For two years running, Private Internet Access has performed the best in our network tests and remained the cheapest full-fledged VPN service we've tried. It has more than 3,000 servers worldwide, supports platforms ranging from Windows and Mac to open-source routers, and lets you customize your tunneling and encryption protocols. You can pay in bitcoin, and you don't have to provide your real name.
ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN services, and it boasts some star-studded founding members. The company was founded at CERN, the birthplace of the internet, and grew out of the ProtonMAIL service that’s been protecting the email of activists and journalists for years. The service acts as a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union. It’s also not a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” and user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries, so you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.
Once on the public internet, those packets travel through a bunch of computers. A separate request is made to a series of name servers to translate the DNS name ZDNet.com to an IP address. That information is sent back to your browser, which then sends the request, again, through a bunch of computers on the public internet. Eventually, it reaches the ZDNet infrastructure, which also routes those packets, then grabs a webpage (which is actually a bunch of separate elements), and sends all that back to you.
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.
Despite Proton’s strong reputation for privacy with both its VPN and Mail services, we previously dismissed ProtonVPN without testing because it didn’t offer native applications for major operating systems. Instead, the service relied on third-party applications that could be clumsy to set up and lacked important features. Now that ProtonVPN apps are fully supported on Windows, Mac, and Android, we’re looking forward to testing the service for the next update.
Inside the Preferences pane, you can also tick boxes to automatically launch or connect the app when you boot your device. Anyone using the Windows or macOS app should tick the box to autoconnect “when joining insecure WiFi networks.” You can also tag individual Wi-Fi networks as trusted or untrusted, to make sure you’re always protected even if you forget to connect the app manually. These network rules—not offered on most apps, including IVPN’s mobile apps or any of TorGuard’s apps—will make sure you don’t forget your VPN when you need it the most.
When you're accessing the internet via Wi-Fi, do you worry about the safety of your data—and about who else might be spying on that data as it passes over the air, or even stealing it? If not, you're sadly in the high-risk majority. You really ought to be using a virtual private network, or VPN. In fact, however, when PCMag ran a survey on VPN usage, we found that a surprising 71 percent of our 1,000 respondents had never even used a VPN. Even among those who support net neutrality—who you might think would be better informed on security and privacy issues—55 percent had never used a VPN.
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.
Individuals that access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from using a VPN. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Therefore, both private and business users can benefit from using a VPN. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn't know which web pages you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone that wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
Logging: When you connect to a VPN, you’re trusting the VPN service provider with your data. Your communications may be secure from eavesdropping, but other systems on the same VPN—especially the operator—can log your data if they choose. If this bothers you (e.g., you’re the privacy/security advocate or the downloader), make absolutely sure you know your provider’s logging policies before signing up. This applies to location as well—if your company doesn’t keep logs, it may not matter as much where it’s located. (There’s a popular rumor that US-based VPN providers are required to log, in case the government wants them. This isn’t true, but the government can always request whatever data they have if they do log.) For a good list of VPN providers that don’t log your activities when connected (and many that do), check out this TorrentFreak article.
Please be aware that some of the criteria for testing are based on objective raw data such as speed test results, while other testing criteria are based on subjective personal experience and interaction with the VPN software. Due to this, our findings may not reflect your personal view. As there is a money back guarantee after a certain number of days on all of the VPN products listed on this site you should make the most of this time and perform your own testing to see if a particular product caters to your needs. If you would like to know more on how we came to our findings then please click here.
VPN services are entirely legal and legitimate in most countries. It's completely legal to mask your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic. There is nothing about using a VPN that's illegal and VPN services themselves do not and cannot do anything illegal. The only thing that's illegal is if you were to break the law while using a VPN - for instance if you were to infringe on someone's copyright. But that's the action of infringement that's illegal, not the use of the VPN.
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.
Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), about whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if the company wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. After careful consideration, we decided we’d rather give up other positives—like faster speeds or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Given the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust.
We haven’t tested every single VPN product on the market because there are hundreds of them. What we did was establish affiliate relationships with a number of what we think are leading VPN services on the market for private use. We then analysed those products by performing a series of objective tests, assessed our subjective personal user experience, and reported our findings to help you make an informed decision to choose the right VPN service for you. Of course, there are other VPN products out there and you should feel free to shop around outside this site. However, on this site, all testing and findings were performed by a qualified member of our staff with a minimum of a university bachelor degree in computer science and over 10 years of experience in software development. Some of the VPN software used for testing was given free for testing purposes. Most were actually purchased. We think you will struggle to find another website out there which actually downloads and tests the different VPN software using a qualified professional.
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.
Price: Free TorVPN users are limited to 1GB/mo downloaded before they’re cut off, and Premium accounts start at 5 EUR/mo ($7mo) for 5GB/mo and go up to 30 EUR/mo ($38/mo) for 100GB. Keep in mind they have a no-refunds policy, and that even though you ride the Tor network, they’re a separate entity from the Tor Project. You can read more about their pricing and plans here.
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.)
CyberGhost has been around since 2011 and has come out strongly as a supporter of "civil rights, a free society, and an uncensored Internet culture." We really liked how the company specifically showcases, on their Web site, how folks normally prevented from accessing such important services as Facebook and YouTube can bring those services into their lives via a VPN.