There are several different VPN protocols, not all of which are used by all of the VPN services we reviewed. Most operating systems have built-in support for at least one of these protocols, which means you can use that protocol — and a willing VPN service — without client software. The full-fledged VPN services have online instructions for how to do this, as well as how to set up routers to connect directly to the services.
If HTTP browsing is a postcard that anyone can read as it travels along, HTTPS (HTTP Secure) is a sealed letter that gives up only where it’s going. For example, before Wirecutter implemented HTTPS, your traffic could reveal the exact page you visited (such as https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-portable-vaporizer/) and its content to the owner of the Wi-Fi network, your network administrator, or your ISP. But if you visit that same page today—our website now uses HTTPS—those parties would see only the domain (https://thewirecutter.com). The downside is that HTTPS has to be implemented by the website operator. Sites that deal with banking or shopping have been using these types of secure connections for a long time to protect financial data, and in the past few years, many major news and information sites, including Wirecutter and the site of our parent company, The New York Times, have implemented it as well.
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.
Another reason you might choose to use a VPN is if you have something to hide. This isn't just about folks doing things they shouldn't do. Sometimes people really need to hide information. Take, for example, the person who is worried he or she might be discriminated against by an employer because of a sexual preference or medical condition. Another example is a person who needs to go online but is concerned about revealing location information to a person in their life who might be a threat.
Finally, you may want a VPN to spoof your location to download content you shouldn’t have access to, but this too has limits. A VPN used to be the go-to solution to watch U.S. Netflix overseas. That changed in 2016 when Netflix opened up to almost every country on Earth. Since then, the company has invested a lot in detecting and blocking VPN users. Even people using a VPN inside their own country will be blocked by Netflix if detected.
Known for its speed, ease of use and native clients, HideIPVPN supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android platforms. Its Smart DNS service is known to be able to unblock some sites. The service supports a variety of protocols, which include SSTP, OpenVPN, SoftEther, PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. With the service, torrenting is allowed although only on German and Dutch servers, this is due to the fact that it only has seven server locations in North America and Europe.
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.
We're not cryptography experts, so we can't verify all of the encryption claims providers make. Instead, we focus on the features provided. Bonus features like ad blocking, firewalls, and kill switches that disconnect you from the web if your VPN connection drops, go a long way toward keeping you safe. We also prefer providers that support OpenVPN, since it's a standard that's known for its speed and reliability. It's also, as the name implies, open source, meaning it benefits from many developers' eyes looking for potential problems.
Hotspot Shield depends on a custom VPN protocol that's not been publicly analyzed by independent experts. We don't know how private or secure it really is. The company has been accused of spying on users (it denies the allegations), and complaints abound online about Hotspot Shield software installing on PCs without users' permission. All this, and the company's U.S. location, may scare away customers who want to protect their privacy.
The theme running throughout this service is personal security. From protected DNS queries to automatic kill switches, NordVPN wants you to know that your information won’t fall into the wrong hands. It makes sense, then, that the company also accepts Bitcoin for payments. The company has recently improved its platform support, adding in iOS and Android and thus overcoming its one weakness.
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ProtonVPN has the unique distinction of placing no data restrictions on free users. You can browse as much as you want, as long as you want. You will be limited to just one device on the service at a time and can only choose between three server locations, but the unlimited data makes up for all that. It doesn't hurt that ProtonVPN, from the same people that brought you super-secure ProtonMail email, is very concerned about security and customer privacy. For all that, ProtonVPN is our Editors' Choice for free VPN.
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.
If you’re on a heavily managed Internet connection, be it government censored or just college Wi-Fi, standard VPN connections may be blocked or throttled due to deep packet inspection, a way for providers to analyze what type of traffic is passing over a network even when they can’t see the actual contents. IVPN’s desktop apps include a checkbox for Obfsproxy, which disguises your traffic as more ho-hum data to get it past those types of blocks—like kids stacked in a trenchcoat to pass as an adult, but more convincing. Our budget pick, TorGuard, and competitor ExpressVPN use different methods to disguise traffic, but we couldn’t find documentation on equivalent features from our other top performers.
VPNs can make your browsing private, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re anonymous. VPN services can and do log traffic (even the ones that say they don’t log do need to log some information, or they wouldn’t be able to function properly), and those logs can be requested by the authorities. Think of a VPN as being like curtains: people can’t peek through your curtains if you’ve got them closed, but curtains won’t hide your house.
Cost: To pay for NordVPN on a monthly basis will cost you $11.95/month. However, you can get it cheaper at $6.99/month if you buy 12 months at once for $83.88 or for $3.99/month when you purchase a 2 year plan for $95.75. Nord is also running a special that allows you to purchase 3 years of service for $2.99/month when you pay the full $107.55 upfront every three years. There's a 30-day money back guarantee and a free 7-day trial option.
In terms of general performance, Hide My Ass! around the average mark with a quick and stable 6.4MB/s (51.2Mbit/s) for FTP to 6.9MB/s (55.2Mbit/s) HTTP via UK endpoints, and 8.8MB/s (70.4Mbit/s) for FTP and 7.2MB/s (57.6Mbit/s) HTTP in the Netherlands. In other words, pretty good going. VPN connections to the U.S. are almost invariably slower than those to closer geographic endpoints, as you’d expect, the 2.12MB/s (16.96Mbit/d) we got with Hide My Ass this time around was definitely below average.
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.
Instead of logically tying the endpoint of the network tunnel to the physical IP address, each tunnel is bound to a permanently associated IP address at the device. The mobile VPN software handles the necessary network-authentication and maintains the network sessions in a manner transparent to the application and to the user. The Host Identity Protocol (HIP), under study by the Internet Engineering Task Force, is designed to support mobility of hosts by separating the role of IP addresses for host identification from their locator functionality in an IP network. With HIP a mobile host maintains its logical connections established via the host identity identifier while associating with different IP addresses when roaming between access networks.
Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware Features: Using a VPN doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable. You should still make sure you’re using HTTPS whenever possible, and you should still be careful about what you download. Some VPN service providers—especially mobile ones—bundle their clients with anti-malware scanners to make sure you’re not downloading viruses or trojans. When you’re shopping, see if the providers you’re interested in offer anti-malware protection while you’re connected. For example, previously mentioned Hotspot Shield offers malware protection to its premium users. It may not be a dealbreaker for you, but it’s always good to have someone watching your back.
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.
“Hide.me is a well-known name in the VPN industry, known for speed, security, and transparency. They do not keep logs, which makes their VPN very reliable. Also, with apps for almost all major platforms, they are a favorite among millions of users. Hide.me uses a wide range of protocols: IKEv2, PPTP, L2TP, IPsec, OpenVPN, Softether, SOCKS, and SSTP.” Mar 20, 2017 vpnMentor.com
In an overcrowded VPN market, ExpressVPN continues to stand out from the rest and remains the top recommendation at Restore Privacy. It is based in the British Virgin Islands and offers secure, user-friendly apps for all devices. Extensive testing for the ExpressVPN review found it to be very secure, with exceptional speeds and reliability throughout the server network.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address", "dedicated IP", or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.