We used to advise people to do banking and other important business over their cellular connection when using a mobile device, since it is generally safer than connecting with a public Wi-Fi network. But even that isn't always a safe bet. Researchers have demonstrated how a portable cell tower, such as a femtocell, can be used for malicious ends. The attack hinges on jamming the LTE and 3G bands, which are secured with strong encryption, and forcing devices to connect with a phony tower over the less-secure 2G band. Because the attacker controls the fake tower, he can carry out a man-in-the-middle attack and see all the data passing over the cellular connection. Admittedly, this is an exotic attack, but it's far from impossible.
Our privacy is being threatened, these days, never like before. Internet user's’ online activities have been monitored and collected every second of every single day. Governments are constantly running programs listening to your calls, reading your conversations and if that's not enough, even companies are tracking our internet behaviour. In such a situation it’s critical that we take the necessary measures to protect our privacy. hide.me VPN offers you the best opportunity to hide behind its dynamic IPs from across over 34 countries. Be anonymous and avoid intrusions from the third parties.
For those who are new to using a VPN, one of the most important features will be an easy-to-use interface. You want something as easy as flipping a switch. Private Internet Access offers just that, with an extremely simple Android app. Best of all, a yearly subscription is around $40, which is one of the lowest prices you'll find for a premium VPN.
With VPNs you can access streaming services which are usually blocked to overseas viewers. You can do this by simply connecting to a VPN server in the appropriate country. Unsurprisingly, both Netflix and BBC iPlayer attempt to block VPN users. These blocks are often ineffective, and many providers have found ways around them. For more information about unblocking the most common services see our VPN for Netflix and VPN for BBC iPlayer guides.
If you’re going to use torrents, however, life is easier if you use a VPN—especially if the network you’re on blocks torrenting. There are many VPNs among our top picks that could be used for downloading torrents, but our preferred choice is Private Internet Access. This no-frills VPN has an absolute ton of servers, good speeds, and a nice amount of country locations to remain relatively anonymous. (Read our full review.) The price is right at less than $40 a year, and its privacy policies have been tested in court. Plus, advanced users can adjust their level of encryption for data encryption, data authentication, and handshake.
IPVanish is one of the most recognisable names among all the VPN services out there. They've been going for years and if you've read about VPNs in the past you've probably seen some of their ads! IPVanish certainly isn’t going after the budget market here but it's still a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN. Like Express, IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial (although there is a seven day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t live up to your expectations). It promises to be the world’s fastest VPN, with more than 40,000 IP addresses, 850 servers in 60 countries, unlimited peer to peer sharing and up to five simultaneous connections. That's certainly a bonus over ExpressVPN which only offers three connections at a time - IPVanish could be the better option for you if you want to get the whole family on one plan, for example. There’s a no logging policy, too, which means the service isn’t gathering stacks of data about what you’re doing.
Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was initially developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for IPv6, which was required in all standards-compliant implementations of IPv6 before RFC 6434 made it only a recommendation. This standards-based security protocol is also widely used with IPv4 and the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Its design meets most security goals: authentication, integrity, and confidentiality. IPsec uses encryption, encapsulating an IP packet inside an IPsec packet. De-encapsulation happens at the end of the tunnel, where the original IP packet is decrypted and forwarded to its intended destination.
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.)
If you are interested in an added level of protection, there are intriguing gadgets called Tiny Hardware Firewalls. These devices range from about $30 to $70 and connect via a network port or a USB slot to your laptop. They make the initial network connection, and so your computer's communication is always blocked before it calls out to the internet.
ExpressVPN has 148 locations in 94 different countries which means you can dial your IP address into 148 locations around the world. ExpressVPN delivers great performance - and it’s put the effort into its software too, with dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and BlackBerry as well as some Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV, PS4 and Xbox and even your router. Not only that but there are solid online tutorials too, so even if VPNs are dark magic to you they’ll have you up and running in no time. P2P is fully supported and it's super speedy so you can torrent using the maximum bandwidth of your broadband connection and there’s a kill switch that keeps your IP address hidden if anything goes wrong with the VPN or with your internet connection. ExpressVPN is reasonably priced, delivers a good service and has support for three simultaneous connections. There’s no free trial available but there is a no-fuss 30-day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t meet your requirements so that's a good way to test it out if you're unsure. We have used the 24/7 customer service a number of times and can vouch for its effectiveness - we had a couple of issues with using the service on a PC and were able to sort it within a few minutes using the instant online chat support.
The service uses Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key, a common method employed by VPN services. Connections are protected using 2048-bit public key encryption. For privacy, the service offers a malware detection software. What is good about the software is that it can be downloaded and used without providing any personal information. This holds as long as you use the free version of the software and never contact customer support.
The software supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices. It also has plugins for browsers such as Chrome and Opera. This feature basically protects any device that can run a browser. Installation takes only seconds and does not require additional tweaking. The app’s Vigilant Mode prevents data from leaking while TunnelBear is reconnecting. The solution can also disguise VPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic. As for security, the platform provides a list of Wi-Fi network that can be trusted.
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.
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.”
Most Economical or Cheapest VPN: Private Internet Access’s global network of VPN servers lets you to hide in plain sight for less. With more than 3,200 servers in 33 countries, Private Internet Access (PIA) connects in places like Germany, Turkey and Singapore but lacks VPN servers in hot spots like Russia. It pales in comparison to the 190 countries that Hide My Ass operates in. The service encrypts your traffic, can obscure your location, block ads and malware as well as including a capable firewall. There’s software for Windows (7, 8 and 10), Mac OSX (10.13), Linux, iOS and Android. It also works with Chrome, Firefox, Opera browsers and some open-source routers. The small Windows interface lets you pick a dark or light color scheme, set the encryption level and use small data packets for greater reliability. There’s a mini world map but you must use PIA’s assigned log-in name. While PIA doesn’t keep connection logs, its Denver headquarters means that American spy agencies can potentially snoop on your Web journeys. At $7 per month or $3.33 a month for a year, PIA is a bargain that allows 5 simultaneous users. In other words, PIA provides a lot of VPN security for the money.
Over the course of four months, we scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, and forums to compile the pros and cons of VPN services and different VPN protocols and encryption technologies. That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io stood out as two of the most thorough and unbiased sources of information. We interviewed Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Amul Kalia about government surveillance and VPN efficacy. We also got answers from Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPN providers are for their policies and terms of service, and how that relates to trustworthiness. Alec Muffett, a security expert and software engineer, also shared his views on the usefulness of VPNs to protect against various threats.
Before anything else, understand that if you want to use a VPN you should be paying for it. Free VPNs are either selling your browsing data in aggregated form to researchers and marketers, or giving you a paltry amount of data transfer every month. Either way, a basic rule of thumb is that a free VPN will not protect your privacy in any meaningful way.
CyberGhost gives Mullvad some stiff competition in the speed department, especially for locations in North America and Europe. It does a good job protecting user anonymity, too—requiring no identifying information and using a third-party service for payment processing—albeit not to the same degree as Mullvad. Add to that CyberGhost’s unique, easy-to-use interface, good price, and streaming unblocking (although not for Netflix), and this VPN is a solid choice. (See our full review of CyberGhost.)
Price-wise, Norton WiFi Privacy is pretty generous, too. A one-year subscription (for one device only), costs just £19.99 for the first year, and a 5-connection account costs £29.99 per year. However, the price jumps up after the first year, to £39.99 for 1 device and £59.99 for 5 devices. That’s still better than some, mind, but you may want to disable auto renewal, just in case.
Trust and transparency issues are the foremost concerns in choosing a great VPN, and if a service doesn’t have enough locations to be useful to you, all the security features won’t make a difference. But after those concerns have been satisfied, we recommend that most people use connections based on the OpenVPN protocol, because of security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. (Experienced users may consider IKEv2, but because it has its own debated pros and cons, we ruled it out.) Though AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance.
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However, network performance is another thing entirely. First, keep in mind that if you're using a VPN, you're probably using it at a public location. That Wi-Fi service is likely to range in performance somewhere between "meh" and unusable. So, just the fact that you're remotely working on a mediocre network will reduce performance. But then, if you connect to a VPN in a different country, the connection between countries is also likely to degrade network performance.
We subsidize our free version by displaying advertisements and we do not collect or sell your personally identifiable information. Our free version provides the same basic level of protection that is included in our paid plans. If you would like to remove the ads and get additional benefits, then you can upgrade to Hotspot Shield Premium. When people upgrade to our premium version, it provides additional revenue to keep our service running smoothly.
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.
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.
Tunneling protocols can operate in a point-to-point network topology that would theoretically not be considered as a VPN, because a VPN by definition is expected to support arbitrary and changing sets of network nodes. But since most router implementations support a software-defined tunnel interface, customer-provisioned VPNs often are simply defined tunnels running conventional routing protocols.
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.
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
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.
CyberGhost is transparent about its company structure, posting photos and bios on its website of everyone from the CEO to the cleaning lady, and privacy fanatics will like that the company is based in Romania rather than the U.S. But CyberGhost's full-service subscription price is among the most expensive month by month — it's far better to just pay for a year at a time.
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Many companies proudly display “warrant canaries” on their websites. These are digitally signed notices that say something to the effect of “We have never been served a warrant for traffic logs or turned over customer information.” Law enforcement can prohibit a company from discussing an investigation, but in theory, it can’t compel a company to actively lie. So the theory goes that when the warrant canary dies—that is, the notice disappears from the website because it’s no longer truthful—so does privacy. The EFF supports this legal position, though other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done. Such notices may provide a nice sense of security, and they are important to some people, but we didn’t consider them essential.
The main reason to use a VPN is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too. VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN services, and it boasts some star-studded founding members. The company was founded at CERN, the birthplace of the internet, and grew out of the ProtonMAIL service that’s been protecting the email of activists and journalists for years. The service acts as a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union. It’s also not a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” and user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries, so you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.
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.
VPN technology was developed as a way to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources. To ensure safety, data travels through secure tunnels, and VPN users must use authentication methods -- including passwords, tokens or other unique identification procedures -- to gain access to the VPN server.
You might pay for streaming services that enable you to watch things like professional sports. When you travel outside the country, the streaming service may not be available. Not so with a VPN — it allows you to select an IP address in your home country. In effect, you’re protected from losing access to something you’re paying for. You may also be able to avoid data or speed throttling, as well.
One of the most common types of VPNs used by businesses is called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN). A VPDN is a user-to-LAN connection, where remote users need to connect to the company LAN. Another type of VPN is commonly called a site-to-site VPN. Here the company would invest in dedicated hardware to connect multiple sites to their LAN though a public network, usually the Internet.
There are different levels of security protocols, each with its own level of security and features. Some of the most common are IPSec, L2TP, IKEv2, OpenVPN, and PPTP. OpenVPN is a newer technology, but it is highly configurable and easily bypasses firewalls in any country. L2TP isn’t capable of encryption; it instead creates a tunnel, and it should be paired with IPSec, which takes care of encryption. PPTP is a protocol that has been around since the mid-1990s, but because it does not encrypt, you will want to be sure to use another protocol with it that covers encryption. IKEv2 is an IPSec-based tunneling protocol that will reestablish a VPN connection if a user temporarily loses Internet connection.
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.
Since it takes research to find out if a VPN service has a history of good or bad behavior, we’ve done the legwork to find the best VPN out there. In order to win our seal of approval, the service has to protect online privacy; allow you to keep anonymity; offer a good variety of locations from which to direct your traffic; offer fast, reliable performance; and provide an easy-to-use interface.
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.
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.
Subscription VPN Providers usually take your privacy a bit more seriously, since you’re paying for the service. It’s unusual for them to show ads, although whether they do logging or store data about your usage varies from company to company. They usually offer free trials so you can give the service a shot first, but remember: just because you’re paying for a service doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework.
Here's the problem with the internet: It's inherently insecure. When the internet was first designed, the priority was to be able to send packets (chunks of data) as reliably as possible. Networking across the country and the world was relatively new, and nodes often went down. Most of the internet's core protocols (methods of communicating) were designed to route around failure, rather than secure data.
The country connections, meanwhile, matter most to those who want to spoof their location; however, non-spoofers should also make sure there are connections in their home country. If you live in Los Angeles, for example, and want access to American content, then you’ll need a VPN that provides U.S. connections. It won’t work to try and watch Amazon Prime Video over a Dutch VPN connection, because as far as Hulu’s concerned your computer is in the Netherlands.
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.
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.
A VPN allows a user to securely access private networks with complete peace of mind. Whether you want a VPN in a country like South Africa for example, or in any other country, in the modern age, everything is possible. It has similarities to a firewall, except that a VPN disguises your IP address, so you are untraceable. By changing your IP address a top VPN like IPVanish ensures that if anyone is spying on you, they will not see your correct geographic location. VPNs use a combination of encryption protocols and dedicated connections; therefore, even if a hacker tries to access some of your data, they would be unable to read due to it being encrypted. With this level of encryption and security, you can always be sure that you are browsing anonymously with your VPN.
If you’re going to bother with a VPN, you should spend money on a good one—don’t trust a free VPN. Security and privacy cost money, and if you aren’t paying for them, the provider has an incentive to make money from marketers at your privacy’s expense. Though price doesn’t always equal quality, a few dollars a month more for a better experience is worth it for something you’ll use on a regular basis.
What that means in practice is that VPNs are fine for bypassing geo-blocks, for protecting your online banking and for keeping business communications free from interception. However, if you’re using the internet to fight repressive regimes or to do anything else that could attract the attention of the authorities where you live, a VPN is not a magic wand that’ll make you invisible.
It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.