Since we're living in a connected world, security and privacy are critical to ensure our personal safety from nefarious hacks. From online banking to communicating with coworkers on a daily basis, we're now frequently transferring data on our computers and smartphones. It's extremely important to find ways of securing our digital life and for this reason, VPNs have become increasingly common.
ExpressVPN has 148 locations in 94 different countries which means you can dial your IP address into 148 locations around the world. ExpressVPN delivers great performance - and it’s put the effort into its software too, with dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and BlackBerry as well as some Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV, PS4 and Xbox and even your router. Not only that but there are solid online tutorials too, so even if VPNs are dark magic to you they’ll have you up and running in no time. P2P is fully supported and it's super speedy so you can torrent using the maximum bandwidth of your broadband connection and there’s a kill switch that keeps your IP address hidden if anything goes wrong with the VPN or with your internet connection. ExpressVPN is reasonably priced, delivers a good service and has support for three simultaneous connections. There’s no free trial available but there is a no-fuss 30-day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t meet your requirements so that's a good way to test it out if you're unsure. We have used the 24/7 customer service a number of times and can vouch for its effectiveness - we had a couple of issues with using the service on a PC and were able to sort it within a few minutes using the instant online chat support.
ExpressVPN scored well in our recent round of testing in terms of speed – we recorded around 8.5MB/s (68Mbit/s) via both FTP and HTTP in the UK, while Dutch endpoints gave us 6.3MB/s (50.4Mbit/s) via FTP and 7MB/s (56Mbit/s) via HTTP, more than enough for general browsing, streaming and downloading. US connection speeds, as you’d expect, were rather slower at 2.5MB/s (20Mbit/s) via FTP and a good 3.2MB/s (25.6Mbit/s) over HTTP.
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When it comes to security, the company definitely lives up to the good renown it has built over the years. PureVPN utilizes AES 256-bit encryption and the latest security protocols – IKEv2, OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec among others. Split Tunneling and Virtual Router are arguably the best technologies that it can offer. The main reason for this is that as Virtual Router provides high-end router protection, the Split Tunneling service allows for encrypting only the important bits of data. In this way you are being protected, while slow-downs in connectivity, due to the result of encryption, are kept to a bare minimum.
Websites using Google Analytics and various advertising networks can very well track and identify visitors based on a variety of different inputs with their browser (see browser fingerprinting). Therefore it’s best to use a VPN in conjunction with a secure browser configured for more privacy. See my guides: secure browser (an overview of different browsers) and also Firefox privacy, which deals with privacy configurations, tweaks, and add-ons.
The provider offers two strong encryption ciphers: AES-256-CBC and AES-256-GCM. Almost every VPN in the marketplace uses the former, which makes Surfshark the only service to offer the latter. The difference between the two is of something called “chosen ciphertext attacks”. AES-256-CBC uses a secure Message Authentication Code (MAC), along with the AES algorithm. Conversely, AES-256-GCM has built-in authentication codes, which makes the process a whole lot faster!
Depending on how ISPs respond to a newly deregulated environment, a VPN could tunnel traffic past any choke points or blockades thrown up by ISPs. That said, an obvious response would be to block or throttle all VPN traffic. Or perhaps ISPs will come up with an entirely novel way to monetize the letitude given them by the current lack of net neutrality legislation.
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.
IPVanish wasn't the top performer in our 2017 round of testing, falling in about the middle of the pack. But it was one of the most reliable VPN services, connecting smoothly and staying connected every time we used it. IPVanish has excellent client software, although you can connect to the company's servers manually, and a decent array of about 850 connection points in 50 countries. However, its subscription price is kind of high, and its U.S. base may be a negative for some potential customers.
IVPN doesn’t have as many server locations as larger services like ExpressVPN do. When we initially recommended the service, IVPN was limited to 13 countries, compared with ExpressVPN’s 94. But in the months since, IVPN has doubled that to 26, including two additional locations in Asia (Tokyo and Singapore). We’ve yet to test the new servers though, and in the past, IVPN’s single location in Asia—Hong Kong—was slower than competitors.
Billed at $99.00, you save a staggering 41% on the original monthly pricing, which is quite budget-friendly, to say the least. Once you sign up, you receive fast speeds for streaming/downloading all types of content and engage in P2P/torrenting. You also gain the ability of connecting to 5 devices simultaneously, and leveraging a 30-day refund guarantee.
The servers of the company are numbered around 2000, which might be less than other VPN services. However, the spread is wider as it provides more than 148 cities and over 94 countries to choose from. The company allows for up to three devices to use its service. As with NordVPN, this company also keeps the exact numbers and other details around its operations rather vague.
For mobile devices, the situation is a little thornier. Most companies offer VPN apps for Android and iOS, which is great because we use these devices to connect to Wi-Fi all the time. However, VPNs don't always play nice with cellular connections. That said, it takes some serious effort to intercept cellphone data, although law enforcement or intelligence agencies may have an easier time gaining access to this data, or metadata, through connections with mobile carriers or by using specialized equipment.
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.)
It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.