We’ve all thoughtlessly joined public Wi-Fi networks before, whether at coffee shops, subways, libraries, or airport lobbies. Many of us don’t pay much attention to it, but connecting to public Wi-Fi networks isn’t the safest practice. In fact, it could lead to some of our sensitive information being stolen, like usernames, passwords, bank account information, and so on. The truth is, public networks don’t offer much protection, and since anyone can easily connect to them, hackers could use such networks to hijack data from other public Wi-Fi users.
Fortunately, virtual private networks (VPNs) exist. When you use a VPN, it encrypts your web traffic and routes it through a private virtual tunnel. It’s kind of like having your own secret pathway to the internet. And with encryption, even if a hacker intercepts your internet traffic, all they’ll see is a jumbled mess of data packets.
Having tested dozens of VPNs, we’ve familiarized ourselves with the top VPN brands. We list below the top-performers in terms of features, security and speed. As a bonus, they’re also some of the most innovative VPNs we’ve seen. For example, not to spoil anything, but our top-pick NordVPN doesn’t just encrypt internet traffic, it recently added a feature that also steers you clear from harmful websites and blocks intrusive ads.
We’re excited to share with you everything we learned from our recent round of testing, but before we begin, let’s talk about our testing process. We put each VPN through rigorous testing. We tested for IP address leakage, performed several speed tests, and spent countless hours trying out their apps. We also peeked behind the curtain of each VPN company, looking for past controversies, breaches, and such. And of course, we examined their privacy policies to make sure that they aren’t collecting and selling our browsing data.
And two VPN brands come out on top: NordVPN and Surfshark. If you want to skip ahead and choose between these two brands, our Surfshark vs. NordVPN review will offer some insights. Otherwise, you can compare VPNs here. But if we were you, we’d read this whole review, as our top 12 VPNs each have something unique to offer.
The whole point of a VPN is to keep you safe when you’re online, and VPNs don’t get much safer than NordVPN. Not only does the company employ the very best security features, like AES-256 encryption and the OpenVPN protocol along with its proprietary protocol NordLynx, but it offers extra features you won’t find in other VPNs. For instance, NordVPN blocks intrusive ads, trackers, and malicious websites. With multihop, user’s connections aren’t routed through one encrypted tunnel but through multiple encrypted tunnels. Plus, NordVPN has a strict logging policy and is located in Panama, a country outside the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes surveillance alliances. Whether you’re looking to avoid government spying or garden-variety hackers, NordVPN has you covered.
What We Like
Non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes
Strict logging policy
High app ratings
What We Don’t Like
Static IP addresses
Hard to reach customer support
Kill switch doesn’t shut off all applications with iOS app
Limited torrenting support
Double The Encryption
In our full NordVPN review, we go deep into its encryption methods. One of the things we liked most about NordVPN is its use of double-VPN, meaning that our web traffic was encrypted not once but twice through multiple servers. This is ideal for anyone super-concerned about privacy; activists, bloggers, journalists, or anyone working in a place filled with surveillance and censorship, we’re talking to you!
On top of that, NordVPN easily works with devices using the Tor network. In case you don’t know, Tor, otherwise known as the Onion Network, is an anonymous way to connect to the internet. It uses several volunteer computers acting as servers to bounce internet traffic around the globe, effectively making Tor users anonymous. Tor users are often alienated from VPN use because of how the Tor network is set up, but with NordVPN, you’re one click away from combining the anonymity that the Tor network provides with the privacy of a VPN.
VPNs aren’t just for privacy. Since they use servers to reroute internet traffic, they also make websites think that we’re browsing from a different location (i.e. the location of the server). Because of that, we were able to stream Netflix shows that are only available in other countries by connecting to a server outside the U.S. When we connected to a U.K. server, for instance, we got to enjoy the unique humor of British comedy. And since NordVPN works across all major device platforms — Windows, Mac, iOS, iPad, Linux, and even smart TVs — we were able to stream on whatever device we were using.
At $11.99 per month, NordVPN wasn’t the cheapest VPN we’ve tested, but we’ve been able to unlock amazing discounts just by signing up for a whole year. On a yearly payment basis, NordVPN costs only $4.99 a month, a total of $59.88 for the whole year. The monthly rate further drops to $3.99 with the two-year plan. Considering how great a VPN NordVPN is, that price is hard to pass up.
Surfshark made it easy for us to torrent and download movies and TV shows without fear of retribution. With unlimited devices per subscription, this VPN gave us a different IP address every time we connected, which makes tracing much harder; however, if we wanted to stick with the same IP address, that was an option as well. In addition to that, it allows for streaming Netflix in addition to torrenting.
What We Like
Unlimited devices per subscription
Low costs with one or two-year subscriptions
30-day trial period
What We Don’t Like
No phone support
Have to set up kill switch manually on Windows
Static IP addresses
Not the fastest
When you connect to a VPN, government and network surveillance can’t tell what you’re doing online, but they can deduce that you’re using a VPN based on how your traffic looks. The problem with that is that it could get you in trouble if you’re traveling to a country that restricts or bans the use of VPNs. Surfshark has a nifty workaround called Camouflage Mode, or in general VPN terms, obfuscation. Basically, Surfshark uses technology to camouflage your traffic and make it look like you’re not using a VPN. That’s a great privacy feature, especially if you’re a frequent traveler.
While we only connected to Surfshark from the good old U.S of A, they have options in over 60 countries, from Vietnam to Albania. In the U.S, there are servers in over 20 cities, including L.A, Chicago, Dallas, Boston; you get the picture. The closer you are to a server, the better your connection. With Surfshark, we were more than satisfied.
It’s no secret that we love streaming, and what was awesome about Surfhsark is that we didn’t have to try out a bunch of different servers to stream on different platforms. Let us give you an example. We were dying to watch National Treasure on Disney+, for obvious and Nick Cage-related reasons. Normally with VPNs, we have to try connecting from a few different servers before we find one that the streaming service hasn’t blocked, but Surfshark actually did that work for us, automatically finding the right server for the right streaming service. Aside from Disney+, we also streamed from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Spotify, and Youtube, although the VPN works with even more services. Learn more about the best VPNs for Youtube TV. Surfshark also works with Apple TV, making it one of the best VPNs for Apple TV, as well.
3. Private Internet Access VPN - Best VPN for Windows
What We Like
Strict logging policy
Fast on Windows
High app reviews
What We Don’t Like
Based in United States
Split tunneling unavailable for iPhones
Slow on Mac
Most VPNs didn’t give us many choices when it came to encryption methods, authentication modes, and handshakes, but Private Internet Access actually let us customize how their VPN worked. We had four options: the default, recommended protection, an option that was more focused on speed, an option more focused on security, and an option with no authentication whatsoever. While we went with the recommended option, we could see the other options being useful if we ever want to prioritize speed over security or vice versa.
Dynamic IP Addresses
We got a new IP address every time we connected to Private Internet Access, which is definitely preferred over static IP addresses. That made us harder to trace, ensuring our anonymity online. Think of it like wearing a mask; if you wore the same mask every time, people would eventually start to catch onto your identity. With Private Internet Access, we got a fresh new mask every time we logged on, which kept any potential hackers guessing.
IPVanish has all the features you expect from a top-tier VPN, like strong encryption, fast speeds, and extras like split tunneling. What sets IPVanish apart from other companies, though, is its commitment to customer service. We can’t tell you how much trouble we have sometimes getting companies to respond to our technical questions. Many VPNs don’t offer phone support, and a fair number don’t provide answers 24/7. IPVanish has friendly customer service agents you can talk to any time, via both phone and online chat. Yet, the company doesn’t charge any more than other VPNs. A one-year subscription, for example, is just $3.99 a month.
What We Like
Fast download speeds
Unlimited number of connections
What We Don’t Like
History of sharing customer logs
Based in United States
Slow speeds on Windows, but has recently gotten much faster with WireGuard protocol
We used IPVanish at the library one day, and when the connection failed, the VPN closed all of our Web windows automatically, ensuring no one could see our IP address or web traffic. This was a lot better than the alternative, although we had to reopen the windows that IPVanish “killed.” Of course, when we were downloading large files and didn’t want to be interrupted even if the VPN failed, we had the option to turn the kill switch off.
Robust Customer Service
IPVanish also wins when it comes to helping customers with problems. Not only do they have 24/7 live chat and a comprehensive FAQ section, but also a phone line, a huge rarity for VPN companies. We got responses within five minutes, and other customers had similar experiences according to reviews on Amazon and Trustpilot, four out of five and 4.6 out of five respectively.
All of the VPNs we’ve reviewed have privacy policies that outline what types of data they collect, why they collect those types of data, and how they use the data. Not all of them, though, have been audited like IPVanish. The Leviathan Security Group, an independent security and privacy auditing firm, audited IPVanish’s privacy and security practices just this year. They’ve found that IPVanish’s claim that it doesn’t log browsing and usage data is true. The firm also determined that IPVanish is non-invasive to its users’ privacy, making it a solid VPN for privacy-conscious users.
What We Liked
Strict logging policy
Affordable long-term subscriptions
What We Didn’t Like
Poor Mac app
Kill switch only for Mac and Windows
Relatively slow download speeds
Located in Singapore, a Five Eyes member
Strict Logging Policy
All VPN companies have to keep some information if only to conduct business. Ivacy VPN, though, keeps as little of our information as possible. Yes, it does keep our:
Crash event reports
Failed connection attempts
Aggregated bandwidth use
It would be hard to operate a successful VPN without this information, though. More important is what Ivacy VPN doesn’t keep:
As long as it’s not tracking any of this data, we feel pretty safe and secure.
Smart Purpose Selection
VPNs serve multiple purposes, but Ivacy actually configured servers optimized for specific purposes. It has servers optimized for streaming, downloading, unblocking content, and so much more. We enjoyed its streaming capabilities the most, as it let us access Netflix uninterrupted. It’s not just for Netflix, though, as we were able to use Ivacy to stream on Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, Kodi, BBC, and other streaming platforms.
Low Prices Plus Discounts
How low can VPN prices go? Well, the least expensive VPN we’ve tested thus far is Ivacy, with monthly rates that go as low as $1.19. This monthly rate, though, is only applicable if you’re on the five-year plan, so it pays to commit. If you’re only looking to lock-in your subscription for a year, Ivacy costs $3.99 a month. Still not bad.
As if those prices weren’t enticing enough, Ivacy VPN offers lots of deals and discounts throughout the year, whether it’s Christmas or Halloween, Boxing Day or the Fourth of July. Last year, it offered 87 percent off for Green Day. That’s a lot of savings options.
What We Like
Unlimited simultaneous connections
Data breach monitor
Best server locator
What We Don’t Like
Doesn’t accept cryptocurrency
Headquartered in the U.S.
Relatively few servers
IP Address Safeswap
We always prefer VPNs that use dynamic rather than static IP addresses because dynamic addresses change regularly. When our address changes every time we log on, we’re harder to track. Atlas VPN goes one better than dynamic addresses, though. The company’s Safeswap technology didn’t just assign us a new address every time we logged on. We got new addresses as we browsed, every time we visited a new site. You can’t get much more anonymous than that.
Data Breach Monitor
More and more VPNs have begun offering extra perks to their customers, like free cloud storage. Atlas provides a data breach monitor on all its paid plans. This monitor scans leaked databases looking for your personal information. While it isn’t quite as thorough as the best ID theft services, it does provide important early alerts so you can change your credentials and lock down your accounts at the very first signs of trouble.
Atlas VPN’s prices are among the lowest we’ve come across, but they also have a free plan. This isn’t one of those trials with a strict 500 MB data limit. It’s not set up to give you a paltry seven days of service before rolling over into an expensive paid plan. It’s not one of those VPNs that provide free service by selling your data to the highest bidder. Atlas’s free VPN is a true VPN that can keep you safe and secure while you browse the web. You are limited to only three servers, but there are no data caps, and you never have to worry about Atlas turning over your personal information to anyone.
It’s no big surprise that most of our digital security expert team members have iPhones; after all, we’re young and live in Brooklyn, where we’re constantly joining public Wi-Fi networks. ExpressVPN easily connected us with fast speeds, and with a kill switch, if our connection was lost, we were still protected. Aside from our iPhones, ExpressVPN also worked quite well on our Mac and Windows computers, and best of all, we could be on public and private networks at the same time, which came in handy when we were multi-tasking, which is pretty much all the time.
What We Like
No data retention laws
Great app ratings
Fast speeds on Windows
What We Don’t Like
No phone support
Slow speeds on Mac
Five simultaneous connections per subscription
No browser extension for Internet Explorer
ExpressVPN is at the forefront of VPN technology. In addition to adopting existing VPN protocols, it developed a proprietary protocol that is both secure and fast, called Lightway. This VPN protocol runs on only 2,000 lines of code, much less than protocols like OpenVPN. And as a result, it’s lightweight and it provides a smooth user-experience.
Strict Logging Policy
Of course, ExpressVPN didn’t keep our web traffic or activity, which is the most basic thing we expect from VPNs meant to give us privacy. But they also didn’t keep much more of our information than necessary; they only knew which app and version we used, when we used it, the server we connected to, and the amount of data we transferred in MB. Our traffic, metadata, and DNS queries weren’t logged, thankfully.
IP Leak Blocking
There are VPNs that we consider “leaky” because their technology doesn’t effectively block IP address and browsing data leakage. ExpressVPN is far from being that, though. It’s one of the most secure VPNs on the market, capable of blocking DNS leaks and WebRTC leaks. In fact, once you’re connected to ExpressVPN, you can use its website’s WebRTC leak detector to make sure it isn’t leaking your IP address through your browser’s WebRTC feature. Each time we tested ExpressVPN for those leaks, we didn’t find any — just the result we were hoping for.
PureVPN is one of the best VPNs for travel, with more than 6,500 servers in over 78 countries including the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. This made it easy for us to travel without joining shady Wi-Fi networks and running into internet censorship. PureVPN hid our browsing history and IP address so we could be more anonymous online.
What We Like
Over 6,500 servers in more than 78 countries
Based in Hong Kong, a Five Eyes non-member
What We Don’t Like
Torrenting doesn’t always work
Static IP addresses
Latency on Windows and Macs
No free trial
Huge Global Network
PureVPN has one of the largest global networks of servers and is available in more than 78 countries. Specifically, the VPN has servers in:
Servers and locations
147 in Manchester, 18 in Gosport, 399 in London, 3 in Maidenhead
128 in Sydney, 79 in Melbourne, 76 in Perth, 77 in Brisbane
24 in Paris, 18 in Roubaix
63 in Frankfurt, 54 in Munich, 12 in Nuremberg, 54 in Berlin, 18 in Hessen
While we were jet setting and connecting to international PureVPN servers, PureVPN hid our IP address, along with our browsing history. In fact, the VPN only collected our:
Total bandwidth consumed.
Everything we did online, on the other hand, was ours to keep. And since PureVPN is based in Hong Kong, a Five Eyes non-member, the company can’t be forced, legally, to give any of our information to the government. Add in some AES-256 encryption, the highest standard around, and PureVPN is certainly trustworthy when it comes to privacy.
Dedicated IP Address Available
With PureVPN, we got the same IP address every time we connected, shared with thousands of other PureVPN users. That was great for security, since we were lost in the crowd. For some websites that recognize these shared IP addresses, though, that was an issue and we got blocked. That’s why we were happy that, in addition, PureVPN offers dedicated IP addresses for only $2.04 a month with a two-year subscription. Dedicated addresses are just as secure as shared addresses, but we were the only ones using this IP address. That made it easier for websites to remember who we were.
CyberGhost has over 7,500 servers in 91 different countries, so although we only tested it out in the United States, wherever in the world you are, you probably won’t have trouble connecting either. The company is based in Romania, not a member of those international surveillance networks we keep mentioning; plus, Romania as a country has almost no data retention laws of its own, making CyberGhost a great pick for privacy.
FYI: CyberGhost offers split tunneling on Android devices only, so if you’re using a Windows, Mac, or iOS device, you’ll only be able to access private and not public networks.
What We Like
Non-member to Five eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes
Great customer support
Thousands of servers around the world
What We Don’t Like
Split tunneling available for Android only
Static IP addresses
Slow performance on Windows
CyberGhost uses AES-256, which is the current industry standard when it comes to encryption. Whenever we connected, we got an anonymous IP address that we shared with other CyberGhost users on the same server. Combined with the encryption, we felt confident that our identities were hidden when we used CyberGhost to browse the Internet.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, we could never pass up on great deals, and CyberGhost has one of the best deals around. Although its $12.99 monthly plan is pretty standard compared to other VPNs, its one-year, two-year, and three-year plans are heavily discounted. They cost $4.29, $3.25, and $2.29 per month, respectively. Of course, three years is a pretty long time, so to make the deal sweeter, CyberGhost is including three months of free VPN service to the three-year plan for a limited time.
CyberGhost, like most of the VPNs we review, doesn’t keep logs of its users’ browsing data. Bur CyberGhost takes things up a notch with its NoSpy servers. These data centers operated by CyberGhost itself are located in Romania, which is outside the reach of the 14 Eyes alliance. Romania’s laws also makes it a VPN-friendly country, as it doesn’t require data gathering and mass surveillance tactics used by other countries. When you connect to one of CyberGhost’s NoSpy servers, you can rest assured that your data is safe.
When it came to Netflix-watching parties, Hotspot Shield had us covered with fast speeds on our Mac and Windows computers. We also didn’t experience huge delays or lags on Netflix when we used the app on our Android devices, which came in handy during commutes. Plus, Hotspot Shield has a free option for those that don’t want to spend money on a VPN; however, you’ll be limited to a daily data cap of 500 MB, which may make watching movies and TV shows on Netflix and other streaming services a bit difficult. We went with the monthly plan, which cost us $12.99 a month, although there were cheaper options if we had signed up for one or two years.
Money Saver: To get discounts, sign up for long term-lengths; typically, one or two-year subscriptions are cheaper than monthly plans.
What We Like
What We Don’t Like
Five simultaneous connections
Based in U.S.
Unresponsive customer support
Keeps IP address
Regular Transparency Reports
Clearly, we don’t love the fact that Hotspot Shield is based in the United States. However, we were impressed that they have annual transparency reports to prove that they don’t hand over customer data, even when asked. In 2019, for example, they were asked to hand over users’ data 56 different times, refusing every time. Clearly, Hotspot Shield is dedicated to protecting users’ privacy, and their transparency reports prove that.
We usually avoid free VPNs because of how prone they are to shady privacy practices, and because most of them are limited in what they can do. Hotspot Shield, however, is a reputable company with a proven track record, so we had no issues trying out its free VPN. It still has limits; for instance, only one device can connect at a time, and there’s a 500 MB daily data limit (which we think is generous). But we liked that the free VPN was covered by the company’s no-logs policy, so we didn’t worry that Hotspot Shield would log our activity and sell our data to third parties.
Hotspot Shield was one of the fastest VPNs we tested on our Windows and Mac computers. Download speeds decreased by 30% and 18% while upload speeds decreased by 0.2% and 26% on Mac and Windows, respectively. Although the latency was a bit more than we would’ve liked, Hotspot Shield is a great option for torrenting files or watching Netflix.
ProtonVPN performed well in our speed tests, both on Windows and Mac, as well as on iOS and Android. Not a lot of VPNs had as fast and as consistent speeds as ProtonVPN, which is why we’re recommending it as the best VPN to use with Zoom and other virtual meeting software. In addition to its good speeds, ProtonVPN had a free plan for those who don’t want to spend money on a VPN. The free plan has no data limits, but it could only be used on one device. That being said, we opted for the Plus plan, which we think was the best value plan offered by ProtonVPN. It cost us $10 per month, but we could’ve brought down the price to $6.63 a month had we gone with the two-year plan.
What We Like
What We Don’t Like
Relatively high prices
Customer support limited to tickets
No browser support
Relatively few servers
Regular Transparency Reports
We were impressed that ProtonVPN has annual transparency reports to prove that it doesn’t hand over customer data, even when asked. The company is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and isn’t subject to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or 14 Eyes surveillance agreements. Even so, we liked having additional proof that the company collects the bare minimum about us, only our email addresses, payment information, and timestamps. At our last check, the only significant activity on the transparency report was a 2019 data request for information from the Swiss courts. Since ProtonVPN doesn’t collect IP addresses or online activity about any of its users, it had nothing to turn over.
We were excited to discover that ProtonVPN offers a totally free option and that it works with Android, Windows, macOS, and iOS. Heck, it even works with Linux. There are a couple of downsides to this free version. You can connect only through a single device, and there are only servers in three countries: the U.S., Japan, and the Netherlands. Still, the free version has no speed limits and no data limits, so you can Netflix to your heart’s desire.
Fast Upload Speeds
With more of us working from home than ever, we need fast upload speeds and low latency so our meeting software works smoothly. There’s nothing more embarrassing than when you laugh at someone’s joke but they don’t hear it until two minutes later. ProtonVPN was one of the fastest VPNs we tested on our Windows and Mac computers when it came to both upload speeds and latency.
Proton VPN Speeds
Upload speed difference, Macs
11 percent slower
Upload speed difference, Windows
4 percent slower
Download speed difference, Macs
87 percent slower
Download speed difference, Windows
42 percent slower
Latency speed difference, Macs
20 percent faster
Latency speed difference, Windows
10 percent faster
12. Norton Secure VPN - Best VPN With Dynamic IP Addresses
Norton, perhaps most famous for its LifeLock identity theft protection (read more in our LifeLock review) and its Norton antivirus software, also has a VPN, and it’s not half bad. Every time we connected to the macOS app, we got a different IP address, which made it difficult to trace us online. Since online anonymity is what we’re after, we were satisfied with this VPN app.
What We Like
Different IP addresses every time you connect
10 devices maximum
What We Don’t Like
Based in the U.S., a Five Eyes member
No split tunneling on iOS devices or Macs
Netflix isn’t available everywhere
Kill switch isn’t available on Macs or iOS devices
How much does the Norton Secure VPN cost, you ask? Well, if you only sign up for a month on one device, it’s $4.99. However, for 10 devices for a year, the cost is only $59.99, which amounts to only about $0.50 a per device per month. If you need a VPN for the whole family, this plan is incredibly affordable, one of the best VPN deals we’ve seen in a while (and that includes VPN Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, as well!).
Maximum number of devices
Norton Secure VPN encrypted our web activity and hid our IP address using AES-256, the same encryption that the U.S. government and military use, so you know it’s secure. Beyond that, in some locations, the VPN encrypted our web activity and changed our IP addresses multiple times, a process called multi-hop or double hop. That made it that much harder to track us online, from our personal emails to the items we bought on Etsy. No one needs to know about our obsession with vintage cookie jars, after all.
User-Friendly Mobile Apps
We all know that using a public Wi-Fi network directly is a great way to get hacked, which is why we always connect to a VPN like Norton Secure while we’re checking our phones in line for croissants. Fortunately, Norton does mobile apps well, specifically the Norton Secure VPN— Security & Privacy WiFi Proxy Android app and the Norton Secure VPN & Proxy VPN iOS app. After we downloaded the apps, we connected to nearby servers in seconds without any bugs or glitches. Other Norton customers agree with us, as the Android app has a 4.4 rating and the iOS app has a 4.3.
Aside from our best VPNs list that you’re currently reading, we’ve also reviewed the best VPNs for gaming, iPhones, and Androids, plus the best free VPNs and the best VPNs for Xbox. Most of the above VPNs are on these lists, along with a few other options that we tested out and liked.
We made a video review so you can see the VPNs for yourself! Watch it below or on our Youtube channel (and be sure to subscribe once you’re there).
What is a VPN? How VPNs Keep You Safe Online
VPNs, otherwise known as Virtual Private Networks, is a piece of software that allows users a “private” Internet connection, meaning that their web traffic and activity will be hidden in an encrypted tunnel and their IP addresses will be replaced. By connecting to private servers, people can make sure that their web traffic isn’t easily hackable for someone on the same public Wi-Fi network. Since all of their traffic will be encrypted, no one will be able to access the websites they’ve visited or your credentials like their usernames, passwords, financial account information, and other sensitive personally identifiable information (PII).
VPN Consumer Usage, Adoption and Shopping Study
Security.org conducted a study on how adults in the United States use and shop for VPNs, and we found some interesting bits of information:
Nearly half of respondents said that they used VPNs for general security reasons, while 40% said they use VPNs for general privacy.
38% of respondents between the ages of 45 and 60 said that their jobs paid for their VPNs, while only 14% of those aged 18 to 29 had their companies pay.
68% of the survey respondents say that they use a VPN, either free or paid, for personal or work use. Altogether, that’s about 142 million users in the U.S alone.
The survey also touched on VPN’s costs. The plurality of respondents, 28%, said that they paid anywhere from $5 to $10 a month for their VPNs, while 24% said they paid less than $5 a month. But of course, not everyone uses VPNs; 57% of the respondents who didn’t use VPNs said they don’t need one for personal use, and half said they don’t plan to use a VPN in the next six months. However, these respondents may not be familiar with how VPNs can help them protect their privacy in the digital landscape; if they were, perhaps they’d be more open to the idea.
Where People Use VPNs
People use VPNs all over the world, not just in the U.S. In fact, only 17 percent of North Americans online use VPNs, compared to 19 percent of internet users in the Middle East and 30 percent of Internet users in Asia Pacific.1 More specifically, 38 percent of total internet users in Indonesia and India use VPNs, compared to 32 percent in Turkey, making these countries the most popular places for VPNs. Other popular countries for VPN usage include:
Depending on your country, VPNs may or may not be legal, and countries also differ when it comes to net neutrality and blacklisting domains. But as VPNs increase in popularity, we expect more international servers to be built than ever before.
VPN Services: What Can I Use Them For?
There are a number of things you can use a VPN for, including:
Security on public networks: Being on a public network can make you more susceptible to hacking, with your web traffic and IP address easily accessible. However, joining a VPN will replace your IP address and encrypt your web traffic, upholding your privacy.
Access private networks: You may need to access a network for your home or office elsewhere; VPNs with split tunneling allow users to access public and private networks simultaneously.
Increased security for e-commerce: Buying stuff online can feel a bit tricky, especially if it’s a website you aren’t super familiar with. To keep your financial information protected, VPNs hide your web activity.
Hide data from marketers and Internet Service Providers: It’s no secret that large tech companies like Google and Facebook make billions of dollars on user data, selling it to third party advertisers to create targeted ads. Given that 47 out of the 50 states in the U.S have weak or nonexistent data privacy laws for consumers, connecting to a VPN is one of the only ways to avoid having your data tracked and sold online.
Access international content: Maybe you want to see what Netflix is like in Canada, or maybe you’re in a country that doesn’t allow Netflix at all. Whatever the reason, using a VPN can give you access to content that’s otherwise inaccessible unless you’re in a certain locality.
Bypass government/school/office restrictions: Whether you want to browse social media at work or torrent files in a country that doesn’t allow for torrenting, being able to connect to VPNs all over the world means unlimited access to the Internet, free of restrictions.
Activism/whistleblowing: Some journalists, activists or whistleblowers may use a VPN to hide their identities while researching or writing.
Whether it’s accessing your office’s private network while working from a local coffee shop or watching HBO Max on your trip to China, VPNs can come in handy for more than just general privacy or security online, although they’ll give you that, as well.
Can a VPN Track You Online?
The entire point of downloading a VPN in the first place is to ensure your online anonymity, but some VPNs save more of your data than others. While we haven’t reviewed many VPNs that save user data, many VPNs will save other information about their users, which can include:
The time and duration the user connected to the VPN
The user’s IP address
The amount of data the user used while connected to the VPN
The user’s personal information like their name, address, payment information, email, etc.
How Do VPNs Work?
VPNs work by connecting the user to a private server as opposed to a public server. The private server encrypts the user’s web traffic and activity in a tunnel and replaces their IP address, which makes them much less likely to be hacked while on a public Wi-Fi network. Most VPN companies have servers all around the world so users can connect as locally as possible; the closer the server, the faster the speeds while connected. Some VPNs even encrypt users’ traffic multiple times through multiple servers, a process called “multi-hop”.
Web traffic is encrypted using the latest industry standards like AES-256, the SSL, or Secure Socket Layer, as well as SHA 2, the Secure Hash Algorithm. Once the VPN creates the encrypted tunnel, the user’s data is sent to the server using VPN protocols like TCP, Transmission Control Protocol, and L2TP, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Of course, the user doesn’t see any of this happening; they just click “connect” and their web traffic is encrypted and their IP address is hidden.
Why Do I Need a VPN?
There are a number of reasons why anyone who uses the Internet needs a VPN, among them including:
Avoid hackers: There’s a hacker attack2 every 39 seconds, and when you’re on a public Wi-Fi network like at a cafe or library, it becomes even more likely that you’ll be the next victim (not to scare you, of course!). However, VPNs replace your IP address and hide your web traffic, which makes it harder for hackers to access your personal information and steal your identity.
View international content: You may be at home wanting to watch Hulu from a neighboring country with different programming, or maybe you’re traveling in a country with web restrictions like China. By connecting to a private VPN server in a location of your choosing, users can access content typically only accessible by being in another country, expanding their streaming possibilities and avoiding government restrictions.
Torrent files: Torrenting is often in a legal gray area, and while we can’t support illegal torrenting, many people use VPNs to download movies and TV shows that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
Access private networks: Whether it’s a private home or work network, VPNs with split tunneling allow users to be on public networks and access private networks at the same time.
Maintain your anonymity online: From pop-up ads to cookies, the act of being online means that your data is at stake. While we can’t remain completely anonymous online, VPNs can help, hiding the user’s web activity and IP address from view.
Who Needs a VPN?
Anyone who uses the Internet on a public Wi-Fi network needs a VPN. They’re also ideal for anyone traveling internationally who needs to access a private network in another location, or anyone that wants to bypass government, school or work restrictions on Internet usage. VPNs are ideal for journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and anyone else that wants to be as anonymous as possible online.
How Do I Get a VPN?
Getting a VPN is as easy as downloading an app from the Apple Store or the Google Play store; you can also use a browser extension if that’s easier for you. Of course, we recommend researching the VPN thoroughly before you connect, as not all are created equal. A good place to start is our best VPN page; scroll up to see our favorite tried and tested picks.
Can You Trust Your VPN Service?
VPNs are meant to hide users’ web traffic, but what if the VPN itself isn’t trustworthy? Sadly, not all VPN companies are trustworthy. Here’s how we determine if we can trust our VPN service or not:
Company headquarters: We look for companies based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, the international surveillance alliances that legalize the government forcing companies to hand over customer data. In countries like the United States, a Five Eyes member, the government has forced companies to give them information about customers, like with IPVanish. Ideally, we want a company based in a non-member country with no history of handing over customer data to the government. We also would like the VPN to be based in a country with no data retention laws of its own.
Encryption methods: We prefer companies that use the latest encryption methods like AES-256 as opposed to AES-128, which is outdated.
Are VPNs Legal?
VPNs are legal in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries but that may not be the case elsewhere. Here are a few countries with complete or partial VPN bans:
United Arab Emirates
The Limitations of VPN Services
While VPNs are certainly useful for millions of people, they also have their disadvantages, such as slower speeds. By having your data go through an additional server, you may experience decreases in download and upload speeds and increases in latency. Plus, VPNs don’t give you the legal right to perform illegal activities online, like torrenting copyrighted material or going to websites that are illegal in your location. Keep in mind that if the VPN’s headquarters is based in a Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or 14 Eyes country, they can hand over customer information to the government, if need be. So while most VPNs hide your web traffic, total invisibility online isn’t possible for most.
VPNs by the Numbers
When we shop for VPNs, we’re looking for a few key numbers, which include:
Simultaneous connections: How many devices can be connected to a VPN at once? For large families or workplaces, this question is particularly relevant. Although connecting to multiple devices at once can definitely cause slowdowns, it’s an essential feature for many people. We’ve reviewed VPNs that cover anywhere from one to an unlimited number of devices at once, so make sure that the VPN you choose has the coverage you need.
Available servers: How many servers does the VPN company have? With a large company like NordVPN, you’ll get access to 5,246 servers, while smaller companies like Perfect Privacy only have about 55 servers. If you travel frequently, look for a VPN with a large number of servers so you can always stay connected.
Server locations: Even more important than the number of servers are the servers’ locations around the world. Look for a company with servers nearby; the closer you are to the server, the better speeds you can expect. Companies like ExpressVPN even let you choose servers by city, with options for New York, L.A, Atlanta, and other major cities in the U.S.
VPN Buying Guide
VPNs are a good example of undifferentiated products,3 meaning that they are largely all similar in terms of their functionality, i.e. hiding your web traffic and replacing your IP address. So your choice of VPN will really come down to a few specific features, which we’ve outlined below.
Streaming: Would you like to stream movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu? Not all VPN servers allow for these streaming services, so make sure to check that out beforehand.
Simultaneous connections: How many devices will you be connecting to the VPN at once? Make sure your VPN allows for sufficient simultaneous connections.
Split tunneling: Will you need to access a private network while using the Wi-Fi from a public network? If so, look for a VPN with split tunneling.
Jurisdiction: Depending on how important privacy is to you, you may want to look for a VPN based in a country that’s a non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes, meaning they can’t be legally forced to hand over customer data to the government.
Encryption: Choose VPNs with up-to-date encryption methods like AES-256 bit.
Two or multi-factor authentication: It’s easy for hackers to gain access to accounts through phishing emails, but if you add on two or multi-factor authentication to your VPN account, they won’t be able to log in, even with your credentials. Look for VPNs that let you get a passcode sent to your mobile device or use your fingerprint or facial recognition to log in, preventing unauthorized access.
Location: Make sure that the VPN you choose has servers near the locations you’ll be using it in. This is especially important if you need fast speeds for something like gaming.
Device Type: Does the VPN work on the device you have? For most users, the answer will be yes, but it’s still something to double-check before putting down your credit card.
Browser Type: Some VPNs also have browser extensions; if you want to use a browser extension rather than an app, make sure the VPN supports your preferred browser.
Budget: Finally, it’s always important to keep budget in mind. There’s a pretty big price range when it comes to VPNs, but if you’re on a budget, there are options like NordVPN which can cost as little as a few dollars a month. Also, keep in mind term length; with many VPN companies, the longer you commit for, the lower your monthly rate.
How We Test VPNs: Methodology
Want to learn more about how Security.org reviews VPNs? Take a look at our methodology, which will truly make you an expert when it comes to Virtual Private Networks.
First, we start with the VPN itself, making sure it has all the features necessary to a VPN and putting it through speed and security tests.
Like we say in individual reviews, we test all of our VPNs on a private Optimum network in our Brooklyn office. Using only one device at a time, we make sure that our Internet speed without a VPN is an objective control to measure against.
We also test everything on both a Macbook Air and a Windows Vivobook to give useful information to more readers. To test download speed, upload speed, and ping (latency), we use the website SpeedTest.net,4 performing tests with and then without the VPN. While download and upload speed are measured in megabits per second, latency is measured in milliseconds. After we determine these figures, we figure out the difference between the two measurements in terms of a percentage, as the natural speeds of Macs and Windows computers differ wildly.
Tip: To see how much your VPN affected your web speeds, be sure to perform a speed test on SpeedTest.net without the VPN first so you can have a control to compare against.
Ideally, VPNs have no more than a 40% difference in any of the speed categories, but it’s always important to remember how much speed can vary by a number of factors: distance to the server, operating system, device, etc. So while we try to be as objective as possible, we also urge readers to take the speed test results with a grain of salt.
Many people who use VPNs are doing so in order to protect their web traffic, composed of domain name servers (names of websites) and their respective IP addresses. We also want to make sure that users’ private IP addresses are not being leaked due to WebRTC, which allows browsers to communicate directly with each other and is the default on browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Opera.
We test for DNS leaks using DNSLeakTest.com. By comparing my computer’s IP address with the IP addresses that come up on the website, we can see if there was a DNS leak with the VPN or not. Next, we test for WebRTC leaks using the tool available on ExpressVPN’s website.5 Again, by looking at the local and Public IPv4 IP addresses, we can determine if there were any WebRTC leaks.
Aside from testing for DNS and WebRTC leaks, we also look into a company’s privacy jurisdiction and data-logging policy. Ideally, companies are based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, international surveillance alliances that could legally force companies to hand over customer information. As far as data-logging goes, we prefer companies that only keep users’ account information like their name, email, and payment information. We don’t think that it’s necessary for VPNs to keep any information about when customers use their VPNs, for how long, how much data they’ve transferred, etc.
In our longer reviews, we analyze the VPN’s encryption methods and Internet protocols to ensure that they meet industry standards, which typically include AES-256 and OpenVPN, the most secure methods around. We also look for private domain name servers and anonymous and dynamic IP addresses, as they are harder to track. Finally, we make sure that each VPN has a kill switch, which will shut down all Internet browsers in the event that the VPN fails.
As many people use VPNs for media like movies and television, we look for VPNs with Netflix and torrenting access. Keep in mind that Netflix constantly updates its code to block any VPN connections, so there is no guarantee that it will ever work on a VPN.
Another feature we look for is split tunneling, which allows users to access the VPN and the public network at the same time. This allows for lower bandwidth, which can create faster speeds. We also prefer double or multi-hop VPNs, as they encrypt data multiple times through multiple servers.
Not only do we give readers the most objective information about a company’s subscription options, but we also tell them whether or not the price is reasonable, based on competitors’ pricing as well as features offered. VPNs can be anywhere from under a dollar to $15 a month in the most expensive case, mostly falling around $4 a month. We prefer plans that offer monthly as well as annual options, to give users flexibility, and we also point out if they have a trial period or money-back guarantee, common for VPNs. Finally, we outline what a subscription actually entails in terms of the numbers of server switches, simultaneous connections, and devices allowed. Typically, VPNs allow for unlimited server switches and devices and anywhere from one to unlimited simultaneous connections.
Although VPN companies are not known for their customer support, ideally they have a live chat feature in addition to their online help center. 24/7 live chat is preferred, and extra points if they also have a phone line.
Finally, we review the app for both iPhone and Android, as well as its ratings. If an app has a rating below three stars, we cannot recommend the product to the device-owner which the app goes with.
Do I Need A VPN At Home?
Compared to public Wi-Fi hotspots, our home networks are, for the most part, safer from hackers looking to steal our data. However, hackers aren’t the only ones who are after our internet traffic. The U.S. Congress has given Internet Service Providers (ISP) the go-ahead to sell the browsing data of their consumers. Right this very moment, your internet provider could be sniffing through your browsing history, looking for data to sell. While a VPN won’t be able to stop your ISP from doing that, it will make it much harder for anyone to tie your internet traffic back to you and your devices. So to answer the question, a VPN is necessary even at home if you want better privacy from the prying eyes of ISPs.
VPNs have another useful application at home: entertainment. You can use some VPNs to access websites blocked in your country as well as digital content not available in your region. Watching shows from foreign Netflix libraries is a popular example, which brings us to the next question.
Will Netflix Block VPNs? How To Stream Privately
When it comes to Netflix, you may or may not be able to access it with a VPN, depending on the company and the particular server you’re connected to. But in our testing, here are some VPNs that we used to Netflix and chill:
CyberGhost (although there were certain prerequisites depending on the server we connected to)
Perfect Privacy (but it may not work on all servers)
Windscribe (but only on the U.S and U.K servers)
Trust.Zone (on some servers in the U.S, U.K, France and Canada)
Before you open up Netflix, connect to your VPN so that no one will be able to see your web traffic and voila; you can binge privately. Breaking Bad, anyone?
Using a VPN with Windows 10, Chrome and Linux
You don’t want to spend hours chasing down a VPN that works on your Windows 10, Chrome, or Linux devices, which is why we picked out the best VPNs that work with each for you:
Windows 10: StrongVPN, Encrypt.me, TunnelBear, Ivacy VPN, Hotspot Shield
Connecting to a VPN on your mobile device is easy. Just go to the Apple or Google Play store, depending on the make of your phone, and download the VPN’s app. From there, you just have to sign in and click connect for private browsing.
Free vs. Paid VPNs
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but for VPNs, that’s not exactly the case. Some VPNs have free options, for either a limited time period like 30 days or for a limited amount of data. If you’re looking to use a VPN only for a short period of time, check out free options like TunnelBear or Hotspot Shield. However, for long-term VPN use, it’s worth coughing up the money for a monthly or yearly subscription.
The Best Free VPNs
The best free VPNs are Hotspot Shield, Windscribe, TunnelBear, and ProtonVPN. However, these VPNs are all limited in some way with a free plan. TunnelBear, for example, only offers 500 MB of data on its free option. Windscribe limits free users to 10 GB of data per month, while Hotspot Shield’s free option doesn’t include unlimited bandwidth, access to all servers, five simultaneous connections, and 24/7 tech support. Finally, ProtonVPN’s free option only allows users to connect to three servers, without any limits on data. So while you can get a free VPN, your best bet is to pay for one.
What’s the Fastest VPN?
In our experience performing speed tests on all of our VPNs, the fastest options were:
IPVanish: We saw super quick download speeds with IPVanish.
Private Internet Access: Private Internet Access is a great option for Windows-users in terms of speed.
Hotspot Shield: Whether we were doing speed tests on our Windows or Mac computers, Hotspot Shield performed well.
ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN also had really fast speeds on our Windows computer.
More Digital Security Guides
That’s about it for our lowdown on 2022’s best VPNs, but if you’re looking to learn more about digital security in general, read the below guides.
It is worth paying for a VPN. VPNs that are “free” typically limit the time you can use them and the amount of data you can use while connected, which is pretty limiting for most people. If you’re consistently on public Wi-Fi networks or want to access a private server, VPNs are worth shelling out a few dollars a month.
In general, VPNs are trustworthy, as nearly none of the companies we review logged our web traffic or activity. However, some VPNs are definitely more trustworthy than others; we prefer companies based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes, international surveillance alliances. We also look for VPNs with strict logging policies that only keep the minimum amount of customer data to run their services; these kinds of VPNs are more trustworthy than most.