Virtual private networks (VPNs) encrypt internet connections between two points, to secure them from casual snoopers and hackers. These VPN services are particularly useful when accessing the internet from an untrusted location, such as a hotel, café or coworking space.
A plethora of modern VPN services, with dedicated connectivity apps, have put an end to the maddening manual configuration VPNs once required. No two VPN offerings are alike, however, and it can be a challenge to find the right VPN. Here's a look at some of the top VPNs for privacy and security.
The VyprVPN by Golden Frog is a polished and intuitive option. The developer is based in Switzerland, which has strict privacy laws, and VyprVPN clusters servers by country so you don't have to scroll through long lists of server options that may not even be available in your area. The app can also automatically connect to servers in the regions with the lowest latency, and it can switch server clusters in the case of an outage.
VyprVPN offers a broad range of officially supported platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS, as well as other devices such as Tomato-based routers and smart TVs. Extensive documentation on how to configure popular platforms such as DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Synology's DiskStation Manager platform is also available.
The company says it uses proprietary software code on the backend and operates its VPN service entirely from its own hardware, including DNS, routers and servers for end-to-end privacy. Golden Frog's global network spans more than 70 locations and it works with a pool of more than 200,000 IP addresses.
VyprVPN offers unlimited data for subscribers, with pricing tiers geared for different numbers of simultaneously connected devices (starting at $9.99 per month). You can also get 500MB of VyprVPN use for free by signing up via one of the company's official apps.
With more than a thousand servers across 87 countries, ExpressVPN is one of the largest commercial VPN providers. The service promises to never log browsing history, traffic data or DNS queries, and it says it is a financial supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-protection group. (The company does log a limited amount of data to improve performance, such as dates of logons, but not timestamps, server locations or the amount of data customers transfer per day.)
ExpressVPN supports a large range of platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. People who want to use ExpressVPN with their home or office routers will appreciate the company's instructions on how to manually configure supported routers to access its service. Custom ExpressVPN firmware is also available, with instructions on how to flash supported routers for free. However, it currently supports only the Linksys WRT1200AC and Linksys WRT3200AC routers.
ExpressVPN supports unlimited data for up to three simultaneous devices, and its price plan starts at $12.95 per month, with a discount for people who prepay for a year ($8.32 a month). If you want to use more than three devices at a time you need to buy a second subscription, but the company encourages customers to use ExpressVPN on a router to circumvent this limitation.
NordVPN takes your privacy very seriously. In addition to a promise not to log any of your activity, the provider uses a unique "double" VPN technology that essentially uses two servers to further obfuscate the inbound and outbound data streams from its servers. All incoming data is also encrypted with AES-256-CBC, and the tech is applied twice for added security.
The company offers apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, though there is no official app for Linux. Tech-savvy users can, however, configure almost any platform to work with NordVPN, and a lengthy list of tutorials offers in-depth configuration information for Chrome OS, a MikroTik router and more.
The standard NordVPN plan gives unmetered access to six simultaneous devices. Its pricing plans are also affordable. A current promotion offers the services for two years for $79, or only $3.29 per month. And if you prefer anonymity, you can pay for your NordVPN accounts using Bitcoin.
Romania-based CyberGhost publishes an annual transparency report to show the number of requests or demands for log files it receives every month. The service also comes with "anti-fingerprinting" features, which work as a proxy to cloak the browsers and PCs that use the service to access the Internet.
CyberGhost offers one of the more full-featured VPN apps, and it includes the capability to automatically launch when it connects to a new Wi-Fi network. The feature eliminates the need to remember to connect for protection, and it can also be configured to connect via VPN when you launch internet apps such as BitTorrent. Separately, an "unblock streaming" feature lets you unblock geo-locked services such as Netflix and BBC with a single click, and a data-compression option helps you reduce data drain when using a mobile device.
An ad-supported option offers free access to CyberGhost without registration, though its speeds are slower and BitTorrent is blocked. Paid subscriptions remove ads and quintuple the network speed, but only the most expensive Premium Plus ($10.99 per month) subscription offers simultaneous use of as many as five devices.
PureVPN offers a variety of features not available from other VPN providers, including the capability to use a dedicated IP address, for a higher level of privacy and security. The IP-address feature is available as an add-on, and it's particularly useful for further securing your online activities given the service's capability to configure online firewalls, including the security group rules for Amazon Web Services, to accept connections only from designated IP addresses.
PureVPN offers optimized sports-streaming servers with up to 20Mbps streaming speed, and it has built-in DDoS protection. The service runs on a hefty worldwide network of more than 500 servers in 141 countries. And PureVPN has its headquarters in Hong Kong.
Payment options include credit cards, Alibaba's Alipay, and even gift cards from Best Buy and Walmart. Pricing starts at $10.95 per month. PureVPN also offers Business VPN services, with round-the-clock support and a dedicated management portal.
Privacy and reliability aside, performance is the most crucial component of any VPN service. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to determine performance without running tests from specific locations. A VPN service that works well at a specific time of day and under one workload may be unusable for someone else in another part of the world. In other words, try a VPN service out for a few weeks before you invest in it long term.