Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you're online is becoming increasingly important these days. While the internet is a public space, a VPN acts like an invisibility cloak and makes your online activity virtually anonymous, making it hard for someone to track you when you're online — whether you're concerned about your internet service provider, the government, or malicious hackers.
ExpressVPN scored well in our recent round of testing in terms of speed – we recorded around 8.5MB/s (68Mbit/s) via both FTP and HTTP in the UK, while Dutch endpoints gave us 6.3MB/s (50.4Mbit/s) via FTP and 7MB/s (56Mbit/s) via HTTP, more than enough for general browsing, streaming and downloading. US connection speeds, as you’d expect, were rather slower at 2.5MB/s (20Mbit/s) via FTP and a good 3.2MB/s (25.6Mbit/s) over HTTP.
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.
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The best all-around VPN for streaming is ExpressVPN because it works with a wide range of streaming services, has excellent performance, and offers the best lineup of apps for all types of streaming devices – from Android TV boxes to tablets, computers, and phones. With ExpressVPN’s 24/7 live chat support, they can help you get everything setup correctly.
In 2011, a LulzSec hacker was arrested for his involvement with an attack on the Sony Pictures website. Cody Kretsinger used HideMyAss VPN to conceal his identity, but the company complied with a court order to hand over evidence that led to his arrest. This occurred in spite of the company’s pledge not to keep any logs of user activity. HMA says it does not log the contents of its users’ internet traffic, but it does keep detailed metadata logs that include users’ real IP addresses, which was enough to charge Kretsinger with a crime.
Due to licensing restrictions, iOS developers previously couldn’t implement OpenVPN connections directly inside their applications. Since that changed in mid-2018, a few providers, including IVPN and PrivateInternetAccess, have added native OpenVPN support to their apps. This makes a secure connection on any Apple device much easier than the old method that required a clunky third-party application and complicated connection profiles. Though we haven’t done performance tests on any updated iOS apps yet, our limited use of the updated IVPN app worked without any problems. Going forward, we wouldn’t consider a VPN provider that doesn’t include native OpenVPN support on iOS.
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DNS servers are a bit like the phone books of the Internet: You can type in “thewirecutter.com,” for instance, and one of the many DNS servers behind the scenes can point you to the IP address of a server hosting the site. Most of the time, your DNS requests automatically route through your ISP, giving the ISP an easy way to monitor your traffic. Some VPN services rely on third-party DNS servers, but the best ones keep DNS servers in-house to prevent your browsing history, or your IP address, from getting out.
Every service we tested accepts payment via credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin. That’s plenty of options for most people, and you can always use a prepaid debit card if you don’t want your billing information tied to your VPN account. IVPN and OVPN are the only ones to accept cash payment through the mail, if you really don’t want to make a payment online. Private Internet Access and TorGuard accept gift cards from other companies—IVPN doesn’t, but that option isn’t worth the additional hassle for many people when other secure, private methods are available.
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.
When choosing your VPN, do your research and mind the legal aspects. Countries like Germany, France or Japan are cracking down on copyright infringement, while the members of the 14 Eyes treaty have draconian data retention laws and extensive surveillance. So, if you’re looking to maximize your privacy, you might want to avoid connecting to servers in those countries.
If you’re seriously concerned about government surveillance—we explain above why that should be most people’s last consideration when choosing a VPN—some expert sites like privacytools.io recommend avoiding services with a corporate presence in the US or UK. Such experts warn about the “14 eyes,” a creepy name for a group of countries that share intelligence info, particularly with the US. IVPN is based in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. We don’t think that makes you any worse off than a company based in Switzerland, Sweden, or anywhere else—government surveillance efforts around the world are so complicated and clandestine that few people have the commitment, skills, or technology to avoid it completely. But because Gibraltar’s status has been a topic of debate in other deep dives on VPNs, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it.
StrongVPN operates servers in 21 countries, six of which are in APAC. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It can unblock both Australian and US Netflix in a browser, but not in the Netflix app. StrongVPN has a no-logs policy and is based in the United States. Whereas most other VPNs on this list primarily rely on the OpenVPN protocol, StrongVPN is a mix of OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and SSTP. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
The app likewise prevents websites from collecting users’ private data, allowing for safer and more secure web browsing. To make things even better, the solution automatically connects whenever an unsecure Wi-Fi connection is detected, ensuring constant protection. It connects to the nearest server, resulting in optimum speeds. But one can also connect manually and be able to choose a preferred server.
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.
Overplay is easy to install and even easier to use. Its simple user interface is suitable for those who do not want complex features. All one needs to do is run the app and choose the country you want to connect to. It offers a very good speed, with any speed reduction hardly noticeable. As the software has server locations in 48 countries and over 14,000 IP addresses, anonymity is assured.
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.
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.