For two years running, Private Internet Access has performed the best in our network tests and remained the cheapest full-fledged VPN service we've tried. It has more than 3,000 servers worldwide, supports platforms ranging from Windows and Mac to open-source routers, and lets you customize your tunneling and encryption protocols. You can pay in bitcoin, and you don't have to provide your real name.
Another major concern with VPNs is speed. In general, using a VPN is going to increase your latency (or your "ping"), and decrease the speed at which you upload or download data. It's very difficult to say definitively which VPN will have the least impact on your browsing, but extensive testing can give you some idea which service is the fastest VPN.
The IVPN app’s default settings are great for most people, who should be happy just smashing the Connect button and not fiddling with settings. The desktop app defaults to a secure OpenVPN connection with AES 256-bit encryption (what we consider the standard at this point), and the mobile app can (and should) be toggled to OpenVPN as well. Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker (but also acceptable) AES 128-bit encryption unless you manually change it, and hasn’t added OpenVPN support on its iOS app.
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.
Computer and software providers work hard to make sure that the devices you buy are safe right out of the box. But they don't provide everything you'll need. Antivirus software, for example, consistently outperforms the built-in protections. In the same vein, VPN software lets you use the web and Wi-Fi with confidence that your information will remain secure. It's critically important and often overlooked.
Private Internet Access, or PIA, is one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs available. Because of its reputation and advocacy concerning online privacy and security, it has also been a Wirecutter staff pick. But whether you prioritize speed and performance or trust and transparency, our top pick is a better bet. If you find PIA attractive because of its low price, note that spending just a little more on TorGuard will buy you much better performance.
StrongVPN operates servers in 21 countries, six of which are in APAC. Torrenting is allowed on all servers. It can unblock both Australian and US Netflix in a browser, but not in the Netflix app. StrongVPN has a no-logs policy and is based in the United States. Whereas most other VPNs on this list primarily rely on the OpenVPN protocol, StrongVPN is a mix of OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and SSTP. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Finally, you may want a VPN to spoof your location to download content you shouldn’t have access to, but this too has limits. A VPN used to be the go-to solution to watch U.S. Netflix overseas. That changed in 2016 when Netflix opened up to almost every country on Earth. Since then, the company has invested a lot in detecting and blocking VPN users. Even people using a VPN inside their own country will be blocked by Netflix if detected.
In very simple terms, a VPN connects your PC, smartphone, or tablet to another computer (called a server) somewhere on the internet, and allows you to browse the internet using that computer’s internet connection. So if that server is in a different country, it will appear as if you are coming from that country, and you can potentially access things that you couldn’t normally.
The VPN concept has been around for almost 10 years. Technologies that use public data lines for private corporate traffic promise companies a cornucopia of benefits—from saving money on expensive leased lines to a workforce empowered to access the entire wealth of corporate IT resources from any kind of connection anywhere on the globe. But as with other overhyped and overmarketed technologies, the devil is in the details.
The heart of the security a VPN provides is its encryption keys—the unique secret that all your VPN devices share. If the keys are too short, VPN data is susceptible to brute-force cracking. You can often choose the key length to use in your VPN implementation. The longer you make keys, the harder they are to break, but the trade-off is that longer keys also require more processor power for encryption and might slow packet throughput. The minimum recommended key length now is 64 bits (128 bits, if possible) for the symmetric ciphers that encrypt the data and 2048 bits for public key cryptography such as RSA. Modern desktop computers can often crack 40-bit and shorter keys, such as those that DES uses.
A VPN client on a remote user's computer or mobile device connects to a VPN gateway on the organization's network. The gateway typically requires the device to authenticate its identity. Then, it creates a network link back to the device that allows it to reach internal network resources -- e.g., file servers, printers and intranets -- as though the gateway is on the network locally.
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These folks have been around since 2010, and don't log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.