If you plan on using a VPN while torrenting, consider the ramifications of the Kill Switch. This feature, found in most VPN services, prevents apps from sending data via the internet when the VPN is disconnected. The idea is that it prevents any information from being transmitted in the clear. The avid BitTorrent downloader needs to decide if they want total and complete protection, or would rather not have their download interrupted.
Criminals aren't the only ones keeping tabs on you. Your ISP received permission from Congress to sell anonymized user data, but it won't be able to peer inside the VPN's tunnel. A VPN can also curb (but probably not entirely stop) efforts by advertisers to track you across the web. And since the NSA's spooks already have the ability to spy on the activities of just about anyone on the internet, using a VPN is a great way to keep their noses out of your business.
Without a VPN, your connection is fully open. Your ISP, employer, the Wi-Fi router in the coffee shop mentioned above, any server along the way, or a person with the right tools can look at your data, log it and use it in ways you can’t control. Government agencies can monitor your online activity and share the retained metadata with each other, including across country borders through intelligence alliances such as “14 Eyes.” Based on your IP address, which depends on your geographic location, third-party sites and services may charge different prices or display intrusive targeted advertising.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides you with a direct, encrypted connection to a private network via the internet. In business, they’re widely used to allow remote workers to securely access their employer’s office network as though they were physically connected to it. However, the desire for online privacy has led to the rise of consumer-oriented VPN tunnelling services which, rather than connecting to a remote private network, route your internet connection via a remote server. These services provide both a way of encrypting and anonymising your internet use and of appearing to be located in another country.
Security-wise, ExpressVPN is impressive, with strong 256-bit AES encryption and support for lots of VPN protocols. The company offers a strict no logging policy, which means no tracking or storing of personal data and that data is encrypted and hidden from all eyes, even ExpressVPN's. There’s a handy kill switch and DNS/IPv6 leak protection. A split tunneling feature for Mac and Windows allows users to protect their torrent client only, leaving other activities such as gaming unaffected by the VPN and not suffering a drop in speed. There’s also TOR compatibility for serious users and the company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, which means there are no data retention laws.
Secure IP Binding (Kill Switch): We love this functionality. From this window, you can set a list of applications that cannot connect to the Internet unless the HMA VPN is active. IP binding prevent accidental information leaks like, for instance, if you have applications that update automatically. The update could start at a time when the VPN is off, and so your data is unprotected. IP binding will prevent that not allowing the application to go online unless the VPN is active.
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.
As we previously noted, we don't recommend relying on our picks to get around geographic restrictions on copyrighted content. The practice is likely illegal, and it violates the terms of service of your ISP, VPN, and content provider. On top of that, it often doesn't work—we couldn't access Netflix over any of the services we tried, and of the four streams we loaded on BBC iPlayer, only two worked a few days later.
We didn’t find any problems when we tested other aspects of TorGuard’s performance. Each time we checked our location via IP address, it accurately resolved to the location of a TorGuard server. Neither our true IP address nor our location was exposed when we tested for DNS leaks and IPv6 leaks. TorGuard runs its own DNS servers—a requirement for all the VPNs we tested—so the routing that happens when you go to a website isn’t released to your ISP, Google, or anyone else. And since TorGuard doesn’t support IPv6, the app disables it completely, just like IVPN.
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.
Other actions from Washington, namely the FCC decision to roll back net neutrality rules, have sparked an interest in VPNs. For those who are unaware, net neutrality is the idea that ISPs must treat all web content equally. Without it, ISPs could charge companies or consumers an extra fee to get faster connections. They could potentially create a system where consumers must sign up for specific plans to access web services like Netflix or Twitter. VPNs may restore net neutrality somewhat, but it will depend on how ISPs respond to the latest stint of deregulation.
Hide My Ass offers a series of anonymity and privacy services to the point where they have become notorious for helping people get away with saying and doing as they like on the Internet. One of their services includes HMA Pro VPN, but it need not be used for nefarious purposes. Many people use their remote servers to access websites that they cannot access from their own country. The biggest issue that people have with the VPN service is that you need to pay a fee.
IPVanish has over 165 servers in 60 countries and supports diverse protocols. Recently, they just added a Kill Switch option to their new application. It ensures you will never connect to the Internet without VPN protection. The download speeds are generally just as fast as our normal connection and we can stream Netflix without buffering. Note that VPN may slow down your connection speed a bit but it does protect you from tracking. Prices start at only $4.87 a month (billed annually) with 7-day money back guarantee, you can simply cancel your membership at any time.
With VPNs you can access streaming services which are usually blocked to overseas viewers. You can do this by simply connecting to a VPN server in the appropriate country. Unsurprisingly, both Netflix and BBC iPlayer attempt to block VPN users. These blocks are often ineffective, and many providers have found ways around them. For more information about unblocking the most common services see our VPN for Netflix and VPN for BBC iPlayer guides.
As a result, it becomes much harder for others to see what you're doing online, or to correlate online activities with you directly. A great example is public Wi-Fi. When you're on the coffeeshop Wi-Fi, someone else on the same network could be monitoring your activity. The network itself could be a phoney one put up by ne'er-do-wells in an effort to intercept all of your personal information.
As you can read in our CyberGhost review, the service does things a little differently than most other providers in this list: rather than offer you a list of servers and letting you figure it out on your own from there, you get to choose from several “profiles” instead. Profiles are based on what you’ll be doing on the internet: choosing the “torrenting” profile sends you to the nearest P2P-enabled server.
Hide.me is a premium non-logging VPN service. Their prices are higher than most (if you want the top plan which allows 5 simultaneous connections) but the think I absolutely love (besides the uncrowded servers) is the fact that every single server location has SOCKS5 proxy access. Any one of these can be used with your favorite torrent client, from any of their 20+ server locations.
Using a VPN makes your web traffic jump through more hoops than normal, or optimal. As a result, you're probably going to see some slowdown in your online experience while the VPN is in use. To get a sense of this impact, I compare the average results from Ookla's speed test tool to find the percent change with the VPN on and off. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) Ookla measures latency as well as speeds for uploads and downloads, which I use in my testing.
That said, using a VPN service may help keep your data from being captured by some types of passive data collection, and in countries with less sophisticated and less well-funded intelligence agencies, a trustworthy VPN service is better than nothing. We asked Kalia if the standards that most VPNs use are secure against government intrusion. He outlined three ways that VPN traffic could be vulnerable:
Similar to the US, copyright trolls send threatening letters to torrenters after identifying their IP address. While we’re not legal experts in German law, the consensus of what to do if you receive a letter is also similar to the US: if it doesn’t identify you by name and doesn’t come directly from the police, ignore it and just let the statute of limitations period expire.
Unfortunately, not all devices will allow you to use all these protocols. Since most of them were built by Microsoft, you’ll be able to use them on all Windows PCs. For Apple devices, you will come across some limitations. For example, L2TP/IPsec is the default protocol for iPhone. And Android … well, Android has some problems of its own, which we’ll get to later on.