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.
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.
Downloads took four times as long as they did without the VPN switched on, but even then, ProtonVPN was far from the worst among the nine free services we tested. You'll also be limited to VPN connections in only three countries, as opposed to the paid complement of 25, and you won't have access to ProtonVPN's "Secure Core" of super-hardened servers.
To be fair, not all pay VPN services are legitimate, either. It's important to be careful who you choose. Over on ZDNet's sister site, CNET, I've put together an always up-to-date directory of quality VPN providers. To be fair, some are better than others (and that's reflected in their ratings). But all are legitimate companies that provide quality service.
We subsidize our free version by displaying advertisements and we do not collect or sell your personally identifiable information. Our free version provides the same basic level of protection that is included in our paid plans. If you would like to remove the ads and get additional benefits, then you can upgrade to Hotspot Shield Premium. When people upgrade to our premium version, it provides additional revenue to keep our service running smoothly.

VPNArea is one of the few providers that offers dedicated IP addresses in various countries around the world, as listed on their website. It also allows account sharing (six simultaneous connections permitted). VPNArea continues to improve and remains an excellent choice for privacy-focused users. Check out their discount pricing for annual plans. [Learn more >]


Using Wi-Fi on the Windows laptops, we timed how long it took to connect to websites, measured latency times (how long it took a server to respond), and recorded upload and download speeds with Ookla's Speedtest meter, both with and without the VPN activated. We also timed how long it took to download a large video file, both with and without VPN activation.

Microsoft Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol (MS-CHAP) is an encrypted authentication mechanism very similar to CHAP. As in CHAP, the NAS sends a challenge, which consists of a session ID and an arbitrary challenge string, to the remote client. The remote client must return the user name and an encrypted form of the challenge string, the session ID, and the MD4-hashed password. This design, which uses the MD4 hash of the password, helps provides an additional level of security because it allows the server to store hashed passwords instead of clear-text passwords or passwords that are stored using reversible encryption. MS-CHAP also provides additional error codes, including a password-expired code, and additional encrypted client-server messages that permit users to change their passwords during the authentication process. In MS-CHAP, both the client and the NAS independently generate a common initial encryption key for subsequent data encryption by MPPE.

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.
The student/worker. This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they’re not exactly shopping around. Also, if they’re worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
StrongVPN is a great choice, as it meets the needs of both power users and casual users alike. Prices start at $10 a month and drop quickly, when you purchase a year of service at a time, to $5.83 a month. The ease of setup is fantastic–if you’re new to VPNs and/or don’t have extra time to fuss with manual settings, you can just download their setup app for Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android to automate the setup process. If you want a more granular control or need to manually configure devices like your router, you can follow one of their many guides for different operating systems and hardware to do it manually.
Prices – PureVPN is currently offering three subscription plans: 1-month, 1-year, and 2-year deals. The cheapest subscription deal is the 2-year plan which you can avail for only $2.49/month. It is always a pleasure to have a great product being sold for so cheap. A new addition that I found during PureVPN review was its bumped-up 31-day money-back guarantee, which means that you can even go for a refund if you are not satisfied with it.
If you’re not looking to take advantage of its Channel Bonding functionality, users still benefit from a few tools designed to ensure users have a stable connection at all times. This includes its error correction algorithm that reduces packet loss and its automated, seamless network switching that acts as a failsafe should users step out of WiFi range or their primary connection fails.
The service uses Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key, a common method employed by VPN services. Connections are protected using 2048-bit public key encryption. For privacy, the service offers a malware detection software. What is good about the software is that it can be downloaded and used without providing any personal information. This holds as long as you use the free version of the software and never contact customer support.
Like ProtonVPN, the VPN service built in to the Opera web browser gives you an unlimited amount of free data per month. But its network download and upload speeds were awful (download speeds were 3 percent of the baseline speed), and it's not even a real VPN; it's just a browser-specific encrypted proxy service. (The OperaVPN mobile apps no longer work.)
The student/worker. This person has responsibilities to attend to, and uses a VPN provided by their school or company to access resources on their network when they’re at home or traveling. In most cases, this person already has a free VPN service provided to them, so they’re not exactly shopping around. Also, if they’re worried about security, they can always fire up their VPN when using airport or cafe WI-Fi to ensure no one’s snooping on their connection. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
As part of our research, we also make sure to find out where the company is based and under what legal framework it operates. Some countries don't have data-retention laws, making it easier to keep a promise of "We don't keep any logs." It's also useful to know under what circumstances a VPN company will hand over information to law enforcement and what information it would have to provide if that should happen.
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