Ranking VPNs: Our Methodology
While looking for the best free VPNs for torrenting, we started with the options that actually allow it—there are plenty that don’t. We also checked into what the free versions did and didn’t include. For example, we looked at data or speed limits, servers available to the free version, and whether or not the free version of a VPN can access Netflix.
We crossed a few VPNs off of our list that claim to allow torrenting but that shut down user speeds if they see a large amount of data passing back and forth. Once we’d identified the VPNs that openly allow and support torrenting, we narrowed things down by looking at the VPNs’ impact on speed and privacy policies. Rest assured that the free VPNs we selected are the best of the best.
The whole point of a VPN is to provide security, and it’s especially important when torrenting. Often, choosing a free VPN means making a few tradeoffs with data privacy, so we took extra care to check out the premium options and compare features. We start by checking that each VPN solution uses either OpenVPN or AES-256 encryption, the two safest encryption methods out there. But that’s just a baseline.
We also test every VPN for DNS leaks, which expose the sites a user is visiting, and WebRTC leaks, which expose the device’s IP address. We looked for Domain Name Server (DNS) leaks using DNSLeakTest.com, where we could see what DNS address was visible as we browsed and check it against our own. We tested for WebRTC leaks using ExpressVPN’s tool, which allowed us to check that the IP addresses pinged out there on the web didn’t match up with our device’s true IP address. Again, that information is best to protect while torrenting.
Did You Know: AES-256 is often referred to as “military-grade encryption.” That’s because it’s the only publicly available cipher that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has approved for encrypting top-secret information.4
One of the dangers of stored personal data is that it could be handed over to a government, so it’s essential to understand the laws that apply to each VPN company. In particular, we checked to see whether each company was headquartered in a country that was part of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes security alliances. If a company is based outside of the member countries, it can’t be forced to hand over customer data to the governments that make up these alliances. We also check to make sure the country where the company is headquartered doesn’t have problematic data policies.
What’s Included with a Free Option
Free VPNs are often designed to entice a user to pay for a premium VPN, and that means some features tend to end up behind a paywall. Most free VPNs:
- Limit data usage, measured daily or monthly
- Limit speeds or prioritize the connection speed of paying customers
- Limit access to streaming services
The best way to avoid these limitations is to make use of a VPN free trial, which generally provides access to premium features in order to convince users to subscribe.
As a rule, VPNs will always slow down internet speeds to a degree. However, even minor differences in those lags can mean the difference between successfully torrenting that classic movie you can’t find anywhere and watching a spinning wheel for hours. We test VPN download speeds, upload speeds, and ping (latency) using SpeedTest.net. We also calculate the percent difference in speed with and without using the VPN. We use both a Mac and a PC during every test because software differences can cause significant speed variability while running a VPN. We also checked to see if using the free version of a VPN resulted in throttled speeds. Generally speaking, any slowdowns of more than 40 percent are a bad sign.
Let’s face it—we’re less likely to stick with using a VPN if it impacts our computer’s performance too much. That’s why we assess ease of use, the frequency of technical difficulties like disconnections, and impacts on processes like torrenting or streaming. VPNs get points in their favor in our book if they effectively use split tunneling, which means that we can use both the VPN and a public network at the same time.
When do you most often access public Wi-Fi? If you’re like us, it’s when you’re out and about using your phone. To us, that means that a solid VPN mobile app is absolutely essential. We test both the Android VPN apps and iOS VPN apps for every product and check out their ratings in the app stores. Often,VPN apps have less features than the desktop versions, so we check to see whether features like kill switches and split tunneling are available on different devices.