Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote... See Full Bio
Downloading Files: Yes, let’s be honest – many people use VPN connections to download files via BitTorrent. This can actually be useful even if you’re downloading completely legal torrents – if your ISP is throttling BitTorrent and making it extremely slow, you can use BitTorrent on a VPN to get faster speeds. The same is true for other types of traffic your ISP might interfere with (unless they interfere with VPN traffic itself.)
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.
You don't have this same level of choice when it comes to your ISP, which controls your home's gateway to the entirety of the internet. While there are alternatives to Google and Facebook, most Americans have limited home ISP alternatives. Some areas have only one ISP offering wired internet access. That makes recent changes that allow ISPs to sell data from their customers all the more troubling. It's one thing to opt into a shady system, it's quite another to have no choice in the matter.
Usually, it's the free services that throttle your usage in these ways. Some paid services will offer a trial, where you can transmit up to a certain data cap before being asked to sign up as a paying customer. That's actually pretty cool, because it gives you a chance to try out the performance of their service before paying, but it also gives the vendor a chance to make the money necessary to operate the service.
IVPN excels at trust and transparency, the most important factors when you’re choosing a virtual private network. After interviewing IVPN’s CEO, we’re convinced that IVPN is dedicated to its promises not to monitor or log customer activity. But a trustworthy VPN is only as good as its connections, and in our tests IVPN was stable and fast. IVPN apps are easy to set up and use with secure OpenVPN connections on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, plus a few other platforms. Extra features like automatic-connection rules and kill switches to block data on unsecured connections add protection and value that make it worth a slightly higher price than some competitors.
However, if you’re using a top-tier VPN service, the difference in speed usually isn’t noticeable, and can sometimes speed up your connection. You can still watch streaming videos and download large files without interruption. Our VPN servers are among the fastest in the industry and we work hard to keep it that way. Download Hotspot Shield VPN and get privacy protection without sacrificing speed.
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.
VPN services can also be defined as connections between specific computers, typically servers in separate data centers, when security requirements for their exchanges exceed what the enterprise network can deliver. Increasingly, enterprises also use VPN connections in either remote access mode or site-to-site mode to connect -- or connect to -- resources in a public infrastructure-as-a-service environment.
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TorGuard is incorporated in St. Kitts and Nevis, and operates out of offices mostly in the US. But most people shouldn’t be worried about the legal jurisdiction of their VPN’s offices—we detail the reach of government surveillance above. In short, we think a privacy-focused VPN with public leadership that can be trusted not to collect information about their customers is a better choice in any country, rather than an opaque company run from the most liberty-ensuring country on the planet.
However, NAT can interfere with some VPN implementations because it changes information in a packet's IP header to route the packet to the correct internal IP address. VPN protocols often check the integrity of the packet header and terminate the connection if they detect any changes that were made after the packet was encrypted. Vendors have devised a workaround for this problem: A technique called UDP Traversal encapsulates the IP Security (IPSec) packet in a UDP packet so that the IPSec header can arrive intact. Most vendors, including Microsoft, Nortel Networks, SSH Communications Security, NetScreen Technologies, SonicWALL, and Cisco Systems—in IOS Software 12.2(8) and later—support UDP Traversal. However, some low-end VPN appliances and software implementations might not. Alternatively, if you use IPSec, your router or firewall might support IPSec pass-through, which recognizes the IPSec protocol and lets IPSec packets pass through unaltered, eliminating the need for NAT traversal. You might also be able to work around NAT by turning off IPSec's Authentication Header (AH) element (which verifies the header information), if your VPN allows this level of detail in configuration. Be sure to check with your VPN vendor about NAT if you plan to support remote users through a network that uses NAT.
VPNs also only do so much to anonymize your online activities. If you really want to browse the web anonymously, and access the dark web to boot, you'll want to use Tor. Unlike a VPN, Tor bounces your traffic through several server nodes, making it much harder to trace. It's also managed by a non-profit organization and distributed for free. Some VPN services will even connect to Tor via VPN, for additional security.
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.
Using Wi-Fi on the Windows laptops, we timed how long it took to connect to websites, measured latency times (how long it took a server to respond), and recorded upload and download speeds with Ookla's Speedtest meter, both with and without the VPN activated. We also timed how long it took to download a large video file, both with and without VPN activation.
Despite Proton’s strong reputation for privacy with both its VPN and Mail services, we previously dismissed ProtonVPN without testing because it didn’t offer native applications for major operating systems. Instead, the service relied on third-party applications that could be clumsy to set up and lacked important features. Now that ProtonVPN apps are fully supported on Windows, Mac, and Android, we’re looking forward to testing the service for the next update.

One of the most common types of VPNs used by businesses is called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN). A VPDN is a user-to-LAN connection, where remote users need to connect to the company LAN. Another type of VPN is commonly called a site-to-site VPN. Here the company would invest in dedicated hardware to connect multiple sites to their LAN though a public network, usually the Internet.


Though TorGuard’s support site offers in-depth information, finding specific info is harder, and the site is not as easy to follow as those for our top pick or ExpressVPN. TorGuard provides helpful video tutorials, but they’re two years old now and don’t show the latest versions of the company’s apps. As with most of the VPNs we contacted, TorGuard support staff responded to our help ticket quickly—the response to our query came less than half an hour after we submitted it on a weekday afternoon. Still, if you’re worried about getting lost in VPN settings or don’t like hunting for your own answers, IVPN is a better fit.
You'll have to decide whether you want to base your VPN on a software implementation or a dedicated hardware device. Some of the protocols make the decision for you—for example, SSH is strictly a software implementation, at least for now. Software implementations tend to be cheaper, sometimes even free. Windows NT 4.0 has PPTP support built in, and XP and Win2K have PPTP and IPSec built-in support, as I mentioned earlier. A nice open-source implementation of IPSec called Linux FreeS/WAN is available at http://www.freeswan.org. Software VPNs tend to work best for server-to-server communication or for small groups.
Yes. Although Netflix is now available almost everywhere, some places – notably the United States – enjoy a much larger catalog of titles than everywhere else. And some people want to access regional catalogs. In theory, all you need do to watch a local version of Netflix from somewhere else is connect to a VPN server in that country. You can sign into any regional Netflix page with any active Netflix account, no matter where that account is registered. The snag is that due to pressure from its content producers, Netflix now tries to ban IP addresses that it knows belongs to VPN and proxy services. Many VPN services have found sneaky ways around this ban, but it is a cat and mouse game.  Please see our best Netflix VPNs for a list of services which still work with Netflix (most of the time).
Take a step back and consider how much of your life is transmitted over the inherently insecure internet. Do you feel a creeping sense of dread? That's entirely reasonable, considering the forces arrayed against your privacy. One of the best ways to secure your data is to use a virtual private network (VPN), which also provides some control over how you're identified online.
Hardware-based VPNs tend to be less vulnerable than software implementations because their chip-based OSs are more lightweight (i.e., they have fewer features to exploit than general-purpose OSs). Also, because they don't sit on everyone's desktop, they're less used and understood, although exploits on them aren't unheard of. For example, security researchers recently discovered several security holes in Cisco's VPN concentrators. Make sure you subscribe to your VPN vendor's security update mailing list and promptly apply all security patches.
There are other considerations, too. Novice users can easily connect to a VPN, but setting up a VPN server is a more complex process. SSH tunnels are more daunting to novice users, but setting up an SSH server is simpler – in fact, many people will already have an SSH server that they access remotely. If you already have access to an SSH server, it’s much easier to use it as an SSH tunnel than it is to set up a VPN server. For this reason, SSH tunnels have been dubbed a “poor man’s VPN.”

Inside the Preferences pane, you can also tick boxes to automatically launch or connect the app when you boot your device. Anyone using the Windows or macOS app should tick the box to autoconnect “when joining insecure WiFi networks.” You can also tag individual Wi-Fi networks as trusted or untrusted, to make sure you’re always protected even if you forget to connect the app manually. These network rules—not offered on most apps, including IVPN’s mobile apps or any of TorGuard’s apps—will make sure you don’t forget your VPN when you need it the most.
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.
Using Wi-Fi on the Windows laptops, we timed how long it took to connect to websites, measured latency times (how long it took a server to respond), and recorded upload and download speeds with Ookla's Speedtest meter, both with and without the VPN activated. We also timed how long it took to download a large video file, both with and without VPN activation.
Hopefully, you’re not a candidate for government surveillance, but who knows. Remember, a VPN protects against your internet service provider seeing your browsing history. So you’re protected if a government agency asks your internet service provider to supply records of your internet activity. Assuming your VPN provider doesn’t log your browsing history (some VPN providers do), your VPN can help protect your internet freedom.
Credit: Opera VPNAlso, although your data is encrypted as it travels between you and the far-off VPN server, it won't necessarily be encrypted once it leaves the VPN server to get to its final destination. If the data isn't encrypted — and that depends on the website you're connecting to — then the traffic might be intercepted and read. (One well-known VPN provider was recently accused of inserting ads in users' web browsers, which would violate users' security and privacy.)
Kaspersky Secure Connection is one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested to date. We recorded UK speeds of 12.13MB/s (97.04Mb/s) via FTP and 10.27MB/s (82.16 Mb/s) via HTTP and 10.5MB/s (84Mb/s) and 9.39MB/s (75.12Mb/s) respectively for FTP and HTTP. The US VPN connection was so fast that we repeatedly re-tested it in case of errors or anomalies, because it more than tripled our non-VPN’d connection speed with 9.57MB/s (76.56Mb/s) downloads over both FTP and HTTP.
Closely control access to your VPN box, whether it's a concentrator or Windows machine. In the case of a Windows server, put the machine on a separate domain and have only a few accounts on it. Use the strongest possible passwords, and store and swap them out appropriately. In the case of a hardware device, disable insecure protocols, such as FTP and Telnet, that pass your logon information in the clear. An insecure VPN concentrator box or unpatched Windows VPN server presents a much easier target than do VPN keys that must be brute-forced.
Companies even implement policies preventing employees from having access to master keys used for the decryption process of the channeled data in real time. In order to provide our readers with the most secure VPN services for 2018, we have carefully examined the companies that excel in the VPN business and have outlined their advantages and disadvantages in terms of providing a secure and stable service.
Ideally, every VPN service provider would subject itself to independent audits to verify that it logs and operates as it claims. Right now, audits aren’t common practice in the VPN industry, though there’s a push to change that. Joseph Jerome, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told us about that group’s efforts to bring transparency to the VPN industry: “We would like to see security audits released publicly so security researchers can review them and attest to their veracity, as well as learn from the issues being identified.” The few companies we found that currently performed these types of audits had other dismissal-worthy failings, despite their valiant efforts toward transparency. And while such reports may increase your confidence when you're shopping, there’s no guarantee that an audit makes a VPN service trustworthy: In other industries, conflicts of interest have led auditors and rating agencies (PDF) to miss or ignore major problems.
It’s also fast with impressive 830+ server locations, which makes it an excellent choice for P2P file-sharing, online gaming, and HD streaming. There are no annoying bandwidth caps here, and you can connect to Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, or France’s Canal+ if you wish – there’s a server for every need. The double encryption will understandably slow things down.

Routers – When you install the VPN on your router, all the devices that connect to your router will be using the encrypted VPN tunnel – without the need to install VPN software on each device. The router will only count as one VPN connection under your subscription, even if there are numerous devices using the router’s encrypted VPN connection. There are some important considerations before you do this – see my popular VPN router guide for setup tips.
Similarly, many VPN companies would rather not have to deal with the legal implications of their services being used to download via BitTorrent. BitTorrent is, of course, not inherently illegal but it is often used to pirate copyrighted material. Very few VPN companies outright ban BitTorrenting on their servers, while others restrict its use to specific servers.
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.
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