Hotspot Shield depends on a custom VPN protocol that's not been publicly analyzed by independent experts. We don't know how private or secure it really is. The company has been accused of spying on users (it denies the allegations), and complaints abound online about Hotspot Shield software installing on PCs without users' permission. All this, and the company's U.S. location, may scare away customers who want to protect their privacy.
After investing 48 hours into testing PureVPN, we learned the provider is great for cost-effective streaming. It is operated by the GZ Systems and based in Hong Kong (one of the safest internet hubs in the world). It is also exceptionally budget-friendly, as the pricing is incredibly low, starting at just $10.95 monthly. The yearly plans allow you to leverage an amazing discount of 63%.
TunnelBear is designed for a very specific group of people: people who want a VPN service but don’t want to mess around with configuration or become IT experts to make their connections more secure. And it caters brilliantly for that market, with a very straightforward interface and jargon-free writing. In truth, all of the VPN services these days do this but TunnelBear tries very hard to stand out. It’s not for power users - there isn’t much you can change - but with up to five simultaneous connections, servers across 20 countries and decent performance on US and Canadian websites. Longer connections can be slower, though: it’s when the relatively small number of server locations makes itself obvious. There’s a free version that limits you to 500MB of monthly traffic, and if you pay annually the price of the full version drops from $9.99 to $4.99 per month.
One of the most important factors when you’re choosing a VPN provider is also the hardest to quantify: trust. All your Internet activity will flow through this company’s servers, so you have to trust that company more than the network you’re trying to secure, be it a local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, your campus Internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. In all our research, we came across a lot of gray areas when it came to trusting a VPN, and only two hard rules: Know who you’re trusting, and remember that security isn’t free.
Mullvad gives users the added bonus of using the OpenVPN protocol on the famous TCP Port 443. This allow you to route through the Transport Layer Security (TLS) used in HTTPs. Not only does this boost your protection in regressive countries, but it also makes it hard for firewalls and other technologies to spot you. This option will protect you even if snoopers are using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
The VPN client communicates over the public Internet and sends the computer’s network traffic through the encrypted connection to the VPN server. The encryption provides a secure connection, which means the business’s competitors can’t snoop on the connection and see sensitive business information. Depending on the VPN, all the computer’s network traffic may be sent over the VPN – or only some of it may (generally, however, all network traffic goes through the VPN). If all web browsing traffic is sent over the VPN, people between the VPN client and server can’t snoop on the web browsing traffic. This provides protection when using public Wi-Fi networks and allows users to access geographically-restricted services – for example, the employee could bypass Internet censorship if they’re working from a country that censors the web. To the websites the employee accesses through the VPN, the web browsing traffic would appear to be coming from the VPN server.
IVPN goes further than the other leading candidates we considered by being transparent about who runs the service and is responsible for your privacy. The company lists its core team on its website, and its small team has an online presence on a variety of platforms. In contrast, only one employee at ExpressVPN has a public face: VP of marketing Harold Li gave us detailed answers to questions about policies and internal security, but couldn’t tell us much about who else worked there. (We discuss ExpressVPN in more detail in the Competition section—that company was almost our top pick but for this issue.)
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.
IVPN was one of the fastest providers when we tested US servers using the Internet Health Test. Our budget pick, TorGuard, was faster, but it defaults to the less secure 128-bit encryption. Our non-VPN connection tested at roughly 300 Mbps down. Some tested services are not listed because connection failures prevented some of our tests from completing.
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What that means in practice is that VPNs are fine for bypassing geo-blocks, for protecting your online banking and for keeping business communications free from interception. However, if you’re using the internet to fight repressive regimes or to do anything else that could attract the attention of the authorities where you live, a VPN is not a magic wand that’ll make you invisible.
The review will assess every aspect of the VPN. This includes relationships with third parties, management and governance practices of business and IT units, information security management, business continuity, security awareness, configuration management of networks and servers, and the incident management process. In light of all this, we decided to contact PureVPN and ask about their security audit progress.
After you choose your VPN, you must install and maintain it correctly to enjoy all the benefits a VPN can provide. In addition to using a sufficiently long key length, you must properly secure keys and access to VPN concentrators. If you store your keys in plaintext files on Internet-connected computers, all the bits of key length in the world won't help you if someone compromises those computers. You should also change your shared base keys on a regular basis, preferably every 3 months. This practice limits your exposure if a key is compromised.
Google is full of articles claiming that a VPN will prevent ISPs from gathering metadata, but unfortunately that is not true. A VPN hides the contents of your internet traffic and your location from the outside world, but you still have to rely on your ISP’s network to get there. Strictly speaking a VPN cannot prevent an ISP from logging your location, device details, and traffic volume.
Of course, there are more than just phones and computers in a home. Game systems, tablets, and smart home devices such as light bulbs and fridges all need to connect to the internet. Many of these things can't run VPN software on their own, nor can they be configured to connect to a VPN through their individual settings. In these cases, you may be better off configuring your router to connect with the VPN of your choice. By adding VPN protection to your router, you secure the traffic of every gadget connected to that router. And the router—and everything protected by it—uses just one of your licenses. Nearly all of the companies we have reviewed offer software for most consumer routers and even routers with preinstalled VPN software, making it even easier to add this level of protection.
We didn’t find any problems when we tested other aspects of TorGuard’s performance. Each time we checked our location via IP address, it accurately resolved to the location of a TorGuard server. Neither our true IP address nor our location was exposed when we tested for DNS leaks and IPv6 leaks. TorGuard runs its own DNS servers—a requirement for all the VPNs we tested—so the routing that happens when you go to a website isn’t released to your ISP, Google, or anyone else. And since TorGuard doesn’t support IPv6, the app disables it completely, just like IVPN.
I had to know why Goose VPN was so named. My first order of business was to reach out to the company's co-founder and ask. Geese, I was told, make excellent guard animals. There are records of guard geese giving the alarm in ancient Rome when the Gauls attacked. Geese have been used to guard a US Air Defense Command base in Germany and a brewery in Scotland.