VPNs help enable users working at home, on the road, or at a branch office to connect in a secure fashion to a remote corporate server using the Internet. From the users perspective, the VPN is a point-to-point connection between the user's computer and a corporate server. The nature of the intermediate network, the Internet, is irrelevant to the user because it appears as if the data is being sent over a dedicated private link.
One basic test for a VPN service is to check how long a VPN client takes to connect to a VPN server and get online. For our 2018 reviews, we installed each vendor's VPN client software on an HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2 laptop running Windows 10, an iPad mini and a Samsung Galaxy S8 Android phone. (In 2017, we used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga notebook, an Apple MacBook Air, a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and the iPad mini.) We used each device with each VPN service we tested.
The Overplay Smart DNS service, on the other hand, routes internet connection using a different DNS to give the illusion that one is located in a different country, without significant speed reduction. This is very useful to those who want to access sites that are blocked in their own countries. The service supports PCs, Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, Wii, PS3, XBOX360, among other devices.
RADIUS can respond to authentication requests based on its own user account database, or it can be a front end to another database server, such as a Structured Query Language (SQL) server or a Windows domain controller (DC). The DC can be located on the same computer as the RADIUS server or elsewhere. In addition, a RADIUS server can act as a proxy client to a remote RADIUS server.
A VPN client on a remote user's computer or mobile device connects to a VPN gateway on the organization's network. The gateway typically requires the device to authenticate its identity. Then, it creates a network link back to the device that allows it to reach internal network resources -- e.g., file servers, printers and intranets -- as though the gateway is on the network locally.
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.
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.
Osama is a staunch believer in the inalienable right of every citizen to freedom of expression. Writing about online privacy and security without regard to political correctness is his answer to the powers that be threatening our freedom. Deeply curious about Nature and the Universe, he is fascinated by science, intrigued by mathematics, and wishes to play guitar like Buckethead in some alternate version of reality.
When we test VPNs, we try to get a sense for the impact a service has on internet performance by finding a percentage change between using the VPN and not using the VPN for several speed measurements. First, we run several tests without the VPN active, discard the highest and lowest results, and find the average of what remains. This is our baseline. We then do the same thing, but with the VPN active.
As we previously noted, we don’t recommend relying on our picks to get around geographic restrictions on copyrighted content. The practice is likely illegal, and it violates the terms of service of your ISP, VPN, and content provider. On top of that, it often doesn’t work—we couldn’t access Netflix over any of the services we tried, and of the four streams we loaded on BBC iPlayer, only two worked a few days later.
We’ve shown you how to roll your own VPN using Hamachi, and even how to set up Privoxy to secure your web browsing once you have your personal VPN set up. Hamachi isn’t the only option: you can also download and configure OpenVPN (a free SSL VPN) on your own home server,, or if you have a router that supports it, enable OpenVPN on your home router so you can connect back to it when you’re abroad. Combined with Privoxy, you get the privacy and anonymity benefits of a VPN without spending a dime.
Most VPNs won’t keep any logs of user activity. Not only is this of benefit to their customers (and a great selling point) it’s also of huge benefit to them (as detailed logging can quickly consume disk after disk worth of resources). Many of the largest VPN providers will tell you as much: not only do they have no interest in keeping logs, but given the sheer size of their operation they can’t even begin to set aside the disk space to do so.
ExpressVPN is incredibly fast and super secure, and it can unblock just about any site or service on the internet - including Netflix, Hulu, BBC, and more - with impressive streaming capabilities. It offers servers in over 90 countries, and the 24/7 live chat support is one of the friendliest and most professional. ExpressVPN gives a strong fight to NordVPN, while other VPNs lag behind.
HTTPS is a powerful tool that everyone should use because it helps keep sensitive browsing private at no extra cost to the people using it. But like most security standards, it has its own problems too. That little lock icon in your browser bar, which indicates the HTTPS connection, relies on a certificate “signed” by a recognized authority. But there are hundreds of such authorities, and as the EFF says, “the security of HTTPS is only as strong as the practices of the least trustworthy/competent CA [certificate authorities].” Plus, there have been plenty of news stories covering minor and even major vulnerabilities in the system. Some security professionals have worried about those least-competent authorities, spurring groups to improve on the certificate standards and prompting browsers to add warnings when you come across certificates and sites that don’t withstand scrutiny. So HTTPS is good—but like anything, it isn’t perfect.
Here you should remember that before being sent and received over the Internet, any data needs to first be split into packets. To ensure each data packet stays secure, a VPN service wraps it in an outer packet, which is then encrypted through a process called encapsulation. This exterior packet keeps the data secure during the transfer, and it is the core element of the VPN tunnel. When the data arrives at the VPN server, the outer packet is removed to access the data within, which requires a decryption process.
VPN services offer up different "gateway" cities, allowing you to choose where the IP address assigned to your computer is located. This allows you to access websites typically only available to users from that country. It also allows you to access websites that may blocked/censored in your own country. This application is particularly important for travelers who need to access websites from their home country, as well as for people living in regions rife with Internet censorship, such as China and Iran.
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.