for tweeting about the service, and an extra 1 GB every time you refer a friend.
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.
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.
The sheer amount of VPN jargon can be overwhelming, even if you are pretty tech-savvy. Do look out for OpenVPN though, as this connection protocol offers the best overall blend of speed and security. Ignore talk of military or bank-grade encryption and just look for AES-256, as that’s the gold standard. Unless you know your DNS from your IPv6, a VPN killswitch is the main thing to look out for among security features as it will protect you from exposing your real IP address should your connection drop unexpectedly.
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.
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.
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.
AVG Secure VPN Virtual Private Network (VPN) gives you a secure and private connection to unrestricted internet access. It does that by encrypting your connection so nobody can snoop on your online activity. The result? Secure and private access to any site — anywhere, anytime. That’s your favourite sites, shows and subscription services all with uncensored access.
Hotspot Shield VPN works in most countries, but that doesn’t mean it’s always legal to use a VPN in a specific country. If you have any doubts about the legality of using a VPN in a certain country, always consult a qualified lawyer because laws can change quickly. If you’re still unsure, then it’s best to play it safe and abide by the most conservative guidelines of a country.
In addition to blocking malicious sites and ads, some VPNs also claim to block malware. We don't test the efficacy of these network-based protections, but most appear to be blacklists of sites known to host malicious software. That's great, but don't assume it's anywhere near as good as standalone antivirus. Use this feature to complement, not replace, your antivirus.