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.
With the service, user data cannot be intercepted as all traffic are encrypted. A split tunneling functionality allows users to route traffic from specific applications through the software. It likewise has a kill switch, which effectively cuts off Internet connection when the VPN connection fails. This prevents the accidental revelation of IP addresses.
Not all mobile VPN apps are created equal. In fact, most VPN providers offer different services (and sometimes, different servers) for their mobile offerings than they do for their desktop counterparts. We're pleased to see that NordVPN and Private Internet Access provide the same excellent selection of servers regardless of platform. These apps received an Editors' Choice nod both for desktop VPN apps and Android VPN apps.
PureVPN has a huge choice of 750 servers in 141 countries and counting. The sheer volume of features, toggles, and tools they provide makes it a top contender for the advanced users. There is a stealth browsing mode, online banking security, secure FTP access, multiple protocols and more. They have server lists optimized for P2P and video streaming, so switching is easy.
Trust and transparency issues are the foremost concerns in choosing a great VPN, and if a service doesn’t have enough locations to be useful to you, all the security features won’t make a difference. But after those concerns have been satisfied, we recommend that most people use connections based on the OpenVPN protocol, because of security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. (Experienced users may consider IKEv2, but because it has its own debated pros and cons, we ruled it out.) Though AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance.
These folks have been around since 2010, and don't log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.
No reputable VPN service logs any kind of user activity, unlike your internet service provider, which can easily log every website you visit by storing all your DNS requests sent in cleartext. The only VPN on this list that maintains 24 hours worth of basic connection logs (no activity) is VPN.ac, and they clearly state their reasons (security) for doing so. There have been shady VPNs that have cooperated with government agencies, such as PureVPN (see logging case) and I do not recommend these providers.
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It's important to note that installing a VPN on one device will only protect that device. If you want your media streamer (say an Amazon Fire TV Stick) to use the VPN connection, you'll either need to try and install a VPN app on it, look for VPN settings where you can enter your account details, or install an app for your router that'll cover all devices connected to it. Find out more in our article on how to use a VPN with a Fire TV Stick.
Cost: There's a 3 day free trial you can grab but you'll still need to enter your credit card. Otherwise, you can pay for VyprVPN every month for $9.95/month (or buy a year at once to bring that down to $5/month). Additional, there's a Premium plan for $12.95/month (or $6.67/month when billed annually) that lets you use your account on up to five devices at once, plus it supports Chameleon.
CyberGhost is transparent about its company structure, posting photos and bios on its website of everyone from the CEO to the cleaning lady, and privacy fanatics will like that the company is based in Romania rather than the U.S. But CyberGhost's full-service subscription price is among the most expensive month by month — it's far better to just pay for a year at a time.
VPNs provide a way for people to get around internet roadblocks and censors, stream or download without worry, protect themselves from hackers, and keep their internet usage mostly private from third parties. They'll especially come in handy if providers like Comcast do decide to stop playing nice with Netflix, or if you're in a country where American Netflix is blocked.
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.
The practical uses for a VPN service are plentiful. Want to access a website that your ISP has blocked? A VPN puts that website just one click away. Want to access the US version of Netflix from the UK? Just set your VPN to a US location and you're there. Want to access porn without your ISP or your business knowing about it? Want to download torrents without being blocked by your ISP? It's easy.
Some combination of the above. Odds are, even if you’re not one of these people more often than not, you’re some mix of them depending on what you’re doing. In all of these cases, a VPN service can be helpful, whether it’s just a matter of protecting yourself when you’re out and about, whether you handle sensitive data for your job and don’t want to get fired, or you’re just covering your own ass from the MPAA.
For those who are unaware, net neutrality is the much-discussed concept that ISPs treat web services and apps equally, and not create fast lanes for companies that pay more, or require consumers to sign up for specific plans in order to access services like Netflix or Twitter. Federal net neutrality rules would ensure that the internet effectively continues to operate the way it has for its entire existence.
When we took at look at your five favorite VPN service providers, we noticed a few things. First, being the “best” is big business for VPN providers, and they’ll fight dirty to be one of them. Second, there are so many VPN providers that it’s difficult to choose a really good one. VPNs are not all created equally, and in this post, we’re going to look at what a VPN is, why you want one, and how to pick the best one for you. Let’s get started.
When a VPN connection drops, you might just lose your connection. But because the internet is very good at routing around failures, what is more likely to happen is your computer will reconnect to the internet application, simply bypassing the VPN service. That means that -- on failure -- your local IP address may "leak out" and be logged by the internet application, and your data may be open to local Wi-Fi hackers at your hotel or wherever you're doing your computing.
However, you've got no choice but to run TunnelBear's client software (unless you use Linux), which may concern some privacy-minded users, and there's no option to set up TunnelBear connections on routers or other devices. Last but not least, this tiny Canadian firm is now owned by U.S. antivirus giant McAfee, which may mean TunnelBear is subject to U.S. search warrants.
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.
So, what’s so great about ExpressVPN? Well, to kick things off, ExpressVPN offers members more than 2,000 servers spread out over 148 locations. This means no matter where in the world you are, you are likely to have several servers at your disposal for smooth and fast streaming. Which brings us to our next ExpressVPN benefit. This company has ridiculously fast speeds. This comes from all of those servers we mentioned. Plus, ExpressVPN lets you see which servers have the fastest download speeds. You can also forget about privacy issues with ExpressVPN since it has a strict no logs policy across the board. No timestamps, no destinations, no browsing history. It’s all private, all the time.
The service uses Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key, a common method employed by VPN services. Connections are protected using 2048-bit public key encryption. For privacy, the service offers a malware detection software. What is good about the software is that it can be downloaded and used without providing any personal information. This holds as long as you use the free version of the software and never contact customer support.
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.
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.
This is important to understand. Consumer VPN services protect your transmission from your location to their location, not from your location all the way to the destination application you're using. If you think about it, this makes sense: A consumer VPN service is operated by a completely different company than, for example, Facebook or your bank.
ButterflyVPN Router is suitable for anyone who seeks a safe and secure way to access the internet and any region-blocked content. Coming in the form of a mini-size USB portable wireless VPN router, this solution is quick and easy to start up as it simply requires users to plug the device in any internet-powered area. Its portability makes ButterflyVPN Router ideal for employees out on business trips, travelers, bloggers, or anyone who is looking to access the internet on the go. It supports all types of internet-capable platform, from mobile devices and laptops to gaming consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox.
The first runs in the VPN client app on your computer, so if the VPN connection fails while the VPN client app is running, that VPN client app can turn off the computer or mobile device's internet connection. However, if your VPN connection has failed because the VPN client app itself crashed, then the kill switch may not work, and your IP and data may leak onto the internet.
To be fair, not all pay VPN services are legitimate, either. It's important to be careful who you choose. Over on ZDNet's sister site, CNET, I've put together an always up-to-date directory of quality VPN providers. To be fair, some are better than others (and that's reflected in their ratings). But all are legitimate companies that provide quality service.
A P device operates inside the provider's core network and does not directly interface to any customer endpoint. It might, for example, provide routing for many provider-operated tunnels that belong to different customers' PPVPNs. While the P device is a key part of implementing PPVPNs, it is not itself VPN-aware and does not maintain VPN state. Its principal role is allowing the service provider to scale its PPVPN offerings, for example, by acting as an aggregation point for multiple PEs. P-to-P connections, in such a role, often are high-capacity optical links between major locations of providers.
When choosing between protocols to connect to, consider how you are using your VPN. PPTP is known to be fast over wi-fi; however, it is less secure than L2TP and IPSec. So, if security is important to you, then consider using either L2TP or IPSec. If you are connecting to a VPN for work purposes, then your employer will most likely have a preferred protocol. If you are using a hosted VPN, then ensure that you use a protocol which they support.
The more locations a VPN provider houses servers, the more flexible it is when you want to choose a server in a less-congested part of the world or geoshift your location. And the more servers it has at each location, the less likely they are to be slow when lots of people are using the service at the same time. Of course, limited bandwidth in and out of an area may still cause connections to lag at peak times even on the most robust networks.
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.
Chosen as one of Mashable's top three for staying anonymous online, NordVPN is a choice backed by much of Reddit. It's made for fast streaming and torrenting, P2P and non P2P options, and is one VPN that can actually bypass the American Netflix block anywhere in the world. Plus, a single NordVPN login can be used on up to six devices simultaneously, so sharing the perks and splitting the price is a major bonus for savvier internet users. Reddit user ambillop writes:
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.
The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.
Some users will also want to research a VPN provider’s peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing policies. There are VPNs that block torrents. Others turn a blind eye to them, but will sell you out in a heartbeat should you be up to no good. P2P is not our main focus here, but we will note in each review whether a particular provider allows file sharing or not.
Finally, you may want a VPN to spoof your location to download content you shouldn’t have access to, but this too has limits. A VPN used to be the go-to solution to watch U.S. Netflix overseas. That changed in 2016 when Netflix opened up to almost every country on Earth. Since then, the company has invested a lot in detecting and blocking VPN users. Even people using a VPN inside their own country will be blocked by Netflix if detected.
With a presence in 148 locations across 94 countries, you also won’t need to worry about international travel. Furthermore, the more than 2,000 servers are all well placed throughout common travel destinations and urban centers. Any package will land you unlimited bandwidth and speed, a guaranteed 99.9 percent uptime, and 24-hour customer service. With so many guaranteed features, it’s no wonder this vendor is considered among the best — although note that ExpressVPN only supports up to three simultaneous connections, which is the least of the services on our list.
VPNs are necessary for improving individual privacy, but there are also people for whom a VPN is essential for personal and professional safety. Some journalists and political activists rely on VPN services to circumvent government censorship and safely communicate with the outside world. Check the local laws before using a VPN in China, Russia, Turkey, or any country with with repressive internet policies.
Israel-based Hola isn’t a traditional VPN in which customers connect to a network of centralized servers owned by the VPN company. Instead, Hola users connect to each other, using other users’ idle bandwidth as part of a large peer-to-peer network. Obviously, this comes with some pretty big security and legal concerns. Users could use each other’s internet for illegal activity, for example. In 2015, Hola used its user’s computers to create a botnet and perform a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The abuse of customers’ trust happened entirely without their knowledge.
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A popular VPN service, TorGuard has servers in over 50 countries and enables users to unblock websites and get around censorship. This ensures that wherever you are in the world, there is bound to be a TorGuard server near you. By default, the service enables users to make five simultaneous connections. This lets users run the service on all their devices. To better protect users, the service has a kill switch. However, this feature is not available on mobile devices. Likewise, a Domain Name System leak protection works on Windows and OS X.
A remote-access VPN uses public infrastructure like the internet to provide remote users secure access to their network. This is particularly important for organizations and their corporate networks. It's crucial when employees connect to a public hotspot and use the internet for sending work-related emails. A VPN client, on the user's computer or mobile device connects to a VPN gateway on the company's network. This gateway will typically require the device to authenticate its identity. It will then create a network link back to the device that allows it to reach internal network resources such as file servers, printers and intranets, as if it were on the same local network.