Jacob Roach is a Midwesterner with a love for technology, an odd combination given his corn field-ridden setting. After finishing a degree in English at Southern New Hampshire University, Jacob settled back under the Arch in his hometown of St. Louis, MO, where he now writes about anything tech. His main interests are web technologies and online privacy, though he dips his toes in photography and the occasional card game as well. You can reach him at jacob[at]cloudwards.net.
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If you're considering a hardware VPN, ask vendors whether their solution has a dedicated processor for encryption. Some of the newer VPN appliances use dedicated application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to handle the encryption algorithms, which make encryption much faster, especially on busy networks. Also make sure that the box you purchase will handle the number of tunnels and the throughput that you need now and in the future. You don't want to have to replace the box in a year or two.
NordVPN operates servers in over 50 countries with 12 in Asia Pacific. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It’s on par with ExpressVPN when it comes to unblocking streaming services. It can bypass the Netflix proxy firewall in the US and Australia alike. It keeps zero logs of any kind and is based in Panama, where it is not subject to any data retention laws. NordVPN also offers special servers optimized for privacy and high-speed downloads, such as ultra-fast streaming, double hop VPN, Tor over VPN, and anti-DDoS.
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.
For a VPN that services telecommuters, consider using a vendor that offers a firewall with separate zones for work and home machines that share an Internet connection. As Figure 2 shows, the firewall's trusted zone gives the telecommuter's work PC access to the Internet and VPN access to the corporate LAN, and an untrusted zone allows a personal machine access to the Internet only. SonicWALL and WatchGuard currently offer such firewalls, which aren't much more expensive than home routers and eliminate worries about the other computers on your telecommuters' home LANs. However, multizone home firewalls don't eliminate the need to continually verify the security of remote VPN clients.
Yet Mullvad is worth a look because it's extremely private. It asks nothing about you when you sign up. Instead, it assigns you a random number that will be your combined username and password. You don't have to provide an email address, and you can pay by mailing cash to the company's headquarters in Sweden. (Mullvad also takes credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin and wire transfers, and offers 30-day money-back guarantees for those.) Unexpectedly, it was pretty versatile at streaming Netflix from overseas — it didn't always get through, but in no country we tried was it always blocked.
Some VPNs offer “split tunneling,” which routes all traffic through your VPN except specific services or sites that you allow. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. But these types of rules are complicated to implement without also leaking other important information, and we didn’t assess how effective they were in practice.
UK FTP and HTTP performance with CyberGhost hovered just under 5MB/s (40Mbit/s). Testing endpoints in the Netherlands yielded around 7MB/s (56Mbit/s), while in the United States, we managed just 2MB/s (16Mbit/s). This is passable for standard web browsing and video streaming but could be a bottleneck if you have a fast internet connection and want to download large files while connected to your VPN. These scores are slightly slower than they were earlier in the year – remember that any speed test only provides a snapshot of a brief period of time.
The main reason to use a VPN is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too. VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
If you need a more affordable VPN than our top pick and don’t have an Apple device—or if you need ChromeOS support—we recommend TorGuard. Its apps aren’t as simple or user-friendly, but TorGuard is a good option for more tech-savvy people or those willing to spend a little more time fiddling with an app. TorGuard’s CEO has built trust by talking with media outlets (including us) and detailing the company’s commitment to a service built around a lack of activity logs. Though the apps aren’t as easy to use as our top pick, the connections were the fastest of any we tested and the company has more than twice as many server locations.
Though it’s standard when it comes to security specs, ExpressVPN is anything but when it comes to stability. During our testing, which has gone on a long time because many Cloudwards.net writers use it, ExpressVPN has never leaked a DNS request or IP address, and the in the few cases when the killswitch was triggered, it always cut the connection immediately.
We considered native apps for Windows, Mac, and Android to be mandatory because they’re easier to use than open-source or third-party VPN apps like Tunnelblick; that in turn makes it easier to stay secure. For more-advanced users, adding VPN connections to Wi-Fi routers can help secure all connections on a home network without having to manage devices individually.
Torrents get a bad rap, and if we’re honest, that’s for good reason. Using torrents is the number one way to download pirated material including movies, TV shows, music, and games. But that’s not all there is to torrenting. It’s a very efficient way to download legitimate software such as Linux distributions and authorized content from sites such as BitTorrent Now.
Avast SecureLine is also expensive, and based on current speed results for the UK and U.S., you’re probably better off shopping around for a better deal; SecureLine works out at £49.99 a year for a single device (equivalent to £4.17 a month). If you want to connect more than one computer or mobile device, a five-licence account will cost you £64.99 a year.
The yearly pricing plan costs the users just $4.09/month which totals to a paltry $49.08 (billed once). However, if you want to receive the best value for your money, consider subscribing to their 5-year plan (88% Off) or the Yearly Plan (63% Off). It typically gives users a massive 88% discount, dropping the per month costs to $1.32! The total cost for this plan is just $79.2 billed once.
If you use Intrusion Detection System (IDS) technology, you should know that if the IDS machine is between the Internet and the VPN concentrator that decrypts the encrypted packets (e.g., on a demilitarized zone—DMZ—network), it won't be able to detect intrusion activity that occurs between VPN-connected machines. Most IDS sensors match packet payloads to a database of intrusion signatures so that they know when to flag something as suspicious. If the packets are encrypted, they'll look like gibberish to the IDS machine. If you want your IDS machine to be able to monitor network traffic from VPN connections, make sure you place the IDS machine behind the VPN concentrator so that the IDS machine checks the traffic after the VPN concentrator decrypts it. You can't use an IDS on a software VPN, which operates directly from one VPN host to another.
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service that offers fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind that you'll need to connect every device in your home individually to the VPN service, so just two or three licenses won't be enough for the average nested pair. Note that many VPN services offer native apps for both Android and iOS, but that such devices count toward your total number of connections.
Like Avast, Avira got into the VPN business to complement its antivirus offerings. Phantom VPN is easy to use and gives you up to 1GB of data per month for free, making this service ideal for vacation travelers who just need to check email. Its unlimited paid plans are reasonably priced, but it had slow downloads and dropped connections in our 2017 tests.
It may not seem like it, but ZenMate exists as one of the very few providers, which offers apps for all platforms. It even offers plug-ins for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera browsers. For connectivity, you do have the ability to connect to servers in 30 countries worldwide. We messaged ZenMate to give us an exact figure on the number of servers. We will update as soon as we receive a response.
Giving a tough competition to other budget-friendly providers, Surfshark has made an impressive entry into the market. We took around 10 hours to review the service properly, and needless to say, we were quite impressed. The provider is based in the British Virgin Islands (a VPN-friendly jurisdiction). BVI is free of all sorts of data retention laws, so you can rest assured of your data being secure.
There are several different VPN protocols, not all of which are used by all of the VPN services we reviewed. Most operating systems have built-in support for at least one of these protocols, which means you can use that protocol — and a willing VPN service — without client software. The full-fledged VPN services have online instructions for how to do this, as well as how to set up routers to connect directly to the services.
The more locations a VPN provider houses servers, the more flexible it is when you want to choose a server in a less-congested part of the world or geoshift your location. And the more servers it has at each location, the less likely they are to be slow when lots of people are using the service at the same time. Of course, limited bandwidth in and out of an area may still cause connections to lag at peak times even on the most robust networks.