A VPN can be described as an encrypted tunnel that shuttles your internet activity between your PC or phone and a host server. While the internet is a public space, a VPN works by extending an invisibility cloak across the user's activity and allows people to send and receive data in a mostly-anonymous manner. In the simplest terms, a VPN makes it hard for someone to track your activity.
How much should a VPN cost? Hotspot Shield can be as little as £119.99 for a lifetime or £5.99 a month if you'd rather sign up for a year. For your money you get a decent range of features including up to five devices, private browsing, virtual locations and good if not stellar performance: we did notice a slight increase in latency when Hotspot Shield was enabled, although it wasn’t too dramatic. There’s a seven-day trial that gives you more than enough time to put it through its paces.
With over 145+ server locations. Expressvpn gives you fast and flash like speed and allows its clients to have access to over 94 countries worldwide. Expressvpn servers are input in the most in-demand nations. They include the United States, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, and the Netherlands. The Netherlands serves as the torrenting server or capital of the world.
Though PIA doesn’t list its leadership on its website, that information isn’t hard to find. The founder, Andrew Lee, has been interviewed by Ars Technica; the CEO, Ted Kim, is also on the record; and privacy activist and Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge is listed as Head of Privacy on the company’s blog. PIA can also point to court records showing that when approached by law enforcement for detailed records, the company had nothing to provide. PIA boasts a huge network of servers and locations around the world, and though the PIA app isn’t as polished as those of some competitors, it is easy to use. Like our top pick, IVPN, its iOS app also added OpenVPN support in mid-2018. But in our speed tests, PIA was just okay, not great. When we averaged and ranked all of our speed tests, PIA came in fifth, behind our top picks as well as OVPN and ExpressVPN.
If you’re on a heavily managed Internet connection, be it government censored or just college Wi-Fi, standard VPN connections may be blocked or throttled due to deep packet inspection, a way for providers to analyze what type of traffic is passing over a network even when they can’t see the actual contents. IVPN’s desktop apps include a checkbox for Obfsproxy, which disguises your traffic as more ho-hum data to get it past those types of blocks—like kids stacked in a trenchcoat to pass as an adult, but more convincing. Our budget pick, TorGuard, and competitor ExpressVPN use different methods to disguise traffic, but we couldn’t find documentation on equivalent features from our other top performers.
We're not cryptography experts, so we can't verify all of the encryption claims providers make. Instead, we focus on the features provided. Bonus features like ad blocking, firewalls, and kill switches that disconnect you from the web if your VPN connection drops, go a long way toward keeping you safe. We also prefer providers that support OpenVPN, since it's a standard that's known for its speed and reliability. It's also, as the name implies, open source, meaning it benefits from many developers' eyes looking for potential problems.
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.
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.
Tunneling protocols can operate in a point-to-point network topology that would theoretically not be considered as a VPN, because a VPN by definition is expected to support arbitrary and changing sets of network nodes. But since most router implementations support a software-defined tunnel interface, customer-provisioned VPNs often are simply defined tunnels running conventional routing protocols.
When we test VPNs, we generally start with the Windows client. This is often the most complete review, covering several different platforms as well as the service's features and pricing in depth. That's purely out of necessity, since most of our readers use Windows (although this writer is currently using a MacBook Air). We currently use a Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running the latest version of Windows 10. We periodically upgrade to a newer machine, in order to simulate what most users experience.
When purchasing VPN service from a provider, consider how much you want to pay. Some VPN hosts (such as Open VPN) do offer free services; however, they can be limited in their options. Since there are many competing VPN services, take the time to compare several different hosts by prices and the previously mentioned services they offer. You may be able to get all the services you want and need at a host with a cheaper cost than at another host.
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.
We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about its service and troubleshooting. Most VPN companies provide technical support through online ticketing systems, meaning you’ll need to wait for a response. This means that self-help support sites are even more important, since waiting for a reply while your connection is down can be frustrating. Response times to our support inquiries ranged from 20 minutes to a day.
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.
A “kill switch” goes by many names, but the term describes VPN software that shuts off all network traffic in and out of your computer if the encrypted connection fails. A hiccup in your Wi-Fi or even with your ISP can cause a VPN to disconnect, and if you then maintain an unsecure connection—especially if the VPN software doesn’t alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic—that wipes out all the benefits of your VPN. We considered kill switches to be mandatory. And although we looked for apps that made it easy to add rules about when to activate kill switches, we considered special config files or manual firewall tweaks to be too complex. (iOS doesn’t support any kill-switch features; we address a few iOS-specific problems that apply to all VPN services in a separate section.)
A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user's initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN services, and it boasts some star-studded founding members. The company was founded at CERN, the birthplace of the internet, and grew out of the ProtonMAIL service that’s been protecting the email of activists and journalists for years. The service acts as a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union. It’s also not a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” and user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries, so you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.
Depending on how ISPs respond to a newly deregulated environment, a VPN could tunnel traffic past any choke points or blockades thrown up by ISPs. That said, an obvious response would be to block or throttle all VPN traffic. Or perhaps ISPs will come up with an entirely novel way to monetize the letitude given them by the current lack of net neutrality legislation.
VPNs initially are corporate networks ensuring safely encrypted connections between the company server and the employees. These systems give colleagues who are in different departments the possibility of collaborating without physical contact. VPNs are helpful and assist in office maintenance by allowing their employees to work from anywhere in the world or remotely in the comfort of their homes. The application and use of VPN technologies were started by the Chinese who were after getting the around the restrictions of the great firewall.
Supported Client Software Android, Chrome, Firefox, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, Chrome, Firefox, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, ChromeOS, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, Chrome, iOS, macOS, Opera, Windows Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows Android, iOS, macOS, Windows Android, iOS, macOS, Windows Android, iOS, macOS, Windows
Hopefully, you’re not a candidate for government surveillance, but who knows. Remember, a VPN protects against your internet service provider seeing your browsing history. So you’re protected if a government agency asks your internet service provider to supply records of your internet activity. Assuming your VPN provider doesn’t log your browsing history (some VPN providers do), your VPN can help protect your internet freedom.
Nevertheless, the point of a VPN is to remain private and to have your internet activity kept as private as possible. For that reason, we’re choosing Mullvad as the best overall VPN (see our full review of Mullvad). The company recently released an overhauled desktop client, and the VPN does a great job at privacy. Mullvad doesn’t ask for your email address, and you can mail your payment in cash if you want to. Like many other VPNs, Mullvad has a no-logging policy and doesn’t even collect any identifying metadata from your usage.
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.)
One way to resolve the issue of trust is to be your own VPN provider, but that’s not a feasible option for most people, and it still requires trust in any company providing the hardware that your VPN would run on, such as Amazon’s cloud services. Multiple projects can help you cheaply turn any old server into a VPN, including Algo, Streisand, and Outline. By encrypting all the traffic from your home or mobile device to a server you manage, you deprive your ISP and a potentially villainous VPN of all your juicy traffic logs. But most people lack the skills, patience, or energy—or some combination of the three—to do this. If you don’t manage servers or work in IT, it may be harder to manage perfect operation and performance better than trustworthy professionals. Lastly, though you remove one threat from the equation by cutting out a VPN service provider, you also lose the extra layer of privacy that comes from your traffic mixing in with that of hundreds or thousands of other customers.
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.
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?
The service’s no logs policy means that it does not store user online activity data and promises not to release them unless required by law, ensuring that your information is in safe hands. What sets this service apart from others is its refund policy. Users are able to use it for up to 10 hours or 10GB of bandwith and still get a refund, a far more generous policy than what others have to offer.
With Kodi, you can access your media over a local connection (LAN) or from a remote media server, if that's your thing. This is, presumably, where concerns about VPN enter the picture. A device using a VPN, for example, will have its connection encrypted on the local network. You might have trouble connecting to it. Using Chromecast on a VPN device just doesn't work, for example. Kodi users might have the same issue.
One of the most popular VPN software out in the market today, NordVPN has over 550 servers in 49 different countries. These servers aid users in different needs, which include encryption of both incoming and outgoing data, sending all traffic through a Tor network to safeguard user anonymity and protection against DoS attacks, which are usually done by malignant hackers.
I recommend always using a VPN when using someone else's Wi-Fi network. Here's a good rule of thumb: If you're away from the office or home, and you're using someone else's Wi-Fi (even that of a family member or a friend, because you never know if they've been compromised), use a VPN. It's particularly important if you're accessing a service that has personally identifying information. Remember, a lot goes on behind the scenes, and you never really know if one or more of your apps are authenticating in the background and putting your information at risk.
The only downsides to Private Internet Access are that you can't select your own username — you've got to stick with an assigned random ID — and that you've occasionally got to reinstall a balky driver in Windows. (There's a button to do this.) Selecting Private Internet Access as our VPN service of choice was almost a no-brainer, but because it's based in the U.S., anyone wary of the FBI may want to consider another service.
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.