When we ran our recent Hive Five on VPN service providers, we heard from VPN providers begging to be included, angry CEOs who claimed their company was maliciously left out, and others accusing some of the contenders of illegal or unethical behavior. We took at look at the poll and the claims, and while there’s no definitive proof the poll was gamed, we decided to come up with our own top five, based on our own research rather than reader feedback, that are great whether you’re the privacy advocate, the student, or the downloader.

Yet Mullvad is worth a look because it's extremely private and secure. It asks nothing about you when you sign up. Instead, it assigns you a random number that will be your combined username and password. You don't have to provide an email address, and you can pay by mailing cash to the company's headquarters in Sweden. (Mullvad also takes credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin and wire transfers.)


Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), about whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if the company wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. After careful consideration, we decided we’d rather give up other positives—like faster speeds or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Given the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust.
DNS servers are a bit like the phone books of the Internet: You can type in “thewirecutter.com,” for instance, and one of the many DNS servers behind the scenes can point you to the IP address of a server hosting the site. Most of the time, your DNS requests automatically route through your ISP, giving the ISP an easy way to monitor your traffic. Some VPN services rely on third-party DNS servers, but the best ones keep DNS servers in-house to prevent your browsing history, or your IP address, from getting out.

Tests are run on connections ranging from 10 Mbps to 30 Mbps connections. Our testers are in different locations around the world, but we never plot the results of speed tests from different locations together. The internet in Buenos Aires will almost always be slower than in Berlin, for instance, so that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. We do add multiple tests to the same plot even if we ran them days or weeks apart, so long as they are from the same location.

Our results were similar in other parts of the world, with IVPN ranking near the top regardless of the test, day, or time. The exception was in Asia, where its Hong Kong servers didn’t perform well. At the time of our initial tests in spring of 2018, IVPN didn’t offer any other servers in Asia aside from Hong Kong. Since then, the company has added locations in Singapore and Tokyo, but we haven’t run a new series of standardized tests with either location.

The app likewise prevents websites from collecting users’ private data, allowing for safer and more secure web browsing. To make things even better, the solution automatically connects whenever an unsecure Wi-Fi connection is detected, ensuring constant protection. It connects to the nearest server, resulting in optimum speeds. But one can also connect manually and be able to choose a preferred server.
Torrenting/P2P support – Getting torrents to work with PIA is no problem. You can easily gain access to P2P sites and clients with PIA if they are blocked in your region. As with IPVanish, however, PIA complies with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) which protects the copyrights of content creators. Therefore, PIA should be avoided if you are looking for a safe to torrent.
The more locations a VPN provider houses servers, the more flexible it is when you want to choose a server in a less-congested part of the world or geoshift your location. And the more servers it has at each location, the less likely they are to be slow when lots of people are using the service at the same time. Of course, limited bandwidth in and out of an area may still cause connections to lag at peak times even on the most robust networks.
There was a time when using a VPN required users to know about the built-in VPN client for Windows or universal open-source solutions such as OpenVPN. Nowadays, however, nearly every VPN provider has its own one-click client that gets you up and running in seconds. There are usually mobile apps as well to keep your Android or iOS device secure over public Wi-Fi.
Even the most expensive VPN plans are very affordable but you will likely have a budget in mind. 12-month plans typically offer the best value and you can reduce the risk of buyer’s remorse by choosing a VPN with a long refund period, preferably 30 days and with no questions asked. These guarantees are much more common than traditional free trials but are essentially the same thing.
The cause of this performance improvement was not immediately discernible. Experts I have spoken to have suggested the test cheating or data compression mentioned above. It was also suggested that, perhaps, some VPN companies had access to higher bandwidth connections in their networks. Another possibility was that our DSL line was artificially capped and that the VPN allowed our data to bypass that restriction.
This is important to understand. Consumer VPN services protect your transmission from your location to their location, not from your location all the way to the destination application you're using. If you think about it, this makes sense: A consumer VPN service is operated by a completely different company than, for example, Facebook or your bank.
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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.
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