Put simply, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a group of computers (or discrete networks) networked together over a public network—namely, the internet. Businesses use VPNs to connect remote datacenters, and individuals can use VPNs to get access to network resources when they’re not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their communications when they’re using an untrusted public network. Photo by Pavel Ignatov (Shutterstock).

To verify that each service effectively hid our true IP address, we looked at a geolocation tool, DNS leaks, and IPv6 leaks. When connected to each service’s UK servers, we noted whether we could watch videos on BBC iPlayer, and using US servers we noted whether we could stream Netflix. We also visited the sites of Target, Yelp, Cloudflare, and Akamai to check whether our VPN IP addresses prevented us from accessing common sites that sometimes blacklist suspicious IP addresses.
The free version won’t give you much mileage for streaming mind, which is perhaps just as well. Frustratingly, both BBC iPlayer and U.S. Netflix clocked that we were using a VPN, and stopped us from getting the goods. But if streaming isn’t why you’re seeking out a VPN, and you mainly need one for anonymised web browsing and downloads, then Kaspersky Secure Connection is ideal.
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.
Multi-hop cascades + NeuroRouting – Perfect Privacy gives you the ability to create multi-hop VPN cascades across up to four different servers in the network. This protects you against the possibility of a rogue data center logging traffic, targeted monitoring, and other threat scenarios. Additionally, the NeuroRouting feature dynamically routes all traffic through multiple hops in the server network, and can be used with any device (explained more here).
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.
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If you don’t mind doing a little extra tinkering in a more complicated app to save some money, we recommend TorGuard because it’s trustworthy, secure, and fast. TorGuard is well-regarded in trust and transparency; it was also the fastest service we tried despite being less expensive than much of the competition, and its server network spans more than 50 locations, more than twice as many as our top pick. But TorGuard’s apps aren’t as easy to use as IVPN’s: TorGuard includes settings and labels that allow extra flexibility but clutter the experience for anyone new to VPNs. And unlike IVPN, TorGuard doesn’t natively support OpenVPN connections on iOS, making it a significantly worse choice on Apple devices than it is if you use Windows, ChromeOS, or Android.
One way to resolve the issue of trust is to be your own VPN provider, but that’s not a feasible option for most people, and it still requires trust in any company providing the hardware that your VPN would run on, such as Amazon’s cloud services. Multiple projects can help you cheaply turn any old server into a VPN, including Algo, Streisand, and Outline. By encrypting all the traffic from your home or mobile device to a server you manage, you deprive your ISP and a potentially villainous VPN of all your juicy traffic logs. But most people lack the skills, patience, or energy—or some combination of the three—to do this. If you don’t manage servers or work in IT, it may be harder to manage perfect operation and performance better than trustworthy professionals. Lastly, though you remove one threat from the equation by cutting out a VPN service provider, you also lose the extra layer of privacy that comes from your traffic mixing in with that of hundreds or thousands of other customers.
VPN.ac is a security-focused provider that is based in Romania. It was created by a team of network security professionals with an emphasis on security, strong encryption, and high-quality applications. Their network is composed entirely of dedicated, bare-metal servers that offer great performance, as seen in the latest speed tests for the VPN.ac review.
When purchasing VPN service from a provider, consider bandwidth requirements for your VPN. Bandwidth determines how much data can be transferred. High quality video and audio are larger in size and, thus, require more bandwidth than text or images. If you only want to use a VPN for internet browsing or transferring private documents, then most hosts provide enough bandwidth to do just that quickly and easily. However, if you want to stream video or audio, such as watching Netflix or playing online games with your friends, then pick a VPN host that allows for unlimited bandwidth.
If you don’t mind doing a little extra tinkering in a more complicated app to save some money, we recommend TorGuard because it’s trustworthy, secure, and fast. TorGuard is well-regarded in trust and transparency; it was also the fastest service we tried despite being less expensive than much of the competition, and its server network spans more than 50 locations, more than twice as many as our top pick. But TorGuard’s apps aren’t as easy to use as IVPN’s: TorGuard includes settings and labels that allow extra flexibility but clutter the experience for anyone new to VPNs. And unlike IVPN, TorGuard doesn’t natively support OpenVPN connections on iOS, making it a significantly worse choice on Apple devices than it is if you use Windows, ChromeOS, or Android.
The service supports Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices, but manual connection through Linux, BlackBerry, Boxee Box, HP WebOS or DD-WRT is also possible. It likewise allows users to use up to five devices using the account. PureVPN’s proprietary gigabit network ensures uptime and extremely fast speeds. It offers unlimited bandwidth, which is ideal for users who like video streaming or playing online games.

The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.

In our review of IPVanish, I gave a four-star rating for its strong encryption, excellent performance, and a large set of servers. While it is based in the U.S., the company promises to keep no logs other than payment information, which you can also avoid by paying with Bitcoin. IPVanish has more than 40,000 unique IP addresses on more than 1,000 servers spread out over more than 60 countries, meaning you get some serious diversity. There's no limit to how many times you can switch servers, allowing you to move around until you find the absolute best. Toss in a kill switch, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, and manual port selection, and this becomes a very attractive option. Yearly plans start at about $6 per month, while monthly plans start at about $10.

Our VPN-issued IP address was never blacklisted by websites like those of Yelp and Target, but we were unable to access Netflix and BBC iPlayer while connected to TorGuard. No VPN offers a reliable way to access these streaming services, though: All of the VPNs we tried were blocked by Netflix, and of the four that could access BBC content on the first day, two were blocked the next.
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.
Downloading Files: Yes, let’s be honest – many people use VPN connections to download files via BitTorrent. This can actually be useful even if you’re downloading completely legal torrents – if your ISP is throttling BitTorrent and making it extremely slow, you can use BitTorrent on a VPN to get faster speeds. The same is true for other types of traffic your ISP might interfere with (unless they interfere with VPN traffic itself.)
The VPN services market has exploded in the past few years, and a small competition has turned into an all-out melee. Many providers are capitalizing on the general population's growing concerns about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it's getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service and when it's throwing out a lot of fancy words while selling snake oil. In fact, since VPN services have become so popular in the wake of Congress killing ISP privacy rules, there have even been fake VPNs popping up, so be careful. It's important to keep a few things in mind when evaluating which VPN service is right for you: reputation, performance, type of encryption used, transparency, ease of use, support, and extra features. Don't just focus on price or speed, though those are important factors.
Paid VPNs are actually not that expensive as you may think. The most recommended VPN based on our reviews is NordVPN which starts at $11.95 per month. But if you get the 2-year license, you will pay only $3.29 for each month. Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN may be cheaper, but still, a very good alternative for only $6.95 per month or $2.91 if you get the 2-year plan.
Using a VPN is a little trickier for ChromeOS users, however. While Google has worked to make it easier to use a VPN with a Chromebook or Chromebox, it's not always a walk in the park. Our guide to how to set up a VPN on a Chromebook can make the task a bit easier, however. In these cases, you might find it easier to install a VPN plug-in for the Chrome browser. This will only secure some of your traffic, but it's better than nothing.
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.
That said, many VPN providers are based outside the US, which complicates enforcement. Jerome continued: “Users can file complaints in a local jurisdiction, and local data protection laws may have more effective enforcement mechanisms. For example, privacy and confidentiality of communications are fundamental rights in the European Union. Data protection authorities in EU-member states are empowered to handle complaints brought by individuals and then provide users with information about the outcome of any investigation. But it is unclear how effective any of these remedies will be.”
While you're connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and enters the public internet. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted even after it leaves the VPN.
Yes! The fact that using a VPN will protect you when torrenting is one of the most popular reasons to use a VPN. Anyone monitoring a torrent will only see the IP address of the VPN server – not your real IP address. And your ISP cannot see what you are downloading or block you from accessing torrent sites. The only thing to be aware of is that some VPN services do not permit torrenting (or only permit legal torrenting). And you may get into trouble for doing so. So if you want to torrent, then make sure the provider you choose is happy about it. Most are, although many only permit torrenting on selected servers located in places where they are less likely to be hassled by copyright holders. For an in-depth discussion on this subject, please see our Best VPNs for Torrenting article.
In the most recent round of testing, we've also looked at how many virtual servers a given VPN company uses. A virtual server is just what it sounds like—a software-defined server running on server hardware that might have several virtual servers onboard. The thing about virtual servers is that they can be configured to appear as if they are in one country when they are actually being hosted somewhere else. That's an issue if you're especially concerned about where you web traffic is traveling. It's a bit worrisome to choose one location and discover you're actually connected somewhere else entirely.
We didn’t audit any VPN services ourselves (though IVPN, our top pick, offered to arrange such an exercise), but we did ask detailed questions about each service’s operations as a way to judge whether a company was acting in good faith. Good faith is important, because there aren’t many avenues to penalize a VPN company that isn’t following through on its promises. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general. Joseph Jerome at CDT told us that companies violating their own privacy policy or claims about logging would be “a textbook example of a deceptive practice under state and federal consumer protection laws,” and in theory, “the FTC could seek an injunction barring the deceptive practice as well as potentially getting restitution or other monetary relief.”
VPNArea is one of the few providers that offer dedicated IP addresses in various countries around the world, as listed on their website. They also allow account sharing and permit six simultaneous connections per subscription. VPNArea continues to improve and remains an excellent choice for privacy-focused users. Check out their discount pricing for annual plans. [Learn more >]
Aside from a moral quandary, what does VPNHub offer subcribers? A selection of endpoints in 50 countries, including less common locations like Cyprus, Costa Rica and the Philippines, the option to connect to VPNHub on booting up your system, a killswitch that’ll nerf your connection whenever the VPN fails, and ‘Scramble’, a feature that attempts to hide from your ISP the fact that you’re using a VPN.

Most VPN services allow you to connect to servers in many different countries. In our VPN directory, we list both the number of servers the service maintains, as well as the number of countries. By default, you'll usually be assigned a server in your home country, but if you want to obfuscate your location, you may want to connect to a server in a different country.


At $7.50/month and $58.49 for a year, they're obviously trying to move you towards their yearly program. We awarded the company points for Bitcoin support, and their money-back guarantee. We're a little disappointed that they only allow a 7-day trial, rather than a full 30-days. The company is generous, with five simultaneous connections. They also picked up points for their connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. 
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