Over the course of four months, we scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, and forums to compile the pros and cons of VPN services and different VPN protocols and encryption technologies. That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io stood out as two of the most thorough and unbiased sources of information. We interviewed Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Amul Kalia about government surveillance and VPN efficacy. We also got answers from Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPN providers are for their policies and terms of service, and how that relates to trustworthiness. Alec Muffett, a security expert and software engineer, also shared his views on the usefulness of VPNs to protect against various threats.
In short, it's time to start thinking about protecting your personal information. That's where virtual private networks, or VPNs, come in. These services use simple software to protect your internet connection, and they give you greater control over how you appear online, too. While you might never have heard of VPN services, they are valuable tools that you should understand and use. So who needs a VPN? The short answer is that everyone does. Even Mac users can benefit from a VPN.
We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about its service and troubleshooting. Most VPN companies provide technical support through online ticketing systems, meaning you’ll need to wait for a response. This means that self-help support sites are even more important, since waiting for a reply while your connection is down can be frustrating. Response times to our support inquiries ranged from 20 minutes to a day.
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.
When it comes to servers, more is always better. More servers mean that you're less likely to be shunted into a VPN server that is already filled to the brim with other users. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard currently lead the pack with well over 3,000 servers each—NordVPN is at the forefront with 5,130 servers. But the competition is beginning to heat up. Last year, only a handful of companies offered more than 500 servers, now it's becoming unusual to find a company offering fewer than 1,000 servers.
When we say that in theory VPNs can’t be intercepted, that’s because VPNs are like any other form of security: if you use them on a device that’s already been compromised by malware such as keyloggers or other security threats then they can’t do their job properly. If you’re on Windows, then good quality, up to date anti-virus software isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential.
A VPN allows a user to securely access private networks with complete peace of mind. Whether you want a VPN in a country like South Africa for example, or in any other country, in the modern age, everything is possible. It has similarities to a firewall, except that a VPN disguises your IP address, so you are untraceable. By changing your IP address a top VPN like IPVanish ensures that if anyone is spying on you, they will not see your correct geographic location. VPNs use a combination of encryption protocols and dedicated connections; therefore, even if a hacker tries to access some of your data, they would be unable to read due to it being encrypted. With this level of encryption and security, you can always be sure that you are browsing anonymously with your VPN.
That said, many VPN providers are based outside the US, which complicates enforcement. Jerome continued: “Users can file complaints in a local jurisdiction, and local data protection laws may have more effective enforcement mechanisms. For example, privacy and confidentiality of communications are fundamental rights in the European Union. Data protection authorities in EU-member states are empowered to handle complaints brought by individuals and then provide users with information about the outcome of any investigation. But it is unclear how effective any of these remedies will be.”
IPVanish’s endpoints in the Netherlands fared well, too, with us consistently getting speeds of between 8.5MB/s (68Mbit/s) and 9.5MB/s (76Mbit/s). UK speeds however fell way short of expectations – we recorded a relatively feeble 3.2MB/s (25.6Mbit/s) via FTP and 3MB/s (24Mbit/s) via HTTP. We were also unable to connect to BBC iPlayer this time around as well.
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.
ExpressVPN is also one of the best VPNs for streaming. Whether you are using a VPN with Kodi or streaming Netflix with a VPN, ExpressVPN offers great apps for streaming devices and high-capacity bandwidth for HD videos and downloads. Their customer service is also top-notch, with 24/7 live chat support and a 30 day money-back guarantee with all subscription plans. [Learn more >]
With a name like TorGuard, the software better offer strong protection. The software’s hallmarks lie in its ability to connect to a melange of services for different activities, with four different packages available based on various needs. The VPN service will run you $10 each month, but there’s a cheaper proxy service if all you need to do is hide your IP address from the world.
IVPN excels at trust and transparency, the most important factors when you’re choosing a virtual private network. After interviewing IVPN’s CEO, we’re convinced that IVPN is dedicated to its promises not to monitor or log customer activity. But a trustworthy VPN is only as good as its connections, and in our tests IVPN was stable and fast. IVPN apps are easy to set up and use with secure OpenVPN connections on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, plus a few other platforms. Extra features like automatic-connection rules and kill switches to block data on unsecured connections add protection and value that make it worth a slightly higher price than some competitors.
We like CyberGhost’s competitive pricing plans that offer you a single month for $11.99, but quickly heaps on the savings for bulk month ordering. For 6 months, you'll save 58%, and for 12 months, you'll get a 77% savings! But, that isn't even the most impressive part. In addition to low pricing, CyberGhost has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is certainly nice, but it gets better. If you are super commitment-phobic, you can try out CyberGhost totally free for 7 days. No questions asked.
TorGuard also lacks extra features that are nice to have, like automatically connecting to the VPN when you’re on an unknown Wi-Fi network (which IVPN offers) or split-tunneling to choose which apps do and don’t route through the VPN (which ExpressVPN supports). And it offers no option to automatically connect to the fastest server, a feature our top pick lacks as well. But if you have above-average knowledge of networking, you’ll appreciate TorGuard’s more in-depth settings pane, which allows you to add scripts or kill specific processes when the VPN disconnects—neither our top pick nor popular services like Private Internet Access allow that kind of control.
Like Avast, Avira got into the VPN business to complement its antivirus offerings. Phantom VPN is easy to use and gives you up to 1GB of data per month for free, making this service ideal for vacation travelers who just need to check email. Its unlimited paid plans are reasonably priced, but it had slow downloads and dropped connections in our 2017 tests.
We have often said that having to choose between security and convenience is a false dichotomy, but it is at least somewhat true in the case of VPN services. When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is that using a VPN probably isn't going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.
Their best plan is 1-year subscription plan: $6.99 ($83.88). While their monthly price of $11.95 is at the high end of the spectrum (and they did lose a few points for that), their yearly price of $83.88 is lower than most our contenders. And yes, they also have a full 30-day refund policy. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. They do offer $2.99/month (75% discount) for a 3-year plan .