Tunnel endpoints must be authenticated before secure VPN tunnels can be established. User-created remote-access VPNs may use passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods. Network-to-network tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates. They permanently store the key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically, without intervention from the administrator.
The TorGuard Windows client was easy to install and made quick work of connecting to a VPN server, including the ability to choose a server location prior to connecting. The internet speed on our test system dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s download to 53 Mb/s, and our upload ran at 17 Mb/s compared to our usual 20 Mb/s. That’s not the best performance in our testing, but all internet services that we tested worked without a hitch, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
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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.
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.
The service supports torrenting through its zero logs policy. It supports PPTP, Open VPN and L2TP connections, with each going up to 256 bits except for PPTP. To further increase security, IPVanish uses shared IPs, making it even more difficult to identify users. This also ensures that even the vendor could not furnish agencies with your information even if it wanted to.
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.
Even if a company is at fault for deceptive marketing practices, it still has to comply with legal requests for whatever information it does have. Jerome told us, “In the U.S., however, there is a big difference between a request for data regularly stored for business purposes and a demand that a company retain information. VPN providers are not required to keep records just in case law enforcement might need them some day.” That means many companies could provide a list of their customers, but if they practice what they preach when it comes to no-logging policies, innocent customers looking for privacy shouldn’t get swept up in these requests.
We summarize the protocols above, and look at them in detail in VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide. Although L2TP/IPsec is fine for most purposes, we only really recommend OpenVPN and IKEv2. OpenVPN is very secure if properly configured. Indeed, Edward Snowden’s documents showed that even the NSA can’t crack well-implemented OpenVPN. It is also supported by almost every provider. But it is relatively slow. The newer IKEv2 is much faster and is considered secure, but has not been battle-tested in the way that OpenVPN has. It is not as well supported at present, although it is increasingly popular with providers thanks to its speed advantages over OpenVPN.
Businesses big and small also benefit from setting up VPN connections. VPN allows employees who are working from home to connect to a private network over the internet while still protecting their IP addresses. A VPN service gives protection to the business and the employee. The software is typically installed on the employee’s computer, and the employee uses the service to perform daily tasks as if the employee is logged in locally.
The solution is also able to bypass firewalls through stealth connections. Additional security is provided through an ad and malware blocker, which can be switched on and off. For those who enjoy torrenting, the software supports such process, with certain servers optimized for P2P networks. This is designed to keep high-speed browsing on other connections. However, the service warns users to keep torrenting activities confined to specific cities around the world.
Usually, the choice between getting a free product or buying one is obvious. Why pay for something you can get for free? It’s not so clear-cut when it comes to VPNs, though. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: you always end up paying somehow. With free VPNs, you could pay with crawling speeds, annoying ads, dangerous malware, or even having your data stolen.
In 2011, a LulzSec hacker was arrested for his involvement with an attack on the Sony Pictures website. Cody Kretsinger used HideMyAss VPN to conceal his identity, but the company complied with a court order to hand over evidence that led to his arrest. This occurred in spite of the company’s pledge not to keep any logs of user activity. HMA says it does not log the contents of its users’ internet traffic, but it does keep detailed metadata logs that include users’ real IP addresses, which was enough to charge Kretsinger with a crime.
Using a VPN can also let you appear to be anywhere in the world that has a VPN server to connect with, allowing the streaming of content in unapproved places. While traveling in China, Azerbaijan and other places, I’ve logged onto a US-based VPN server to watch Hulu and Netflix programs rather than the hotel’s lame pay-per-view movies. To the servers, I appeared to be in the U.S. and able to stream content.
Since we last tested VPNs, we've given special attention to the privacy practices of VPN companies and not just the technology they provide. In our testing, we read through the privacy policies and discuss company practices with VPN service representatives. What we look for is a commitment to protect user information, and to take a hands-off approach to gathering user data.
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.)
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.
The TopVPNchoice portal was created in order for users, both potential and current, to choose the most optimal VPN services. All evaluations do not depend on VPN companies and are collected by a team of professional appraisers, to which everyone can join. All services are evaluated regularly and fairly so that users receive only updated information. TopVPNchoice constantly expands the catalog of evaluated VPN-companies, therefore you can always choose the most suitable service
When purchasing VPN service from a provider, consider the kind of security you want. If you want to use a VPN in order to send documents, emails, or browse the web more securely, then you’ll want to sign up with a host that offers an encryption method such as SSL (also called TLS) or IPsec. SSL is the most widely used form of security encryption. Encryption is a method of obscuring data from those who should not see it. Also, try to pick a host which uses OpenVPN rather than “point-to-point tunneling protocol” (PPTP) for encryption. PPTP has had several security vulnerabilities in recent years; whereas OpenVPN is commonly considered the more secure method of encryption.
The free version won’t give you much mileage for streaming mind, which is perhaps just as well. Frustratingly, both BBC iPlayer and U.S. Netflix clocked that we were using a VPN, and stopped us from getting the goods. But if streaming isn’t why you’re seeking out a VPN, and you mainly need one for anonymised web browsing and downloads, then Kaspersky Secure Connection is ideal.
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.
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.
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
IVPN also performed well in our speed tests. Though it wasn’t always the fastest in the 54 measurements we took on each service, it ranked near the top on many servers at different times of the week—especially compared with the most trustworthy services. Private Internet Access, one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs, had slower speeds when connecting to most servers and less reliable connections than IVPN. For US servers (which we expected to be the fastest locations since we tested from California), IVPN ranked behind only OVPN and TorGuard. We liked OVPN—especially its speed results—but we thought that company’s small team and small selection of servers and locations were too limiting for some people. (Read more in the Competition section.) Though TorGuard edged out IVPN in this test, the difference wasn’t big enough to affect our everyday browsing. And because we tested each application at its default settings, TorGuard’s faster speeds were partially thanks to its default 128-bit encryption; IVPN offers only more secure, but often slower, 256-bit encryption.
VPNs can be either remote-access (connecting a computer to a network) or site-to-site (connecting two networks). In a corporate setting, remote-access VPNs allow employees to access their company's intranet from home or while traveling outside the office, and site-to-site VPNs allow employees in geographically disparate offices to share one cohesive virtual network. A VPN can also be used to interconnect two similar networks over a dissimilar middle network; for example, two IPv6 networks over an IPv4 network.