For local VPN issues, you have a couple of options. First, consider installing VPN software on your router and not using a VPN on your local machines. Alternatively, many VPN services offer browser plug-ins that only encrypt your browser traffic. That's not ideal from a security perspective, but it's useful when all you need to secure is your browser information.
We also dove deeper into the desktop apps of the top-performing services. Great apps have automatic location selection, easy-to-use designs, and detailed but uncluttered settings panels. We set up each service’s Android app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. We took into account how easy each one was to set up and connect, along with what options were available in the settings pane.
If you’re just getting started with VPNs and want a basic VPN for using on public Wi-Fi hotspots or accessing region-restricted websites, there are a few good, simple options. We like ExpressVPN because they have great speeds and a lot more functionality than average including clients for almost any device—you can even get a router pre-installed with their VPN client.
The first runs in the VPN client app on your computer, so if the VPN connection fails while the VPN client app is running, that VPN client app can turn off the computer or mobile device's internet connection. However, if your VPN connection has failed because the VPN client app itself crashed, then the kill switch may not work, and your IP and data may leak onto the internet.
Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), about whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if the company wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. After careful consideration, we decided we’d rather give up other positives—like faster speeds or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Given the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust.
There’s no point to a VPN that interferes with or logs your traffic—your ISP already does that. Free VPNs, such as Facebook’s Onavo, explicitly gather traffic data to resell or use it for marketing. We looked carefully at the privacy policies and marketing claims for each company we considered. In some cases, companies we considered had sworn in court filings that requests for data were impossible to fulfill. In other cases, we asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging.
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.
While a VPN can protect your privacy online, you might still want to take the additional step of avoiding paying for one using a credit card, for moral or security reasons. Several VPN services now accept anonymous payment methods such Bitcoin, and some even accept retailer gift cards. Both of these transactions is about as close as you can get to paying with cash for something online. That Starbucks gift card may be better spent on secure web browsing than a mediocre-at-best latte.
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.)
Oh, heck no. A VPN can help make sure you're not snooped on when connecting between your computer and a website. But the website itself is quite capable of some serious privacy violations. For example, a VPN can't protect you against a website setting a tracking cookie that will tell other websites about you. A VPN can't protect you against a website recording information about products you're interested in. A VPN can't protect you against a website that sells your email address to list brokers. Yada, yada, yada.
Using a VPN, all data traffic is confined to a private, encrypted tunnel until they reach the public Internet. Destinations cannot be accessed until after the end of the VPN tunnel is reached. VPN services are quite useful in workplaces, especially for those who use mobile devices in accessing data from a work server. However, the most common use of VPN software is to remain anonymous to ISPs, websites or governments. This is true for users who download files illegally, such as in the case of copyrighted torrent files.
Windscribe's network performance was once about average in our tests, but a recent switch in VPN protocols put it on par with Private Internet Access in head-to-head tests. Windscribe is compatible with many platforms (including routers and Amazon Fire and Kodi TV set-top boxes), offers a wide variety of connection options, has a wide geographic reach with hundreds of servers, and presents an appealing, if minimal, user interface. It was also one of the best at connecting to Netflix U.K. and BBC iPlayer, if you're into that sort of thing.
The only downsides to Private Internet Access are that you can't select your own username — you've got to stick with an assigned random ID — and that you've occasionally got to reinstall a balky driver in Windows. (There's a button to do this.) Selecting Private Internet Access as our VPN service of choice was almost a no-brainer, but because it's based in the U.S., anyone wary of the FBI may want to consider another service.
Cost: This VPN service comes in three plans: Basic, Pro, and Premier, any of which can be purchased on a six month, one year, two-year, or three-year basis. The premier plan is $5.83 /month if you pay all 36 months up front, the professional plan is $4.44/month if you buy all three years at once, and the basic plan is $3.06/month for three years. Basic also lets you pay monthly, for $5.99/month.
The VPN providers present a great variety of virtual private network outputs for technically savvy and average customers. The tech world struggles with a lot of outputs that are design and technologically presented. At times, it is hard to differentiate between these two ideas. Luckily, there are a few tech geeks that have mastered the design of the virtual private networks and have enough competence in all the matters of VPN outputs to differentiate the bad and good services. For a computer specialist, there are some VPN services evaluations that they will deal with daily. Therefore seek help from a computer professional before purchase.
Many VPN services also provide their own DNS resolution system. Think of DNS as a phone book that turns a text-based URL like "pcmag.com" into a numeric IP address that computers can understand. Savvy snoops can monitor DNS requests and track your movements online. Greedy attackers can also use DNS poisoning to direct you to bogus phishing pages designed to steal your data. When you use a VPN's DNS system, it's another layer of protection.
Security is the main reason why corporations have used VPNs for years. There are increasingly simple methods to intercept data traveling to a network. WiFi spoofing and Firesheep are two easy ways to hack information. A useful analogy is that a firewall protects your data while on the computer and a VPN protects your data on the web. VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers. Most savvy computer users wouldn't dream of connecting to the Internet without a firewall and up-to-date antivirus. Evolving security threats and ever increasing reliance on the Internet make a Virtual Private Network an essential part of well-rounded security. Integrity checks ensure that no data is lost and that the connection has not been hijacked. Since all traffic is protected, VPNs are preferred over proxies.
So, what’s so great about ExpressVPN? Well, to kick things off, ExpressVPN offers members more than 2,000 servers spread out over 148 locations. This means no matter where in the world you are, you are likely to have several servers at your disposal for smooth and fast streaming. Which brings us to our next ExpressVPN benefit. This company has ridiculously fast speeds. This comes from all of those servers we mentioned. Plus, ExpressVPN lets you see which servers have the fastest download speeds. You can also forget about privacy issues with ExpressVPN since it has a strict no logs policy across the board. No timestamps, no destinations, no browsing history. It’s all private, all the time.
ExpressVPN is another highly-rated premium VPN service that has been praised for its customer service and includes all the features you'd expect from a top-rated VPN such as unlimited bandwidth, unlimited speed, and strong encryption. You're able to connect up to three devices simultaneously via ExpressVPNs thousands of servers in more than 94 different countries.
These services offer many ways to connect, including without the service's client software; support operating systems and devices, such as routers or set-top boxes, beyond just the "big four" operating systems (Windows, Mac, Android and iOS); have hundreds, or even thousands, of servers in dozens of countries; and generally let the user sign up and pay anonymously.
Let's talk about what happens when you use a VPN app on your computer or mobile device. Any VPN app will require an existing network connection to be able to connect to the VPN service provider. This means that even if you set your VPN app to automatically launch when your device boots, there will be a period of time when your computer is connected to the internet directly, not through your VPN.
OpenVPN: OpenVPN is very secure, open-source and widely used. Most VPN services support it, but except for Chrome OS and Linux, few operating systems do. This protocol can be used in either TCP (web) or UDP (streaming) mode; the latter is sloppier but faster. You'll need either the VPN service's client software or one of the many free alternatives. Either way, you'll still need to pay for the VPN service.
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.