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.
Before you decide which best home VPN network client you want to download and install on your device, take some time to ask yourself a few questions, the most important of them being “what exactly do you need the VPN for?” For example, do you want a VPN for your Windows computer? Regardless of the platform or firmware that your devices operate on, certain aspects of a VPN are critical and should be considered before making the purchase. Regardless of why you need a VPN, unlimited access to all the Internet has to offer is of top importance when making your decision. With a VPN like Express VPN or NordVPN, you will be able to surf securely and privately. There are a number of features you might want from a VPN - unlimited number of devices, fast surfing speeds, Android and iOS apps, major VPN protocols. All are important in choosing the right VPN for you. Check out our guide to choosing the right unlimited VPN for your needs to help you decide which of the best VPNs in 2018 is right for you.
Providers can also log less-specific data about when or how often you connect to your VPN service. In some cases, these logs are a routine part of server or account management, and can be responsibly separated and scrubbed. In other cases, VPN providers take note of every connection and use that information to actively police individual customers. Though it’s reasonable for companies to protect their networks from abuse, it becomes a dealbreaker when companies keep extensive connection data for a longer period of time. Some VPN companies we spoke with explained how a log might note your current connection for authentication purposes, but that log is deleted as soon as you disconnect. This kind of “live log” isn’t a concern, and even those culled every few hours—or as long as the end of each day—shouldn’t be confused with logs of your traffic and online destinations.
With VPNs you can access streaming services which are usually blocked to overseas viewers. You can do this by simply connecting to a VPN server in the appropriate country. Unsurprisingly, both Netflix and BBC iPlayer attempt to block VPN users. These blocks are often ineffective, and many providers have found ways around them. For more information about unblocking the most common services see our VPN for Netflix and VPN for BBC iPlayer guides.
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.
Some hit streaming sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime impose geo-restrictions (Read complete guide on vpn for amazon prime), which limit users from other countries to access streams. Connecting to a secure VPN in a supported country gives you access to these geo-restricted platforms. Subsequently, you can enjoy watching your favorite TV shows/movies, minus the hassle.
TorGuard is incorporated in St. Kitts and Nevis, and operates out of offices mostly in the US. But most people shouldn’t be worried about the legal jurisdiction of their VPN’s offices—we detail the reach of government surveillance above. In short, we think a privacy-focused VPN with public leadership that can be trusted not to collect information about their customers is a better choice in any country, rather than an opaque company run from the most liberty-ensuring country on the planet.
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.
Routers – When you install the VPN on your router, all the devices that connect to your router will be using the encrypted VPN tunnel – without the need to install VPN software on each device. The router will only count as one VPN connection under your subscription, even if there are numerous devices using the router’s encrypted VPN connection. There are some important considerations before you do this – see my popular VPN router guide for setup tips.
Today, the Internet is more accessible than ever before, and Internet service providers (ISPs) continue to develop faster and more reliable services at lower costs than leased lines. To take advantage of this, most businesses have replaced leased lines with new technologies that use Internet connections without sacrificing performance and security. Businesses started by establishing intranets, which are private internal networks designed for use only by company employees. Intranets enabled distant colleagues to work together through technologies such as desktop sharing. By adding a VPN, a business can extend all its intranet's resources to employees working from remote offices or their homes.
We summarize the protocols above, and look at them in detail in VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide. Although L2TP/IPsec is fine for most purposes, we only really recommend OpenVPN and IKEv2. OpenVPN is very secure if properly configured. Indeed, Edward Snowden’s documents showed that even the NSA can’t crack well-implemented OpenVPN. It is also supported by almost every provider. But it is relatively slow. The newer IKEv2 is much faster and is considered secure, but has not been battle-tested in the way that OpenVPN has. It is not as well supported at present, although it is increasingly popular with providers thanks to its speed advantages over OpenVPN.
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.
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.
Not all mobile VPN apps are created equal. In fact, most VPN providers offer different services (and sometimes, different servers) for their mobile offerings than they do for their desktop counterparts. We're pleased to see that NordVPN and Private Internet Access provide the same excellent selection of servers regardless of platform. These apps received an Editors' Choice nod both for desktop VPN apps and Android VPN apps.
In 2011, a LulzSec hacker was arrested for his involvement with an attack on the Sony Pictures website. Cody Kretsinger used HideMyAss VPN to conceal his identity, but the company complied with a court order to hand over evidence that led to his arrest. This occurred in spite of the company’s pledge not to keep any logs of user activity. HMA says it does not log the contents of its users’ internet traffic, but it does keep detailed metadata logs that include users’ real IP addresses, which was enough to charge Kretsinger with a crime.
When you're away from home or the office and you connect to the internet, you'll most often be doing so via Wi-Fi provided by your hotel or the restaurant, library, or coffee shop you're working out of in that moment. Sometimes, the Wi-Fi has a password. Other times, it will be completely open. In either case, you have no idea who else is accessing that network, and therefore, you have no idea who might be snooping on your traffic.
What makes NordVPN stand out in terms of security can also be applied for making it a real private network. NordVPN’s privacy standards are highly advanced, such as the Onion Over VPN feature, which includes the TOR network service as another layer of privacy. The VPN’s double encryption makes it impossible for a middle-man to see what is transferred through the tunnel. In case of any intrusion, there is also a kill-switch, which is an added bonus we welcome whole-heartedly. NordVPN also utilizes an anonymized login policy that conceals your identity further, making the service privacy-friendly.
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.
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote... See Full Bio
There’s another side to privacy. Without a VPN, your internet service provider knows your entire browsing history. With a VPN, your search history is hidden. That’s because your web activity will be associated with the VPN server’s IP address, not yours. A VPN service provider may have servers all over the world. That means your search activity could appear to originate at any one of them. Keep in mind, search engines also track your search history, but they’ll associate that information with an IP address that’s not yours. Again, your VPN will keep your activity private.
Many VPN services also provide their own DNS resolution system. Think of DNS as a phone book that turns a text-based URL like "pcmag.com" into a numeric IP address that computers can understand. Savvy snoops can monitor DNS requests and track your movements online. Greedy attackers can also use DNS poisoning to direct you to bogus phishing pages designed to steal your data. When you use a VPN's DNS system, it's another layer of protection.
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.
There are other considerations, too. Novice users can easily connect to a VPN, but setting up a VPN server is a more complex process. SSH tunnels are more daunting to novice users, but setting up an SSH server is simpler – in fact, many people will already have an SSH server that they access remotely. If you already have access to an SSH server, it’s much easier to use it as an SSH tunnel than it is to set up a VPN server. For this reason, SSH tunnels have been dubbed a “poor man’s VPN.”
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.
Using a VPN will prevent most kinds of DNS attacks that would redirect you to a phishing page, but a regular old page made to look like a legit one in order to trick you into entering your data can still work. Some VPNs, and most browsers, are pretty good about blocking phishing pages, but this attack still claims too many victims to be ignored. Use common sense and be sure to verify that websites are what they say they are by looking carefully at the URL and always visiting HTTPS sites.
Testing criteria: Each VPN service in this guide was tested for IP address leaks, DNS leaks, connection issues, reliability, speed, and whether the features work correctly. Additionally, I also examined company policies, jurisdiction, logging practices, as well as the history of each VPN provider. The rankings of this list were based on a combination of all these factors.
Secure Shell (SSH) is a secure version of Telnet that you can use to log on and open a command line on a remote machine. You can also use SSH to establish an encrypted tunnel between two machines, effectively creating a VPN. Different versions of SSH use RSA or Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA) for secure key exchange and 3DES or Blowfish for data encryption. You can use a free program such as Stunnel (http://www.stunnel.org) along with a free version of SSH such as OpenSSH (http://www.openssh.org) to tunnel protocols such as Web and mail protocols through an encrypted SSH tunnel. All you need is a machine at either end running both these programs. SSH and Stunnel are an inexpensive way to implement a VPN, although setting up such a VPN requires a lot of configuration and might not scale to handle a large number of machines. An SSH VPN can, however, make a nice solution for connecting two servers that need to communicate securely, such as a Web server and a back-end database server.
We have often said that having to choose between security and convenience is a false dichotomy, but it is at least somewhat true in the case of VPN services. When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is that using a VPN probably isn't going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.
A P device operates inside the provider's core network and does not directly interface to any customer endpoint. It might, for example, provide routing for many provider-operated tunnels that belong to different customers' PPVPNs. While the P device is a key part of implementing PPVPNs, it is not itself VPN-aware and does not maintain VPN state. Its principal role is allowing the service provider to scale its PPVPN offerings, for example, by acting as an aggregation point for multiple PEs. P-to-P connections, in such a role, often are high-capacity optical links between major locations of providers.
For the budget-conscious buyers though, there is a 2-year plan available. It gives you a massive 71% discount. This drops the monthly pricing to $3.50, meaning you only pay $84 every 2 years! If you plan on subscribing to any of the plans from CyberGhost VPN. You will be pleased to hear that the provider accepts a good selection of payment methods.
HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.