Some VPNs offer “split tunneling,” which routes all traffic through your VPN except specific services or sites that you allow. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. But these types of rules are complicated to implement without also leaking other important information, and we didn’t assess how effective they were in practice.
It’s also fast with impressive 830+ server locations, which makes it an excellent choice for P2P file-sharing, online gaming, and HD streaming. There are no annoying bandwidth caps here, and you can connect to Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, or France’s Canal+ if you wish – there’s a server for every need. The double encryption will understandably slow things down.
A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user's initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
When you browse the web while connected to a VPN, your computer contacts the website through the encrypted VPN connection. The VPN forwards the request for you and forwards the response from the website back through the secure connection. If you’re using a USA-based VPN to access Netflix, Netflix will see your connection as coming from within the USA.
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.
I recommend always using a VPN when using someone else's Wi-Fi network. Here's a good rule of thumb: If you're away from the office or home, and you're using someone else's Wi-Fi (even that of a family member or a friend, because you never know if they've been compromised), use a VPN. It's particularly important if you're accessing a service that has personally identifying information. Remember, a lot goes on behind the scenes, and you never really know if one or more of your apps are authenticating in the background and putting your information at risk.
However, if you’re using a top-tier VPN service, the difference in speed usually isn’t noticeable, and can sometimes speed up your connection. You can still watch streaming videos and download large files without interruption. Our VPN servers are among the fastest in the industry and we work hard to keep it that way. Download Hotspot Shield VPN and get privacy protection without sacrificing speed.
A VPN encrypts all of the Internet traffic between your computer and the VPN server, preventing anyone on your local network, or connection points along the way, from monitoring or modifying your traffic. Beyond the VPN server (in other words, on the rest of the way to whatever Internet server you’re connecting to), your traffic mixes with traffic from other people on the VPN and the rest of the Internet. Ideally, that makes your traffic traceable only to the VPN server, not to your home, office, or computer. You can read a more detailed explanation in our post about what a VPN is and when using one makes sense.
Like Avast, Avira got into the VPN business to complement its antivirus offerings. Phantom VPN is easy to use and gives you up to 1GB of data per month for free, making this service ideal for vacation travelers who just need to check email. Its unlimited paid plans are reasonably priced, but it had slow downloads and dropped connections in our 2017 tests.
Mullvad is not that easy to use, with a bare-bones desktop interface and, unlike every other VPN service we've reviewed, no mobile client apps. (You do get instructions on how to manually set up OpenVPN apps.) This service's network speeds were far from great in our tests, and it's fairly expensive, with no discount for paying yearly instead of monthly.
With a presence in 148 locations across 94 countries, you also won’t need to worry about international travel. Furthermore, the more than 2,000 servers are all well placed throughout common travel destinations and urban centers. Any package will land you unlimited bandwidth and speed, a guaranteed 99.9 percent uptime, and 24-hour customer service. With so many guaranteed features, it’s no wonder this vendor is considered among the best — although note that ExpressVPN only supports up to three simultaneous connections, which is the least of the services on our list.
We have often said that having to choose between security and convenience is a false dichotomy, but it is at least somewhat true in the case of VPN services. When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is that using a VPN probably isn't going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.
Ideally, every VPN service provider would subject itself to independent audits to verify that it logs and operates as it claims. Right now, audits aren’t common practice in the VPN industry, though there’s a push to change that. Joseph Jerome, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told us about that group’s efforts to bring transparency to the VPN industry: “We would like to see security audits released publicly so security researchers can review them and attest to their veracity, as well as learn from the issues being identified.” The few companies we found that currently performed these types of audits had other dismissal-worthy failings, despite their valiant efforts toward transparency. And while such reports may increase your confidence when you’re shopping, there’s no guarantee that an audit makes a VPN service trustworthy: In other industries, conflicts of interest have led auditors and rating agencies (PDF) to miss or ignore major problems.
The TorGuard Windows client was easy to install and made quick work of connecting to a VPN server, including the ability to choose a server location prior to connecting. The internet speed on our test system dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s download to 53 Mb/s, and our upload ran at 17 Mb/s compared to our usual 20 Mb/s. That’s not the best performance in our testing, but all internet services that we tested worked without a hitch, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Norton WiFi Privacy performed very well in our latest round of speed tests. In the UK, we got FTP and HTTP download speeds of around 9.5MB/s (76Mb/s). Using endpoints in the Netherlands, that HTTP speed went up to 10.1MB/s (81Mbit/s). U.S. speeds were also very good, exceeding our non-VPN reference download at 5.8MB/s (46.4Mbit/s) for FTP and 4.8MB/s (38.4Mbit/s) for HTTP downloads.
That all-too-common attitude to the safety and privacy of personal data creates an enormous risk when it comes to online security. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous and convenient, are unfortunately also extremely convenient for attackers who are looking to compromise your personal information. How do you know, for example, that "starbucks_wifi_real" is actually the Wi-Fi network for the coffee shop? Anyone could have created that network, to lure victims into disclosing personal information. In fact, a popular security researcher prank is to create a network with the same name as a free, popular service and see how many devices will automatically connect because it appears safe.
Opera VPN works only through the Opera web browser, and it shouldn't be used for sensitive communications. Once very fast, Opera's VPN connections were painfully slow in our most recent tests. The Opera VPN mobile apps, which were full-fledged VPN services that performed decently in our 2017 tests, unfortunately closed up shop at the end of April 2018. There's one good feature, though: Opera VPN streamed Netflix successfully from all of its server locations (there are only three of them), which is more than many paid VPN services can do.
IVPN doesn’t have as many server locations as larger services like ExpressVPN do. When we initially recommended the service, IVPN was limited to 13 countries, compared with ExpressVPN’s 94. But in the months since, IVPN has doubled that to 26, including two additional locations in Asia (Tokyo and Singapore). We’ve yet to test the new servers though, and in the past, IVPN’s single location in Asia—Hong Kong—was slower than competitors.
A proxy server is another way to conceal your real location. By transferring data through a proxy server the data appears to be going to that server, not you - so for example if you’re in the US and the proxy is in Switzerland, the website or service will think it’s talking to a machine in Switzerland. The main difference is that VPNs protect all your traffic while proxies tend to be limited to specific types of data, such as peer to peer networking or web browsing.
To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers down to a manageable list, we first looked at reviews from dedicated sites like vpnMentor and TorrentFreak, research and recommendations from noncommercial sources such as That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io, and user experiences and tips on various subreddits and technology-focused websites like Lifehacker and Ars Technica. We settled on 32 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended. From there, we dug into the details of how each one handled issues from technology to subscriptions:
Natively on your operating system with the built-in VPN functionality (no apps required). Many operating systems natively support VPNs: Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. To use this you will need to import your VPN’s configuration files onto your device. This will use the IPSec/IKEv2 or IPSec/L2TP protocols, rather than OpenVPN, since OpenVPN can only be used through apps. (PPTP is also sometimes supported, but this VPN protocol is not recommended due to security vulnerabilities.)
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.
Other features include a kill switch, which will shut down your Internet connection if you lose access to the VPN for whatever reason, and the ability to share encrypted connections as a secure wireless hotspot, if your router supports the feature. Windscribe also supports anonymous payment via Bitcoin and gift vouchers, and you don’t to provide an email address in order to sign up.
Buffering is the ultimate buzzkill, so streaming or downloading files with a slow Internet connection is not an option. No worries here! Choose from over 5100 NordVPN servers in 62 countries and enjoy the fastest VPN experience. Having more servers means less load, and the wide variety of locations means there’s a higher chance you’ll find one nearby.
Yet Mullvad is worth a look because it's extremely private. 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, and offers 30-day money-back guarantees for those.) Unexpectedly, it was pretty versatile at streaming Netflix from overseas — it didn't always get through, but in no country we tried was it always blocked.
When purchasing VPN service from a provider, consider whether you will need customer service. Read reviews and look at what kind of support the VPN host will provide for customers. Some hosts may only offer phone support while others may also offer chat or email support. It’s important to find a service which offers customer support that you are most comfortable using. You can also search for reviews within a search engine (such as Google) in order to better evaluate the quality of customer support.
For features, VPN.ac offers double-hop VPN servers, numerous encryption options, obfuscation (stealth VPN), and great apps for all major operating systems and devices. VPN.ac’s apps are very well designed and come in both light and dark modes. In addition to the VPN, you can also use their secure proxy browser extension, which is available for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera browsers.