The practical uses for a VPN service are plentiful. Want to access a website that your ISP has blocked? A VPN puts that website just one click away. Want to access the US version of Netflix from the UK? Just set your VPN to a US location and you're there. Want to access porn without your ISP or your business knowing about it? Want to download torrents without being blocked by your ISP? It's easy.
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.
A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It's best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It's good to use when you're facing coverage gaps, inter-network roaming, bandwidth issues, or limited battery life, memory or processing power.
IVPN also performed well in our speed tests. Though it wasn’t always the fastest in the 54 measurements we took on each service, it ranked near the top on many servers at different times of the week—especially compared with the most trustworthy services. Private Internet Access, one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs, had slower speeds when connecting to most servers and less reliable connections than IVPN. For US servers (which we expected to be the fastest locations since we tested from California), IVPN ranked behind only OVPN and TorGuard. We liked OVPN—especially its speed results—but we thought that company’s small team and small selection of servers and locations were too limiting for some people. (Read more in the Competition section.) Though TorGuard edged out IVPN in this test, the difference wasn’t big enough to affect our everyday browsing. And because we tested each application at its default settings, TorGuard’s faster speeds were partially thanks to its default 128-bit encryption; IVPN offers only more secure, but often slower, 256-bit encryption.
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.
When you connect your computer (or another device, such as a smartphone or tablet) to a VPN, the computer acts as if it’s on the same local network as the VPN. All your network traffic is sent over a secure connection to the VPN. Because your computer behaves as if it’s on the network, this allows you to securely access local network resources even when you’re on the other side of the world. You’ll also be able to use the Internet as if you were present at the VPN’s location, which has some benefits if you’re using pubic Wi-Fi or want to access geo-blocked websites.
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.
One of the biggest things that can put people off the idea of using a VPN is that they slow down your internet. This is mainly because you are adding an extra leg to the journey your data must take to reach its destination (via the VPN server). These days good VPN services are very fast and if you connect to a server near to you, you will often get 90% or more of your raw internet connection speed.