One of the most popular VPN software out in the market today, NordVPN has over 550 servers in 49 different countries. These servers aid users in different needs, which include encryption of both incoming and outgoing data, sending all traffic through a Tor network to safeguard user anonymity and protection against DoS attacks, which are usually done by malignant hackers.
In our review of IPVanish, I gave a four-star rating for its strong encryption, excellent performance, and a large set of servers. While it is based in the U.S., the company promises to keep no logs other than payment information, which you can also avoid by paying with Bitcoin. IPVanish has more than 40,000 unique IP addresses on more than 1,000 servers spread out over more than 60 countries, meaning you get some serious diversity. There's no limit to how many times you can switch servers, allowing you to move around until you find the absolute best. Toss in a kill switch, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, and manual port selection, and this becomes a very attractive option. Yearly plans start at about $6 per month, while monthly plans start at about $10.
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.
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.
For features, they offer multi-hop VPN cascades, advanced firewall configuration options (DNS and IP leak protection), port forwarding, NeuroRouting, Socks5 and Squid proxies, obfuscation features to defeat VPN blocking (Stealth VPN), and a customizable TrackStop feature to block tracking, malware, and advertising. Perfect Privacy is one of the few VPNs offering full IPv6 support (you get both an IPv4 and IPv6 address).
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.
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.
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.)
Betternet is a straightforward app that connects to a VPN with a single click allowing for access when needed. No registration is required and unlike some other free VPN services there are no data caps. All of this is provided by occasional ads and a promoted premium version which are manageable and discreet. The traditional problem with free VPN access has been slow connection speed and while this is still apparent it is not too much of an issue.
Don't mistake the cartoony layout of the TunnelBear VPN Android app — it's a simple-to-use app that offers serious VPN protection. You can create an account for free, which gives you 500MB of secure data a month but we'd recommend checking out a paid subscription that lets you connect up to five different devices at a time to servers in 20 different countries.
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.