Through years of reporting and the Snowden leaks, we now know that the NSA's surveillance apparatus is enormous in scope. At one point, the agency had the ability to intercept and analyze just about every transmission being sent over the web. There are jaw-dropping stories about secret rooms inside data infrastructure hubs, from which the agency had direct access to the beating heart of the internet. With a VPN, you can rest assured that your data is encrypted and less directly traceable back to you. Given the mass surveillance efforts by the NSA and others, having more ways to encrypt your data is a good thing.
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.
This again singles out NordVPN from the rest, as it boasts the largest server database in the marketplace. However, things do not just end here; you also receive multiple protocol support, which includes PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, and IKEv2. Moreover, you have native apps for all platforms/devices, along with manual setup guides and built-in VPN routers. This comes in handy for configuring a secure connection around your house.
Let's talk about what happens when you use a VPN app on your computer or mobile device. Any VPN app will require an existing network connection to be able to connect to the VPN service provider. This means that even if you set your VPN app to automatically launch when your device boots, there will be a period of time when your computer is connected to the internet directly, not through your VPN.
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To prevent middle-man access and to ensure that the data is sent via a secure tunnel, certain criteria should be met. The criteria include a DNS Leak Protection (over IPv4, IPv6 and WebRTC), encrypted traffic via a Private tunnel, and hopefully no logs of the data saved anywhere. However, if the government wants to see which websites and web locations a user visits, the ISP provider can demand and get that information. Thus, no real anonymity is achieved, but the specific data will be encrypted, secure and free from middle-man attacks.
Based in Sweden, Mullvad is undoubtedly one of the most privacy-focused VPN services in the marketplace, second to NordVPN. In addition to its strategic location, as mentioned earlier, the provider offers a huge range of advanced anti-censorship technologies. For instance, it is rare for VPNs to be blocked, but countries like Russia, Iran, and China are quite strict when it comes to blocking western services and keeping their network secure.
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.
We also like how easy it is to connect, and how clear and accessible the settings are, on all platforms when using the IVPN app. (ChromeOS has an option to use a less-secure VPN protocol with most providers, including IVPN. But TorGuard, our budget pick, supports the more secure OpenVPN on Chromebooks and tablets.) If you do want to tweak some settings, IVPN has easy-to-understand checkboxes for most options. For example, the kill switch (labeled “firewall”) has an easy on/off toggle. Anytime it’s on and the app is open, all traffic in and out of your computer will cut off if you forget to connect to the service or the secure connection drops for some reason.
At $7.50/month and $58.49 for a year, they're obviously trying to move you towards their yearly program. We awarded the company points for Bitcoin support, and their money-back guarantee. We're a little disappointed that they only allow a 7-day trial, rather than a full 30-days. The company is generous, with five simultaneous connections. They also picked up points for their connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.