When it comes to servers, more is always better. More servers mean that you're less likely to be shunted into a VPN server that is already filled to the brim with other users. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard currently lead the pack with well over 3,000 servers each—NordVPN is at the forefront with 5,130 servers. But the competition is beginning to heat up. Last year, only a handful of companies offered more than 500 servers, now it's becoming unusual to find a company offering fewer than 1,000 servers.
After a year of new reviews, it’s time to update our best VPN guide. If this is your first time, welcome. Over the course of it, we’re going to show the best VPN providers for every use case, accounting for streaming, torrenting, general privacy and more. If you don’t care to read the 6,000 or so words that make it up, though, you can go easy mode and just sign up for an account with ExpressVPN.
To be fair, not all pay VPN services are legitimate, either. It's important to be careful who you choose. Over on ZDNet's sister site, CNET, I've put together an always up-to-date directory of quality VPN providers. To be fair, some are better than others (and that's reflected in their ratings). But all are legitimate companies that provide quality service.
VPN was not the first technology to make remote connections. Several years ago, the most common way to connect computers between multiple offices was by using a leased line. Leased lines, such as ISDN (integrated services digital network, 128 Kbps), are private network connections that a telecommunications company could lease to its customers. Leased lines provided a company with a way to expand its private network beyond its immediate geographic area. These connections form a single wide-area network (WAN) for the business. Though leased lines are reliable and secure, the leases are expensive, with costs rising as the distance between offices increases.
Security is the main reason why corporations have used VPNs for years. There are increasingly simple methods to intercept data traveling to a network. WiFi spoofing and Firesheep are two easy ways to hack information. A useful analogy is that a firewall protects your data while on the computer and a VPN protects your data on the web. VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers. Most savvy computer users wouldn't dream of connecting to the Internet without a firewall and up-to-date antivirus. Evolving security threats and ever increasing reliance on the Internet make a Virtual Private Network an essential part of well-rounded security. Integrity checks ensure that no data is lost and that the connection has not been hijacked. Since all traffic is protected, VPNs are preferred over proxies.
The best part of all: all plans are backed up by a 31-day refund guarantee. This allows you to test-drive the service and its capabilities. Acceptable payment methods are quite diverse and include options like PayPal, AliPay, Payment Wall, Bitcoin and even Gift Cards. Once you start using the service, you get to leverage fast vpn speeds and strong unblocking features.
Not all mobile VPN apps are created equal. In fact, most VPN providers offer different services (and sometimes, different servers) for their mobile offerings than they do for their desktop counterparts. We're pleased to see that NordVPN and Private Internet Access provide the same excellent selection of servers regardless of platform. These apps received an Editors' Choice nod both for desktop VPN apps and Android VPN apps.
Some virtual networks use tunneling protocols without encryption for protecting the privacy of data. While VPNs often do provide security, an unencrypted overlay network does not neatly fit within the secure or trusted categorization. For example, a tunnel set up between two hosts with Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) is a virtual private network, but neither secure nor trusted.
However, the VPN’s reputation has suffered a little. Its Android software made an appearance in the list of “intrusive or malicious” apps. This is of course, a rare instance for a service of this stature. Nevertheless, the VPN still ranks among the greatest and safest choices online, especially for engaging in P2P activities. The monthly pricing starts at $11.99, which is quite expensive.
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.
A VPN encrypts all of the Internet traffic between your computer and the VPN server, preventing anyone on your local network, or connection points along the way, from monitoring or modifying your traffic. Beyond the VPN server (in other words, on the rest of the way to whatever Internet server you’re connecting to), your traffic mixes with traffic from other people on the VPN and the rest of the Internet. Ideally, that makes your traffic traceable only to the VPN server, not to your home, office, or computer. You can read a more detailed explanation in our post about what a VPN is and when using one makes sense.
It is possible for some background services to send information across that initial, unsecured connection before the VPN loads. To be fair, the risk is relatively minor for most usage profiles. If you're establishing a connection automatically to your corporate server, you will definitely want to check with your IT team about how they want you to set things up.