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The 10 Best Cheap VPN Services (2023 Update)

By Tibor Moes / November 2022

Why do you need a VPN? Advertisers track your internet activity, including your searches, browsing history, and downloads. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can restore your privacy by protecting your personal information.

  • Identity theft is a common threat. Your personal details, such as ID numbers and banking details, can be stolen by hackers on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Advertisers have your information. Advertisers and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) track, use and sell your browsing history.
  • Streaming services block TV shows. Streaming services don’t let you watch all their movies. With a VPN, you can unlock all their shows.

Smart internet users buy the best cheap VPN service to surf the web anonymously.

CyberGhost VPN - The best VPN

CyberGhost VPN

Limited Time: Save 83% 🔥

  • Security and Privacy 100% 100%
  • Speed 100% 100%

CyberGhost is the best affordable VPN of 2023. It’s ultra-fast, private, and secure. And it temporarily offers deep discounts.

✓ Stream: Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and more
✓ Torrent: Optimized P2P servers
✓ Return: 45-day money-back guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 91 countries
✓ Protect: 7 devices

Try it risk-free, thanks to its 45-day return policy.

NordVPN - The most advanced VPN

NordVPN

Exclusive: Save 68% 🔥

  • Security and Privacy 100% 100%
  • Speed 100% 100%

NordVPN is the most advanced VPN of 2023. It has the best privacy technology (RAM-Servers and Double VPN) and a beautiful design.

✓ Stream: Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and more
✓ Torrent: Optimized P2P servers
✓ Return: 30-day money-back guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 59 countries
✓ Protect: 6 devices

Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.

Ranking of the best VPN services of 2023

We have tested cybersecurity software since 2014. Below, we have selected the top 4 from 30 paid and free VPN services (Virtual Private Networks).

Click the links or scroll down for more.

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN Review

Ranked #1 out of 30 VPNs

CyberGhost VPN Review

CyberGhost: Temporarily save up to 83%  🔥

CyberGhost VPN Review

CyberGhost is the fastest VPN in our test. It also has the lowest price and the biggest server network. It's one of the best VPN services you can buy.

Specifications

  • Streaming: Works with Netflix US, Disney, Amazon, HBO Max, and more
  • Torrenting: Allowed on P2P servers
  • Logging: No Logs
  • Servers & Countries: 9,000 Servers in 91 countries
  • Connections: 7
  • 1-Year Price: € 47.64
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 45 days

Streaming

CyberGhost has dedicated streaming servers for Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu, and more.

Torrenting

CyberGhost has optimized P2P servers. It is an excellent VPN for torrenting, thanks to its kill switch, IP- and DNS-leak protection, and no logs policy.

Privacy

CyberGhost has a strict no-logs policy: It does not monitor or record what you do online, and it does not store your IP address. Therefore, you are completely anonymous when using CyberGhost.

Ownership

CyberGhost is owned and operated by CyberGhost S.A. from Romania. Its parent company is Kape Technologies from the UK, which also owns ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, and ZenMate.

Speed

We test all VPN services on a 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) internet connection, with the VPN set to the WireGuard protocol, which is the fastest. These are the test results of the best VPN services:

VPN WireGuard
CyberGhost 825-850 Mbps
NordVPN 725-800 Mbps
Surfshark 700-800 Mbps
IPVanish 700-725 Mbps

Security

CyberGhost applies the most important security and privacy features:

  • AES-256 encryption
  • WireGuard and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP)
  • Kill switch
  • Split tunneling (on Windows and Android)
  • Ad, tracker, and malicious website blocker
  • Dedicated IP

But it lacks RAM-only servers and Double VPN, which NordVPN does offer.

Censorship

CyberGhost does not use obfuscation technology, which hides your VPN usage. Therefore, it is not the right VPN for high-censorship countries like China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, or the UAE.

Servers

CyberGhost has a huge number of servers: 9,000 in 91 countries.

60 Countries have physical servers within their borders, while the other 31 are virtual servers. Although virtual servers are not located within the indicated country, they will give you a local IP address from that country.

It also offers specialized servers:

  • Servers optimized for P2P
  • Servers optimized for streaming
  • Servers with static IP addresses
  • Servers with dedicated IP addresses
  • Fully owned NoSpy servers

Devices

You can install CyberGhost on 7 devices at the same time. It works with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and a range of routers. It also has browser extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Prices

CyberGhost has the lowest 1-year price in the industry.

VPN 1-Year Price
CyberGhost € 47.64
Surfshark € 47.88
IPVanish $ 47.89
NordVPN € 52.68
ExpressVPN € 99.84

Is CyberGhost VPN the best VPN software of 2023?

CyberGhost is the fastest VPN in our test and has the most affordable 1-year contract. On top of that, it is secure, private, and has one of the largest server networks. It's excellent.

You can try CyberGhost risk-free, thanks to its 45-day return policy.

NordVPN

NordVPN Review

Ranked #2 out of 30 VPNs

NordVPN Review

NordVPN Review

NordVPN is the most advanced VPN service you can buy. It uses the latest privacy technology, like RAM servers and double VPN, and works in China. It's one of the best VPN providers you can buy.

Specifications

  • Streaming: Works with Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more
  • Torrenting: Allowed on 80% of its servers
  • Logging: No Logs
  • Servers & Countries: 5,600 Servers in 59 countries
  • Connections: 6
  • 1-Year Price: € 52.68
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 30 days

Streaming

NordVPN unblocks Netflix in 10 countries, including the United States. It also works with Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.

Torrenting

NordVPN allows torrenting on most of its servers. On top of that, it has optimized P2P servers for extra high download speeds.

Thanks to its no-logs policy, kill switch, DNS- and IP-leak blocking, it is a safe choice for torrenting.

Privacy

NordVPN has a strict no-log policy. So it does not record your IP address or online activities. It was the first VPN company to subject its privacy policy to an independent audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Ownership

NordVPN is owned and operated by NordVPN S.A. from Panama. Its parent company, Nord Security, merged with the parent company of SurfShark to form Cyberspace BV in the Netherlands.

Speed

We test all VPN services on a 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) internet connection, with the VPN set to the WireGuard protocol, which is the fastest. These are the test results of the best VPN providers:

VPN WireGuard
CyberGhost 825-850 Mbps
NordVPN 725-800 Mbps
Surfshark 700-800 Mbps
IPVanish 700-725 Mbps

Security

NordVPN is the most advanced VPN in our comparison. It includes both the mainstream security features and the highly advanced ones:

  • AES-256 encryption
  • WireGuard and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP)
  • Kill switch
  • Split tunneling
  • Ad, tracker, and malicious website blocker
  • Dedicated IP
  • RAM-only servers
  • Double VPN
  • Onion over VPN
  • Obfuscated servers
  • Meshnet (on Windows and Linux)

NordVPN is also available in a bundle, including NordLocker (encrypted cloud storage) and NordPass (password manager and data breach scanner).

Censorship

NordVPN is one of the few VPNs that work in highly censored countries like China, the UAE, Iran, Russia, and Turkey. This is thanks to its obfuscation technology that hides your VPN traffic.

Servers

NordVPN has an extensive VPN server network, with 5,600 servers in 59 countries. They are all physical servers, meaning every server is located within the country's borders.

It also offers specialty servers:

  • P2P servers
  • Streaming servers
  • Static IP address servers
  • Double VPN servers
  • Onion over VPN servers
  • Obfuscated servers

Devices

You can install NordVPN on 6 devices at the same time. It works with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and some routers. It also has browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Prices

Considering that NordVPN is the most advanced VPN, it is a bargain.

VPN 1-Year Price
CyberGhost € 47.64
Surfshark € 47.88
IPVanish $ 47.89
NordVPN € 52.68
ExpressVPN € 99.84

Is NordVPN the best VPN service of 2023?

NordVPN is the most advanced VPN software you can buy, thanks to its RAM servers, double VPN, Onion over VPN, and obfuscated servers.

You can try NordVPN risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.

SurfShark VPN

Surfshark VPN Review

Ranked #3 out of 30 VPNs

SurfShark VPN Review

Surfshark VPN Review

Surfshark offers the best value for money. It is fast, secure, and affordable. And it allows you to install it on an unlimited number of devices. It's one of the best VPN programs you can buy.

Specifications

  • Streaming: Works with Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more
  • Torrenting: Allowed on all of its servers
  • Logging: No Logs
  • Servers & Countries: 3,200 Servers in 95 countries
  • Connections: Unlimited
  • 1-Year Price: € 47.88
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 30 days

Streaming

Surfshark can stream Netflix in 10 countries, including the United States. It also works with Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu.

Torrenting

Surfshark allows P2P file-sharing on all of its servers and offers optimized P2P servers for higher download speeds. Due to its kill-switch, no-logs policy, and leak-blocking, Surfshark is a safe choice for torrenting.

Privacy

Surfshark has a clear no-logs policy. It does not track what you do online and does not store your IP address. In 2021, Surfshark underwent an independent server audit by Cure53, a German cybersecurity firm.

Ownership

Surfshark BV from the Netherlands owns Surfshark. In 2022, its parent company merged with Nord Security, creating the holding company Cyberspace BV, also located in the Netherlands.

Speed

We test all VPN services on a 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) internet connection, with the VPN set to the WireGuard protocol, which is the fastest. These are the test results of the best VPN programs:

VPN WireGuard
CyberGhost 825-850 Mbps
NordVPN 725-800 Mbps
Surfshark 700-800 Mbps
IPVanish 700-725 Mbps

Security

After NordVPN, Surfshark is the most advanced VPN in our comparison. It covers all mainstream and advanced features:

  • AES-256 encryption
  • WireGuard and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP)
  • Kill switch
  • Split tunneling
  • Ad, tracker, and malicious website blocker
  • Dedicated IP
  • RAM-only servers
  • Double VPN
  • Onion over VPN
  • Obfuscated servers
  • Rotating IP
  • Override GPS Location on Android

Next to its VPN service, Surfshark also offers antivirus software, personal data breach alert, and a private search engine. These features are sold separately or together with the VPN in SurfShark One.

Censorship

Thanks to its Camouflage and NoBorders Mode, Surfshark works well in censored countries like Russia, the UAE, Turkey, and Iran. However, it does not consistently work in China.

Servers

Surfshark has an extensive network, with 3,200 servers in 95 countries. However, some of these servers are virtual. That means that although you get a local IP address from the country of your choice, the physical server is located in a different country.

Surfshark also offers specialized servers, including:

  • P2P servers
  • Static IP address servers
  • Double VPN servers (Multihop servers)

Devices

Surfshark allows unlimited simultaneous connections. It works with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and some routers. It also has browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Prices

Surfshark's price is excellent. Especially considering that you can install it on an unlimited number of devices.

VPN 1-Year Price
CyberGhost € 47.64
Surfshark € 47.88
IPVanish $ 47.89
NordVPN € 52.68
ExpressVPN € 99.84

Is Surfshark the best VPN service of 2023?

Surfshark offers the best value for money in the VPN industry. It is advanced, affordable, and allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices. It is one of the best VPN deals out there.

You can try Surfshark risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.

IPVanish VPN

IPVanish Review

Ranked #4 out of 30 VPNs

IPVanish VPN Review

IPVanish: Temporarily get 61% OFF  🔥

IPVanish VPN Review

IPVanish is an excellent VPN. It's fast, secure, and affordable. And it allows you to install it on an unlimited number of devices. However, it's not as advanced as the others in this list and has a smaller server network.

Specifications

  • Streaming: Works with Netflix USA, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu
  • Torrenting: Allowed on all of its servers
  • Logging: No Logs
  • Servers & Countries: 2,000 Servers in 50 countries
  • Connections: Unlimited
  • 1-Year Price: $ 47.89
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 30 days

Streaming

IPVanish is not the best VPN service for streaming. Although it works with Netflix in the United States, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer, it has problems with streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max.

Torrenting

IPVanish allows torrenting on all its servers. And thanks to its no-log policy, kill switch, and no DNS leaks, it is a safe option to do so. The kill switch is necessary because it will block the internet traffic if the VPN connection drops.

Privacy

IPVanish has a clear no-logs policy. However, in 2018, it handed user data to the US government. Data it wasn't supposed to have, according to its log policy. Since then, it has changed owners twice, but the reputation remains.

Speed

We test every VPN service on a 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) internet connection, with the VPN connection set to the WireGuard protocol, which is the fastest. These are the test results of the fastest VPN connections:

VPN WireGuard
CyberGhost 825-850 Mbps
NordVPN 725-800 Mbps
Surfshark 700-800 Mbps
IPVanish 700-725 Mbps

Security

IPVanish is the only VPN in our comparison that owns all of its servers and doesn't rely on third-party server parks, which is excellent. That said, it is not the most advanced VPN in our test.

It includes the following mainstream features:

  • AES-256 encryption
  • WireGuard and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP)
  • Kill switch
  • Split tunneling

But it misses many of the advanced features:

  • Ad, tracker, and malicious website blocker
  • Dedicated IP
  • RAM-only servers
  • Double VPN
  • Onion over VPN
  • Obfuscated servers

Censorship

IPVanish does not work in censored countries like China, the UAE, Iran, Turkey, or Russia.

Servers

IPVanish has 2,000 VPN servers in 50 countries. All servers are physically located within the country and entirely owned by IPVanish. Because it doesn't rely on third-party server providers, it has complete control over the hardware and software, which theoretically should increase its security.

Devices

IPVanish allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. It works with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and some routers. But it has no browser extensions.

Prices

IPVanish has a very attractive price, especially as you can install it on an unlimited number of devices.

VPN 1-Year Price
CyberGhost € 47.64
Surfshark € 47.88
IPVanish $ 47.89
NordVPN € 52.68
ExpressVPN € 99.84

Is IPVanish the best VPN provider of 2023?

IPVanish is fast, secure, and affordable. It owns its entire server network and allows you to install the software on unlimited devices. But it's not the most advanced VPN in our test and not the best option for streaming.

You can try IPVanish risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.

Comparison table of the best VPN services 

CyberGhost
NordVPN
Surfshark
IPVanish
Icon
CyberGhost VPN Icon
NordVPN Icon
Surfshark VPN Icon
IPVanish VPN Icon
Ranking
#1 / 30
#2 / 30
#3 / 30
#4 / 30
Logging Policy
No Logs
No Logs
No Logs
No Logs
Operating Company
CyberGhost S.A. (Romania)
NordVPN S.A. (Panama)
Surfshark BV (Netherlands)
Ziff Davis, Inc (USA)
Holding Company
Kape Technologies PLC (UK)
Cyberspace BV (Netherlands)
Cyberspace BV (Netherlands)
Ziff Davis, Inc (USA)
VPN Protocols
IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard
IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, NordLynx (WireGuard)
IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard
IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard
Encryption
AES-256
AES-256
AES-256
AES-256
US Netflix




Torrenting




VPN Kill Switch




Split Tunneling




Ad & Tracker Blocker



No
Smart DNS



No
First-Party DNS


No

Dedicated IP


No
No
Double VPN
No


No
RAM Servers
No


No
Works in China
No


No
Countries
91
59
95
50
Servers
9,000+
5,600+
3,200+
2,000+
Speed on WireGuard or proprietary protocol
825-850 Mbps
725-800 Mbps
700-800 Mbps
700-725 Mbps
Comptatible Devices
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router
Number of Connections
7
6
Unlimited
Unlimited
1-Month Price
€ 12.65
€ 10.49
€ 12.95
$ 10.99
1-Year Price
€ 47.64
€ 52.68
€ 47.88
$ 47.89
2-Year Price
€ 74.88
€ 69.36
€ 59.76
-
3-Year Price
€ 82.29
-
-
-
Customer Support
24/7 Live Chat & Email
24/7 Live Chat & Email
24/7 Live Chat & Email
24/7 Live Chat & Email
Free Trial
1 Day
7 Days
7 Days
No
Money Back Guarantee
45 Days
30 Days
30 Days
30 Days

How we test the best cheap VPN services

After careful planning, we tested 30 of the best VPNs for all common operating systems. These include Windows 10 and 11, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can find all the tests we conducted below:

> Test 1: Logging policy

What is a logging policy?

Many believe that all VPNs guarantee their privacy as they browse their favorite sites. The problem is not every provider does so. Browsing information passes through VPN servers, and some companies gather the data.

These are the two main things VPN services track:

  • Your browsing history and downloads.
  • Your approximate physical location via a public IP address

Hola VPN and many more are guilty of recording this information. These providers then sell your data to data brokers and advertising companies for a price. It should be clear why these VPNs are free. A saying goes: “If the product is free, you are the product.”

After performing checks, we determined around 30% of all available VPN services track your IP address. A disturbing 5% of services record browsing behavior.

A VPN provider must inform users whether the company is tracking all of this information. Unfortunately, many try to hide this fact by using confusing language in their terms of service.

What do we test for?

We look for what information every VPN’s logging and privacy policies gather. Not all logging is harmful, as details like bandwidth usage and server load statistics help developers improve the product. These also don’t contain personal information.

However, these criteria should remain untouched:

  • Browsing activity: Even though some VPNs track data and delete it after a session, this isn’t acceptable at all. All browsing activity should be left alone for privacy reasons.
  • IP Address: Your IP address can let malicious users discover your geological location and even the ISP you’re using. We check if the VPN records this.

> Test 2: Ownership

What do we mean by ownership?

In many cases, a VPN service is owned by Company 1, and Company 1 is owned by Company 2, a classic example of a corporate holding structure. It’s a common sight, but it theoretically allows both entities to access your data.

These companies are registered in various countries, many of which have different and even contradicting laws on data retention. Examples include the United States and the Netherlands.

Where a VPN service is registered and what company owns it makes a difference when you delve into the fine print.

While it’s true that VPNs are competing with each other, the competition is scarcer than it seems. When you look closely, it turns out only several companies own most of the popular ones out there:

  • Kape Technologies offers ExpressVPN, CyberGhost VPN, Private Internet Access, and ZenMate. Its headquarter is based in the United Kingdom.
  • Ziff Davis owns StrongVPN, IPVanish, SaferVPN, Buffered VPN, Perimeter 81, Encrypt.me, and many more. It’s a company located in the United States.
  • Aura (or Pango) owns Hotspot Shield, JustVPN, and TouchVPN. It’s behind the VPN technology many other VPN services like Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Panda, and more employ. It’s also a company located in the United States.
  • CyberSpace owns the popular NordVPN, Surfshark, and Atlas VPNs. CyberSpace is a Dutch company.
  • Gaditek owns and operates Ivacy VPN, PureVPN, and Unblock VPN. It’s the only company on this list from a Middle Eastern country, Pakistan.

What do we test for?

We dig deep into who owns a specific VPN service and check for where it’s registered. We look at the country’s data retention laws to polish our findings. Finally, we research the company’s history and timelines for scandals or other events.

For instance:

  • Crossrider changed its name to Kape Technologies in 2018. The company built a browser extension development platform. The sad news is many malware creators and attackers took advantage of it and forced a name change.
  • In 2016, IPVanish handed over data it wasn’t supposed to possess to Homeland Security. The company underwent two owner changes since the scandal, but it still hasn’t dissuaded many in the industry.

> Test 3: Independent audit

What is an independent audit?

VPN providers may make big claims to attract customers to close out a deal. However, serious users with enough cybersecurity knowledge will start asking questions. They want to confirm all advertised features like “Military Grade Encryption” are valid.

Independent auditors are third parties the VPN providers can hire to prove their claims. They analyze server infrastructure and privacy policy, among other components of a VPN service.

Examples include:

  • ExpressVPN hired PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) in 2019 to check whether the latter’s TrustedServer technology performed a data wipe after server reboots.
  • PwC investigated NordVPN’s server configuration, infrastructure, and technical logs in 2020. The auditor also interviewed employees.
  • Surfshark’s audit by Cure53 in 2021 combed Surfshark’s server infrastructure for flaws.
  • Private Internet Access (PIA) audit by Deloitte in 2022 compared the server environment to PIA’s privacy policy.

What do we test for?

We determine whether independent auditors have tested the VPN service, what they investigated with the audit, and look for any discovered flaws.

> Test 4: Available VPN protocols

What is a VPN protocol?

VPN protocols are the rules that determine how a VPN server and app interact. They touch on how they identify the other, how the app logs into the server, the data transfer methods, encryption schemes, and more.

Changing protocols affects the required connection time, download speeds, and security status of a service.

These are commonly encountered protocols:

  • OpenVPN: Practically every modern VPN service uses this open-source protocol due to its customizable nature. It’s also fast and secure while working with most software.
  • WireGuard: WireGuard is a next-generation open-source protocol that improves upon OpenVPN and IPsec. It boasts higher download speeds due to having much fewer lines of code.
  • IKEv2: Cisco and Microsoft collaborated on this secure VPN protocol, but our tests show it’s slower than the above two protocols despite claims.
  • L2TP/IPSec: A simpler, older, and slower VPN protocol.
  • PPTP: This is one of the oldest VPN protocols and contains several security flaws.

Though there are plenty of open-source protocols, some providers choose to design their own. They include ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, and NordVPN. Of all three, only ExpressVPN elected to publish its protocol as open source.

  • NordVPN developed NordLynx, based on the WireGuard protocol.
  • ExpressVPN developed Lightway without basing it on existing protocols.
  • Hotspot Shield developed Catapult Hydra from scratch.

It’s crucial to know that there’s no best VPN protocol. Many providers opt to go with OpenVPN but may offer WireGuard or IKEv2 as an alternative.

What do we test for?

We take a close look at each VPN provider’s chosen protocols and whether they’re limited to select operating systems.

> Test 5: Supported encryption standard

What is an encryption standard?

Encryption standards are how data is kept safe from unauthorized access. The Data Encryption Standard (DES) was released in 1977 as the first symmetric key algorithm. In other words, the key is used both for encrypting and decrypting.

The United States government replaced DES with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) in 2002. It’s based on the Rijndael block cipher, using a block size of 128 bits. Standard key sizes are 128, 192, or 256 bits.

Today, many VPN protocols use AES-128 or 256 encryption, either in GCM or CBC version. The former is faster as it’s often written in parallel and not a series, increasing the throughput. GCM is extra safe because individual blocks can be encrypted apart from each other.

What do we test for?

We find out what each VPN service offers as the standard encryption scheme and if there are any alternatives. Should AES-128 be the default, it should be the GCM version. AES-256 is the next preference.

> Test 6: Basic security features

What are basic security features?

All VPNs should offer these standard security features:

  • AES-256 encryption: As the most advanced encryption standard publically available, it’s all but immune to brute-force attacks.
  • OpenVPN and WireGuard: As the benchmark for open-source VPN protocols, OpenVPN is often compared to WireGuard, a modern contender.
  • Split tunneling: Split tunneling allows some programs to connect directly to the internet, ignoring the VPN tunnel.
  • Kill switch: When a VPN fails or is somehow compromised, the VPN should automatically block any connection to the internet.

What do we test for?

We check whether the provider offers any of these features and if they genuinely keep users safe.

> Test 7: Advanced security features

What are advanced security features?

Advanced security features are those that may not be included in every VPN app or service, but having them is almost always beneficial. Here are some prime examples:

  • Ad, tracker, and malicious website blocker: These blockers prevent ads from appearing, trackers from discovering your location, and users from accessing malicious websites that make them vulnerable to malware.
  • Dedicated IP address: A dedicated IP address is great for online banking or avoiding purchases because switching addresses can trigger security systems.
  • Double VPN: Instead of sending your internet traffic through a single server, some services let you use two. It’s also referred to as server chaining. Activating it bolsters your encryption twofold, increases IP protection, and ensures another level of privacy.
  • Obfuscated servers: It’s not difficult for some entities to tell who’s using a VPN, but obfuscated servers are designed to trick people into thinking a person isn’t connected to one. They’re helpful for people in countries like the UAE or China.
  • Override GPS Location: This feature is also called GPS spoofing, as you’re replacing your current location with that of the server’s. Apps like Facebook or Google Maps won’t be able to find out where you truly are.
  • RAM-only servers: These servers don’t have hard drives and only use Random Access Memory (RAM), which is wiped after a reboot. Thus, the past activity is erased without a trace if the server is shut down.

What do we test for?

Similar to Test 6, we test whether these features and others are present and functional.

> Test 8: IP leak

What is an IP leak?

Every device has a public and a private IP address. When they use the same network, a private IP address is used for communicating with specific devices. However, they all use the same public IP address when connected to the internet.

Your ISP is the one that provides you with a public IP address. Most people have an IPv4 address, but IPv6 addresses are slowly gaining popularity and replacing the older format.

There are two reasons IP addresses can be used against you:

  • It shows your approximate location on a zip code or neighborhood level.
  • When combined with browsing habits, malicious users can build a profile based on your habits and likes.

A VPN is designed to combat this. The app or service encrypts your connection and shows the VPN’s IP address instead of yours. This has two benefits:

  • Because an ISP can’t peer into your traffic when you use a VPN, it can’t tell what your browsing habits are.
  • Apps and websites can only see the VPN server’s IP address, which doesn’t tell them who are where you are.

You have an IP leak on your hands when your original IP address is shown instead of the provider’s as you use a VPN.

What do we test for?

We connect our systems to a VPN service and check the displayed address. If it’s ours, we know there’s a leak.

> Test 9: DNS leak

What is a DNS leak?

A Domain Name System (DNS) translates human-friendly domain names into the actual IP address of a website. As an illustration, the DNS enables your browser to automatically route you to 165.227.148.211 when you enter SoftwareLab.org in the URL tab.

You can see the DNS as a phone book, while a DNS server is a phone operator. They translate a domain name to a target IP address. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is usually the one operating the DNS servers you use.

From this information, it’s not difficult to conclude your ISP has access to your browsing history. Because you need these servers, you can’t avoid sending them the info. The best VPN providers, however, have their own DNS servers to prevent ISPs from gathering this data.

DNS leaks happen when your queries go through the ISP’s DNS server instead of the VPN provider’s. This leak can happen by entering incorrect VPN settings or when a VPN service doesn’t have any dedicated DNS servers.

What do we test for?

We use a VPN service and look for the DNS server, which shouldn’t be from the ISP. If it is, we have a DNS leak.

> Test 10: WebRTC leak

What is a WebRTC leak?

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) lets modern web browsers like Firefox and Chrome create communication channels with websites in real time. The live connection allows the websites to stream video and audio content without extra software. 

As WebRTC happens, the browser and website exchange data, which includes your public and private IP address. Sadly, since this exchange is standardized, blocking WebRTC requests is not straightforward.

Fortunately, you can use a reliable VPN to send the provider’s IP addresses instead, which lets WebRTC function without issues. Doing so is a double win as you stay hidden too.

What do we test for?

We start a VPN connection and do a WebRTC lookup. A WebRTC leak happens if our original IP address is shown instead of the VPN’s.

> Test 11: Download speed via OpenVPN

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol. Anyone can look at the source code and modify the contents for private use. This reason is why the protocol has been improved repeatedly since 2001.

Many hail OpenVPN as one of the best VPN protocols. Many services incorporate it to provide stable and reliable connections across many popular operating systems.

There are two versions of the OpenVPN protocol:

  • OpenVPN UDP (User Datagram Protocol): This is the default option as it boasts faster download speeds.
  • OpenVPN TCP (Transmission Control Protocol): While TCP has increased data control, the download speeds are slower.

Even after WireGuard’s introduction, OpenVPN remains the industry standard. WireGuard may have faster download speeds, but if the latter protocol works, there’s no reason to abandon it entirely.

What do we test for?

We record the download speeds of all top VPN services using the OpenVPN protocol. We test the download speed of each VPN on an internet connection with a speed of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps).

> Test 12: Supported speed via WireGuard

What is WireGuard?

WireGuard is a streamlined open-source VPN protocol containing 4,000 lines of code instead of the 500,000 lines OpenVPN and IPsec have. As fewer lines make it easier for developers to debug, many VPN providers use it. Debugging and security audits are now much quicker and simpler as a result.

The protocol was initially only made for the Linux kernel, but developments have expanded it for other operating systems. It works on Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS.

Our tests show that WireGuard is around 60% faster than OpenVPN. The result was calculated after accounting for an extensive amount of VPN servers.

What do we test for?

We use an internet connection with a speed of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) for our tests. Our computer will connect to the network while using one of many VPN services that function on the WireGuard protocol.

> Test 13: (Virtual) VPN servers and locations

What are (virtual) VPN servers?

VPN servers differ from standard ones by hosting specialized VPN software, and the VPN tunnels are located on these servers. Clients’ internet traffic will be directed to VPN servers as they use the service. Some servers have purpose-built hardware to improve the service.

NordVPN and Surfshark are two providers that use RAM-only servers. All data is deleted after a system restart.

A majority of VPN servers are physical devices in a country shown on the app. Users who choose a server will have their traffic routed to the country. The displayed IP address is a local one to the nation.

Not all countries or territories have physical server infrastructures, and these tend to be less-developed or small locations. Andorra is a small and mountainous European country that doesn’t own physical servers. But some providers have servers from this place.

The reason for this is virtual VPN servers, which have a local address in Andorra, but the server is physically elsewhere. While you get a local Andorra IP address, the host is likely in Spain or France.

The usual number of countries providers offer is roughly 60 if they have a more extensive network. Those who have more than 60 may be using virtual VPN servers.

What do we test for?

We check how many servers and locations a VPN provider has. After that, we examine whether these are physical or virtual. Bonus points if there are country- and city-level servers.

> Test 14: Streaming compatibility

What is compatibility with a streaming service?

Some shows or series are region-locked, meaning you have to be in specific countries or territories to stream them. Netflix is the best example because some of its shows aren’t available elsewhere but in the United States.

By connecting to a VPN service and selecting a location in the United States, your IP address is switched to an American one. Netflix will then let you see the shows you’ve been missing out on.

While that’s the case in an ideal world, Netflix isn’t dumb. It has solutions for identifying customers using VPN servers. Customers who are detected using a VPN can’t use Netflix at all until they turn it off.

Thus, there’s a constant war between streaming companies and VPN providers. It takes an experienced VPN provider to stay ahead of Netflix and other streaming giants. That’s what we look for.

What do we test for?

Our targets are Hulu, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and Netflix in the United States. We test whether a service can unblock all of them. Aside from the United States, we also see if the service unblocks Netflix in Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia, among others.

> Test 15: Torrenting compatibility

What is compatibility with a torrent network?

Torrenting is a form of peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading. Unlike websites hosted on servers that let you download files, torrenting lets users obtain files from each other. There isn’t a centralized point where the files are stored.

Clients like μTorrent or BitTorrent are necessary to download or share files this way. Popcorn Time is a streaming service that uses torrenting. People stream content with this service.

Torrenting isn’t illegal, contrary to what some might say. It’s merely sharing files with one another. However, many of these files and folders are copyrighted, and users sharing them without a license are breaking the law. That’s why many link torrenting to piracy.

Some people distribute their own products via torrent links. Downloading them isn’t illegal, so there’s no need to worry in this case.

What do we test for?

We check whether a VPN service allows for peer-to-peer network downloading on specific servers or all of them.

> Test 16: Annual price and price per device

What is the annual price and price per device?

A quick look at most VPN services’ price pages will show they tend to charge by the month. A single-month subscription is usually the costliest option. Those who pick longer contract durations tend to enjoy lower prices.

We’ll compare the annual price for a one-year contract and the service cost per device. Even though many services have a similar price point, one isn’t the case. That standout is ExpressVPN, which is incredibly expensive.

Surfshark and IPVanish are two providers that don’t limit how many devices can install their services. Services with this perk have a low cost per device, and users are more encouraged to share them with friends and family.

What do we test for?

We calculate the annual price for a one-year contract from a large number of top VPN providers. We then divide the price by how many simultaneous connections are allowed.

What cheap VPNs have we tested?

We have tested 30 paid and free VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Proton VPN is the best free VPN service. But if you have the money, we recommend getting a paid VPN service.

In the best case, the free version allows you to protect only one device and doesn’t offer you unlimited bandwidth / unlimited data. And in the worst case, the free VPN providers show you ads or secretly sell your browsing history to advertisers and your internet service provider.

And should you be strapped for cash, don’t opt for an expensive VPN like ExpressVPN. Instead, get a cheap VPN, like Surfshark, that allows you to install it on an unlimited number of devices and share the cost with a friend.

  • Astrill VPN
  • Atlas VPN
  • Avast SecureLine VPN
  • Betternet VPN
  • Bitdefender VPN
  • CactusVPN
  • CyberGhost VPN
  • ExpressVPN
  • HideME VPN
  • HMA VPN (HideMyAss VPN)
  • Hola VPN
  • Hotspot Shield VPN
  • IPVanish VPN
  • Ivacy VPN
  • IVPN
  • Kaspersky VPN Secure Connection
  • McAfee Safe Connect VPN
  • Mozilla VPN
  • MullVad VPN
  • NordVPN
  • Norton Secure VPN
  • Private Internet Access VPN
  • PrivateVPN
  • Proton VPN
  • PureVPN
  • StrongVPN
  • Surfshark VPN
  • Tunnelbear VPN
  • VyprVPN
  • Windscribe VPN

The best are: CyberGhost, NordVPN, and Surfshark.

Frequently asked questions

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) protects your online privacy. It creates an encrypted VPN tunnel between your device and a VPN server. This tunnel hides your IP address, restores your anonymity online and makes you safe on public Wi-Fi networks.

Why do you need a VPN?

You need a VPN to restore your online privacy and security. Without a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and advertisers can track everything you read, watch and download online. On top of that, if you don’t use a VPN, hackers will be able to steal your data on public Wi-Fi networks, which can lead to identity theft.

How does a VPN work?

A VPN creates an encrypted connection, called a VPN tunnel, between your devices and a VPN server. This hides your IP address and what you do online. As a result, your ISP won’t be able to see what websites you visit, and advertisers won’t be able to know what your IP address is.

What is the best VPN?

CyberGhost, NordVPN, and Surfshark are the best VPN services of 2022. NordVPN is the most advanced VPN service. CyberGhost has the highest download speeds and the lowest one-year price. And Surfshark allows you to install the software on unlimited devices.

What is the fastest VPN?

CyberGhost, NordVPN, and Surfshark are the fastest VPN services of 2022. Although CyberGhost is slightly faster than the other two, the difference is not noticeable for most users.

About the author

Tibor Moes

Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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