While a VPN can protect your privacy online, you might still want to take the additional step of avoiding paying for one using a credit card, for moral or security reasons. Several VPN services now accept anonymous payment methods such Bitcoin, and some even accept retailer gift cards. Both of these transactions is about as close as you can get to paying with cash for something online. That Starbucks gift card may be better spent on secure web browsing than a mediocre-at-best latte.
Even if a company is at fault for deceptive marketing practices, it still has to comply with legal requests for whatever information it does have. Jerome told us, “In the U.S., however, there is a big difference between a request for data regularly stored for business purposes and a demand that a company retain information. VPN providers are not required to keep records just in case law enforcement might need them some day.” That means many companies could provide a list of their customers, but if they practice what they preach when it comes to no-logging policies, innocent customers looking for privacy shouldn’t get swept up in these requests.
We’ve shown you how to build your own VPN for remote gaming and browsing that also protects your security, shown you how to make a VPN even more secure, and shown you dozens of services that operate free and paid VPNs you can sign up for and use. We’ve even put the question to you several times to tell us which VPN service providers you think are the best. So how do you pick a solid VPN service?
Insist on a VPN that has Kill Switch protection. There is a security vulnerability that can reveal your private information if your VPN connection is lost, even just for a few seconds. The solution is to be sure that you’re protected by a Kill Switch. A Kill Switch stops all data from being sent to the internet until a secure VPN connection has been re-established. If your VPN software does not have a Kill Switch, your computer might be leaking your private information without your knowledge
It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.
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.)
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.
A VPN provides a great many privacy protections that we think everyone should take advantage of. This is especially true in Australia where a 2017 report found that in the previous 12 months, cybercrime rates had increased by 15% to 47,000 incidents. However, within the specific context of Australia’s 2015 data retention law, they won’t do much good.
If you’re going to bother with a VPN, you should spend money on a good one—don’t trust a free VPN. Security and privacy cost money, and if you aren’t paying for them, the provider has an incentive to make money from marketers at your privacy’s expense. Though price doesn’t always equal quality, a few dollars a month more for a better experience is worth it for something you’ll use on a regular basis.
HTTPS is a powerful tool that everyone should use because it helps keep sensitive browsing private at no extra cost to the people using it. But like most security standards, it has its own problems too. That little lock icon in your browser bar, which indicates the HTTPS connection, relies on a certificate “signed” by a recognized authority. But there are hundreds of such authorities, and as the EFF says, “the security of HTTPS is only as strong as the practices of the least trustworthy/competent CA [certificate authorities].” Plus, there have been plenty of news stories covering minor and even major vulnerabilities in the system. Some security professionals have worried about those least-competent authorities, spurring groups to improve on the certificate standards and prompting browsers to add warnings when you come across certificates and sites that don’t withstand scrutiny. So HTTPS is good—but like anything, it isn’t perfect.
Some VPN services will limit the total amount of data you can send and receive, either in one connection session or over the period of a month. Other VPN services will limit the speed of the data, effectively sharing less of their pipe with you than might be optimal. That could slow your browsing experience to a crawl or completely prevent you from watching streaming video.
Beyond those two factors, it’s difficult to make blanket statements about what makes a trustworthy VPN. At the bare minimum, a good VPN provider should not collect and keep any logs of its customers’ browsing history. If it does, that puts your privacy at risk should someone access (or even release) those logs without authorization. But deciding when to a trust a logging policy isn’t easy. As the EFF points out, “Some VPNs with exemplary privacy policies could be run by devious people.” You don’t need to have done anything illegal to prefer that law enforcement and criminals alike not have access to a browsing history that may include your bank, medical websites, or that one thing you looked at around 2 a.m. that one time.
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.
^ Cisco Systems, Inc. (2004). Internetworking Technologies Handbook. Networking Technology Series (4 ed.). Cisco Press. p. 233. ISBN 9781587051197. Retrieved 2013-02-15. [...] VPNs using dedicated circuits, such as Frame Relay [...] are sometimes called trusted VPNs, because customers trust that the network facilities operated by the service providers will not be compromised.
Server switching is a feature -- offered by most VPN service providers -- that allows you to change what region or country you're going to connect to. Most providers allow you to switch as often as you'd like (although you usually have to disconnect, then change your configuration, and reconnect). This may be useful if you're trying to hide your location, or if you're running into some communications glitches on the server you're currently using.
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.
And they manage to do all of this without sacrificing performance, offering one of the fastest download speeds (83 Mbps out of 100 Mbps) and the best 24/7 customer support in the industry. The only downside? It’s a little on the pricey side, with monthly plans starting between $6.67 and $12.95/mo. But it’s a small price to pay for excellent performance in almost every category.
Like most well-known VPN companies, IVPN supports a variety of privacy groups and causes. Pestell told us he worked with the Center for Democracy & Technology to improve trust in VPNs with a handful of transparency initiatives before they were announced. Neena Kapur of The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter) information security team noted that IVPN’s leadership transparency and its relationship with CDT were significant pluses that contributed to its trustworthiness. Pestell was also the only representative we spoke with to offer to arrange for one of our experts to audit the company’s server and no-logging policies.1 We cover trust issues with VPNs at length elsewhere in this guide, but we believe that IVPN takes an active role in protecting its customers’ privacy and is not a dude wearing a dolphin onesie.
Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was initially developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for IPv6, which was required in all standards-compliant implementations of IPv6 before RFC 6434 made it only a recommendation. This standards-based security protocol is also widely used with IPv4 and the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Its design meets most security goals: authentication, integrity, and confidentiality. IPsec uses encryption, encapsulating an IP packet inside an IPsec packet. De-encapsulation happens at the end of the tunnel, where the original IP packet is decrypted and forwarded to its intended destination.
OpenVPN: OpenVPN is very secure, open-source and widely used. Most VPN services support it, but except for Chrome OS and Linux, few operating systems do. This protocol can be used in either TCP (web) or UDP (streaming) mode; the latter is sloppier but faster. You'll need either the VPN service's client software or one of the many free alternatives. Either way, you'll still need to pay for the VPN service.
If you are interested in an added level of protection, there are intriguing gadgets called Tiny Hardware Firewalls. These devices range from about $30 to $70 and connect via a network port or a USB slot to your laptop. They make the initial network connection, and so your computer's communication is always blocked before it calls out to the internet.
If you download and upload content, movies, and games on a daily basis, PureVPN is a choice with notably fast downloading and uploading speeds. Compared to other VPNs that get the same speed (like Astrill), it's considerably more affordable. PureVPN has more than 500 servers spanning across 140 countries and impeccable access in China — and may be the only option available in some places. Pure VPN is also extremely accessible when it comes to devices: It's compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox, as well as apps for media streaming devices like Android TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Kodi. So, if nothing else, it's one of the most versatile of the bunch. Though Mashable dubbed it one of the best due to its speed and how many things it can do, Reddit users insist that it is not a trustworthy choice. Multiple Redditors claim that PureVPN lies to users about not logging their information or search history when they really do. Some also believe that PureVPN uses spammers and claim that a lot of positive feedback about PureVPN on Reddit are from fake accounts. Reddit user cloudhat writes:
In an overcrowded VPN market, ExpressVPN continues to stand out from the rest and remains the top recommendation at Restore Privacy. It is based in the British Virgin Islands and offers secure, user-friendly apps for all devices. Extensive testing for the ExpressVPN review found it to be very secure, with exceptional speeds and reliability throughout the server network.
The service supports torrenting through its zero logs policy. It supports PPTP, Open VPN and L2TP connections, with each going up to 256 bits except for PPTP. To further increase security, IPVanish uses shared IPs, making it even more difficult to identify users. This also ensures that even the vendor could not furnish agencies with your information even if it wanted to.
While you're connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and enters the public internet. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted even after it leaves the VPN.
To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers down to a manageable list, we first looked at reviews from dedicated sites like vpnMentor and TorrentFreak, research and recommendations from noncommercial sources such as That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io, and user experiences and tips on various subreddits and technology-focused websites like Lifehacker and Ars Technica. We settled on 32 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended. From there, we dug into the details of how each one handled issues from technology to subscriptions:
One of the most common types of VPNs used by businesses is called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN). A VPDN is a user-to-LAN connection, where remote users need to connect to the company LAN. Another type of VPN is commonly called a site-to-site VPN. Here the company would invest in dedicated hardware to connect multiple sites to their LAN though a public network, usually the Internet.
Hotspot Shield VPN works in most countries, but that doesn’t mean it’s always legal to use a VPN in a specific country. If you have any doubts about the legality of using a VPN in a certain country, always consult a qualified lawyer because laws can change quickly. If you’re still unsure, then it’s best to play it safe and abide by the most conservative guidelines of a country.
With multiple clients, rich with different features, it’s no wonder this VPN service handles more than 10 million users. CyberGhost covers Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems, but also iOS and Android. The interface is not the best out there and could definitely use some work, but these disadvantages are easily overshadowed by the awesome features this VPN offers.
Other VyprVPN features include automatic connection on startup, automatic reconnection, and a kill switch to stop traffic from being sent over unsecured connections. Premium users can also enabled Chameleon mode, which tries to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN at all, a cloud VPN server image that you can deploy to hosted servers on AWS, DigitalOcean and VirtualBox.
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We are an independent, non-commercial organization that publishes news from the world of Internet security. Our team does guides and make reviews of VPNs, as well as gives a freethinking rank and assessment of diverse virtual private network services. At TopVPNChoice.com we concentrate on providing the widest possible and true reviews of various VPNs and helpful recommendations. We are carefully testing and comparing VPNs. Our team attentively studies all the services and offers, which the most secure VPN can give to the clients. At the same time, we always take into account the performance indicators, customer support, compatibility, price policy, usability and comfort of use, etc.
One major limitation of traditional VPNs is that they are point-to-point, and do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains. Therefore, communication, software, and networking, which are based on layer 2 and broadcast packets, such as NetBIOS used in Windows networking, may not be fully supported or work exactly as they would on a real LAN. Variants on VPN, such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and layer 2 tunneling protocols, are designed to overcome this limitation.
Prices are also pretty low. Expect to pay £63.58 for a year (equivalent to £5.29 a month), or £53.48 for a two year subscription (equivalent to £2.23 a month). Based on current rates, the standard monthly fee works out at £5.33, so if you want to save, the two year option is your best bet. Alternatively, you can pay using Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Zcash or gift cards.
Using a VPN, all data traffic is confined to a private, encrypted tunnel until they reach the public Internet. Destinations cannot be accessed until after the end of the VPN tunnel is reached. VPN services are quite useful in workplaces, especially for those who use mobile devices in accessing data from a work server. However, the most common use of VPN software is to remain anonymous to ISPs, websites or governments. This is true for users who download files illegally, such as in the case of copyrighted torrent files.
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.
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.
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service that offers fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind that you'll need to connect every device in your home individually to the VPN service, so just two or three licenses won't be enough for the average nested pair. Note that many VPN services offer native apps for both Android and iOS, but that such devices count toward your total number of connections.
We like that the company offers a connection kill switch feature and, for those who need it, there's an option to get a dedicated IP address. VyprVPN is a standout in their effort to provide privacy, and thwart censorship. When China began its program of deep packet VPN inspection, Golden Frog's VyperVPN service added scrambled OpenVPN packets to keep the traffic flowing.