Whereas most providers say they log nothing, that’s not always the case. Some record very little data like the day you subscribed, the amount of data you’ve consumed, and delete those logs when you end the session. Other providers log your IP address, the servers you used, and store those logs. If they’re based in the US, UK or any other country with data retention laws, they can be compelled to hand over that data to law enforcement.
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.
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.
Server switching is a feature -- offered by most VPN service providers -- that allows you to change what region or country you're going to connect to. Most providers allow you to switch as often as you'd like (although you usually have to disconnect, then change your configuration, and reconnect). This may be useful if you're trying to hide your location, or if you're running into some communications glitches on the server you're currently using.
IPVanish operates hundreds of servers in 60 countries, including 12 in APAC. It owns all of its own physical servers resulting in some of the fastest download speeds available from any VPN. Those speeds cannot be put toward streaming Netflix, however, as IPVanish is currently not able to unblock Netflix. It’s a good option for P2P filesharers. Torrenting traffic is allowed on all servers. The company is based in the US but has a strict no logs policy.
We tested NordVPN and found that it works well with Netflix and other streaming services that block most other VPNs. It is compatible with all devices, does not retain logs, and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee (it's real, we checked). With a price so low, it's no wonder NordVPN is the most popular VPN out there, used by technology experts all around the world.
In conjunction with information security experts at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), we reached out to our finalists with questions about their internal security practices. We asked how they handled internal security access, how they communicated securely with customers, in what ways they collected reports on security bugs, and of course whether their statements on logging policies matched their marketing and privacy policies. We also considered which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership, and which ones openly supported projects and organizations that promoted Internet security and privacy. (For a full breakdown of trust and VPNs, check out the section above.)
Like most well-known VPN companies, IVPN supports a variety of privacy groups and causes. Pestell told us he worked with the Center for Democracy & Technology to improve trust in VPNs with a handful of transparency initiatives before they were announced. Neena Kapur of The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter) information security team noted that IVPN’s leadership transparency and its relationship with CDT were significant pluses that contributed to its trustworthiness. Pestell was also the only representative we spoke with to offer to arrange for one of our experts to audit the company’s server and no-logging policies.1 We cover trust issues with VPNs at length elsewhere in this guide, but we believe that IVPN takes an active role in protecting its customers’ privacy and is not a dude wearing a dolphin onesie.
A powerful VPN service, Hotspot Shield is ideal for those who enjoy using public Wi-Fi. It is basically a free VPN that comes in the form of an application or as a browser extension. Security is assured as the service uses OpenVPN , which makes use of the same encryption as HTTPS does. This feature is particularly effective in protecting credit card information during online purchases.
IVPN goes further than the other leading candidates we considered by being transparent about who runs the service and is responsible for your privacy. The company lists its core team on its website, and its small team has an online presence on a variety of platforms. In contrast, only one employee at ExpressVPN has a public face: VP of marketing Harold Li gave us detailed answers to questions about policies and internal security, but couldn’t tell us much about who else worked there. (We discuss ExpressVPN in more detail in the Competition section—that company was almost our top pick but for this issue.)
Almost all VPN services now offer a dedicated macOS client. These are sometimes not quite as fully featured as their Windows siblings, but are often all but identical. In general, what makes a great VPN for your Macbook or Mac Mini is exactly the same as what makes a good VPN for any other system. Please check out our Best VPNs for Mac for our top macOS recommendations.
To verify that each service effectively hid our true IP address, we looked at a geolocation tool, DNS leaks, and IPv6 leaks. When connected to each service’s UK servers, we noted whether we could watch videos on BBC iPlayer, and using US servers we noted whether we could stream Netflix. We also visited the sites of Target, Yelp, Cloudflare, and Akamai to check whether our VPN IP addresses prevented us from accessing common sites that sometimes blacklist suspicious IP addresses.
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.