That's not to say a VPN makes you invisible to spies or law enforcement. Your traffic could still be intercepted in any number of ways. A VPN does make it harder to correlate online activities to you, and adds a layer of encryption during parts of your online traffic's journey. A determined, well-funded adversary that has singled you out for surveillance will likely find a way. But VPNs and widespread adoption of HTTPS make it much harder for mass surveillance to work as it has in the past.
Price: proXPN has a free plan, which limits your transfer speeds to 300kpbs and restricts you to one exit location (Miami) in the United States. Premium accounts unlock support for PPTP (if you want to connect a mobile device or a router,) remove the transfer cap, and allows you to choose from any of the company’s other exit locations. Premium plans start at $10/mo, and you can read more about their pricing and plans here.
IPVanish’s virtual private network is one of the best available. The service offers one of the most streamlined and efficient experiences around, no matter what their location. Users can log in from anywhere around the world and experience the same fast speeds and quality servers. IPVanish offers subscriptions at a very low price, with options to personalize IP locations and secure your Wi-Fi connection from hackers.
TunnelBear for Chrome only secures your browser data while TunnelBear for Windows and macOS secures all the data that leaves your computer. TunnelBear for Windows / macOS is also much more resistant to blocking in censored countries. If you live in a censored country, or frequently use apps outside your browser, you should stick with our macOS and Windows apps. If you are looking for a lightweight solution just for your browser then TunnelBear for Chrome is for you.
Large sites and platforms that trade in personal information, such as Google, track clicks, search terms, and other behavior associated with each particular IP address, even if you aren’t logged in to an account on those sites. Facebook collects, sells, and shares information, too, and that info can be used for purposes beyond marketing. By changing your IP address with a VPN, and mingling your activity with that of potentially dozens or hundreds of other people using the same VPN server, you make it harder for those sites to build a marketing profile based on your personal online behavior. Of course, if you’re signed in to your assorted online services, you’re out of luck regardless of VPNs or browser extensions. If you’re curious about how well major companies protect your data privacy from broad government data requests, check out the EFF’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” report.
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote... See Full Bio
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands which, although a British Overseas Territory, isn’t beholden to the strict data retention laws of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act. If you’re after anonymous payment options, you can buy your subscription with bitcoin if you wish – and if you don’t want to, then ExpressVPN has a clearly stated no-logging policy. This has been put to the test by the Turkish authorities, who seized endpoint servers last December, and found no logs.
Even when browsing online in the comfort of your own home, using a VPN is a pretty good idea. For instance, you may want to buy your little nephew a birthday gift online without being bombarded with toy truck ads for next six months. Or perhaps you need to do a quick research of health clinics without attracting your employer’s attention. If you live in the US, you may simply want to know that your ISP will not be able to sell your entire browsing history to the highest bidder.
In light of that information, when asked if even the best VPN services could secure communications against government intrusion into private traffic, Amul Kalia, an analyst for digital privacy and online advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “If you mean the NSA, there are probably ways that the agency can get to you if they really want to. But if you’re interested in preventing passive snooping of your Internet traffic, then you’re probably fine using a secure VPN.”
Cost: StrongVPN offers two plan options: one month and annual. Their annual plan will give you the biggest bang for your buck, coming out to just $5.83 per month (if you pay $69.96 annually). Their monthly plan is $10. Fortunately, each tier comes with the same set of features, so you won’t get cheated out of certain levels of encryption depending on which plan you subscribe to.
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.
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.
Technical: HMA utilizes various VPN technologies such as OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. Each VPN server has a set number of IP addresses; each time a customer connects to one of HMA’s VPN servers, they are assigned a sheared IP address. HMA does not NAT customer connections, meaning the total amount of simultaneous connections they can support is the total amount of IP addresses that they offer, which is 2,800 + IP addresses.
Although many wrongly consider it an entry-level provider, Vypr is a leading virtual networking client that suits even advanced user needs. Once prone to issues with slow loading times and limited connectivity in certain parts of the world, Vypr is constantly upgrading and improving – so much so that they have found their way back to the top of many lists. The client is very affordable but can be frustrating during peak hours.
Speed-wise, when connected to VPNHub’s UK and Netherlands endpoints, our FTP and HTTP downloads came in at around 10MB/s (80Mbit/s). Connecting to U.S. endpoints gave us 4.8MB/s (38.4Mbit/s) via FTP and 4.2MB/s (33.6Mbit/s) via HTTP. While that’s good enough for everyday browsing and streaming, your results may vary – we connected to U.S Netflix no problem, but, as with many VPNs on this list, BBC iPlayer promptly showed us the door.
That might make you think that, if you’re not doing anything illegal, there’s no harm in your ISP having that information, but law-abiding internet users still have reason to be concerned: new internet privacy rules limiting what an ISP could do with your data were rolled back in 2017. President Donald Trump signed the repeal into law, and ISPs can now collect and, at least in theory, use your personal data for marketing purposes.
Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) can tunnel an entire network's traffic (as it does in the OpenVPN project and SoftEther VPN project) or secure an individual connection. A number of vendors provide remote-access VPN capabilities through SSL. An SSL VPN can connect from locations where IPsec runs into trouble with Network Address Translation and firewall rules.
VyprVPN is a powerful contender if you’re after performance and security. It boasts great speeds due to a staggering network of 700+ serves and more than 200K IP addresses. They own and manage their servers, which translates into reliable uptime, lag-free performance, top-notch support and great speeds. Add in unlimited bandwidth and P2P support, successful handling of Netflix and Steam geo blocks, and you can check all your VPN must-have features right off the bat.
Using HMA’s VPN service will protect your online habits so you can access your legally-subscribed video content like netflix even when you’re on the road and also allow you to avoid spammers, scammers, and skimmers who are after your personal information. But take care when you want to do something illegal – the example of the Lulzsec Hacker Cody Kretzinger (Sabu) has shown that HidemyAss gives its users information to the FBI if the pressure from the authorities is big enough.
The more you information you share online, the easier it is for advertisers, hackers and anyone else to access your data. Sophisticated systems and programs exist, and data miners are often several steps ahead of mainstream internet sites. Don't allow your personal or private information be compromised by unsecured internet connection or by public internet access points. Windscribe VPN for Chrome is a simple but powerful way to keep your private activity in your own hands.
VPNs also only do so much to anonymize your online activities. If you really want to browse the web anonymously, and access the dark web to boot, you'll want to use Tor. Unlike a VPN, Tor bounces your traffic through several server nodes, making it much harder to trace. It's also managed by a non-profit organization and distributed for free. Some VPN services will even connect to Tor via VPN, for additional security.
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.
Connecting to the ZenMate servers via your Chrome browser is like strolling around the web in a designer invisibility cloak. ZenMate guarantees that your private data remains private. It lets you adapt to the constantly changing online environment so you are able to navigate challenging times without sacrificing your anonymity. Cut off the whole mob that is preying on you and your data when browsing. This way, you can use the internet as intended and not become the product. You’re not a handbag, Steve. Or whatever your name is. You’re a human being.
Access to Netflix and other streaming services is rock solid thanks to dedicated streaming servers. Torrenting/Kodi performance is equally good except on US servers, where P2P traffic is sadly banned. Download speeds on local connections are typically over 178Mbps and while they drop off on international servers, it’s always enough for HD streaming.
L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with Internet Protocol Security): L2TP is not secure itself, so it's generally paired with the IPsec secure-networking standard. The combination of the two was once thought to be very secure when properly implemented, but some VPN services suggest that you use OpenVPN instead. L2TP/IPsec has native support in Windows, OS X/macOS, Android, Chrome OS and iOS. Most VPN services support it.
Our table and reviews detail both where each service is based and whether it retains any connection logs. However, logging isn’t the be-all and end-all of VPN security. We’ve restricted ourselves to testing services from reputable companies with a proven track record, but it’s impossible to truly know how much faith can be put in any organisation’s claims about their logging policy.
While a VPN can aid privacy and anonymity, I wouldn’t recommend fomenting the next great political revolution by relying solely on a VPN. Some security experts argue that a commercial VPN is better than a free proxy such as the TOR network for political activity, but a VPN is only part of the solution. To become an internet phantom (or as close as you can realistically get to one), it takes a lot more than a $7 monthly subscription to a VPN.
In recent times, VPN services have made giant leaps in growing from niche online products hidden away in a dark corner of the internet to almost must-have services for anyone with an internet connected device. VPN is very much in the mainstream now and luckily that broadened appeal has done wonders for the usability of the services themselves - there are some brilliant options available in 2018.
Our next pick for best VPN of 2018 is IPVanish. The service permits torrenting and throws in a free Smart DNS service for all customers. The biggest downside is that it’s based in the US —not an ideal location since the NSA is notorious for its intensive and often illegal surveillance. To combat this, IPVanish doesn’t keep logs and does provide DNS leak protection. Despite being a little stripped-down, works very well.
With hundreds of VPN services and clients available, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. We've extensively tested several popular VPN services that met three requirements: They had both desktop and mobile client software (with one exception), they had VPN servers in many countries, and they offered unlimited data use, at least in their paid versions.
ISPs (Internet service providers) have a much broader reach than any individual website when it comes to what behavior they can track and what types of information they technically and legally can collect. But few ISPs are transparent about how much information about their customers they store and for how long, instead relying on broad disclosures in their fine print. In theory, a VPN will prevent an ISP from monitoring or logging all the traffic to and from your home Internet connection, because your data is encrypted as it passes through your ISP—at best they’d see gibberish passing from your home to a VPN server.
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.)
NordVPN is a great all-rounder. With a strong focus on privacy and a willingness to keep innovating in the VPN space, NordVPN is a great VPN at a great price. Nord offers an industry-leading six simultaneous connections which means that everyone in the family can use the VPN at the same time. With clients available for all major platforms, the software looks great and works well. A three-day free trial is a nice bonus if you are looking to take it for a test drive, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee gives you plenty of time if you change your mind. NordVPN permits torrenting, works with all major streaming services (e.g. iPlayer and Netflix) and has robust privacy policies in place to ensure you remain anonymous.
What data we collect: We will store a time stamp and IP address when you connect and disconnect to our VPN service, the amount of data transmitted (up- and download) during your session together with the IP address of the individual VPN server used by you. We do not store details of, or monitor, the websites you connect to when using our VPN service.
So don't use a Chrome VPN extension if you're trying to hide from the FBI or the secret police. The extensions also can't protect your data if you're using an open Wi-Fi network in a cafe or an airport lounge. To their credit, many VPN providers state on their Chrome Web Store pages that the browser extensions are not to be used for security or privacy purposes.
Even though Tor is free, we don’t think it’s the best option for most people. If you aren’t familiar with Tor, this handy interactive graphic shows how it protects an Internet connection, and this series goes into more detail about how Tor works. Runa Sandvik, a former researcher with The Tor Project who is now part of the information security team at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), described it as “a tool that allows users to remain anonymous and uncensored.” When we asked expert Alec Muffett about whether he personally used a VPN, he told us he actually spent most of his work time using Tor. But Tor has a reputation for slow connections, can be blocked by some websites, and isn’t suitable for some peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent.
VPN technology was developed as a way to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources. To ensure safety, data travels through secure tunnels, and VPN users must use authentication methods -- including passwords, tokens or other unique identification procedures -- to gain access to the VPN server.
These services offer many ways to connect, including without the service's client software; support operating systems and devices, such as routers or set-top boxes, beyond just the "big four" operating systems (Windows, Mac, Android and iOS); have hundreds, or even thousands, of servers in dozens of countries; and generally let the user sign up and pay anonymously.
When we say that in theory VPNs can’t be intercepted, that’s because VPNs are like any other form of security: if you use them on a device that’s already been compromised by malware such as keyloggers or other security threats then they can’t do their job properly. If you’re on Windows, then good quality, up to date anti-virus software isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential.
Many VPN providers deliberately write overly complicated and ambiguous privacy policies to confuse users. Stay far away from such providers as these are most likely trying to hide their actual practices for how they treat their users’ privacy. Always remember that one of the hallmarks of the best VPN service providers is that they value the privacy of their users.
Mobile Apps: If you’re going to spend money on a VPN service provider (or even if you use a free one, frankly), you should be able to get a consistent experience across all of your devices. Most prominent providers offer desktop and mobile solutions for individual users, and while corporate and school networks may be a bit behind the curve here, they’re catching up too. Make sure you don’t have to use two different VPNs with two different policies and agreements just because you want to secure your phone along with your laptop.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address", "dedicated IP", or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.
I don't believe it is possible to make a determination about the benefits of a company based solely on its location. However, it is important to understand the laws and policies at work in a company with such intimate access to your information. I encourage readers to consider this information, and choose a VPN service with which they can feel comfortable.