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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.
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.
One of the most important factors when you’re choosing a VPN provider is also the hardest to quantify: trust. All your Internet activity will flow through this company’s servers, so you have to trust that company more than the network you’re trying to secure, be it a local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, your campus Internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. In all our research, we came across a lot of gray areas when it came to trusting a VPN, and only two hard rules: Know who you’re trusting, and remember that security isn’t free.
Finding the best free VPN is an exercise in balancing those restrictions. TunnelBear, for example, lets you use any server on its network but limits you to 500MB-1GB per month. Avira Phantom VPN lets you use as many devices as you like and any server you like, but also restricts you to 500MB per month. AnchorFree Hotspot Shield also places no limits on the number of devices, but restricts you to 500MB per day and only US-based servers. Kaspersky Secure Connection also doesn't limit your devices but doesn't let you choose a VPN server—the app does it automatically.
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.
The solution is also able to bypass firewalls through stealth connections. Additional security is provided through an ad and malware blocker, which can be switched on and off. For those who enjoy torrenting, the software supports such process, with certain servers optimized for P2P networks. This is designed to keep high-speed browsing on other connections. However, the service warns users to keep torrenting activities confined to specific cities around the world.
These services offer many ways to connect, including without the service's client software; support operating systems and devices, such as routers or set-top boxes, beyond just the "big four" operating systems (Windows, Mac, Android and iOS); have hundreds, or even thousands, of servers in dozens of countries; and generally let the user sign up and pay anonymously.
Also, do be aware that some broadcasters have developed increasingly sophisticated methods to determine whether the IP address you represent is the IP address where you're located. The VPN may be able to protect your original IP address from being seen, but there are characteristics of proxy communications (like a slightly longer time to transfer packets) that can be used to identify users who are trying to bypass watching restrictions.
Most services provide perfectly adequate internet speed when in use, and can even handle streaming HD video. However, 4K video and other data-intensive tasks like gaming over a VPN are another story. Some VPN services, such as NordVPN, have started to roll out specialty servers for high-bandwidth activities. And nearly every service we have tested includes a tool to connect you with the fastest available network. Of course, you can always limit your VPN use to when you're not on a trusted network.
Multi-hop cascades + NeuroRouting – Perfect Privacy gives you the ability to create multi-hop VPN cascades across up to four different servers in the network. This protects you against the possibility of a rogue data center logging traffic, targeted monitoring, and other threat scenarios. Additionally, the NeuroRouting feature dynamically routes all traffic through multiple hops in the server network, and can be used with any device (explained more here).
Almost all VPN services now offer a dedicated macOS client. These are sometimes not quite as fully featured as their Windows siblings, but are often all but identical. In general, what makes a great VPN for your Macbook or Mac Mini is exactly the same as what makes a good VPN for any other system. Please check out our Best VPNs for Mac for our top macOS recommendations.
CyberGhost gives Mullvad some stiff competition in the speed department, especially for locations in North America and Europe. It does a good job protecting user anonymity, too—requiring no identifying information and using a third-party service for payment processing—albeit not to the same degree as Mullvad. Add to that CyberGhost’s unique, easy-to-use interface, good price, and streaming unblocking (although not for Netflix), and this VPN is a solid choice. (See our full review of CyberGhost.)
As part of our research, we also make sure to find out where the company is based and under what legal framework it operates. Some countries don't have data-retention laws, making it easier to keep a promise of "We don't keep any logs." It's also useful to know under what circumstances a VPN company will hand over information to law enforcement and what information it would have to provide if that should happen.
Yes. Although Netflix is now available almost everywhere, some places – notably the United States – enjoy a much larger catalog of titles than everywhere else. And some people want to access regional catalogs. In theory, all you need do to watch a local version of Netflix from somewhere else is connect to a VPN server in that country. You can sign into any regional Netflix page with any active Netflix account, no matter where that account is registered. The snag is that due to pressure from its content producers, Netflix now tries to ban IP addresses that it knows belongs to VPN and proxy services. Many VPN services have found sneaky ways around this ban, but it is a cat and mouse game. Please see our best Netflix VPNs for a list of services which still work with Netflix (most of the time).
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.
We used to advise people to do banking and other important business over their cellular connection when using a mobile device, since it is generally safer than connecting with a public Wi-Fi network. But even that isn't always a safe bet. Researchers have demonstrated how a portable cell tower, such as a femtocell, can be used for malicious ends. The attack hinges on jamming the LTE and 3G bands, which are secured with strong encryption, and forcing devices to connect with a phony tower over the less-secure 2G band. Because the attacker controls the fake tower, he can carry out a man-in-the-middle attack and see all the data passing over the cellular connection. Admittedly, this is an exotic attack, but it's far from impossible.
That means fewer options and in some cases no options at all when Australians want to stream a TV show, play a video game, or listen to music. The lack of choice can lead to increased piracy of copyrighted material. In December 2016, a federal court in Australia ordered internet service providers to block BitTorrent tracker sites including ThePirateBay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie.
Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information and use it to commit crimes in your name — like taking over or opening new accounts, filing tax returns in your name, or renting or buying property. A VPN can help protect against identity theft by helping protect your data. It creates an encrypted tunnel for the data you send and receive that’s out of reach of cyberthieves.
Best VPNs for Netflix: Get any version of Netflix anywhereJanuary 5, 2019 / by Paul Bischoff8 best VPNs for torrenting & P2P for 2019 (and why many will compromise your privacy)January 1, 2019 / by Paul BischoffThe 19 Best Free SFTP and FTPS Servers for Windows and LinuxDecember 20, 2018 / by Jon WatsonHow to make your own free VPN with Amazon Web ServicesMay 15, 2018 / by Paul BischoffA beginner’s guide to online censorshipAugust 26, 2017 / by Paul Bischoff
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.
They even offer the most generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through their network, where everyone else offers five or fewer. NordVPN's network isn't as large as some of their competitors, so if you're trying to obfuscate your tracks, you might want a company with more servers. Otherwise, this company is clearly providing a winning offering.