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.
L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with Internet Protocol Security): L2TP is not secure itself, so it's generally paired with the IPsec secure-networking standard. The combination of the two was once thought to be very secure when properly implemented, but some VPN services suggest that you use OpenVPN instead. L2TP/IPsec has native support in Windows, OS X/macOS, Android, Chrome OS and iOS. Most VPN services support it.
Google is full of articles claiming that a VPN will prevent ISPs from gathering metadata, but unfortunately that is not true. A VPN hides the contents of your internet traffic and your location from the outside world, but you still have to rely on your ISP’s network to get there. Strictly speaking a VPN cannot prevent an ISP from logging your location, device details, and traffic volume.
VPN.ac is a security-focused provider that is based in Romania. It was created by a team of network security professionals with an emphasis on security, strong encryption, and high-quality applications. Their network is composed entirely of dedicated, bare-metal servers that offer great performance, as seen in the latest speed tests for the VPN.ac review.
I have been using PIA for two years now. Actually, I was really skeptic when I first went to the website. It had a stock photo of a family, shady "we are the best" text all around. But hey, I subscribed to give it a try. And it worked wonderful. PIA has been an incredibly solid, fast and reliable VPN provider for me through 2 years. Never had an issue with them whatsoever.
A good VPN will have plenty of servers spread out over a large number of locations and countries, and you generally want a service that's based not in your own country or in a country that's good friends with the one you live in. Support for OpenVPN, the current standard for VPN protocols, is preferred, and you want to be able to connect multiple devices simultaneously.
Mullvad is not that easy to use, with a bare-bones desktop interface and, unlike every other VPN service we've reviewed, no mobile client apps. (You do get instructions on how to manually set up OpenVPN apps.) This service's network speeds were far from great in our tests, and it's fairly expensive, with no discount for paying yearly instead of monthly.
However, if you’re using a top-tier VPN service, the difference in speed usually isn’t noticeable, and can sometimes speed up your connection. You can still watch streaming videos and download large files without interruption. Our VPN servers are among the fastest in the industry and we work hard to keep it that way. Download Hotspot Shield VPN and get privacy protection without sacrificing speed.
Though Proxy.sh meets many of our basic requirements, in our tests the company’s Safejumper application had constant errors when trying to connect. Given that we were looking for a simple, reliable VPN, this was a dealbreaker. We also found a story from 2013 with bizarre statements from the company about monitoring traffic on a specific server due to concerns about unlawful behavior of a user on the network. Though the transparency is impressive, the decision to actively monitor traffic is disconcerting. In a response given to TorrentFreak at the time, the company stated, “The situation also shows that the only solution we have to help law enforcement agencies find problematic use across our network, is to clearly install a logging capacity on it. As a result, we are able to either comply or shut down the servers we have in a particular location (it happened to us in Czech Republic few months ago).”
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.
Yet Mullvad is worth a look because it's extremely private. It asks nothing about you when you sign up. Instead, it assigns you a random number that will be your combined username and password. You don't have to provide an email address, and you can pay by mailing cash to the company's headquarters in Sweden. (Mullvad also takes credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin and wire transfers, and offers 30-day money-back guarantees for those.) Unexpectedly, it was pretty versatile at streaming Netflix from overseas — it didn't always get through, but in no country we tried was it always blocked.
When we test VPNs, we use the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.) This test provides metrics for latency, download speeds, and upload speeds. Any one of these can be an important measurement depending on your needs, but we tend to view the download speed as the most important. After all, we live in an age of digital consumption.
Likewise, if you're connecting via a nation's local carrier, that carrier may be intercepting your traffic, particularly if you're a non-native of that nation. In that situation, if you must connect back to applications and services at home, using a VPN is quite literally the least you can do. Also, keep in mind that if you use your phone's hotspot to connect your computer to the internet, you'll want to use a VPN on your computer as well.
Setting up ExpressVPN and connecting to a VPN server was easy enough. Performance, when connected to the VPN server, was average at 49 Mb/s down and 16 Mb/s up, compared to our usual speeds of 125 Mb/s down and 20 Mb/s up. Netflix complained about a proxy being in use when we used the automatic configuration option, but it worked fine when we manually selected a local U.S. server. Amazon Prime Video played just fine, and our other internet tests completed without issue.
Buffered VPN doesn't disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take their service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company lost a few points from us because they do keep some connection information. They gained points for their client support, unlimited bandwidth, and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.