Every service we tested accepts payment via credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin. That’s plenty of options for most people, and you can always use a prepaid debit card if you don’t want your billing information tied to your VPN account. IVPN and OVPN are the only ones to accept cash payment through the mail, if you really don’t want to make a payment online. Private Internet Access and TorGuard accept gift cards from other companies—IVPN doesn’t, but that option isn’t worth the additional hassle for many people when other secure, private methods are available.
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.
Since December 2017, when the FCC decided to burn Net Neutrality to the ground, more and more people have become obsessed with online privacy (or lack thereof). Your internet provider can choose to slow down your internet if they want, and they could also go after sites like Netflix and demand money for offering high viewing speeds. And keeping your illegal stream or questionable search history private? Forget about it.
A “kill switch” goes by many names, but the term describes VPN software that shuts off all network traffic in and out of your computer if the encrypted connection fails. A hiccup in your Wi-Fi or even with your ISP can cause a VPN to disconnect, and if you then maintain an unsecure connection—especially if the VPN software doesn’t alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic—that wipes out all the benefits of your VPN. We considered kill switches to be mandatory. And although we looked for apps that made it easy to add rules about when to activate kill switches, we considered special config files or manual firewall tweaks to be too complex. (iOS doesn’t support any kill-switch features; we address a few iOS-specific problems that apply to all VPN services in a separate section.)
In very simple terms, a VPN connects your PC, smartphone, or tablet to another computer (called a server) somewhere on the internet, and allows you to browse the internet using that computer’s internet connection. So if that server is in a different country, it will appear as if you are coming from that country, and you can potentially access things that you couldn’t normally.
With the service, user data cannot be intercepted as all traffic are encrypted. A split tunneling functionality allows users to route traffic from specific applications through the software. It likewise has a kill switch, which effectively cuts off Internet connection when the VPN connection fails. This prevents the accidental revelation of IP addresses.
When we initially researched and tested VPNs for this guide in early 2018, technical and legal reasons prevented app developers from using the OpenVPN protocol in apps released through Apple’s iOS app store. During 2018, both the technical and licensing hurdles were removed, and VPN providers started adding OpenVPN connections to their iOS apps. We’ve already noted that our top pick, IVPN, has added it, as have ExpressVPN and PIA. In a future update, we’ll specifically test these upgraded iOS apps, but in the meantime the updated IVPN app has worked as promised for several Wirecutter staffers who use it regularly. Because this OpenVPN support makes it much easier for anyone with Apple devices to create a reliably secure VPN connection, we wouldn’t recommend a service without it to anyone with an iPhone or iPad.
A VPN client is software that runs on your device in order to securely connect it to a VPN server. All major platforms (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux) come with a built-in VPN client that can be configured manually, although OpenVPN always requires a third party client to be installed. Most VPN services now offer custom clients and apps, which are the easiest way to use their service as they come pre-configured with all the correct settings. They also typically offer a range of funky and useful features that are not available by simply manually configuring the built-in VPN client. To clear up any confusion, a ''VPN client'' and a ''VPN app'' are exactly the same thing. Traditionally, the word client is used for desktop software and the word app for mobile software, but it is becoming increasingly common to talk about VPN apps on the desktop. The terms are interchangeable.
Disclaimer: Top10VPN is not a VPN service and does not endorse the use of VPNs for unlawful means. Users should ensure they adhere to all applicable laws and terms of service when using a VPN. We have no control over third-party websites and your use of them may be governed by their terms and conditions. We are an advertising-supported comparison and review site and may be compensated for featuring certain providers. We strive to keep the information on our Website up-to-date and accurate, but we do not guarantee that this will always be the case.
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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.
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.
IPVanish has a clear no-logging policy and is based in the USA, which doesn’t legally require logging of user activity. By the same token, there’s few data protection requirements and, in 2016, when it was owned by its previous parent company Highwinds, IPVanish handed over detailed connection information for use as evidence by the US Department of Homeland Security, even though it claimed to keep no logs at the time. Current owner StackPath says it intends to honour its no logging policy, but it’s not clear whether any technical changes have been implemented to ensure this.
In addition to blocking malicious sites and ads, some VPNs also claim to block malware. We don't test the efficacy of these network-based protections, but most appear to be blacklists of sites known to host malicious software. That's great, but don't assume it's anywhere near as good as standalone antivirus. Use this feature to complement, not replace, your antivirus.
No company came closer to being a pick than ExpressVPN. It has a huge server network that performed well in our tests, plus easy-to-use applications on tons of platforms, and strong security technologies in place. A representative answered all our questions about company operations at length—except one. As noted in a PCWorld review of the service, ExpressVPN chooses not to disclose the company’s leadership or ownership. The company representative told us that this policy enabled ExpressVPN to build a private and secure product without compromise. “We think that this approach has been effective until now and that coupled with a stellar VPN product, we have succeeded in gaining a solid reputation in our industry. We are fortunate to be trusted by the many users worldwide who choose ExpressVPN.”
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.
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.”
Since we last tested VPNs, we've given special attention to the privacy practices of VPN companies and not just the technology they provide. In our testing, we read through the privacy policies and discuss company practices with VPN service representatives. What we look for is a commitment to protect user information, and to take a hands-off approach to gathering user data.
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote... See Full Bio
HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.