HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.
An impressive and fast VPN service, Buffered VPN offers total online security and world-class customer support. The service boasts of providing access to content from any country in the world. This is achieved through the service’s server locations in 45 countries. It supports Windows, Linux and Mac platforms, but can also be set up on Android and iOS. The service offers excellent latencies and fast upload speeds, very good for browsing.
Tip for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera users: A feature called WebRTC can, in some Web browsers, inadvertently cause your true IP address to leak out even when you’re connected via a great VPN. WebRTC assists with peer-to-peer connections, such as for video chatting, but could be exploited in some cases. You can manually disable this function in Firefox, or use an extension to block most instances of it in Chrome or Opera. For more details and instructions, check out Restore Privacy.
Businesses big and small also benefit from setting up VPN connections. VPN allows employees who are working from home to connect to a private network over the internet while still protecting their IP addresses. A VPN service gives protection to the business and the employee. The software is typically installed on the employee’s computer, and the employee uses the service to perform daily tasks as if the employee is logged in locally.
Installing and configuring ProtonVPN’s Windows client was simple enough and it provided some of the best in-use statistics. Performance was at the lower end of our comparison group at 39 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up, compared to our usual 125 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up. Netflix was blocked, but Amazon Prime Video and our other test services connected without a hitch.
Computer and software providers work hard to make sure that the devices you buy are safe right out of the box. But they don't provide everything you'll need. Antivirus software, for example, consistently outperforms the built-in protections. In the same vein, VPN software lets you use the web and Wi-Fi with confidence that your information will remain secure. It's critically important and often overlooked.
Another VPN with a money-back guarantee is CyberGhost. The theme we were seeing here was that when servers are good, they're really good, but when they're bad, they're really bad. However, after looking through Reddit threads, we're not really sure how this ranked in the top three. The biggest thing: This is not the VPN to get if you're looking to torrent or stream, as it's known to be pretty slow. Reddit user NewWorld98 writes:
There are different levels of security protocols, each with its own level of security and features. Some of the most common are IPSec, L2TP, IKEv2, OpenVPN, and PPTP. OpenVPN is a newer technology, but it is highly configurable and easily bypasses firewalls in any country. L2TP isn’t capable of encryption; it instead creates a tunnel, and it should be paired with IPSec, which takes care of encryption. PPTP is a protocol that has been around since the mid-1990s, but because it does not encrypt, you will want to be sure to use another protocol with it that covers encryption. IKEv2 is an IPSec-based tunneling protocol that will reestablish a VPN connection if a user temporarily loses Internet connection.
Like Avast, Avira got into the VPN business to complement its antivirus offerings. Phantom VPN is easy to use and gives you up to 1GB of data per month for free, making this service ideal for vacation travelers who just need to check email. Its unlimited paid plans are reasonably priced, but it had slow downloads and dropped connections in our 2017 tests.
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.
Best for Frequent Flyers (VPN Anywhere): The name Hide My Ass (HMA) speaks for itself and can protect your data, identity and ultimately your derriere in a variety of far-flung places. Owned by security software company Avast, the HMA Pro VPN service has an extraordinary geographic scope with 900 servers in 190 countries, including Russia and Albania. The VPN service can obscure your location, protect data traffic and shuffle its IP addresses for greater anonymity. It lacks a firewall or ad blocker, though. There’s software for PCs (Vista, 7, 8, 10) and Macs (OSX 10.5), iOS and Android systems as well as some open-source routers. An HMA account supports up to five simultaneous users. Its blue and white interface is small and lets you choose among Instant Mode (one-click connect), Location Mode (pick your server) or Freedom Mode (the closest free-speech friendly country). Unlike PIA, you select a user name. At $12 a month, it’s more expensive than PIA but a full year costs $5 a month. Its UK headquarters means that HMA’s logs should be beyond the reach of American spy agencies.
ExpressVPN is another highly-rated premium VPN service that has been praised for its customer service and includes all the features you'd expect from a top-rated VPN such as unlimited bandwidth, unlimited speed, and strong encryption. You're able to connect up to three devices simultaneously via ExpressVPNs thousands of servers in more than 94 different countries.
Because few VPN companies offer live support, we appreciate when they at least provide easy-to-follow resources on their websites. Detailed setup guides with step-by-step instructions are available for every platform IVPN supports, and it breaks down troubleshooting advice into language that’s easy to understand. ExpressVPN also has clear, helpful support articles, but other services aren’t as straightforward. It’s harder to find the right information on TorGuard’s support site, and its articles aren’t as novice-friendly. If you need to submit a ticket for a specific problem, you can expect a quick response from all the companies we tested—IVPN and TorGuard both responded to us in minutes, and PIA took the longest at one day. ExpressVPN was the only one of our finalists that offered tech support over live chat. (Other companies provide live chat only for sales and signup support.)
The software supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices. It also has plugins for browsers such as Chrome and Opera. This feature basically protects any device that can run a browser. Installation takes only seconds and does not require additional tweaking. The app’s Vigilant Mode prevents data from leaking while TunnelBear is reconnecting. The solution can also disguise VPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic. As for security, the platform provides a list of Wi-Fi network that can be trusted.
Buffered VPN doesn't disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take their service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company lost a few points from us because they do keep some connection information. They gained points for their client support, unlimited bandwidth, and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.