Consumers use a private VPN service, also known as a VPN tunnel, to protect their online activity and identity. By using an anonymous VPN service, a user's Internet traffic and data remain encrypted, which prevents eavesdroppers from sniffing Internet activity. VPN services are especially useful when accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots because the public wireless services might not be secure. In addition to public Wi-Fi security, a private VPN service also provides consumers with uncensored Internet access and can help prevent data theft and unblock websites.
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Some VPNs offer “split tunneling,” which routes all traffic through your VPN except specific services or sites that you allow. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. But these types of rules are complicated to implement without also leaking other important information, and we didn’t assess how effective they were in practice.
Mullvad is not that easy to use, with a bare-bones desktop interface and, unlike every other VPN service we've reviewed, no mobile client apps. (You do get instructions on how to manually set up OpenVPN apps.) This service's network speeds were far from great in our tests, and it's fairly expensive, with no discount for paying yearly instead of monthly.
What that means in practice is that VPNs are fine for bypassing geo-blocks, for protecting your online banking and for keeping business communications free from interception. However, if you’re using the internet to fight repressive regimes or to do anything else that could attract the attention of the authorities where you live, a VPN is not a magic wand that’ll make you invisible.
Norton WiFi Privacy performed very well in our latest round of speed tests. In the UK, we got FTP and HTTP download speeds of around 9.5MB/s (76Mb/s). Using endpoints in the Netherlands, that HTTP speed went up to 10.1MB/s (81Mbit/s). U.S. speeds were also very good, exceeding our non-VPN reference download at 5.8MB/s (46.4Mbit/s) for FTP and 4.8MB/s (38.4Mbit/s) for HTTP downloads.
Aside from a moral quandary, what does VPNHub offer subcribers? A selection of endpoints in 50 countries, including less common locations like Cyprus, Costa Rica and the Philippines, the option to connect to VPNHub on booting up your system, a killswitch that’ll nerf your connection whenever the VPN fails, and ‘Scramble’, a feature that attempts to hide from your ISP the fact that you’re using a VPN.
Even TunnelBear's network performance and pricing are just about average compared to other services we've reviewed, except that you can pay with literal jars of honey. The company takes security and privacy seriously, explaining its policies and protocols in plain English, and you can read the results of two third-party security audits on the company website.
We summarize the protocols above, and look at them in detail in VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide. Although L2TP/IPsec is fine for most purposes, we only really recommend OpenVPN and IKEv2. OpenVPN is very secure if properly configured. Indeed, Edward Snowden’s documents showed that even the NSA can’t crack well-implemented OpenVPN. It is also supported by almost every provider. But it is relatively slow. The newer IKEv2 is much faster and is considered secure, but has not been battle-tested in the way that OpenVPN has. It is not as well supported at present, although it is increasingly popular with providers thanks to its speed advantages over OpenVPN.
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.
If VPN connections get blocked by your network because of strict network management or government censorship, TorGuard offers a “stealth” connection to avoid deep packet inspection. Specifically, TorGuard uses Stunnel (a clever portmanteau of SSL and tunnel) to add an extra layer of encryption and make your traffic look like normal, secure Web traffic. If you’re having connection issues, you can enable Stunnel with a checkbox on the main application window, but only if you select TCP from the protocol list. (Otherwise, the box is unclickable, with no explanation as to why.)
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.
Security is the main reason why corporations have used VPNs for years. There are increasingly simple methods to intercept data traveling to a network. WiFi spoofing and Firesheep are two easy ways to hack information. A useful analogy is that a firewall protects your data while on the computer and a VPN protects your data on the web. VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers. Most savvy computer users wouldn't dream of connecting to the Internet without a firewall and up-to-date antivirus. Evolving security threats and ever increasing reliance on the Internet make a Virtual Private Network an essential part of well-rounded security. Integrity checks ensure that no data is lost and that the connection has not been hijacked. Since all traffic is protected, VPNs are preferred over proxies.
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 purchasing VPN service from a provider, consider the kind of security you want. If you want to use a VPN in order to send documents, emails, or browse the web more securely, then you’ll want to sign up with a host that offers an encryption method such as SSL (also called TLS) or IPsec. SSL is the most widely used form of security encryption. Encryption is a method of obscuring data from those who should not see it. Also, try to pick a host which uses OpenVPN rather than “point-to-point tunneling protocol” (PPTP) for encryption. PPTP has had several security vulnerabilities in recent years; whereas OpenVPN is commonly considered the more secure method of encryption.
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.
The TorGuard Windows client was easy to install and made quick work of connecting to a VPN server, including the ability to choose a server location prior to connecting. The internet speed on our test system dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s download to 53 Mb/s, and our upload ran at 17 Mb/s compared to our usual 20 Mb/s. That’s not the best performance in our testing, but all internet services that we tested worked without a hitch, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
A mix of features and price make a good VPN, but plenty of bad VPNs masquerade as good ones. Look for articles written by trustworthy sources that discuss the merits of each service based on its features, versus simple rundowns and user testimonials, which are almost always polluted by a combination of fanatical users and corporate bootstrapping in attempt to get their names out to potential customers.
While it hides your IP address, a VPN is not a true anonymization service. For that, you'll want to access the Tor network, which will almost certainly slow down your connection. While a VPN tunnels your web traffic to a VPN server, Tor bounces around your traffic through several volunteer nodes making it much, much harder to track. Using Tor also grants access to hidden Dark Web sites, which a VPN simply cannot do. That said, some services, such as NordVPN, offer Tor access on specific servers.
With a name like TorGuard, the software better offer strong protection. The software’s hallmarks lie in its ability to connect to a melange of services for different activities, with four different packages available based on various needs. The VPN service will run you $10 each month, but there’s a cheaper proxy service if all you need to do is hide your IP address from the world.
A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It's best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It's good to use when you're facing coverage gaps, inter-network roaming, bandwidth issues, or limited battery life, memory or processing power.