A VPN encrypts all of the Internet traffic between your computer and the VPN server, preventing anyone on your local network, or connection points along the way, from monitoring or modifying your traffic. Beyond the VPN server (in other words, on the rest of the way to whatever Internet server you’re connecting to), your traffic mixes with traffic from other people on the VPN and the rest of the Internet. Ideally, that makes your traffic traceable only to the VPN server, not to your home, office, or computer. You can read a more detailed explanation in our post about what a VPN is and when using one makes sense.
A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user's initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
Before anything else, understand that if you want to use a VPN you should be paying for it. Free VPNs are either selling your browsing data in aggregated form to researchers and marketers, or giving you a paltry amount of data transfer every month. Either way, a basic rule of thumb is that a free VPN will not protect your privacy in any meaningful way.
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.
Even though Tor is free, we don’t think it’s the best option for most people. If you aren’t familiar with Tor, this handy interactive graphic shows how it protects an Internet connection, and this series goes into more detail about how Tor works. Runa Sandvik, a former researcher with The Tor Project who is now part of the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), described it as “a tool that allows users to remain anonymous and uncensored.” When we asked expert Alec Muffett about whether he personally used a VPN, he told us he actually spent most of his work time using Tor. But Tor has a reputation for slow connections, can be blocked by some websites, and isn’t suitable for some peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent.
Given the aggressive pricing and marketing of other services that don’t measure up to our picks, IVPN’s most obvious downside may look like its price: At the time of this writing, the regular price for an annual IVPN subscription is $100 (about $8 per month). Promotions regularly bringing that down to $70 to $80 per year, but some services have regular pricing of half that. But you shouldn’t pay for a VPN you can’t trust, or one so slow or confusing that you avoid using it at all. We think IVPN’s combination of trust, security, and performance is worth the price. But if it’s too expensive for your needs, consider our budget pick instead.

Tip for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera users: A feature called WebRTC can, in some Web browsers, inadvertently cause your true IP address to leak out even when you’re connected via a great VPN. WebRTC assists with peer-to-peer connections, such as for video chatting, but could be exploited in some cases. You can manually disable this function in Firefox, or use an extension to block most instances of it in Chrome or Opera. For more details and instructions, check out Restore Privacy.
Another VPN with a money-back guarantee is CyberGhost. The theme we were seeing here was that when servers are good, they're really good, but when they're bad, they're really bad. However, after looking through Reddit threads, we're not really sure how this ranked in the top three. The biggest thing: This is not the VPN to get if you're looking to torrent or stream, as it's known to be pretty slow. Reddit user NewWorld98 writes: 
In many cases, each of these offices also have LANs. But how do the LANs connect? For some very specialized solutions, companies lease private lines to connect the offices. That can be very expensive. Instead, most companies opt to geographically connect separated private LANs over the public internet. To protect their data, they set up VPNs between offices, encrypting the data as it traverses the public internet.
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We tested Private Internet Services using its Windows installer, which configures the VPN protocols and provides a simple utility in the task bar to turn the VPN connection on and off. While the interface was spartan, performance was excellent. Our test system consistently maintained over 110 Mb/s download and 19 Mb/s upload speeds with the VPN connection turned on, very close to our usual 125 Mb/s download and 20 Mb/s upload speeds.
VyprVPN is a powerful contender if you’re after performance and security. It boasts great speeds due to a staggering network of 700+ serves and more than 200K IP addresses. They own and manage their servers, which translates into reliable uptime, lag-free performance, top-notch support and great speeds. Add in unlimited bandwidth and P2P support, successful handling of Netflix and Steam geo blocks, and you can check all your VPN must-have features right off the bat.
Hi Douglas, I don't want you to publish my previous comment particularly, I'm not trying to attack their company, the comment was mainly for your information - given your comment about ease of use. I finally got it connecting after reinstalling both NordVPN and Avast, then adding exceptions, with all the previously mentioned config mods having been made. I installed the software on a Windows 10 machine, and it still required some mods, but was easier than Windows 7. cheers Nathan

We've knocked CyberGhost down a peg from last year's standings because the service's network performance wasn't as great this time around in our tests. Yet it has a feature-loaded, user-friendly interface, with convenient buttons in the Windows client software for streaming media, torrenting files, protecting your Wi-Fi transmissions and evading censorship. (The Mac desktop software has fewer features.)

In addition to blocking malicious sites and ads, some VPNs also claim to block malware. We don't test the efficacy of these network-based protections, but most appear to be blacklists of sites known to host malicious software. That's great, but don't assume it's anywhere near as good as standalone antivirus. Use this feature to complement, not replace, your antivirus.
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands which, although a British Overseas Territory, isn’t beholden to the strict data retention laws of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act. If you’re after anonymous payment options, you can buy your subscription with bitcoin if you wish – and if you don’t want to, then ExpressVPN has a clearly stated no-logging policy. This has been put to the test by the Turkish authorities, who seized endpoint servers last December, and found no logs.
Ideally, every VPN service provider would subject itself to independent audits to verify that it logs and operates as it claims. Right now, audits aren’t common practice in the VPN industry, though there’s a push to change that. Joseph Jerome, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told us about that group’s efforts to bring transparency to the VPN industry: “We would like to see security audits released publicly so security researchers can review them and attest to their veracity, as well as learn from the issues being identified.” The few companies we found that currently performed these types of audits had other dismissal-worthy failings, despite their valiant efforts toward transparency. And while such reports may increase your confidence when you’re shopping, there’s no guarantee that an audit makes a VPN service trustworthy: In other industries, conflicts of interest have led auditors and rating agencies (PDF) to miss or ignore major problems.
For building applications for mobile macOS and Windows platforms, the OEM VPN Unlimited SDK allows users to build feature-packed custom apps or beef up their existing applications with new functionalities. Meanwhile, VPN Unlimited White Label allows for an easy VPN market entry, as KeepSolid will cover the infrastructure, development, and maintenance while supercharging your network security. Lastly, OEM VPN Unlimited Router API enhances network security by shielding your wireless network on an impregnable router, allowing you to save from purchasing multiple VPN subscriptions and giving your customers peace of mind when engaging with your business.

IVPN exceeded our requirements for being trustworthy and transparent. It also offers good performance without sacrificing security, and it’s easy to set up and use on nearly any device running Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. Other VPNs we tested had faster connections at particular server locations or lower prices, but they came up short on essential factors such as transparency about who exactly runs them. If you’re ready for a VPN, we think IVPN is worth the price, even considering competitors with cheaper options. If you’re not ready to commit, you can try it out with a seven-day money-back guarantee. It’s easy and obvious to turn off automatic billing, too.
Something pretty great about Speedify is that you can use it for free without even making an account. The moment you install and open the software, you're immediately being protected behind a VPN and can do anything a user can, like change the server, toggle encryption on and off, set monthly or daily limits, and easily connect to the fastest server.
Speed-wise, when connected to VPNHub’s UK and Netherlands endpoints, our FTP and HTTP downloads came in at around 10MB/s (80Mbit/s). Connecting to U.S. endpoints gave us 4.8MB/s (38.4Mbit/s) via FTP and 4.2MB/s (33.6Mbit/s) via HTTP. While that’s good enough for everyday browsing and streaming, your results may vary – we connected to U.S Netflix no problem, but, as with many VPNs on this list, BBC iPlayer promptly showed us the door.
Beyond the CNET directory, it's always good practice to search "the Google" for a company or product name and read the user reviews. If you see a huge number of old complaints or new complaints suddenly start showing up, it might be that there's been a change of management or policies. When I'm looking for a service, I always base my decision partially on professional reviews and partially based on the tone of user reviews.
Hi Nathan, We do not censor feedback, and if that is your experience then it is your experience. I'm sorry that you seem to have had so many problems. All I can say is that for me it was just a matter of installing the software, entering my account details, choosing a server location, and hitting start. I have experienced the odd hiccup in the past, but as far as could I see all issues have now been resolved. I tested using Windows 10 (plus Android and both Mac clients). If you are finding everything too hard, then why not just take advantage of the 30-day money back guarantee and try something else?
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.
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