If you’re just getting started with VPNs and want a basic VPN for using on public Wi-Fi hotspots or accessing region-restricted websites, there are a few good, simple options. We like ExpressVPN because they have great speeds and a lot more functionality than average including clients for almost any device—you can even get a router pre-installed with their VPN client.
Mullvad is not that easy to use, with a bare-bones desktop interface and, unlike every other VPN service we've reviewed, no mobile client apps. (You do get instructions on how to manually set up OpenVPN apps.) This service's network speeds were far from great in our tests, and it's fairly expensive, with no discount for paying yearly instead of monthly.
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.
You can pay for a Windscribe subscription with bitcoin, and you don't even have to provide an email address. The service is based in Canada, which may appeal to users wary of U.S. authorities. The only feature lacking is a kill switch to stop all internet activity if the VPN connection is lost while in use, but Windscribe argues that its built-in firewall prevents data leakage.
If VPN connections get blocked by your network because of strict network management or government censorship, TorGuard offers a “stealth” connection to avoid deep packet inspection. Specifically, TorGuard uses Stunnel (a clever portmanteau of SSL and tunnel) to add an extra layer of encryption and make your traffic look like normal, secure Web traffic. If you’re having connection issues, you can enable Stunnel with a checkbox on the main application window, but only if you select TCP from the protocol list. (Otherwise, the box is unclickable, with no explanation as to why.)
If you require a high level of trust on the authentication process as well as the encryption, you might consider using digital certificates instead of the standard preshared secret key that most VPNs default to. Digital certificates guarantee that the person trying to connect is who he or she says he or she is. A separate digital certificate for each end connection can be expensive; however, some VPN vendors offer authentication services that provide a bulk discount on certificates.
To understand the value of a VPN, it helps to think of some specific scenarios in which a VPN might be used. Consider the public Wi-Fi network, perhaps at a coffee shop or airport. Normally, you might connect without a second thought. But do you know who might be watching the traffic on that network? Can you even be sure the Wi-Fi network is legit, or might it operated by a thief who's after your personal data? Think about the passwords, banking data, credit card numbers, and just plain private information that you transmit every time you go online.
A VPN client is software that runs on your device in order to securely connect it to a VPN server. All major platforms (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux) come with a built-in VPN client that can be configured manually, although OpenVPN always requires a third party client to be installed. Most VPN services now offer custom clients and apps, which are the easiest way to use their service as they come pre-configured with all the correct settings. They also typically offer a range of funky and useful features that are not available by simply manually configuring the built-in VPN client. To clear up any confusion, a ''VPN client'' and a ''VPN app'' are exactly the same thing. Traditionally, the word client is used for desktop software and the word app for mobile software, but it is becoming increasingly common to talk about VPN apps on the desktop. The terms are interchangeable.
Given the aggressive pricing and marketing of other services that don’t measure up to our picks, IVPN’s most obvious downside may look like its price: At the time of this writing, the regular price for an annual IVPN subscription is $100 (about $8 per month). Promotions regularly bringing that down to $70 to $80 per year, but some services have regular pricing of half that. But you shouldn’t pay for a VPN you can’t trust, or one so slow or confusing that you avoid using it at all. We think IVPN’s combination of trust, security, and performance is worth the price. But if it’s too expensive for your needs, consider our budget pick instead.
HTTPS is a powerful tool that everyone should use because it helps keep sensitive browsing private at no extra cost to the people using it. But like most security standards, it has its own problems too. That little lock icon in your browser bar, which indicates the HTTPS connection, relies on a certificate “signed” by a recognized authority. But there are hundreds of such authorities, and as the EFF says, “the security of HTTPS is only as strong as the practices of the least trustworthy/competent CA [certificate authorities].” Plus, there have been plenty of news stories covering minor and even major vulnerabilities in the system. Some security professionals have worried about those least-competent authorities, spurring groups to improve on the certificate standards and prompting browsers to add warnings when you come across certificates and sites that don’t withstand scrutiny. So HTTPS is good—but like anything, it isn’t perfect.
Instead of logically tying the endpoint of the network tunnel to the physical IP address, each tunnel is bound to a permanently associated IP address at the device. The mobile VPN software handles the necessary network-authentication and maintains the network sessions in a manner transparent to the application and to the user. The Host Identity Protocol (HIP), under study by the Internet Engineering Task Force, is designed to support mobility of hosts by separating the role of IP addresses for host identification from their locator functionality in an IP network. With HIP a mobile host maintains its logical connections established via the host identity identifier while associating with different IP addresses when roaming between access networks.
What makes NordVPN stand out in terms of security can also be applied for making it a real private network. NordVPN’s privacy standards are highly advanced, such as the Onion Over VPN feature, which includes the TOR network service as another layer of privacy. The VPN’s double encryption makes it impossible for a middle-man to see what is transferred through the tunnel. In case of any intrusion, there is also a kill-switch, which is an added bonus we welcome whole-heartedly. NordVPN also utilizes an anonymized login policy that conceals your identity further, making the service privacy-friendly.
Another reason to use a VPN is for torrenting. The risks of torrenting with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act present are real. Though doing so may only result in a notice from your ISP in certain countries, in others it may lead to a fine or jail time. We’re not here to condone torrenting copyrighted content, or deter it, but you should be using a VPN if you’re going to pirate.
Most VPN services allow you to connect to servers in many different countries. In our VPN directory, we list both the number of servers the service maintains, as well as the number of countries. By default, you'll usually be assigned a server in your home country, but if you want to obfuscate your location, you may want to connect to a server in a different country.
VPN.ac is a security-focused provider that is based in Romania. It was created by a team of network security professionals with an emphasis on security, strong encryption, and high-quality applications. Their network is composed entirely of dedicated, bare-metal servers that offer great performance, as seen in the latest speed tests for the VPN.ac review.
The only downsides to Private Internet Access are that you can't select your own username — you've got to stick with an assigned random ID — and that you've occasionally got to reinstall a balky driver in Windows. (There's a button to do this.) Selecting Private Internet Access as our VPN service of choice was almost a no-brainer, but because it's based in the U.S., anyone wary of the FBI may want to consider another service.
Reddit users give Nord praise because it actually seems trustworthy, especially compared to other VPNs that may hand over information to the wrong people. Nord is also equipped with the ability to connect to a Double VPN, which encrypts your traffic twice for double the protection. One NordVPN fan on Reddit, Sacredkeep, even mentioned that NordVPN solved the problems that PureVPN and PIA gave them. Plus if you have any issues, Nord offers a 24/7 live chat. If you want a no frills, no worries situation, NordVPN is the simple, smooth operator that has your back. Get one month for $11.95, one year for $6.99/month, or two years for $3.99 per month.
The well-publicized case of the intruder who cracked Microsoft's VPN, accessed the corporate network, and almost made away with the company's precious source code should be a warning. VPNs offer many benefits but also open a hole into your network, usually bypassing your firewall or going right through it. So, you need to carefully consider which VPN product to choose and how to install and run it.
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.
The VPN services market has exploded in the past few years, and a small competition has turned into an all-out melee. Many providers are capitalizing on the general population's growing concerns about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it's getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service and when it's throwing out a lot of fancy words while selling snake oil. In fact, since VPN services have become so popular in the wake of Congress killing ISP privacy rules, there have even been fake VPNs popping up, so be careful. It's important to keep a few things in mind when evaluating which VPN service is right for you: reputation, performance, type of encryption used, transparency, ease of use, support, and extra features. Don't just focus on price or speed, though those are important factors.
These folks have been around since 2010, and don't log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.