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.
VPNs are primarily used to keep a shred of privacy while navigating the internet in an age where your every move is monitored. Search engines love to keep track of you for marketing purposes, and your ISP might even be using your browsing history to make a bit of profit. A VPN effectively blocks that from happening, and it can even help get past government restrictions if you're living in a less-than-free country. If you travel or frequent coffee shops, Wi-Fi hotspots can be easily compromised, but a VPN will keep your data safe.
Yes. Although Netflix is now available almost everywhere, some places – notably the United States – enjoy a much larger catalog of titles than everywhere else. And some people want to access regional catalogs. In theory, all you need do to watch a local version of Netflix from somewhere else is connect to a VPN server in that country. You can sign into any regional Netflix page with any active Netflix account, no matter where that account is registered. The snag is that due to pressure from its content producers, Netflix now tries to ban IP addresses that it knows belongs to VPN and proxy services. Many VPN services have found sneaky ways around this ban, but it is a cat and mouse game. Please see our best Netflix VPNs for a list of services which still work with Netflix (most of the time).
One of today’s leading VPN providers and another worthy mention on our list of top 20 VPN services, PureVPN is known for its service quality and customer support. The service has 450 servers in 101 countries, allowing users to surf the Internet and use any online solution without having to reveal their IP address. This is very useful to those who want to bypass Internet censorship.
Connecting to a VPN is fairly simple. In Windows, press the Windows key, type VPN, and click the Set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection option. (If you use Windows 8, you’ll have to click the Settings category after searching.) Use the wizard to enter the address and login credentials of the VPN service you want to use. You can then connect to and disconnect from VPNs using the network icon in the system tray – the same one where you manage the Wi-Fi networks you’re connected to.
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.
TunnelBear is designed for a very specific group of people: people who want a VPN service but don’t want to mess around with configuration or become IT experts to make their connections more secure. And it caters brilliantly for that market, with a very straightforward interface and jargon-free writing. In truth, all of the VPN services these days do this but TunnelBear tries very hard to stand out. It’s not for power users - there isn’t much you can change - but with up to five simultaneous connections, servers across 20 countries and decent performance on US and Canadian websites. Longer connections can be slower, though: it’s when the relatively small number of server locations makes itself obvious. There’s a free version that limits you to 500MB of monthly traffic, and if you pay annually the price of the full version drops from $9.99 to $4.99 per month.
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 will prevent most kinds of DNS attacks that would redirect you to a phishing page, but a regular old page made to look like a legit one in order to trick you into entering your data can still work. Some VPNs, and most browsers, are pretty good about blocking phishing pages, but this attack still claims too many victims to be ignored. Use common sense and be sure to verify that websites are what they say they are by looking carefully at the URL and always visiting HTTPS sites.
To be fair, not all pay VPN services are legitimate, either. It's important to be careful who you choose. Over on ZDNet's sister site, CNET, I've put together an always up-to-date directory of quality VPN providers. To be fair, some are better than others (and that's reflected in their ratings). But all are legitimate companies that provide quality service.
In general, the answer is yes, it is perfectly legal (and normal!) to use VPNs, even if you are in places like China where VPNs are restricted. VPNs are used every day by businesses and individuals throughout the world for basic privacy and security purposes. Businesses rely on VPN technology and encryption for security reasons and it would not make sense for this to ever become illegal.
The practical uses for a VPN service are plentiful. Want to access a website that your ISP has blocked? A VPN puts that website just one click away. Want to access the US version of Netflix from the UK? Just set your VPN to a US location and you're there. Want to access porn without your ISP or your business knowing about it? Want to download torrents without being blocked by your ISP? It's easy.
When it comes to servers, more is always better. More servers mean that you're less likely to be shunted into a VPN server that is already filled to the brim with other users. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard currently lead the pack with well over 3,000 servers each—NordVPN is at the forefront with 5,130 servers. But the competition is beginning to heat up. Last year, only a handful of companies offered more than 500 servers, now it's becoming unusual to find a company offering fewer than 1,000 servers.
TorGuard was consistently one of the fastest services we tested. When we averaged three tests performed at different times of the week with Internet Health Test, TorGuard was the fastest service when connecting in the UK and Asia, the second fastest in the US, and the third fastest in Central Europe. OVPN was the next most consistent, but that company’s small network doesn’t have any servers in Asia, and it ranked fifth in the UK. Our top pick, IVPN, was the third most consistently fast after TorGuard and OVPN. However, we tested with each app’s default settings—since we expect most people won’t change them—and TorGuard’s default 128-bit encryption gives it an advantage in speed tests over VPNs that default to 256-bit encryption, as most services do. Still, we think 128-bit encryption is fine for most people who prioritize speed, and TorGuard’s consistency makes it a good value as our budget pick.
We asked TorGuard detailed questions about the company’s internal policies and standards, just as we did with five other top-performing services. TorGuard CEO Benjamin Van Pelt answered all our questions, as he has done for other outlets multiple times since the company launched in 2012. Though TorGuard’s answers weren’t as in-depth as some other companies’ responses, Van Pelt is a public figure who has been willing to talk about TorGuard’s operations at length. In 2013, ArsTechnica got a close look at TorGuard’s engineering and network management skills as the company rebuffed repeated attacks on its servers. Even though the company’s marketing is wrought with overreaching claims about being “anonymous”—an inaccurate boast that makes some experts cringe—the technical and operational standards of the company are focused on protecting customer privacy. In one interview with Freedom Hacker, Van Pelt notes that if there were problems on a server, such as someone using it for spamming, the company couldn’t restrict a single user. “Rules would be implemented in that specific server which would limit actions for everyone connected, not just one user. Since we have an obligation to provide fast, abuse free services, our team handles abuse reports per server – not per single user.”
VPN services are entirely legal and legitimate in most countries. It's completely legal to mask your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic. There is nothing about using a VPN that's illegal and VPN services themselves do not and cannot do anything illegal. The only thing that's illegal is if you were to break the law while using a VPN - for instance if you were to infringe on someone's copyright. But that's the action of infringement that's illegal, not the use of the VPN.
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.
Finding the best free VPN is an exercise in balancing those restrictions. TunnelBear, for example, lets you use any server on its network but limits you to 500MB-1GB per month. Avira Phantom VPN lets you use as many devices as you like and any server you like, but also restricts you to 500MB per month. AnchorFree Hotspot Shield also places no limits on the number of devices, but restricts you to 500MB per day and only US-based servers. Kaspersky Secure Connection also doesn't limit your devices but doesn't let you choose a VPN server—the app does it automatically.
Since we first recommended IVPN in the spring of 2018, the company has added automatic server selection to its desktop applications, bringing it in line with other top-performing VPN apps. Alternatively, when you click on the location at the bottom of the app, you’ll see a list of all of the global IVPN server locations, color coded by speed. At the top of the list is an option to connect to the fastest one, and once selected, the app remembers your preference through future disconnects and reboots. You can also use IVPN’s multihop servers to route your traffic through two VPN servers—a feature unique to IVPN among the services we tested—though we don’t think this step is necessary for most people, given the slower speeds you’ll likely experience.
Individuals that access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from using a VPN. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Therefore, both private and business users can benefit from using a VPN. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn't know which web pages you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone that wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.