A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
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.
Private Internet Access, or PIA, is one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs available. Because of its reputation and advocacy concerning online privacy and security, it has also been a Wirecutter staff pick. But whether you prioritize speed and performance or trust and transparency, our top pick is a better bet. If you find PIA attractive because of its low price, note that spending just a little more on TorGuard will buy you much better performance.
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.
Another VPN with a money-back guarantee is CyberGhost. The theme we were seeing here was that when servers are good, they're really good, but when they're bad, they're really bad. However, after looking through Reddit threads, we're not really sure how this ranked in the top three. The biggest thing: This is not the VPN to get if you're looking to torrent or stream, as it's known to be pretty slow. Reddit user NewWorld98 writes:
ProtonVPN has the unique distinction of placing no data restrictions on free users. You can browse as much as you want, as long as you want. You will be limited to just one device on the service at a time and can only choose between three server locations, but the unlimited data makes up for all that. It doesn't hurt that ProtonVPN, from the same people that brought you super-secure ProtonMail email, is very concerned about security and customer privacy. For all that, ProtonVPN is our Editors' Choice for free VPN.
Hotspot Shield depends on a custom VPN protocol that's not been publicly analyzed by independent experts. We don't know how private or secure it really is. The company has been accused of spying on users (it denies the allegations), and complaints abound online about Hotspot Shield software installing on PCs without users' permission. All this, and the company's U.S. location, may scare away customers who want to protect their privacy.
The Center for Democracy & Technology brought just such a complaint against one VPN provider last year, though no enforcement action has been announced. Many privacy sites suggest finding a VPN service outside the prying eyes of US intelligence agencies and their allies, but FTC protections could be an argument for finding one in the US so that there’s a penalty if it deceives its customers.
Many VPN services also provide their own DNS resolution system. Think of DNS as a phone book that turns a text-based URL like "pcmag.com" into a numeric IP address that computers can understand. Savvy snoops can monitor DNS requests and track your movements online. Greedy attackers can also use DNS poisoning to direct you to bogus phishing pages designed to steal your data. When you use a VPN's DNS system, it's another layer of protection.
VyprVPN offers an okay speed, despite being rather slow compared to all previously discussed VPNs in this article. Torrenting is technically possible but VyprVPN is not built for that. If you break any copyright laws via downloading torrents for say a movie that is still sold in cinemas, your VyprVPN account will get suspended with no refund eligibility. Support is via a ticket system that is somewhat slow, especially around holidays. Most businesses will have to keep that in mind.
We've knocked CyberGhost down a peg from last year's standings because the service's network performance wasn't as great this time around in our tests. Yet it has a feature-loaded, user-friendly interface, with convenient buttons in the Windows client software for streaming media, torrenting files, protecting your Wi-Fi transmissions and evading censorship. (The Mac desktop software has fewer features.)
Welcome to the CNET 2019 Directory of VPN providers. In this directory, we're taking a look at a few of the very best commercial VPN service providers on the Internet like CyberGhost, IPVanish, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access and others. Rather than looking at the wide range of free providers, which often have a lot of limits (and dubious loyalties), we are looking at those vendors who charge a few bucks a month, but put your interests first, rather than those of shadowy advertisers and sponsors. Our VPN rankings are based more than 20 factors including number of server locations, client software, dedicated and dynamic IP, bandwidth caps, security, logging, customer support and price.