We spent more than 130 hours researching 32 VPN services, testing 12, interviewing the leadership of five, and consulting information security and legal experts. We found that a VPN shouldn’t be your first step toward online security, but for protecting your info on public Wi-Fi (and in some other cases), IVPN is the most trustworthy provider that offers fast, secure connections and easy setup.
Windows remains the default computing platform, and is by far the well-supported platform by VPN services. Windows users always enjoy the full range of features on offer, and all but the most fledgling VPN company offers a custom Windows VPN client. Unsurprisingly, our pick of BestVPN services on this page exactly mirrors that on our best VPNs for Windows page.
Most VPN clients also let you set compulsory tunnels or disable split tunnels so that when the client has a VPN tunnel established, the client doesn't allow communications from outside channels. This restriction prevents an attacker who compromises the VPN client computer from leapfrogging from the Internet onto your network. These client measures aren't silver bullets, but they thwart all but the most serious attackers. Unfortunately, most software-based VPNs, including the XP and Win2K VPN clients, don't offer these protections.
Sometimes, it’s not as simple as hiding your personal data from data-hungry organizations or your ISP. Depending on where you live, censorship could play a big role when choosing to use a VPN or not. By replacing your IP address with one from another location, you can bypass even the strictest censorship and access content on the web from around the world.
Yes, VPNs are completely safe to use and operate, whether it be unblocking websites/streaming services or engaging in P2P/Torrenting activities for downloading pirated stuff. However, it is imperative that you choose the right one, as to protect your identity online. You would not want to compromise on online safety, hence always go for a VPN that comes equipped with advanced features, a huge list of servers, 24/7 customer support, and reasonable pricing.
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.
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.
The fast speeds offered by ExpressVPN servers, coupled with Netflix unblocking and torrenting capabilities, make the provider a great choice. We can vouch for this, especially after conducting a thorough analysis on the VPN service. The test below involves all aspects of information leakage. As you can see, there is no indication of our official US location. The local IP, the public IP, and the DNS address all indicate that we are based in Canada!
If you’re on a heavily managed Internet connection, be it government censored or just college Wi-Fi, standard VPN connections may be blocked or throttled due to deep packet inspection, a way for providers to analyze what type of traffic is passing over a network even when they can’t see the actual contents. IVPN’s desktop apps include a checkbox for Obfsproxy, which disguises your traffic as more ho-hum data to get it past those types of blocks—like kids stacked in a trenchcoat to pass as an adult, but more convincing. Our budget pick, TorGuard, and competitor ExpressVPN use different methods to disguise traffic, but we couldn’t find documentation on equivalent features from our other top performers.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Australia is a market ripe for VPN providers. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user’s choosing. This can allow Australians to access content that’s geolocked in their own country. It can also provide a private tunnel through which to use P2P filesharing applications.
That said, during our testing we found that you could use the U.K. Channel 4 server to stream Netflix. Though that takes some of the magic out for those who’ve peeled back the curtain, CyberGhost’s approach works wonders for newbies. Those unfamiliar with VPNs will have no questions which streaming platforms they can access and what server they should use.
Hi Nathan, We do not censor feedback, and if that is your experience then it is your experience. I'm sorry that you seem to have had so many problems. All I can say is that for me it was just a matter of installing the software, entering my account details, choosing a server location, and hitting start. I have experienced the odd hiccup in the past, but as far as could I see all issues have now been resolved. I tested using Windows 10 (plus Android and both Mac clients). If you are finding everything too hard, then why not just take advantage of the 30-day money back guarantee and try something else?
To receive the best value though, it is advised to go for the VyprVPN premium. It starts at $12.95 monthly and $80 annually, adding the ability to establish connections on 5 devices simultaneously, along with access to the Chameleon Protocol and VyprVPN Cloud. P2P/Torrenting in enabled, which means you can easily begin downloading your favorite movie/TV show torrents.
If you connect to that same public Wi-Fi network using a VPN you can rest assured that no one on that network will be able to intercept your data—not other users snooping around for would-be victims, nor even the operators of the network itself. This last point is particularly important, and everyone should keep in mind that it's very difficult to tell whether or not a Wi-Fi network is what it appears to be. Just because it's called Starbucks_WiFi doesn't mean it's really owned by a well-known coffee purveyor.
VPN stands for “virtual private network,” – as its name indicates, it’s used for connecting to private networks over public networks, such as the Internet. In a common VPN use case, a business may have a private network with file shares, networked printers, and other important things on it. Some of the business’s employees may travel and frequently need to access these resources from the road. However, the business doesn’t want to expose their important resources to the public Internet. Instead, the business can set up a VPN server and employees on the road can connect to the company’s VPN. Once an employee is connected, their computer appears to be part of the business’s private network – they can access file shares and other network resources as if they were actually on the physical network.
Other features include a kill switch, which will shut down your Internet connection if you lose access to the VPN for whatever reason, and the ability to share encrypted connections as a secure wireless hotspot, if your router supports the feature. Windscribe also supports anonymous payment via Bitcoin and gift vouchers, and you don’t to provide an email address in order to sign up.
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.
For features, they offer multi-hop VPN cascades, advanced firewall configuration options (DNS and IP leak protection), port forwarding, NeuroRouting, Socks5 and Squid proxies, obfuscation features to defeat VPN blocking (Stealth VPN), and a customizable TrackStop feature to block tracking, malware, and advertising. Perfect Privacy is one of the few VPNs offering full IPv6 support (you get both an IPv4 and IPv6 address).
TorGuard’s signup and payment process is also fine but not stellar. Compared with that of IVPN, the checkout process is clunky, and using a credit or debit card requires entering more personal information than with our top pick. The easiest option for anonymous payments is a prepaid debit card bought locally. Otherwise, like most providers, TorGuard accepts a variety of cryptocurrencies, PayPal, and foreign payments through Paymentwall. That last service also allows you to submit payment through gift cards from other major retailers. We don’t think this method is worth the hassle for most people, but if you have some money on a fast-food gift card you don’t want, turning it into a VPN service is a nice option.
ExpressVPN attempts to build trust in other ways, even without a public face. Court records from 2017 demonstrate that when Turkish authorities seized ExpressVPN servers in the country looking for information, they found nothing of value, as promised by ExpressVPN’s no-logging policy. ExpressVPN also highlights initiatives such as open-source leak-testing tools, developer content about how the company implements different technologies, and support for the efforts of OpenMedia and the EFF. The ExpressVPN representative even offered to arrange a confidential call between our writer and the owners of the company. However, without being able to discuss their identities or learn about other senior leadership, we believed that wouldn’t have been enough to change our recommendation, so we declined. In the end, trust is such a crucial part of deciding which VPN to use that we had to pass on ExpressVPN.
There are about 3,000 CyberGhost connection points in about 60 countries worldwide. You don't need to provide your real name, just a working email address, and you can pay in Bitcoin to remain nearly anonymous. As with most full-fledged VPN services, you can connect directly from your operating system's network settings or use third-party OpenVPN software to do so. You can also select from among VPN protocols and set up a home Wi-Fi router to use CyberGhost all the time.
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.
However, network performance is another thing entirely. First, keep in mind that if you're using a VPN, you're probably using it at a public location. That Wi-Fi service is likely to range in performance somewhere between "meh" and unusable. So, just the fact that you're remotely working on a mediocre network will reduce performance. But then, if you connect to a VPN in a different country, the connection between countries is also likely to degrade network performance.
Tip for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera users: A feature called WebRTC can, in some Web browsers, inadvertently cause your true IP address to leak out even when you’re connected via a great VPN. WebRTC assists with peer-to-peer connections, such as for video chatting, but could be exploited in some cases. You can manually disable this function in Firefox, or use an extension to block most instances of it in Chrome or Opera. For more details and instructions, check out Restore Privacy.
Since we first recommended IVPN in the spring of 2018, the company has added automatic server selection to its desktop applications, bringing it in line with other top-performing VPN apps. Alternatively, when you click on the location at the bottom of the app, you’ll see a list of all of the global IVPN server locations, color coded by speed. At the top of the list is an option to connect to the fastest one, and once selected, the app remembers your preference through future disconnects and reboots. You can also use IVPN’s multihop servers to route your traffic through two VPN servers—a feature unique to IVPN among the services we tested—though we don’t think this step is necessary for most people, given the slower speeds you’ll likely experience.
If you're of the iPhone persuasion, there are a few other caveats to consider for a mobile VPN. Some iPhone VPN apps don't use OpenVPN, even if the VPN service that made the app supports the protocol. That's because Apple requires additional vetting if a company wants to include OpenVPN with its app. VPN app developers have slowly started jumping through those extra hoops and are bringing support for protocols such as OpenVPN to iOS.
TorGuard was consistently one of the fastest services we tested. When we averaged three tests performed at different times of the week with Internet Health Test, TorGuard was the fastest service when connecting in the UK and Asia, the second fastest in the US, and the third fastest in Central Europe. OVPN was the next most consistent, but that company’s small network doesn’t have any servers in Asia, and it ranked fifth in the UK. Our top pick, IVPN, was the third most consistently fast after TorGuard and OVPN. However, we tested with each app’s default settings—since we expect most people won’t change them—and TorGuard’s default 128-bit encryption gives it an advantage in speed tests over VPNs that default to 256-bit encryption, as most services do. Still, we think 128-bit encryption is fine for most people who prioritize speed, and TorGuard’s consistency makes it a good value as our budget pick.
We tested each service using both the Netflix-operated Fast.com download speed test and the more comprehensive Internet Health Test; the latter measures speeds up and down through multiple interconnection points between Internet providers. We ran each test on the macOS version of each VPN software in its default configuration, with our test computer connected over Gigabit Ethernet to a cable modem with no other traffic running through it. We recorded baseline download rates without a VPN active of nearly 300 mbps, and we checked our non-VPN speeds at random intervals to ensure that our local ISP wasn’t affecting the tests.
In very simple terms, a VPN connects your PC, smartphone, or tablet to another computer (called a server) somewhere on the internet, and allows you to browse the internet using that computer’s internet connection. So if that server is in a different country, it will appear as if you are coming from that country, and you can potentially access things that you couldn’t normally.
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.
Installing and configuring ProtonVPN’s Windows client was simple enough and it provided some of the best in-use statistics. Performance was at the lower end of our comparison group at 39 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up, compared to our usual 125 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up. Netflix was blocked, but Amazon Prime Video and our other test services connected without a hitch.
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.
Speed-wise, Avast SecureLine did well in our European speed tests, with us recording over 9.83MB/s (78.64Mbit/s) in our file transfer tests to the Netherlands. Its US performance was a little below average but still decent at 3.22MB/s (25.76Mbit/s), although UK performance was a bit slower than in our last round of tests, at 6.5MB/s (52Mbit/s) via FTP and 5.8MB/s (46.4Mbit/s) for an HTTP download.
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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.)
We subsidize our free version by displaying advertisements and we do not collect or sell your personally identifiable information. Our free version provides the same basic level of protection that is included in our paid plans. If you would like to remove the ads and get additional benefits, then you can upgrade to Hotspot Shield Premium. When people upgrade to our premium version, it provides additional revenue to keep our service running smoothly.
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.