To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers down 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. We settled on 32 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended. From there, we dug into the details of how each one handled issues from technology to subscriptions:
The concept of online streaming has taken the digital world to the seventh sky; now you don’t need to travel to the stadium to support your favorite team, it’s all possible within reach of few clicks. Even streaming content in other countries also become a lot easier using one of the best VPN services; streaming Netflix US is just a click away, no matter where you’re. The next thought might come which VPN is useful for streaming? Apparently one of the fastest VPN services would do wonders.
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.
CyberGhost’s popular free tier might not be amazing at speeds, but the paid Pro tier is phenomenal. It proved to be quick and consistent in our speed tests, scroll down. Want more? You can boost your speed with its “extra speed” feature; toggled before you connect. Use and setup are novice-friendly, and live chat is also available if you need a hand.
Once you switch on AVG Secure VPN and connect your Windows device to the internet you’re instantly protected. How? Well, when you connect our VPN software for Windows we give you one of our IP address instead of your own (your IP is the unique code that identifies your device). Which means if anyone comes snooping they can only see our server address. Pair that with military grade encryption levels of 256 bit AES standards and there you have it. Instant online privacy at the click of a button. VPN. It’s as easy as 123. Simply switch on our VPN software for Android and connect your device to the internet. We’ll then connect you to one of our worldwide servers (you can even choose where you want to appear) and bingo – you’ll have an instant 256bit AES encrypted internet connection. That’s the same strength used by governments and banks to secure their data. Which means you can surf the web using VPN for Android securely and privately. VPN. It’s as easy as 123. Simply switch on our VPN software for Android and connect your device to the internet. We’ll then connect you to one of our worldwide servers (you can even choose where you want to appear) and bingo – you’ll have an instant 256bit AES encrypted internet connection. That’s the same strength used by governments and banks to secure their data. Which means you can surf the web using VPN for Android securely and privately. Internet privacy at the click of a button? We’ve got you. Once you switch on our VPN software for iPhone your internet connection becomes encrypted instantly. And not just any old encryption, we’re talking 256bit AES encryption levels – the same standards used by banks and governments. You can then choose to appear anywhere in the world with one of our global servers which makes censorship and content blocks a thing of the past. Welcome to internet freedom with VPN for iPhone. Once you hit that VPN button on your Mac AVG Secure VPN connects you to one of our worldwide servers and instead of using your own IP address (think of it as a unique zip code for your device) we’ll give you one of ours. Team that with our 256bit AES encryption levels (yep the same ones used by governments and banks) and our VPN software for Mac ensures you become instantly anonymous and secure online. VPN - easy as 123.
There's a reason why all these VPNs are paid. Providing encryption and VPN services to millions of users is a resource-intensive work that requires servers across the world. A free VPN might be enough for something minor like checking foreign news occasionally. If you need a VPN on a regular basis, however, you’re better off with a reliable paid service.
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, since 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.
The bad news for anyone used to free services is that it pays to pay when it comes to a VPN. There are tons of free options from reputable companies, but these are usually a poor substitute for the paid options. Free services usually allow a limited amount of bandwidth usage per month or offer a slower service. Tunnel Bear, for example, offers just 500MB of free bandwidth per month, while CyberGhost offers a free service that is significantly slower than its paid service.
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.
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.
Speedify's drawbacks are that you can't connect manually (it's software-based), the cellular-data usage will cut into your carrier's monthly limit, and it's based in the U.S. and subject to search warrants. The free services is limited to one device, although you could just try to create new accounts for extra devices. But even free users can connect to any of the 1,000 or so VPN servers in 40-odd countries.
How much should a VPN cost? Hotspot Shield can be as little as £119.99 for a lifetime or £5.99 a month if you'd rather sign up for a year. For your money you get a decent range of features including up to five devices, private browsing, virtual locations and good if not stellar performance: we did notice a slight increase in latency when Hotspot Shield was enabled, although it wasn’t too dramatic. There’s a seven-day trial that gives you more than enough time to put it through its paces.
Likewise, if you're connecting via a nation's local carrier, that carrier may be intercepting your traffic, particularly if you're a non-native of that nation. In that situation, if you must connect back to applications and services at home, using a VPN is quite literally the least you can do. Also, keep in mind that if you use your phone's hotspot to connect your computer to the internet, you'll want to use a VPN on your computer as well.
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.
Most services provide perfectly adequate internet speed when in use, and can even handle streaming HD video. However, 4K video and other data-intensive tasks like gaming over a VPN are another story. Some VPN services, such as NordVPN, have started to roll out specialty servers for high-bandwidth activities. And nearly every service we have tested includes a tool to connect you with the fastest available network. Of course, you can always limit your VPN use to when you're not on a trusted network.
We asked TorGuard detailed questions about the company’s internal policies and standards, just as we did with five other top-performing services. TorGuard CEO Benjamin Van Pelt answered all our questions, as he has done for other outlets multiple times since the company launched in 2012. Though TorGuard’s answers weren’t as in-depth as some other companies’ responses, Van Pelt is a public figure who has been willing to talk about TorGuard’s operations at length. In 2013, ArsTechnica got a close look at TorGuard’s engineering and network management skills as the company rebuffed repeated attacks on its servers. Even though the company’s marketing is wrought with overreaching claims about being “anonymous”—an inaccurate boast that makes some experts cringe—the technical and operational standards of the company are focused on protecting customer privacy. In one interview with Freedom Hacker, Van Pelt notes that if there were problems on a server, such as someone using it for spamming, the company couldn’t restrict a single user. “Rules would be implemented in that specific server which would limit actions for everyone connected, not just one user. Since we have an obligation to provide fast, abuse free services, our team handles abuse reports per server – not per single user.”
We (millennials) have been exposed to the magical world of “gaming”, and wherever we have nothing to do, we start playing games. If you’re an online gamer, you will relate the fact that speed is vital for online gaming. You must have experienced unexpected delays and ping spikes while playing online games; I can sense your pain, there is nothing worse than experiencing delay, lag, and high ping while playing the favorite game online. There are reasons for lag and packet loss; If you try to connect to a long-distance gaming server, then there are chances of being lagged and delayed, highly congested internet service also plays the similar role.
The encryption and decryption processes depend on both the sender and the receiver having knowledge of a common encryption key. Intercepted packets sent along the VPN connection in the transit network are unintelligible to any computer that does not have the common encryption key. The length of the encryption key is an important security parameter. Computational techniques can be used to determine the encryption key. Such techniques require more computing power and computational time as the encryption key gets larger. Therefore, it is important to use the largest possible key size.
The download speed indicates how fast data can be pulled from the server to you. Since the majority of online activity – like loading web pages or streaming videos – consists of downloads, most connections are designed to download much faster than they upload. Download speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps) and, generally, the higher the number the faster the connection.
Our runner-up is Hotspot Shield, which offers 500MB free per day, amounting to roughly 15GB per month. Like Windscribe, it didn't slow down our connections much. But Hotspot Shield admits that it partners with advertising networks and collects some user data. It also shows ads in the Android app, although the company says it no longer injects ads into websites displayed in a desktop web browser.
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.
Using the methods above does not prevent unwanted traffic if a malicious Internet user is remotely controlling the VPN client computer. To prevent this, ensure that the VPN client computer has a firewall enabled (such as Internet Connection Firewall in Windows XP) and an anti-virus program installed and running with the latest virus signature file installed. These are also settings that can be enabled and enforced when using Network Access Quarantine Control.
When we tested other aspects of IVPN’s performance, it also satisfied our requirements. On the default settings, our real IP address didn’t leak out via DNS requests or IPv6 routing, let alone a standard IP address checker. The DNS-requests check indicated that the app was using the company’s internal DNS servers and that they were correctly configured. None of the 12 services we tested disclosed our true IP address (though some showed mismatched IPs). Every VPN we considered had to operate its own DNS servers in-house and not rely on ISP servers or public options like Google’s, which give third parties a chance to log or analyze the sites you visit. IVPN currently disables all IPv6 connectivity, though the company is looking at solutions to securely support it soon. Most companies we considered do the same; OVPN was the only company to support IPv6 addresses at the time of our testing.
If you are depending on your VPN to keep your activities even mildly anonymous, you need some sense of security that the VPN isn’t just going to go down and dump all your traffic out into the regular internet. What you want is tool known as a “kill switch system”. Good VPN providers have a kill switch system in place such that if the VPN connection fails for any reason it automatically locks down the connection so that the computer doesn’t default to using the open and unsecured internet connection.
Mullvad is not that easy to use, with a bare-bones desktop interface and, unlike every other VPN service we've reviewed, no mobile client apps. (You do get instructions on how to manually set up OpenVPN apps.) This service's network speeds were far from great in our tests, and it's fairly expensive, with no discount for paying yearly instead of monthly.
IVPN was one of the fastest providers when we tested US servers using the Internet Health Test. Our budget pick, TorGuard, was faster, but it defaults to the less secure 128-bit encryption. Our non-VPN connection tested at roughly 300 Mbps down. Some tested services are not listed because connection failures prevented some of our tests from completing.
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.
Jurisdiction – Gibraltar is territory that is controlled by the United Kingdom to some extent. Nonetheless, the internal affairs of the country are governed by itself. Censorship of certain websites is present in Gibraltar. As such, the jurisdiction of IVPN lies in a region with limited online freedom, but privacy in the region is still much better than in Europe.
Everything you do on the Internet has to pass through your own ISP before reaching the destination. So, when you request Google, for example, the information is sent, unencrypted, to your ISP and then passes through some other channels before reaching the server that holds Google’s website. Basically, VPN services privatize information that can be read by ISPs or any other agency that inspects your traffic.
For VPN connections, however, IP datagrams sent across the Internet can arrive in a different order from the one in which they were sent, and a higher proportion of packets can be lost. Therefore, for VPN connections, MPPE changes the encryption key for each packet. The decryption of each packet is independent of the previous packet. MPPE includes a sequence number in the MPPE header. If packets are lost or arrive out of order, the encryption keys are changed relative to the sequence number.
Are you so used to your data traveling over Wi-Fi that you've stopped worrying about the security of that data—and about who else might be spying on it, or even stealing it for nefarious purposes? If so, you are—sadly—in the majority, and you ought to consider using a viritual private network, or VPN. In fact, when PCMag conducted a survey on VPN usage, we found that a dismal 71 percent of the 1,000 respondents had never used a VPN. Even among those who support net neutrality—who you might think would tend to be well informed on technology and privacy issues—only 45 percent had used a VPN.