The Best VPN Service

Performance and Reliability

Configure a Point-to-Site VPN Connection to an Azure VNet
Some tested services are not listed because connection failures prevented some of our tests from completing. For example, whenever possible, limit the amount of traffic that must traverse VPN connections. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general. For me this not work A PE is a device, or set of devices, at the edge of the provider network which connects to customer networks through CE devices and presents the provider's view of the customer site. Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. Tried to reconnect, failed.

How Do You Get a VPN, and Which One Should You Choose?

Verify a VPN Gateway connection

Given the more immediate threats to security and privacy from other avenues, none of our experts highlighted government data collection as the foremost reason for most people to get a VPN. So they just make excess work for themselves. Using a VPN service may help keep your data from being captured by some types of passive data collection, and in countries with less-sophisticated and less-well-funded intelligence agencies, a trustworthy VPN service is better than nothing.

He outlined three ways that VPN traffic could be vulnerable:. Revelations from information leaked by Edward Snowden , and related reporting, claim that even low-level analysts at the NSA have had access to massive databases of information. The NSA has sought to weaken some security standards during their development and has found exploits of others, such as the initial exchange of encryption keys , that allow the security agency to analyze otherwise secure traffic.

The NSA can also siphon off a huge amount of Internet traffic to be stored and later analyzed. Geoshifting to access international streaming sites Then a VPN is: Not a reliable tool.

Aside from its potential to violate terms of service and possibly local laws, we also found that geoshifting to access streaming services was unreliable at best.

Services and servers that work one day can be blocked the next, until VPN administrators find another workaround and the cycle repeats. Not likely to be any better. In all our research, we came across a lot of gray areas when it came to trusting a VPN, and only two hard rules: Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them.

Given the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam , having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust. Covering the service, Gizmodo sums it up well: If you penny-pinch on privacy and security services, you may end up without privacy or security.

If it does, that puts your privacy at risk should someone access or even release those logs without authorization. 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.

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. Ideally, every VPN service provider would subject itself to independent audits to verify that it logs and operates as it claims. In other industries, conflicts of interest have led auditors and rating agencies PDF to miss or ignore major problems. In the US, companies making false claims about their products are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, and to some extent state attorneys general.

For example, privacy and confidentiality of communications are fundamental rights in the European Union. Data protection authorities in EU-member states are empowered to handle complaints brought by individuals and then provide users with information about the outcome of any investigation.

But it is unclear how effective any of these remedies will be. Even if a company is at fault for deceptive marketing practices, it still has to comply with legal requests for whatever information it does have.

VPN providers are not required to keep records just in case law enforcement might need them some day. By encrypting all the traffic from your home or mobile device to a server you manage, you deprive your ISP and a potentially villainous VPN of all your juicy traffic logs.

But most people lack the skills, patience, or energy—or some combination of the three—to do this. Lastly, though you remove one threat from the equation by cutting out a VPN service provider, you also lose the extra layer of privacy that comes from your traffic mixing in with that of hundreds or thousands of other customers. To narrow the hundreds of VPN providers down to a manageable list, we first looked at reviews from dedicated sites like vpnMentor and TorrentFreak , research and recommendations from noncommercial sources such as That One Privacy Site and privacytools.

We settled on 32 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended. From there, we dug into the details of how each one handled issues from technology to subscriptions:. Public-facing leadership and an active role in privacy and security advocacy The best: In conjunction with information security experts at The New York Times parent company of Wirecutter , we reached out to our finalists with questions about their internal security practices. We asked how they handled internal security access, how they communicated securely with customers, in what ways they collected reports on security bugs, and of course whether their statements on logging policies matched their marketing and privacy policies.

We also considered which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership, and which ones openly supported projects and organizations that promoted Internet security and privacy. For a full breakdown of trust and VPNs, check out the section above. No bandwidth limits, no traffic filtering, no traffic logs The best: We looked carefully at the privacy policies and marketing claims for each company we considered.

In some cases, companies we considered had sworn in court filings that requests for data were impossible to fulfill. In other cases, we asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging. Locations on six continents, with multiple cities or regions in populous areas. 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. Experienced users may consider IKEv2, but because it has its own debated pros and cons , we ruled it out.

Though AES bit encryption is fine for most purposes , we prefer services that default to the more-secure bit encryption and still offer good performance. DNS servers are a bit like the phone books of the Internet: Required; must be effective and one-click-easy to activate The best: Customizable rules to activate kill switches on startup or certain networks.

We considered kill switches to be mandatory. And although we looked for apps that made it easy to add rules about when to activate kill switches, we considered special config files or manual firewall tweaks to be too complex. Native apps for Windows, Mac, and Android The best: Additional operating systems, plus router, set-top box, and game console support.

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. We reached out to Apple to confirm the details of these limitations, and will update this guide if we hear back. Three simultaneous connections The best: Five or more simultaneous connections. A three-connection limit is probably enough for most individuals, as well as some couples who each want a connection. But five connections is more flexible, especially for families or households with many devices.

Multiple payment methods, including cash or cryptocurrency, are nice, but we doubt most people will take advantage of them. If you want to disconnect your VPN account from your billing information, you can pay with a prepaid debit card purchased in a local shop. On networks that block anything that looks like VPN traffic, such as campus or corporate Wi-Fi, a stealth mode can help secure a connection without being detected.

Custom ad blockers or browser extensions from VPN providers can make managing connections easier, or can add privacy features not found in standard extensions like AdBlock Plus.

Multilayer and multihop technologies can add an extra layer of encryption by routing your traffic through multiple, separate servers. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. The EFF supports this legal position , though other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done.

Our initial research brought our list of serious contenders down to 12 VPN services. We signed up for each one and then dug deeper into their technology, performance, and policies. We tested each service using both the Netflix-operated Fast.

We ran each test on the macOS version of each VPN software in its default configuration, with our test computer connected over Gigabit Ethernet to a cable modem with no other traffic running through it.

For services that offered automatic location selection—a feature designed to give you the best speed possible—we also ran the tests on whichever location the VPN software chose. We ran the full series of tests with each location during three time periods that we chose to see whether Internet rush hours drastically reduced performance:. Tip for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera users: WebRTC assists with peer-to-peer connections, such as for video chatting, but could be exploited in some cases.

You can manually disable this function in Firefox, or use an extension to block most instances of it in Chrome or Opera. For more details and instructions, check out Restore Privacy. Based on our performance tests, we whittled our list of 12 contenders down to six: We reached out to those finalists for more information about their operations to judge their trustworthiness and transparency, and five all but IPVanish responded.

We also dove deeper into the desktop apps of the top-performing services. Great apps have automatic location selection, easy-to-use designs, and detailed but uncluttered settings panels. We took into account how easy each one was to set up and connect, along with what options were available in the settings pane. We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about its service and troubleshooting. This means that self-help support sites are even more important, since waiting for a reply while your connection is down can be frustrating.

Response times to our support inquiries ranged from 20 minutes to a day. IVPN exceeded our requirements for being trustworthy and transparent. Other VPNs we tested had faster connections at particular server locations or lower prices, but they came up short on essential factors such as transparency about who exactly runs them.

The top VPN services gave us a variety of answers to these questions, some of which were frustratingly vague. ExpressVPN was the only other company to outline these controls and assure us that these policies were well-documented and not half-practiced.

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: We discuss ExpressVPN in more detail in the Competition section —that company was almost our top pick but for this issue. IVPN also performed well in our speed tests. Read more in the Competition section. Our results were similar in other parts of the world, with IVPN ranking near the top regardless of the test, day, or time. See more in the Flaws but not dealbreakers section. None of the 12 services we tested disclosed our true IP address though some showed mismatched IPs.

IVPN currently disables all IPv6 connectivity, though the company is looking at solutions to securely support it soon. Most companies we considered do the same; OVPN was the only company to support IPv6 addresses at the time of our testing. On a desktop or an Android device, the company supports only the OpenVPN protocol we recommend and uses AES bit encryption what we consider the standard at this point.

Our budget pick, TorGuard, defaults to the weaker but also acceptable AES bit encryption unless you manually change it. If you do want to tweak some settings, IVPN has easy-to-understand checkboxes for most options. When you turn the kill switch on, all traffic in and out of your computer will halt if the VPN is disabled or loses its connection. This is a must-have feature that prevents your data or IP address from leaking if your connection hiccups.

Inside the Preferences pane, you can also tick boxes to automatically launch or connect the app when you boot your device. IVPN is the only service we tested to offer this option. Every service we tested accepts payment via credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin. Because few VPN companies offer live support, we appreciate when they at least provide easy-to-follow resources on their websites.

If you need to submit a ticket for a specific problem, you can expect a quick response from all the companies we tested—IVPN and TorGuard both responded to us in minutes, and PIA took the longest at one day.

ExpressVPN was the only one of our finalists that offered tech support over live chat. Other companies provide live chat only for sales and signup support. Though we liked the IVPN app overall, we were disappointed in its omission of automatic server selection.

The closest IVPN comes is offering a latency measurement next to each server in the connection list—color-coded, so green means good and red means bad. Though IVPN has a good mix of countries and strong performance elsewhere, its presence in Asia is limited to a single location in Hong Kong. Most of the competitors we tested had speedier servers in Japan—if that location is important to you, consider our budget pick, TorGuard, instead.

TorGuard is well-regarded in trust and transparency; it was also the fastest service we tried despite being less expensive than much of the competition, and its server network spans more than 50 locations, more than twice as many as our top pick. TorGuard includes settings and labels that allow extra flexibility but clutter the experience for anyone new to VPNs.

TorGuard CEO Benjamin Van Pelt answered all our questions, as he has done for other outlets multiple times since the company launched in Since we have an obligation to provide fast, abuse free services, our team handles abuse reports per server — not per single user. TorGuard was consistently one of the fastest services we tested. When we averaged three tests performed at different times of the week with Internet Health Test, TorGuard was the fastest service when connecting in the UK and Asia, the second fastest in the US, and the third fastest in Central Europe.

Each time we checked our location via IP address, it accurately resolved to the location of a TorGuard server. No VPN offers a reliable way to access these streaming services, though: All of the VPNs we tried were blocked by Netflix, and of the four that could access BBC content on the first day, two were blocked the next. TorGuard has more advanced settings than our top pick, but only a few are easy for novices to use. You can add scripts to execute when connecting or disconnecting the VPN.

Using these apps, you can manually select a server, click Connect, and not worry about the rest. New users are likely to find themselves out of their depth when modifying anything but the most basic functions, such as auto-connecting at launch or minimizing the app.

And it offers no option to automatically connect to the fastest server, a feature our top pick lacks as well. Compared with that of IVPN, the checkout process is clunky, and using a credit or debit card requires entering more personal information than with our top pick.

The easiest option for anonymous payments is a prepaid debit card bought locally. Otherwise, like most providers, TorGuard accepts a variety of cryptocurrencies, PayPal, and foreign payments through Paymentwall. That last service also allows you to submit payment through gift cards from other major retailers.

Specifically, TorGuard uses Stunnel a clever portmanteau of SSL and tunnel to add an extra layer of encryption and make your traffic look like normal, secure Web traffic.

Applications running across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. VPN technology was developed to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources.

To ensure security, data would travel through secure tunnels and VPN users would use authentication methods — including passwords, tokens and other unique identification methods — to gain access to the VPN. In addition, Internet users may secure their transactions with a VPN, to circumvent geo-restrictions and censorship , or to connect to proxy servers to protect personal identity and location to stay anonymous on the Internet.

However, some Internet sites block access to known VPN technology to prevent the circumvention of their geo-restrictions, and many VPN providers have been developing strategies to get around these roadblocks. A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunneling protocols , or traffic encryption. From a user perspective, the resources available within the private network can be accessed remotely.

Traditional VPNs are characterized by a point-to-point topology, and they do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains , so services such as Microsoft Windows NetBIOS may not be fully supported or work as they would on a local area network LAN.

Early data networks allowed VPN-style remote connections through dial-up modem or through leased line connections utilizing Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode ATM virtual circuits, provided through networks owned and operated by telecommunication carriers.

These networks are not considered true VPNs because they passively secure the data being transmitted by the creation of logical data streams. VPNs can be either remote-access connecting a computer to a network or site-to-site connecting two networks. In a corporate setting, remote-access VPNs allow employees to access their company's intranet from home or while travelling outside the office, and site-to-site VPNs allow employees in geographically disparate offices to share one cohesive virtual network.

A VPN can also be used to interconnect two similar networks over a dissimilar middle network; for example, two IPv6 networks over an IPv4 network. VPNs cannot make online connections completely anonymous, but they can usually increase privacy and security.

To prevent disclosure of private information, VPNs typically allow only authenticated remote access using tunneling protocols and encryption techniques. Tunnel endpoints must be authenticated before secure VPN tunnels can be established. User-created remote-access VPNs may use passwords , biometrics , two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods. Network-to-network tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates.

They permanently store the key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically, without intervention from the administrator. Tunneling protocols can operate in a point-to-point network topology that would theoretically not be considered as a VPN, because a VPN by definition is expected to support arbitrary and changing sets of network nodes. But since most router implementations support a software-defined tunnel interface, customer-provisioned VPNs often are simply defined tunnels running conventional routing protocols.

Depending on whether a provider-provisioned VPN PPVPN [ clarification needed ] operates in layer 2 or layer 3, the building blocks described below may be L2 only, L3 only, or combine them both.

A device that is within a customer's network and not directly connected to the service provider's network. C devices are not aware of the VPN. Sometimes it is just a demarcation point between provider and customer responsibility. Other providers allow customers to configure it. A PE is a device, or set of devices, at the edge of the provider network which connects to customer networks through CE devices and presents the provider's view of the customer site.

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.

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.

VLANs frequently comprise only customer-owned facilities. Whereas VPLS as described in the above section OSI Layer 1 services supports emulation of both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint topologies, the method discussed here extends Layer 2 technologies such as EtherIP has only packet encapsulation mechanism. It has no confidentiality nor message integrity protection. It may support IPv4 or IPv6. This section discusses the main architectures for PPVPNs, one where the PE disambiguates duplicate addresses in a single routing instance, and the other, virtual router, in which the PE contains a virtual router instance per VPN.

The former approach, and its variants, have gained the most attention. RDs disambiguate otherwise duplicate addresses in the same PE. By the provisioning of logically independent routing domains, the customer operating a VPN is completely responsible for the address space. Some virtual networks use tunneling protocols without encryption for protecting the privacy of data.

While VPNs often do provide security, an unencrypted overlay network does not neatly fit within the secure or trusted categorization. Trusted VPNs do not use cryptographic tunneling, and instead rely on the security of a single provider's network to protect the traffic.

From the security standpoint, VPNs either trust the underlying delivery network, or must enforce security with mechanisms in the VPN itself. Unless the trusted delivery network runs among physically secure sites only, both trusted and secure models need an authentication mechanism for users to gain access to the VPN. Users utilize mobile virtual private networks in settings where an endpoint of the VPN is not fixed to a single IP address , but instead roams across various networks such as data networks from cellular carriers or between multiple Wi-Fi access points.

Increasingly, mobile professionals who need reliable connections are adopting mobile VPNs.

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