Borders still exist on the web, in the form of geographic restrictions for streaming content. The BBC iPlayer, for example, lets UK residents watch the Beeb to their heart's content. The rest of the world, not so much. But if you were to select a VPN server in the UK, your computer's IP address would appear to be the same as the server, allowing you to view the content.
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.
We subsidize our free version by displaying advertisements and we do not collect or sell your personally identifiable information. Our free version provides the same basic level of protection that is included in our paid plans. If you would like to remove the ads and get additional benefits, then you can upgrade to Hotspot Shield Premium. When people upgrade to our premium version, it provides additional revenue to keep our service running smoothly.
In conjunction with information security experts at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), we reached out to our finalists with questions about their internal security practices. We asked how they handled internal security access, how they communicated securely with customers, in what ways they collected reports on security bugs, and of course whether their statements on logging policies matched their marketing and privacy policies. We also considered which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership, and which ones openly supported projects and organizations that promoted Internet security and privacy. (For a full breakdown of trust and VPNs, check out the section above.)
To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers down to a manageable list, we first looked at reviews from dedicated sites like vpnMentor and TorrentFreak, research and recommendations from noncommercial sources such as That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io, and user experiences and tips on various subreddits and technology-focused websites like Lifehacker and Ars Technica. We settled on 32 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended. From there, we dug into the details of how each one handled issues from technology to subscriptions:
Hotspot Shield VPN does not log your browsing activity. Almost all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) track your browsing history. So when you use a VPN like Hotspot Shield, there is no record of the websites you have visited and which apps you use. This prevents hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in these websites/apps to get to your personal information.
Speed-wise, Avast SecureLine did well in our European speed tests, with us recording over 9.83MB/s (78.64Mbit/s) in our file transfer tests to the Netherlands. Its US performance was a little below average but still decent at 3.22MB/s (25.76Mbit/s), although UK performance was a bit slower than in our last round of tests, at 6.5MB/s (52Mbit/s) via FTP and 5.8MB/s (46.4Mbit/s) for an HTTP download.
NordVPN operates out of Panama, which means it has no legal obligation to record any of the activities of its users. You're free to connect to any of the 5,000+ VPN servers in 62 countries, and you can use NordVPN on up to six different devices at once. I awarded NordVPN a near-perfect score in my review, focusing on the large set of extra features, like double VPN, P2P-dedicated servers, a DNS leak resolver, and a dedicated single IP address. Grab a year subscription for about $7 a month, go short term with a $12 monthly plan, or choose one-year or six-month plans to best suit your needs.
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.
I have been using PIA for two years now. Actually, I was really skeptic when I first went to the website. It had a stock photo of a family, shady "we are the best" text all around. But hey, I subscribed to give it a try. And it worked wonderful. PIA has been an incredibly solid, fast and reliable VPN provider for me through 2 years. Never had an issue with them whatsoever.
When you're away from home or the office and you connect to the internet, you'll most often be doing so via Wi-Fi provided by your hotel or the restaurant, library, or coffee shop you're working out of in that moment. Sometimes, the Wi-Fi has a password. Other times, it will be completely open. In either case, you have no idea who else is accessing that network, and therefore, you have no idea who might be snooping on your traffic.
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.
If you don't know what Kodi is, you're not alone. However, an analysis of searches leading to our site reveals that a surprising number of you are, in fact looking for VPN that works with the mysterious Kodi. Dictionary.com defines Kodi as a possible misspelling of "Jodi," but PCMag analyst Ben Moore clarified for me that Kodi is "free, open-source software for managing your local collection of movies, television shows, music, and photos."
We've knocked CyberGhost down a peg from last year's standings because the service's network performance wasn't as great this time around in our tests. Yet it has a feature-loaded, user-friendly interface, with convenient buttons in the Windows client software for streaming media, torrenting files, protecting your Wi-Fi transmissions and evading censorship. (The Mac desktop software has fewer features.)
Testing criteria: Each VPN service in this guide was tested for IP address leaks, DNS leaks, connection issues, reliability, speed, and whether the features work correctly. Additionally, I also examined company policies, jurisdiction, logging practices, as well as the history of each VPN provider. The rankings of this list were based on a combination of all these factors.
Internet service providers are an adversary that collects your browsing information and passes this along to third parties, including government agencies. In the UK, internet browsing history can and is used as evidence in prosecuting people for various crimes. In the US, your browsing history can be sold to advertisers and other third parties, which has been perfectly legal since March 2017. Regardless of where you’re at, you should simply assume that your internet provider is logging your activity.
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.)
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ExpressVPN is also one of the best VPNs for streaming. Whether you are using a VPN with Kodi or streaming Netflix with a VPN, ExpressVPN offers great apps for streaming devices and high-capacity bandwidth for HD videos and downloads. Their customer service is also top-notch, with 24/7 live chat support and a 30 day money-back guarantee with all subscription plans. [Learn more >]
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.
We have often said that having to choose between security and convenience is a false dichotomy, but it is at least somewhat true in the case of VPN services. When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is that using a VPN probably isn't going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.
That said, many VPN providers are based outside the US, which complicates enforcement. Jerome continued: “Users can file complaints in a local jurisdiction, and local data protection laws may have more effective enforcement mechanisms. For example, privacy and confidentiality of communications are fundamental rights in the European Union. Data protection authorities in EU-member states are empowered to handle complaints brought by individuals and then provide users with information about the outcome of any investigation. But it is unclear how effective any of these remedies will be.”
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service that offers fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind that you'll need to connect every device in your home individually to the VPN service, so just two or three licenses won't be enough for the average nested pair. Note that many VPN services offer native apps for both Android and iOS, but that such devices count toward your total number of connections.
We asked TorGuard detailed questions about the company’s internal policies and standards, just as we did with five other top-performing services. TorGuard CEO Benjamin Van Pelt answered all our questions, as he has done for other outlets multiple times since the company launched in 2012. Though TorGuard’s answers weren’t as in-depth as some other companies’ responses, Van Pelt is a public figure who has been willing to talk about TorGuard’s operations at length. In 2013, ArsTechnica got a close look at TorGuard’s engineering and network management skills as the company rebuffed repeated attacks on its servers. Even though the company’s marketing is wrought with overreaching claims about being “anonymous”—an inaccurate boast that makes some experts cringe—the technical and operational standards of the company are focused on protecting customer privacy. In one interview with Freedom Hacker, Van Pelt notes that if there were problems on a server, such as someone using it for spamming, the company couldn’t restrict a single user. “Rules would be implemented in that specific server which would limit actions for everyone connected, not just one user. Since we have an obligation to provide fast, abuse free services, our team handles abuse reports per server – not per single user.”
IVPN excels at trust and transparency, the most important factors when you’re choosing a virtual private network. After interviewing IVPN’s CEO, we’re convinced that IVPN is dedicated to its promises not to monitor or log customer activity. But a trustworthy VPN is only as good as its connections, and in our tests IVPN was stable and fast. IVPN apps are easy to set up and use with secure OpenVPN connections on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, plus a few other platforms. Extra features like automatic-connection rules and kill switches to block data on unsecured connections add protection and value that make it worth a slightly higher price than some competitors.
CyberGhost has been around since 2011 and has come out strongly as a supporter of "civil rights, a free society, and an uncensored Internet culture." We really liked how the company specifically showcases, on their Web site, how folks normally prevented from accessing such important services as Facebook and YouTube can bring those services into their lives via a VPN.