All that being said, we currently name TorGuard as the fastest VPN service. It doesn't take the top spot in all of our tests, but has remarkably low latency and had the best performance in the all-important download tests. Fittingly, it offers many add-ons such as dedicated IP addresses that, along with its speed, will appeal to the BitTorrent users it is designed to protect.
With endpoints in 18 countries, Kaspersky Secure Connection can be set up so that it connects automatically, connects to an endpoint in a certain country by default, or seeks to establish a connection whenever you connect to an insecure Wi-Fi hotspot. You don’t, however get an automatic killswitch, so if your VPN connection goes south, you won’t be automatically disconnected.
While you're connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and enters the public internet. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted even after it leaves the VPN.
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.
This is also a good way to provide support for more than one family member on a single subscription. Generally, there's no good reason for a VPN provider to allow less than two or three connections. If your provider only allows one, find another vendor. We gave extra points in our VPN directory to those vendors who allowed three or more connections.
As free VPN services are used by the majority of people, aware that they want to make their Internet browsing more secure, paying for one is exponentially better. Not only there are free VPNs that allow for a middle-man to gain access to the sent information, but some of them even sell the users’ data to third parties, while guaranteeing that everything is safe.
"ISPs are in a position to see a lot of what you do online. They kind of have to be, since they have to carry all of your traffic," explains Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior staff technologist Jeremy Gillula. "Unfortunately, this means that preventing ISP tracking online is a lot harder than preventing other third-party tracking—you can't just install [the EFF's privacy-minded browser add-on] Privacy Badger or browse in incognito or private mode."
We performed a thorough analysis on 80+ providers that include freemium VPN services. According to our analysis, TunnelBear, Windscribe, and Speedify are among the Best Free VPN services. These Free services have strict data limitations but they can provide you with much needed online security. However, if you want to engage in Torrenting or streaming, you will have to invest in a premium solution. That’s because Free VPNs don’t offer such premium features or facilities.
Many VPN services claim that if you pay their fee, they'll provide you unlimited data transmission and won't throttle your speeds. Generally, this is true, but I'll give you my standard official "unlimited" warning: It's been my experience that when a vendor says something is "unlimited," it's almost always limited. Somewhere, there will be a note in the fine print or terms of service that allows the vendor to limit you in some way. It pays to read those agreements.
Natively on your operating system with the built-in VPN functionality (no apps required). Many operating systems natively support VPNs: Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. To use this you will need to import your VPN’s configuration files onto your device. This will use the IPSec/IKEv2 or IPSec/L2TP protocols, rather than OpenVPN, since OpenVPN can only be used through apps. (PPTP is also sometimes supported, but this VPN protocol is not recommended due to security vulnerabilities.)
Though Proxy.sh meets many of our basic requirements, in our tests the company’s Safejumper application had constant errors when trying to connect. Given that we were looking for a simple, reliable VPN, this was a dealbreaker. We also found a story from 2013 with bizarre statements from the company about monitoring traffic on a specific server due to concerns about unlawful behavior of a user on the network. Though the transparency is impressive, the decision to actively monitor traffic is disconcerting. In a response given to TorrentFreak at the time, the company stated, “The situation also shows that the only solution we have to help law enforcement agencies find problematic use across our network, is to clearly install a logging capacity on it. As a result, we are able to either comply or shut down the servers we have in a particular location (it happened to us in Czech Republic few months ago).”
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.
Over the course of four months, we scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, and forums to compile the pros and cons of VPN services and different VPN protocols and encryption technologies. That One Privacy Site and privacytools.io stood out as two of the most thorough and unbiased sources of information. We interviewed Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Amul Kalia about government surveillance and VPN efficacy. We also got answers from Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPN providers are for their policies and terms of service, and how that relates to trustworthiness. Alec Muffett, a security expert and software engineer, also shared his views on the usefulness of VPNs to protect against various threats.
Consumers use a private VPN service, also known as a VPN tunnel, to protect their online activity and identity. By using an anonymous VPN service, a user's Internet traffic and data remain encrypted, which prevents eavesdroppers from sniffing Internet activity. VPN services are especially useful when accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots because the public wireless services might not be secure. In addition to public Wi-Fi security, a private VPN service also provides consumers with uncensored Internet access and can help prevent data theft and unblock websites.
Crucially, a VPN works more at the operating system level than the application level. In other words, when you’ve set up a VPN connection, your operating system can route all network traffic through it from all applications (although this can vary from VPN to VPN, depending on how the VPN is configured). You don’t have to configure each individual application.
When you access the internet via Wi-Fi, do you think about who might be spying on your data, or even stealing it? If not, you're in the majority—unfortunately. Everyone ought to be using a virtual private network, or VPN, whether it's at a coffeeshop or even at home. Yet when PCMag ran a survey on VPN usage, we found a surprising 71 percent of our 1,000 respondents had never used a VPN at all. Even among net neutrality supporters—who you might think would be better informed on security and privacy issues—55 percent had never used a VPN.
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.
ExpressVPN operates servers in 78 countries, 20 of them in APAC alone. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It’s consistently performed well in our unblocking tests and our speed tests so is a good option for streaming. It can unblock both the US and Australian Netflix catalogs in a browser as well as in the Netflix app. It keeps no traffic logs and is based in the British Virgin Islands, where it is not subject to any data retention laws. ExpressVPN makes apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux (command line) and some wifi routers.
Beyond the CNET directory, it's always good practice to search "the Google" for a company or product name and read the user reviews. If you see a huge number of old complaints or new complaints suddenly start showing up, it might be that there's been a change of management or policies. When I'm looking for a service, I always base my decision partially on professional reviews and partially based on the tone of user reviews.
If you’re going to use torrents, however, life is easier if you use a VPN—especially if the network you’re on blocks torrenting. There are many VPNs among our top picks that could be used for downloading torrents, but our preferred choice is Private Internet Access. This no-frills VPN has an absolute ton of servers, good speeds, and a nice amount of country locations to remain relatively anonymous. (Read our full review.) The price is right at less than $40 a year, and its privacy policies have been tested in court. Plus, advanced users can adjust their level of encryption for data encryption, data authentication, and handshake.
We're not cryptography experts, so we can't verify all of the encryption claims providers make. Instead, we focus on the features provided. Bonus features like ad blocking, firewalls, and kill switches that disconnect you from the web if your VPN connection drops, go a long way toward keeping you safe. We also prefer providers that support OpenVPN, since it's a standard that's known for its speed and reliability. It's also, as the name implies, open source, meaning it benefits from many developers' eyes looking for potential problems.
A recent FTC complaint alleges Hotspot Shield has been hijacking HTTP requests for e-commerce sites and directing users to affiliate sites instead. If true, that would be an unforgivable abuse of users’ trust. Hotspot Shield is already known for the shady practice of inserting tracking cookies and advertisements into users browsers whenever they use the service, which clearly defeats the purpose of using a VPN. Hotspot Shield is primarily a free service but also has a premium tier. We suggesting keeping your distance from both.
Obfuscation – Obfuscation is a key feature if you are using a VPN in China, schools, work networks, or anywhere that VPNs may be blocked. However, if you are not in a restricted network situation, obfuscation is generally not necessary and may impact performance. (See the best VPN for China guide for a great selection of VPNs with built-in obfuscation features.)
In terms of general performance, Hide My Ass! around the average mark with a quick and stable 6.4MB/s (51.2Mbit/s) for FTP to 6.9MB/s (55.2Mbit/s) HTTP via UK endpoints, and 8.8MB/s (70.4Mbit/s) for FTP and 7.2MB/s (57.6Mbit/s) HTTP in the Netherlands. In other words, pretty good going. VPN connections to the U.S. are almost invariably slower than those to closer geographic endpoints, as you’d expect, the 2.12MB/s (16.96Mbit/d) we got with Hide My Ass this time around was definitely below average.
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If your VPN will primarily support remote users such as telecommuters and traveling employees and these users will access internal LAN resources that use a Network Address Translation (NAT) address rather than a routable IP address, you might have problems with some vendors' VPN products. NAT lets multiple internal network hosts use nonroutable IP addresses to access the Internet through one IP address on a firewall or router. This arrangement provides an additional level of security and lets a company be much more flexible with its address assignments than if it used real IP addresses for all its hosts.
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.
Make sure when allocating VPN connections that the remote computers meet the same security requirements as computers on your local LAN—stricter, if possible. At a minimum, all remote VPN clients should have antivirus software and firewall software to offer some minimal protection, although some personal firewall software can interfere with some VPN client software. Include VPN client systems, such as home computers, field laptops, and partner and vendor machines, in all security assessments or vulnerability scans that you perform. You can check them the same way you check your local machines by making sure your remote VPN clients are logged on when you do your security testing and including the VPN IP range in your tests. Just make sure you get permission before you scan any machines your company doesn't own. If you use Active Directory (AD), you can also push out a standard security policy to your Win2K or later VPN clients to make sure that they conform to the policy for machines on your network.
Another example showing the value of VPNs is using these services to access blocked websites. Some governments have decided that it is in their best interest to block certain websites from access by all members of the population. With a VPN, those people can have their web traffic securely tunneled to a different country with more progressive policies, and access sites that would otherwise be blocked. And again, because VPNs encrypt your traffic, it helps protect the identity of people who connect to the open internet in this way.
Trust and transparency issues are the foremost concerns in choosing a great VPN, and if a service doesn’t have enough locations to be useful to you, all the security features won’t make a difference. But after those concerns have been satisfied, we recommend that most people use connections based on the OpenVPN protocol, because of security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols. (Experienced users may consider IKEv2, but because it has its own debated pros and cons, we ruled it out.) Though AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance.
While it hides your IP address, a VPN is not a true anonymization service. For that, you'll want to access the Tor network, which will almost certainly slow down your connection. While a VPN tunnels your web traffic to a VPN server, Tor bounces around your traffic through several volunteer nodes making it much, much harder to track. Using Tor also grants access to hidden Dark Web sites, which a VPN simply cannot do. That said, some services, such as NordVPN, offer Tor access on specific servers.
We checked Google Searches and other metrics to learn that ZenMate exists as one of the most popular choices for most VPN users. As such, we obviously had to review the provider, which took us around 24-hours. We tested its performance for facets relating to privacy, P2P/Torrenting and streaming/unblocking. Overall, we would say that the Berlin-based provider is definitely upping its game, preparing to compete with other hit services.
VPNs are necessary for improving individual privacy, but there are also people for whom a VPN is essential for personal and professional safety. Some journalists and political activists rely on VPN services to circumvent government censorship and safely communicate with the outside world. Check the local laws before using a VPN in China, Russia, Turkey, or any country with with repressive internet policies.