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.
In conjunction with information security experts at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), we reached out to our finalists with questions about their internal security practices. We asked how they handled internal security access, how they communicated securely with customers, in what ways they collected reports on security bugs, and of course whether their statements on logging policies matched their marketing and privacy policies. We also considered which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership, and which ones openly supported projects and organizations that promoted Internet security and privacy. (For a full breakdown of trust and VPNs, check out the section above.)
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.
All that being said, some VPNs are still all around faster than others. Below we’ve listed our top five fastest VPNs tested in the last year, out of a total of nearly two dozen premium providers. Speed tests we run factor largely into this list, but other non-quantifiable parameters based on our personal experience are also taken into consideration. These include how well they stream HD video and game online.
The IVPN app's default settings are great for most people, who should be happy just smashing the Connect button and not fiddling with settings. On a desktop or an Android device, the company supports only the OpenVPN protocol we recommend and uses AES 256-bit encryption (what we consider the standard at this point). Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker (but also acceptable) AES 128-bit encryption unless you manually change it.
Compatibility – ExpressVPN is compatible with a wide range of devices and operating system. This includes Windows, OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS. In mobile phones and tablets, it is compatible with Android, iOS, Amazon Kindle Fire. It is also compatible with gaming and streaming consoles such as Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox One, and Roku. In short, I don’t think there is any other VPN provider that has such a wide cross-compatibility with different platforms.
VPN uses robust protocols to safeguard netizens’ activity from snoopers and hackers with the help of military-grade encryption packets which causes a slight, or sometimes a visible reduction in your Internet speed. But does that mean using a VPN will compromise your connection speed? Not necessary! Though the speed of a VPN always depends on individuals’ usage, it can be an essential element to help you decide which one to buy. That is where your search for the fastest VPN service or high-speed VPNs starts. However, you need to be selective while choosing a fast VPN as it involves various factors that influence the speed of the connection.
For the formal testing, we used an HP EliteBook X360 1020 G2 notebook, an Asus ZenPad S8 tablet (for Avira Phantom VPN) and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone (for Speedify). Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections were provided by a 200-Mbps cable broadband line. Each time we connected to a VPN service, we recorded how long it took to get online and noted how many times the service disconnected us.
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.
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.
That depends. VPN use is legal in most countries, but, according to VPN provider CyberGhost, VPN use is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Vladimir Putin has recently banned VPN use in Russia. Also, be aware that the so-called proxy server alternative to VPNs is also illegal in many countries, which consider any form of IP spoofing to be illegal, not just those services labeled as VPN.
Because it is impossible to update separate user accounts on separate servers for the same user simultaneously, most administrators set up a master account database at a domain controller or on a RADIUS server. This enables the VPN server to send the authentication credentials to a central authenticating device, and the same user account can be used for both dial-up remote access and VPN-based remote access.
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 free account is limited to a single user, while the premium account enabled unlimited bandwidth for up to five computers or mobile devices. TunnelBear doesn’t list the total number of servers on their site, but they do offer servers in 20 countries. Their Windows and Mac OS X client is based on OpenVPN and their mobile VPN system uses L2TP/IPsec. Unlike the previous two recommendations, however, TunnelBear has a firmer stance against file sharing activities and BitTorrent is blocked. Their speeds also aren’t quite as fast as the others, so you might experience a slower connection with TunnelBear.
Price: Free TorVPN users are limited to 1GB/mo downloaded before they’re cut off, and Premium accounts start at 5 EUR/mo ($7mo) for 5GB/mo and go up to 30 EUR/mo ($38/mo) for 100GB. Keep in mind they have a no-refunds policy, and that even though you ride the Tor network, they’re a separate entity from the Tor Project. You can read more about their pricing and plans here.
IVPN is a Gibraltar-based VPN service whose primary USP is excellent security and privacy. It uses multi-hop technology that routes user traffic through a maze of networks to leave hackers scratching their heads should they attempt stealing your information. However, it offers inconsistent speeds with some servers operating quite fast, while others being slow.
One of the most common types of VPNs used by businesses is called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN). A VPDN is a user-to-LAN connection, where remote users need to connect to the company LAN. Another type of VPN is commonly called a site-to-site VPN. Here the company would invest in dedicated hardware to connect multiple sites to their LAN though a public network, usually the Internet.
Some countries don't have the same protections for freedom of press, speech, and expression that most democratic countries have. In fact, some regimes resort to oppressive measures to monitor and take action against those they see as threats to the government. People who dare to stand up have to take extra precautions to protect their communications. Journalists and researchers also send messages containing data that some people may want to try very hard to intercept.
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.
Tunneling protocols such as PPTP and L2TP are implemented at the data-link layer of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) reference model and provide data security by helping to create secure tunnels. In contrast, the IPSec protocol is implemented at the network layer and helps secure data at the packet level. IPSec provides two security protocols: Authentication Header (AH) and ESP.
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.
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).
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.
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.
For example, when your computer is connected to a VPN, the computer acts as if it's also on the same network as the VPN. All of your online traffic is transferred over a secure connection to the VPN. The computer will then behave as if it's on that network, allowing you to securely gain access to local network resources. Regardless of your location, you'll be given permission to use the internet as if you were present at the VPN's location. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals using a public Wi-Fi.
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.
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.
Many companies proudly display “warrant canaries” on their websites. These are digitally signed notices that say something to the effect of “We have never been served a warrant for traffic logs or turned over customer information.” Law enforcement can prohibit a company from discussing an investigation, but in theory, it can’t compel a company to actively lie. So the theory goes that when the warrant canary dies—that is, the notice disappears from the website because it’s no longer truthful—so does privacy. The EFF supports this legal position, though other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done. Such notices may provide a nice sense of security, and they are important to some people, but we didn’t consider them essential.
StrongVPN has exit nodes in 43 cities, 20 countries, and supports PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IPSec, and OpenVPN protocols–you’ll be hard pressed to find a device you can’t configure to use their service. There are no bandwidth caps, speed limits, or restrictions on protocols or services (torrenting, Netflix, you name it, they don’t care). Additionally, StrongVPN maintains no server logs.
The second thing that happens is that the web application you're talking to does not get to see your IP address. Instead, it sees an IP address owned by the VPN service. This allows you some level of anonymous networking. This IP spoofing is also used to trick applications into thinking you're located in a different region, or even a different country than you really are located in. There are reasons (both illegal and legal) to do this. We'll discuss that in a bit.
Bandwidth restrictions might not have been a big deal in the pre-streaming era, but now that everyone is streaming videos, music, and more, the bandwidth burns up really fast. Avoid VPNs that impose bandwidth restrictions unless the bandwidth restrictions are clearly very high and intended only to allow the provider to police people abusing the service.
NordVPN is a great all-rounder. With a strong focus on privacy and a willingness to keep innovating in the VPN space, NordVPN is a great VPN at a great price. Nord offers an industry-leading six simultaneous connections which means that everyone in the family can use the VPN at the same time. With clients available for all major platforms, the software looks great and works well. A three-day free trial is a nice bonus if you are looking to take it for a test drive, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee gives you plenty of time if you change your mind. NordVPN permits torrenting, works with all major streaming services (e.g. iPlayer and Netflix) and has robust privacy policies in place to ensure you remain anonymous.
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.
The IVPN app’s default settings are great for most people, who should be happy just smashing the Connect button and not fiddling with settings. The desktop app defaults to a secure OpenVPN connection with AES 256-bit encryption (what we consider the standard at this point), and the mobile app can (and should) be toggled to OpenVPN as well. Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker (but also acceptable) AES 128-bit encryption unless you manually change it, and hasn’t added OpenVPN support on its iOS app.
We have often said that having to choose between security and convenience is a false dichotomy, but it is at least somewhat true in the case of VPN services. When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is that using a VPN probably isn't going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.