The free tier gives you the Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Amazon Fire TV/Firestick client software (and the beta Linux software, should you wish to try it); the Windflix feature to (try to) watch U.S. or U.K. Netflix streams; the Chrome, Firefox and Opera Windscribe browser extensions to block ads and trackers; a separate firewall built in to the Windows and macOS clients; and the ability to connect to VPN servers in 11 countries, mostly in Europe and North America.
If you need a more affordable VPN than our top pick and don’t have an Apple device—or if you need ChromeOS support—we recommend TorGuard. Its apps aren’t as simple or user-friendly, but TorGuard is a good option for more tech-savvy people or those willing to spend a little more time fiddling with an app. TorGuard’s CEO has built trust by talking with media outlets (including us) and detailing the company’s commitment to a service built around a lack of activity logs. Though the apps aren’t as easy to use as our top pick, the connections were the fastest of any we tested and the company has more than twice as many server locations.
Remote-access VPNs come in two forms. One is a network access server (NAS), which is a dedicated server, or an application running on a shared server. In this case, users need to connect to the NAS over the Internet to access the VPN. Users key in their credentials to access the VPN, which is validated by the NAS either by using a separate authentication server or its own authentication process.
Since VPNs route your traffic through another network, you can also make it appear as if it’s coming from another location. That means if you’re in Sydney, Australia, you can make your traffic appear to come from New York City. This is useful for certain sites that block content based on your location (like Netflix). It also allows some people (we’re looking at you, Australians) have to deal with insanely high import taxes on software that see them paying twice (or more) what US consumers pay for the same products.

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.
Because few VPN companies offer live support, we appreciate when they at least provide easy-to-follow resources on their websites. Detailed setup guides with step-by-step instructions are available for every platform IVPN supports, and it breaks down troubleshooting advice into language that’s easy to understand. ExpressVPN also has clear, helpful support articles, but other services aren’t as straightforward. It’s harder to find the right information on TorGuard’s support site, and its articles aren’t as novice-friendly. If you need to submit a ticket for a specific problem, you can expect a quick response from all the companies we tested—IVPN and TorGuard both responded to us in minutes, and PIA took the longest at one day. ExpressVPN was the only one of our finalists that offered tech support over live chat. (Other companies provide live chat only for sales and signup support.)
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.
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