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Top 5 – The Best VPN for Multiple Devices of 2020
Updated: August 2020
What is a VPN? A VPN allows you to browse the web securely and anonymously, without being tracked. You can download torrents safely, unblock Netflix, avoid censorship in China, and use public WiFi networks without risk. A VPN does this by masking your IP address and encrypting your internet connection. In short, by using a VPN, you’ll be safe online.
What is the best VPN to protect multiple devices? CyberGhost and NordVPN are the best options all-round. They are fast, secure, fairly priced, and each have millions of users. CyberGhost allows you to protect 7 devices, where NordVPN allows you to protect 6. If you need to protect even more devices, have a look at ZenMate or Surfshark. Both allow you to install the VPN on an unlimited number of gadgets. Finally, if you want excellent antivirus software and a VPN in one, Norton is your best bet.
Why do we not recommend ExpressVPN? ExpressVPN is great. It’s fast, secure and beautifully designed. But frankly, it’s too expensive and only allows you to install it on 3 devices. CyberGhost and NordVPN are just as fast, secure and beautiful. But they are better priced, and allow you to protect more devices.
How we test: Privacy & security
Below, we briefly explain why privacy is the most crucial factor for a VPN, how you’re being tracked, and how a VPN changes this.
If you’re already familiar with what a VPN is and how it works, skip on to the part “Is a VPN 100% secure?”.
It’s all about privacy
If you’re like most people, the primary reason why you get a VPN is to protect your privacy. And you have more than enough reasons to do so:
- Internet Service Providers (ISP) are spying on you and selling your data.
- Governmental agencies are conducting mass surveillance.
- Hackers are stealing your data on public WiFi hotspots and networks.
- Advertisers are tracking and selling your identity and location.
In the end, it all boils down to privacy. So you want your VPN to have this part covered perfectly. No exceptions or compromises allowed.
To understand which VPN do their job well, it helps to understand the basics of how you’re being tracked and how a VPN stops this.
How are you tracked?
When you visit a website or use an online service, you actually connect to a network owned by an ISP, which in turn connects you to the website or service.
This is true at home, where you connect through your own ISP. As well as in a cafe or other public place, where you connect through the ISP of the cafe.
If you are not using a VPN, everything you do online is easily analyzed, stored, and sold by the ISP who owns the network you are using. Or any hacker able to hack its way into the data stream, through a man-in-the-middle attack.
How does a VPN change this?
When you connect to a VPN, your data is sent through an encrypted tunnel. Often referred to as a VPN tunnel. This means that your data is encrypted as it passes through the ISP’s network on its way to the VPN server. The VPN server then connects to the website or online service on your behalf.
This solves a few security and privacy issues:
- The ISP only sees gibberish. As the data that arrives at your ISP is encrypted, it has no idea what you’re doing online. It doesn’t see what websites you’re visiting, the services you’re using, or data you’re transferring.
- The same goes for any hacker that was able to hack the data stream between you and the website. The hacker now also only sees an encrypted and unusable data stream.
- The website or online service you are using, see the VPN as the origin of the traffic. Not you. This makes it more difficult for them to create a consumer profile and send you targeted advertisements that follow you around the internet.
Is a VPN 100% secure?
That is possible, but not always the case. It depends on the policy of the VPN provider, the technology it uses, and the jurisdiction it is incorporated in. And these are exactly the elements which we test.
What part of the VPN provider do we test?
We test 7 different elements in our Privacy and Security test:
1. Logging Policy
What do we test for:
We analyze the logging policy of every VPN provider and check exactly what data they collect on you. The fewer data collected, the better the score.
So what is a logging policy and why does it matter?
Remember why you got a VPN in the first place? Privacy.
Well, logs are data VPN providers could store about you and your online activity. Some VPN providers have a zero-log policy and collect (almost) no data, and some collect enough data to create complete user profiles. And the latter is, of course, exactly what we don’t want.
The range of logs a VPN provider could store include:
- User data
- Device and browser used
- Originating IP Address
- Payment information
- User activity data
- Bandwidth data
- Connection dates, times and durations
- Browsing history
- Server performance data
As you can see, in the worst case, this can be pretty much the same data an ISP collects. Combining, for instance, your credit card data with your browsing history allows a VPN provider to create a very accurate profile on you.
Luckily, none of the top VPN providers in our comparison do that. In fact, the very best, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, only collect data to optimize their service to you. They don’t collect any sensitive data such as browsing history or originating IP address.
In a recent interview with the CDT (Center for Democracy and Technology), ExpressVPN explained the data they collect and closed with the comment: “None of the data enable ExpressVPN or anyone else to match an individual to specific network activity or behavior.” In other words: It doesn’t collect any sensitive information on you.
What do we test for:
We check in what country the VPN provider, or its parent company, is incorporated. And how invasive that government’s policy is on consumer data collection and net neutrality. The less invasive the government’s policy, the better the score.
So what is a jurisdiction and why does it matter?
In this context, a jurisdiction is a country.
Like every other company, a VPN provider is bound to the rules and regulations of the country it is incorporated in. And this can have serious consequences.
Depending on the country, a VPN provider can be forced by the court to hand over data logs or entire servers. For instance, in the United States, a governmental agency can use a National Security Letter to demand that companies hand over customer data, like phone, internet, and banking records.
And to make matters worse, the reach of a government can extend beyond its own borders through international agreements.
A good example of this international reach is the UKUSA agreement. This agreement, between the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, is created to share intelligence between the security services of the countries. This group is also known as the Five Eyes.
The agreement between these countries states that they will not spy on each other. However, leaks exposed by Snowden show that this simply isn’t true. Both the British spy agency GCHQ, and their American counterpart the NSA, collect and share large amounts of intelligence on each others’ citizens.
For privacy-sensitive users, it is therefore not recommended to use a VPN provider incorporated in the US, UK or a partner country. A safer bet is either ExpressVPN or NordVPN, which are incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and Panama.
What do we test for:
We analyze which protocols are offered by the VPN provider, which protocol is the default, and how easy it is to switch between protocols. The more secure the default protocol, the better the score.
So what is a VPN protocol and why does it matter?
A VPN protocol determines how data is transmitted over a VPN connection. There are several protocols out there, and all have different specifications. Some might prioritize speed, where others emphasize security.
Perhaps obvious, but worth mentioning, is that VPN protocols don’t play well together. When the VPN app on your device, called a VPN client, connects to a VPN server, the two must use the same protocol. Otherwise, the connection won’t work.
The short story about VPN protocols is that OpenVPN is the most used and highly secure, but that SSTP is very solid too. Best to avoid the old PPTP, and IKEv2 and L2TP/IPsec, which are potentially hackable by the NSA.
If you’d like more detail on each protocol read on. Otherwise, skip ahead to encryption.
OpenVPN. Overall the best and most used protocol available. It’s open source, highly secure, supports the practically unbreakable AES-256 encryption, and can be used by just about everything: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, routers and more. Read more on Wikipedia.
SSTP. A protocol developed by Microsoft, and fully integrated with every Windows operating system since Vista Service Pack 1. This allows SSTP to be used with Winlogon, a smart chip, which provides additional security. It uses 256-bit SSL key for
L2TP / IPSec. L2TP, which stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, is the successor to the PPTP protocol by Microsoft and the L2F protocol by Cisco. As it doesn’t provide any encryption itself, it is bundled with security protocol IPSec. Combined, they form a very secure protocol using AES-256 encryption. There are leaks, however, that suggest the NSA might be able to crack IPSec. Perhaps best to avoid this protocol. Read more on Wikipedia.
IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange, Version 2). Also developed by Cisco and Microsoft. IKEv2 is a tunneling protocol, and often paired with IPSec for encryption. Is it frequently used in mobile VPN, due to its capability of reconnecting after a temporary loss in connection or network switch. The Snowden documents suggest the NSA is capable of cracking IKEv2 as well. Might be best to avoid this one too. Read more on Wikipedia.
PPTP. PPTP, which stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is the oldest one of the bunch. Although still used sometimes, most VPN have switched to more modern solutions. Overall it is considered
What do we test for:
We analyze the encryption standard used by the VPN provider. The more secure the encryption, the better the score.
So what is encryption and why does it matter?
The basic concept of encryption is the following: You take regular data and transform it using a secret code (called a key) into unreadable gibberish. Then you send this gibberish to a receiver who has the key to transform it back into regular data.
In today’s digital world, we use the AES algorithm (Advanced Encryption Standard) to encrypt and decrypt data. This algorithm can use different key length to encrypt the data; the most commonly used within the VPN industry are AES-128 and AES-256. Although AES-256 is the most secure of the two, it is generally accepted that AES-128 is already unbreakable.
And the AES technology is not unique to VPN technology. Compression tools such as Winzip use it, encryption software like BitLocker use it, password managers like LastPass use it, and, of course, messenger apps such as Whatsapp use it. It is everywhere.
5. Own DNS Servers
What do we test for:
We analyze whether the VPN provider uses its own DNS servers, or uses third parties’ DNS servers. If it uses its own, the score is better.
So what is a DNS server and why does it matter?
To understand why this matters, we’ll guide you through the basics. We’ll explain what a domain name is, what a DNS is, and why it’s important that a VPN provider uses its own DNS servers.
What is a domain name?
When we humans browse the internet, we visit websites by typing in their domain name in our browser. For instance google.com or facebook.com.
Browsers, however, don’t visit domain names. They visit Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which are long strings of numbers used to identify websites. Numbers too long for us to remember.
So we need a system to translate domain names into IP addresses. This is where the DNS comes in.
What is DNS?
DNS stands for domain name system. It can be seen as the phonebook of the internet. Just as a phone book provides the phone number for a person, the DNS provides the computer-friendly IP address for a domain name.
Your browser then knows which resource you want to load and sends you to the right website.
What is a DNS server?
A DNS server, also known as a name server, is the server that contains a huge database with domain names and IP addresses. Its job is to look up the correct IP address belonging to the domain name you just typed into the browser.
So why should a VPN have its own DNS servers?
By handling your DNS request the VPN provider makes sure it is handled by the same tunneling protocol and encryption as your internet traffic. Your DNS request can therefore:
- Not be censored by governments or organizations through the interception of your DNS request.
- Not be hacked or manipulated to redirect you to a phishing or scam websites.
- Not be logged by a third party which could store the websites you visit, when you do so and from where you do so.
In short: Exposed DNS requests can put your security and privacy at risk.
6. Kill Switch Test
What do we test for:
We analyze whether the VPN provider has a kill switch and we test whether it works properly. If available and functioning, the score it better.
So what is a kill switch and why does it matter?
A kill switch is a safety feature on a VPN that automatically stops your internet connection when the encrypted VPN connection fails. It will block all incoming and outgoing data streams until the VPN connection returns.
It is an important feature for a VPN, as your device will likely try to reconnect when the encrypted VPN connection fails, and expose your online activity.
Of the VPN we tested, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, NordVPN, Hotspot Shield Elite, and Private Internet Access had a kill switch. Norton Secure VPN and Panda Dome did not.
We simulated a sudden loss in the encrypted connection by unplugging the network cable, and plugging it back in after 60 seconds. As expected, only the VPN with a kill switch did not leak the originating IP address. The VPN without kill switch re-connected on an unencrypted connection and leaked the originating IP address while the VPN connection was being reestablished.
It is also worth mentioning, that ExpressVPN was the only VPN where the kill switch was turned on by default. In the other VPN with kill switch, the user had to turn it on manually. This is more important than most people appreciate. As most VPN users don’t know the value of a kill switch, turning it on is easily forgotten.
7. Leak Test
What do we test for:
We tested each VPN for potential leaks of data and information, such as DNS requests and originating IP address. The fewer leaks, the better the score.
So what is a leak and why does it matter?
A leak is when a VPN allows some of your personal data, that should be invisible, to be visible. And that can be a big deal.
The 4 potential leaks we tested are:
- DNS leak. A DNS is responsible for sending you to the right website when you type in its domain name, like google.com. When a VPN fails to hide your DNS requests, even when the rest of your data is encrypted by the VPN, we speak of a DNS leak. This can be a problem, as your ISP or DNS provider can now read the websites you’re visiting.
- IP leak. As described in more detail in the previous part, we tested each VPN for its proper use of the kill switch function. This is important, as the kill switch is responsible for making sure your real IP address is not leaked when the encrypted VPN connection suddenly gets interrupted.
- WebRTC leak. WebRTC, which stands for Web Real-Time Communication, is a group of technologies that browsers use to talk to each other. As WebRTC uses advanced IP detection methods, not all VPN protect from these leaks. Especially Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are vulnerable to this type of leak. Luckily, however, there are also fixes available.
- Windows Credential leak. This is a fairly old and un-patched leak, yet a very dangerous one. Using the Edge or Internet Explorer browser, it is possible for the Windows username and password to leak. As the username and password are often re-used, not just for Microsoft products, this can be a serious security hazard.
How we test: Speed
Let’s get the painful part out of the way first: a VPN slows you down. This is simply a part of encrypting and decrypting data, and routing it through an additional server.
But if you select a fast server close to you, it shouldn’t be too dramatic. A 14% reduction in download speed seems to be the average in Western Europe. We imagine that number will be similar in other developed parts of the world.
We’ll show you how we get to this 14%:
In one of our first VPN tests, we analyzed 16 VPN on a 100 Mbps connection in Antwerp (Belgium). The most optimal server location across all those VPN was Frankfurt (Germany). This is a central hub with very fast connections and servers, where nearly every VPN seems to have at least one server.
When we routed our traffic through there, the average download speed across those 16 VPN was 86 Mbps, which is a 14% speed penalty from the base connection speed of 100 Mbps.
Do keep in mind that this is an average and that results vary. The slowest VPN, Tunnelbear, had a download speed of 74 Mbps, which is a 26% speed penalty. Whereas the fastest VPN, NordVPN, had a download speed of 92 Mbps, which is only an 8% speed penalty.
Important here is to test a few servers on your VPN to figure out where you have the fastest connection. Don’t just accept the automatic location assigned to you by your VPN. We found that this one, more often than not, was not the fastest connection. You can test your connection speed here.
What was the test setup?
- Location: Antwerp, Belgium
- Base download speed: 100 Mbps
- Operating system: MacOS High Sierra
- Hardware: Intel Core CPU i5 2,6 GHz / 8 GB RAM
- Test software: The MacOS app from Speedtest by Ookla
How we test: Features
There are 5 features a VPN should have:
- It should have servers in many locations around the world
- It should support the most common platform and devices
- It should allow you to connect several devices on one subscription
- It should be able to work with streaming and torrenting services
- It should be able to bypass censorship in specific countries
Below we will explain each of these features in brief, and show you how the VPN providers rank for each feature.
1. Server locations
What did we test for?
We analyzed the countries around the world where each VPN provider has at least one server. The more countries, the better the score.
So what is a server location and why does it matter?
When you open up your VPN app and establish a connection, you create an encrypted connection between your device and a VPN server. Where that VPN server is located is called the server location, for instance, New York.
Some VPN providers allow you to select servers on a city level, for instance, London or Melbourne. Where others only allow you to select servers on a country level, for instance, the Germany or Brazil. In the second case, the VPN then automatically selects a server in a city for you.
In most countries, VPN providers only have one server location. These countries aren’t very big geographically speaking, don’t have many users, or both. It then makes little sense to invest in many server locations.
Not surprisingly, most VPN providers have servers in many locations in the United States, which is a big country with many users. Whereas most VPN providers have no servers at all in Luxembourg. And if they do, only in one city.
In our analysis, we focused on countries rather than cities.
So why do server locations matter?
For two reasons.
The closer you are to a VPN server the faster your download speed. After all, sending encrypted data back and forth between your device and the VPN server takes time. So you want to select a VPN provider with a server relatively close by. This can be a country on your continent, your country or even your city, depending on where you live.
As most VPN providers focus their servers on locations where most of their customers are (North-America, Western-Europe, South-East Asia, East-Asia, and Australia), it is extra important for users outside of these regions to check the locations as they have fewer servers close by at most VPN providers.
2. Unlocking content
Some online services are limited to specific regions. A good example is Netflix that features certain shows in the United States that users from other regions cannot watch. Using a VPN, you will be able to unlock these shows.
How this works is that you log into a VPN server within the United States, for instance, Los Angeles. Netflix will then see the IP address of that server, rather than your own. It, therefore, thinks you are in the United States and will show you the local shows.
This works for many other geo-restricted services as well.
2. Platforms & Devices
What did we test for?
We analyzed the supported operating systems, streaming devices, game consoles, and routers per VPN provider. We also checked whether the VPN offers dedicated browser extensions. We checked the following:
- OS: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux.
- Streaming Devices: Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
- Game consoles: PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo.
- Other: Routers.
- Browser Extensions: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
So what are platforms and devices and why does it matter?
When we speak about platforms, we mean operating systems.
The operating system is the interface through which you interact with your device. It also manages all other software, such as the VPN client, on your device. There are 5 main operating software: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. Above all else, VPN providers should support as many operating systems as possible as it allows them to serve the most users.
When we speak about devices, we mean game consoles and streaming devices.
Game consoles and streaming devices are used to play games and stream media content. The most commonly used are Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo when it comes to gaming consoles. On the streaming side Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku are the most important devices. Having a dedicated app, or workaround, for these devices, isn’t mandatory for a VPN but definitely a nice bonus for specific users.
VPN browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, are lightweight versions of the VPN app installed on your device. Some, such as the extension by ExpressVPN, allow you to control your VPN app remotely from your browser. Most, however, are only proxies rather than full VPN. And it’s very important to know the difference:
The full VPN app works at the operating system level. This means that it encrypts all your internet activities across all your apps. Most VPN browser extensions provide far less protection:
- In the most basic form, they work as a proxy server but do not encrypt your data. This means that they rout your traffic through a VPN server, for instance, a server in New York. By doing this, they make websites believe that you are in New York. Although your real IP and location are now hidden, your traffic is not encrypted.
- In a more advanced form, they work as a proxy server and encrypt your traffic. Now they resemble an actual VPN. However, keep in mind that only your browser traffic is now protected. All other internet activities on your device, that are not running through your browser, are not protected.
3. Number of Connections
What did we test for?
We checked the number of connections you are allowed to make simultaneously on a single subscription. In other words, the number of devices (laptop, phone, TV) you are allowed to connect on one payment.
We also calculated how much a single connection costs. We calculated this by dividing the annual subscription cost for US-based customers, through the number of connections.
So what is the number of connections and why does it matter?
The number of connections tells you how many devices you are allowed to connect on a single subscription. If you are using a VPN just by yourself, 3 devices usually are enough. After all, you can then protect your laptop, phone and optionally your streaming device or gaming console.
However, if you plan to share your VPN with a friend or within a family, it becomes a different story. Being able to connect 7 devices simultaneously all of a sudden allows you to protect your own phone and laptop, as well as those of two friends. Now you can split to cost of the VPN and the value for money is much higher.
4. Streaming and Torrenting
What did we test for?
We tested whether the VPN worked on Netflix US and whether torrenting (P2P) was allowed on its servers.
So what is streaming and torrenting and why does it matter?
Most people will be familiar with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Sling TV, HBO Now, Amazon Prime Video, and more. But not all know that these shows are often geographically limited. This means that you will not be able to access all shows for all locations in the world. And from some locations, like China, you won’t be able to access Netflix at all.
It has, therefore, become a popular practice to log in to a US-based VPN server before watching Netflix. As Netflix will now think that you are watching from a US-based computer, it will show you all US-shows.
Although Netflix is cracking down on the use of VPN on their service, many VPN have at least one server that still works.
Torrenting is a little bit more complex. By its essence, torrenting is nothing more than file sharing. However, it’s done in a clever way.
Imagine you are downloading a movie (without a copyright) using torrents.
The movie is split up into smaller pieces, known as packets. These packets are stored on a server, known as the seeder, as well as on a wide range of other computers that are downloading that same movie as well. These computers are called peers.
In this system each peer functions as a mini-server. This is because everyone that is downloading the movie, is also uploading the parts of the movie they have already downloaded. That’s why it’s called peer-to-peer (P2P).
It’s a very smart system designed to lighten the load on the network. And there is nothing illegal about that system. The problem arises when you are downloading a movie that has a copyright.
Some countries have, therefore, shut down torrent websites and some people in the US have been sued for downloading copyrighted material. Although these lawsuits usually lead to nothing, the lawsuit could have been avoided entirely if the downloader had been hiding its internet use with a VPN.
Do keep in mind that you are always personally responsible for the way you use your VPN. Neither SoftwareLab, nor any of the VPN providers, advice that you download or upload copyrighted material.
5. Bypassing Censorship
What did we test for?
We tested which VPN works reliably in China, one of the most censored regions in the world.
So what is censorship and why does it matter?
There are a surprisingly large amount of countries that censor the internet. According to a report by the Freedomhouse there are 19 countries which severely limit people’s access to the internet by blocking a large number of websites and services. Which is a big deal.
After all, we don’t just use the internet to communicate, work, and travel. But just as important, we use it to learn about politics, religion and other topics that should not be censored by a powerful few. It is, therefore, essential that the internet remains a free and open internet.
Using a VPN allows you to encrypt your internet use, making sure the government cannot see what you’re doing. On top of that, it allows you to log in to servers in other locations in the world, and view websites as if you were a local, bypassing censorship.
Of course, governments are aware that VPN are capable of avoiding censorship. Some of them are therefore taking steps to block the use of VPN.
In a continuous game of cat and mouse, some VPN providers are developing technologies to mask VPN traffic and make it look like regular HTTPS traffic. This makes it more difficult for a government to uncover the use of a VPN. A good example of such a technology is the Chameleon protocol developed by VyprVPN.
- What is a VPN?
- How does VPN work?
- What are the benefits of a VPN?
- Who needs a VPN?
- Do I need a paid VPN or is a free VPN enough?
- Does a VPN impact my internet (download) speed?
- Is a VPN safe to use?
- Is a VPN legal to use?
- Does a VPN make me truly anonymous online?
- Can I trust my VPN provider / Does my VPN provider track me?
- Can I download torrents safely using a VPN?
- What’s better: Proxy vs VPN
- What’s better: Tor vs VPN
- What’s better: AES-128 vs AES-256
- What’s the best VPN protocol?
- What’s the best VPN jurisdiction?
- How can I find, change or hide my IP address?
- How can I find and delete my cookies?
- How do I use Tor in combination with a VPN?
- How does VPN encryption work?
- How does a kill switch protect me?
- How can I create my own VPN?
- What else can I do besides getting a VPN to stay safe?
- How to set up and use a VPN?
- How to use a VPN on Android?
- How to use a VPN on iOS?
- How to use a VPN to watch Netflix?
- How to use a VPN to watch Hulu?
- How to use a VPN on Kodi?
- How to install a VPN on my router?
- How to install a VPN on my smart TV?
- How to install a VPN on my game console?
Basics: What is a VPN?
In short: An encrypted internet connection.
A virtual private network (VPN) creates a safe and private internet connection, even when you are using a public WiFi hotspot. It does this by creating an encrypted connection, known as a VPN tunnel, to the internet. This encrypted connection makes sure that your data is unreadable by third parties, such as hackers, governments and internet service providers. On top of that, a VPN masks your internet protocol (IP) addresses, which means that no website or service is able to know your location.
Basics: How does a VPN work?
In short: It encrypts your data and hides your IP.
To use a VPN, you need to have a VPN client installed on your computer. When you launch the software and connect to the internet, it immediately encrypts your data so that no one can see it. This data is then rerouted to a VPN gateway device (e.g. a server), from where it is sent to your destination (e.g. a website that you want to visit). Instead of tracing the data back to your IP address, your online destination sees it as coming from the VPN gateway device, its IP address, and its location.
Basics: What are the benefits of using a VPN?
In short: Privacy, anonymity and unblocking content.
VPN allow you to browse the internet safely and anonymously. Thanks to the IP masking properties of the VPN technology, neither your internet provider nor the owners of the sites you visit will be able to trace your online activity back to your computer. A VPN also allows you to bypass geographic restrictions and gain access to services that are otherwise unavailable in your location. For business users, VPN also make it possible to access a company server or network from outside the office.
Basic: Who needs a VPN?
In short: Everyone who enjoys privacy and security.
In the time when cybersecurity threats are rampant, every internet user who cares about their online safety and privacy should consider using a VPN service. If you do most of your browsing while connected to a public Wi-Fi network, you should use a VPN to prevent hackers from accessing your sensitive data. Also, if you’re traveling abroad and want to have access to your favorite websites and services that might not be available in the country you’re visiting (e.g. Hulu, Pandora, or Spotify), you will have to use a VPN.
Basics: Do you need a paid VPN or is a free VPN enough?
In short: A paid VPN is faster, more secure, and offers unlimited data.
While you may be tempted to use a free VPN client, it is often a bad idea, for several reasons:
A free VPN provider can act like adware or sell your data.
A VPN provider needs to make money. If it does not charge you a fee, but still offers you an unlimited VPN, it must make its money through other methods. This often means acting like adware, and showing you banner ads on your device. Or worse, storing your browsing data and selling it to third parties. Which, of course, goes directly against the purpose of a VPN: Privacy.
A free VPN can have poor encryption or “creative” anonymity.
Whereas paid services use a variety of security protocols to ensure your online safety, many free VPN services use PTPP, which is not only outdated but also marred by numerous security issues.
Even worse, some of these free VPN – such as Hola VPN – don’t have a dedicated network of servers and instead randomly redirect your traffic to another user’s computer. This means that you’ll be assigned someone else’s IP address, while another user will get to surf the web from your IP address.
Although advertised as VPN, these programs are nothing more than proxies that can’t keep you safe and anonymous online. In fact, with someone else using your IP address, you could even become an unwilling accomplice in cybercrime.
If you must go the free route, use a Freemium VPN
Due to the complexity and the elaborate infrastructure of the technology itself, no good VPN service comes for free. Most premium VPN services are available for a monthly subscription of $5-10.
Some of them, such as Hotspot Shield, offer free versions that limit your data usage and/or your access to servers. If you can’t afford a paid service, a limited free version of reputable paid software may be a decent alternative.
Basics: Does a VPN affect my internet (download) speed?
In short: Yes. It slows your download speed down a bit.
Due to all the rerouting and encryption, all VPN will slow down your connection speed. Still, if you have a high-speed connection to begin with, this effect will be largely unnoticeable.
There are several factors that affect the speed of your connection, including the location of the VPN server you’re connected to (the closer the better) and the quality of the encryption (the stronger it is, the slower your connection).
Your connection may also slow down when too many users are connected to the same server. Also, if your internet provider is throttling or otherwise limiting your internet speed at certain times during the day, a VPN won’t help you bypass these limitations.
Safety: Is a VPN safe?
In short: Yes.
The level of safety a VPN can provide depends on the protocols and the encryption standards it uses. The best VPN clients use either a 128-bit or a 256-bit version of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to keep your data secure. They also use advanced protocols like IKEv2 and OpenVPN to ensure optimal protection.
We recommend using a VPN that uses OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption.
Safety: Is a VPN legal?
In short: Yes. In most countries.
The use of VPN services is legal in most countries of the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Some countries like Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Belarus have banned the use of VPN altogether, while others like China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Oman only allow the use of government-approved VPN services.
No matter where you are, it is never legal to use a VPN and disguise your IP address with the intention of engaging in any form of cybercriminal activity.
Safety: Does a VPN make me anonymous? Can I still be tracked?
In short: Yes and yes.
While a VPN does offer a high degree of anonymity while browsing, it doesn’t make your online activity completely untraceable.
With a good VPN, your internet service provider, the owner of the public Wi-Fi you’re using, and the owners of the websites you visit won’t know your real identity.
However, there are still ways you can be tracked online:
- Your VPN provider may still log your activity, depending on its logging policies. Using a service like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, which have very strict logging policies, solves this problem. They won’t track you.
- Through your browser, and the tracking cookies it is filled with, big data companies like Google and Facebook are still able to identify and track you. Especially if you use a mainstream browser, like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Edge. To avoid this, install anti-tracking browser extensions and ad blockers like Privacy Badger, Disconnect and Adblock Plus. Or simply use a secure browser like Brave or Tor.
- When you use Google search, Google will do its absolute best to identify and track you in order to send you the most relevant ads. This can be avoided by using a different search engine like DuckDuckGo.
- When you use log into Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, these services are, of course, aware of your identity through your account.
Safety: Can I trust my VPN provider? Does it track me?
In short: It depends.
Many VPN providers keep some information about their clients on file, such as your browsing activity, IP addresses, devices, and payment methods. However, the amount of data stored per VPN provider varies considerably.
It is therefor very important to select a VPN provider that has very strict logging policies, which outline the amount of data the VPN collects on you.
In our analysis of the best VPN providers, we found that Private Internet Access had the most strict zero-logs policy, followed closely by ExpressVPN and NordVPN. Using any of these services is a safe choice.
Safety: Can I download torrents safely with a VPN?
In short: Yes.
Although it is safe to download torrents while using a VPN, there’s the issue of legality. As you probably already know, unauthorized sharing of copyrighted content is considered piracy and may be subject to legal action and penalties.
For this reason, some paid VPN providers like Norton, have blocked the torrent protocol altogether. Using the top VPN in our list however, you will be able to download torrents safely as your ISP can not see that you are downloading torrents or using P2P sites.
Advanced: What’s better, a proxy or a VPN?
In short: A VPN.
Many people confuse proxies with VPN. While the former can only mask your IP address, the latter also encrypt your data and protect your activity from the prying eyes. If you only want to change your IP address in order to access, say, a streaming website that’s unavailable in your region, a proxy would be a good choice. However, if you also want to protect your data and hide your browsing activity from hackers while on a public Wi-Fi connection, a reliable VPN service is your best bet.
Advanced: What’s better, Tor or a VPN?
In short: Both combined.
VPN are often compared to Tor, a piece of software that reroutes your traffic through a network of nodes to provide a safe browsing experience and give you access to .onion sites on the dark web that other browsers can’t open. While some favor Tor, there are certain areas where VPN are superior. For one, Tor cannot provide full anonymity to the users due to the fact that the exit nodes aren’t encrypted.
Unlike most reliable VPN clients, Tor is completely free. However, you can only use it if you download the Tor browser from the internet. Because Tor reroutes your connection through several relays before it reaches its destination, your connection will be considerably slower than with a VPN. Finally, if you choose to download torrents while using Tor, other peers will still be able to see your actual IP address.
Neither a VPN nor Tor provides complete protection, but a VPN might be a better solution overall. Some experts also claim that a combination of the two technologies may be the best option. However, you will need to find a VPN client that supports Tor and be prepared to browse at slower speeds than normal.
Advanced: What’s better, AES-128 or AES-256?
In short: AES-256.
AES is the encryption standard used by most VPN services to protect the data that you send and receive via public internet networks. The two most common variants are AES-128 and AES-256. As the names suggest, they use 128-bit and 256-bit encryption keys to ensure that hackers can’t access your data.
The only major difference between the two variants is the time it would take to crack the encryption key using maximum computational power and resources. While the 128-bit variant would take a quintillion (10 to the power of 18) years to crack, AES-256 would take a staggering 18.7 undecillion (1.87 x 10 to the power of 37). Although the latter is obviously much superior, both AES-128 and AES-256 provide more than enough protection for your data.
Advanced: What’s the best VPN protocol?
In short: OpenVPN.
Although PTPP may be more common, especially in free VPN, OpenVPN is the best VPN protocol. Faster and more secure than most other protocols, OpenVPN supports both 128-bit and 256-bit encryption, thus ensuring optimal safety for your data. Compatible with a variety of devices and platforms, the OpenVPN protocol supports additional encryption algorithms like CAST-128, Blowfish, AES, and Camellia.
Advanced: What’s the best VPN jurisdiction?
In short: There is no such thing. But avoid the US and its allies.
There is no “perfect VPN jurisdiction” but there are definitely bad VPN jurisdictions you should avoid.
Although the use of a VPN is completely legal in most countries, some of these countries are members of a intelligence and cybersecurity alliances, called the Five Eyes and its two extensions, the Nine Eyes and the Fourteen Eyes.
Their members have certain regulations in place that allow the government to monitor their citizen’s surfing habits, and impound data logs and entire servers from VPN providers. All under the name of national security.
It is therefor best to avoid a VPN provider incorporated in these 14 countries and their strategic allies:
- Australia (5 eyes)
- Canada (5 eyes)
- New Zealand (5 eyes)
- United Kingdom (5 eyes)
- United States of America (5 eyes)
- Denmark (9 eyes)
- France (9 eyes)
- Netherlands (9 eyes)
- Norway (9 eyes)
- Belgium (14 eyes)
- Germany (14 eyes)
- Italy (14 eyes)
- Spain (14 eyes)
- Sweden (14 eyes)
Advanced: How can I find, change and hide my IP address?
In short: Find it here. Change and hide it with a VPN.
If you want to manually set up a new internet connection or troubleshoot network problems, you will need access to your IP address. To see your current IP address in Windows, use Command Prompt as described here. On macOS, you need to use the System Preferences menu as described here. For iOS-run devices, follow the steps outlined here. Alternatively, you can also use one of the many websites like WhatIsMyIPAddress or type “my IP address” into the Google search box for quick results.
Most internet providers assign their users dynamic IP addresses that change every time you reset the router and/or your connection. If you have a static IP address and want to change it for whatever reason, you may ask your provider to assign you a new one. You can also change your IP manually in Windows and Mac by entering a new static address yourself. However, the best and easiest way to change the IP address of your computer or router is to use a proxy or a VPN.
VPN are also the most convenient option if you want to hide your actual IP address from the owners of the websites that you visit. You will instead be assigned a random IP address from a geographic location that you choose and no one will be able to associate your online activity to your router’s real IP address.
Advanced: How can I find and delete my cookies?
In short: Depends on your browser. Clicks the links below.
You can find all your cookies in your browser preferences. From there, you can remove all cookies at once or search for specific cookies and manually delete them from your browser’s memory. The exact way to see and remove all your cookies depends on the browser you’re using. Click on the browser name to find out how to access cookies in Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, or Microsoft Edge.
Advanced: How do I use Tor in combination with a VPN?
In short: 1. Launch Tor. 2. Connect to a dedicated Tor server in your VPN.
For extra protection and anonymity while browsing, you should consider using a VPN and Tor together.
You can use VPN over Tor, in which case you have to open Tor using your standard internet connection and then start your VPN client. Although your ISP will know that you’re using the Tor network, they won’t be able to track your online activity. What’s more, a VPN will make up for the lack of encryption of Tor’s exit nodes. You can also use Tor over VPN (i.e. launch your VPN client first and then use Tor while the client is active). However, because Tor’s exit nodes are unencrypted, you won’t be fully anonymous.
To be able to use the two options together, you will have to find a VPN client that is compatible with Tor. Furthermore, seeing as both Tor and VPN technology tend to slow down your internet connection, using them at the same time will result in noticeably slower surfing speeds.
Advanced: How does VPN encryption work?
In short: By creating a “tunnel” between your device and the VPN server.
Different VPN protocols use different encryption technologies that offer varying levels of availability, performance, and security. Still, all these technologies are based on the same principle – tunneling.
The VPN protocol you choose will establish a safe and secure tunnel between your computer and your destination. In doing so, not only will it encrypt the data but also the headers of the data packets. This will prevent hackers from spying on your traffic and seeing which addresses you’re communicating with.
Your encrypted data goes straight from your computer to the VPN server that’s standing at the end of this tunnel. When the data reaches the VPN server, it will be decrypted using the same VPN protocol, assigned a new sender address (the IP address of the VPN server), and forwarded to its destination.
Advanced: How does a kill switch protect me?
In short: It stops all internet connectivity if your VPN connection drops.
Due to an error your internet connection could drop, which will disconnect you from the VPN server. When this happens, your device might try to reconnect using your standard, unencrypted connection, thus making your online activity easily traceable by your internet provider.
To prevent this, some VPN programs have a built-in kill switch. As the name suggests, this feature will instantly kill your internet access and block all online activities in case your connection to the VPN server drops. Once the encrypted connection is reestablished, the kill switch feature will automatically unblock your access.
Advanced: Can I create my own VPN?
In short: Yes by renting a server and being technically savvy.
If you don’t want your VPN provider to keep logs of your online activity, you can also set up your own VPN. To do this, however, you will need to buy server space from a web hosting provider or buy and configure your own cloud server. Do keep in mind that you will need some technical know-how to complete the process – find more details on creating a VPN for Windows or macOS in these links.
Advanced: What else can I do besides getting a VPN?
A good VPN will provide enough protection for your data and allow you to browse anonymously. To add an extra layer of protection and privacy to your online activity, you might also want to consider a few additional things:
- Avoid cookies and fingerprint tracking in your browser. If you use one of the top 5 browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Edge), install anti-tracking browser extensions and ad blockers like Privacy Badger, Disconnect and Adblock Plus. If you want to go one step further, use a secure browser like Brave or Tor.
- Use a search engine that does not track you, like DuckDuckGo.
- Use unique passwords for every website and service. This is of course too much to remember, and you should never write down your passwords, so use a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane.
How to: How to set up and use a VPN?
To start using the VPN of your choice, you need to download the program from the official website, install it on your computer, and launch it. If there is no free trial, you will also have to create an account on the VPN provider’s website and enter your payment info to subscribe to the service.
Once you’ve done all this, you can simply click on Connect (or a variation thereof) to connect to the server that is closest to your current location. In addition, most VPN allow you to select the country where you want your IP address to be located. Simply pick the country and click on Connect. This is particularly useful if you want to access region-locked content that’s unavailable in your current location.
How to: How to use a VPN on Android?
Android devices have a built-in VPN option which allows you to set up your own VPN provided that you have access to server space. To access the option, go to the Settings menu and tap on “More…” under the Wireless & Networks section. Tap on VPN and follow the prompts until you complete the process.
Most VPN clients are also available on Android platforms. In fact, if you subscribe to the desktop version, it should also include access to the mobile version of the client. To use it, you simply have to find the app in the Google Play Store and install it as you would any other application. Once done, launch the app, choose your preferred location, and tap on Connect to start browsing.
How to: How to use a VPN on iOS?
iOS-run devices like the iPhone and the iPad also allow you to configure your own VPN server. To do this, go to Settings and tap on General, then choose VPN and tap on Add VPN Configuration. From there, follow the prompts to set up your own VPN and make sure to enter the correct server information.
You can also opt for one of the many VPN clients that are available on iOS. Simply find your preferred client in the App Store, download it, and install it. After that, run the client, choose the location of your VPN server, and tap on Connect. Once the client is installed and properly configured, you can launch it from the VPN section of the Settings menu without having to open the app. To do this, just go to Settings > General > VPN, select the VPN client that you want to use, and toggle the Status slider to on.
How to: How to use a VPN to watch Netflix?
If you’re a Netflix subscriber and you want to access the catalog from a country other than the one you registered from, you can do it by using a VPN. Simply launch the VPN client, choose the country that you want your IP address to be located in, and click on Connect. Once connected, open your browser and log in to Netflix. You should now be able to browse the content that’s available in your chosen territory.
A few years ago, Netflix started cracking down on VPN users due to pressure from content providers. For this reason, some VPN don’t allow you to watch content on Netflix. While you’ll still be able to browse the local Netflix catalog, trying to play any of the videos can prompt an error message. To avoid this, make sure that the VPN you choose can bypass these restrictions and give you full access to Netflix.
How to: How to use a VPN to watch Hulu?
You can also use a VPN to browse and watch Hulu. To do this, install the VPN client of your choice, launch it, and select the United States as your target location since that’s the only country apart from Japan where Hulu is currently available. This service is not free, so you will have to create an account and choose your subscription plan before you can watch your favorite movies and television series.
Like Netflix, Hulu also started blocking VPN users from accessing the platform, so it’s important to make sure that your chosen VPN service is compatible with Hulu before you subscribe to either of the two.
How to: How to use a VPN on Kodi?
Some VPN clients also provide support for Kodi, a popular media player and entertainment hub. Because Kodi is a piece of software, the only way to watch region-locked content is to install a VPN on the same device that you use to access Kodi. To avoid any problems, make sure to launch the VPN software before you open Kodi and have it running in the background for as long as you’re watching. Amazon’s Fire TV only has limited VPN support, but you may be able to bypass these limitations with sideloading.
How to: How to install a VPN on my router?
If you want to keep your VPN running all the time and not have to launch an app every time you want to use it, you can install a VPN on your router. To complete the setup process, you will need two routers – a primary router that’s connected directly to the modem and your computer and a secondary router that will serve as a VPN gateway. In addition, you will need two Ethernet cables to connect the two devices.
Take an Ethernet cable and plug one end into the LAN port of your primary router and the other into the WAN port of the secondary router. At the same time, your primary router’s LAN port should be connected to your computer’s LAN port via the second Ethernet cable, while the modem should be plugged into the primary router’s WAN port. This way, the secondary router will have full access to your internet connection and will be easily unplugged when you no longer want to use a VPN.
After this, you need to choose a VPN service that provides support for routers and download the official router VPN firmware from their website. From there, you need to “flash” your secondary router (i.e. replace the existing firmware with the new one that you’ve downloaded) by following the steps outlined here for ASUS routers and here for Netgear routers. If you own some other brand of router, check the manufacturer’s website to find out if there is a way to manually upgrade the firmware.
How to: How to install a VPN on my smart TV?
To install a VPN directly on your Smart TV, it needs to have built-in Android support and access to the Google Play Store. If your Smart TV meets this requirement, you should go to the Play Store, download the VPN software that you want to use, and install the APK client onto your TV. Launch the client, log in using your personal information, choose your preferred location, and connect to a VPN server.
If your Smart TV doesn’t support Android, you can install the VPN client of your choice on your computer and share the VPN connection with your Smart TV by following the instructions detailed here.
How to: How to install a VPN on my game console?
As fun as it can be, online gaming can also pose a risk for your online safety, which is why it’s important to protect your personal data, including your IP address, from hackers. While you can’t install a VPN onto your game console, there are a few ways to bypass this and enjoy a secure online gaming experience.
For one, you can buy a router with built-in VPN support. If that’s not an option, you can buy an extra router, connect it to your primary router via an Ethernet cable, and install the VPN firmware downloaded directly from your VPN provider’s website. Finally, you can install the VPN client on your Mac or PC and share the connection from your computer with your gaming console. To do this for your PlayStation 4, follow the steps outlined here. For instructions on how to use a VPN on your Xbox One, click here.