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These are your best, most secure VPN options

por Dee Mcmillian (2021-07-05)


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A VPN is all about protecting your privacy and security online -- so whether you're working remotely or you just want to keep sensitive information safe from prying eyes, a virtual private network is key. A VPN essentially creates an encrypted connection between you and the websites you visit.  However, the VPN market has been booming and new providers keep jumping into the marketplace. That can make it tricky to sort through the many options to find the best VPN service to meet your particular needs. That's where this best VPN guide comes in.  After researching and testing a multitude of services, we've rounded up the best VPN providers that will keep your online information totally secure. In our current testing and ranking system, we evaluated more than 20 factors, including price, security, ease of remote access, number of server locations, bandwidth caps, logging, dedicated and dynamic IP, client VPN software and customer support. Below, we've listed your best VPN options, including such popular names as ExpressVPNSurfshark, IPVanishNordVPN and more.  We're keeping a close eye on how each VPN provider stands compared with its competitors, as well as any new VPN services that may hit the market. We've cataloged our most recommended VPN services to date -- and listed some less viable VPN selections, too, based on our testing. We'll be regularly updating this VPN guide as new contenders become available. That said, the VPN landscape can be mystifying and confusing. Here are some quick tips, each of which link to a more in-depth discussion. Don't use free VPN services: You'll only find paid VPN options below because they're the only ones we can recommend.  Look for a no-logs VPN, but understand the caveats: The best VPNs keep as few logs as possible and make them as anonymous as possible, so there's little data to provide should authorities come knocking. But even "no-logs" VPNs aren't 100% anonymous.  VPN transparency is important, but warrant canaries are only the beginning: Many services use "warrant canaries" as a way to passively note to the public as to whether or not they've been subpoenaed by a government entity, as many investigations from national security agencies can't be actively disclosed by law. But -- like the no-logging issue -- warrant canaries aren't always as straightforward as they seem. You should spend more time investigating whether your prospective VPN has cooperated with authorities in the past -- and how and when it's disclosed that fact. Think twice about using a US-based VPN: The Patriot Act is still the law of the land in the US, and that means that US-based VPNs have little recourse if and when the feds show up with subpoenas or national security letters in hand demanding access to servers, VPN user accounts or other data. Yes, they may have little data to access if the service has a strong no-logs policy, but why not do an end-run on the feds and just choose a service that's based outside Uncle Sam's jurisdiction? (You'll want to avoid countries that the US has intelligence-sharing agreements with, too.)     The best VPN right now Let's look at each of our VPN vendors below in more depth. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: It is constantly being updated. We're actively working on more VPN testing and research, so expect this guide to change throughout the year as our virtual private network use continues and we put each option through its paces. The list below presents our favorites in an overall ranking; if you want to see each top VPN judged by more specific criteria, check out the links below.Best VPN for MacBest Android VPNBest VPN for iPhoneYou'll mostly find the same names you see here, but we'll call out when and where specific traits make for a better choice in a more narrow evaluation.





ExpressVPN




Editor's Choice for best VPN: Blazing speeds, proven privacy








ExpressVPN




Number of IP addresses: 30,000Number of servers: 3,000-plus in 160 locationsNumber of simultaneous connections: 5Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands94-plus countries3 months free with 1-year plan, plus a free year of Backblaze cloud backup (limited time offer)ExpressVPN tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users' online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN's setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ. While its speeds consistently compete with heavy-hitting competitors, our  saw ExpressVPN produce a 52% overall loss of our normal internet speeds, representing a significant slowdown compared to its 2019 score of 2% speed loss. Like the rest of the top five VPN services we've reviewed, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method -- something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free. Read more:












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Surfshark




A speed leader, packed with features








Surfshark




Number of servers: 3,200-plus
Number of server locations: 65
Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
$2.49 a month (81% discount) for a two-year plan
While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up on features and speed. Let's start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark's VPN, you don't have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.And it's fast. With more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, we lost less than 17% of average internet speeds during our . That's faster than the 27% speed loss we saw in previous tests, and pushes it ahead of ExpressVPN to be the current front-runner in our speed comparisons.Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) -- though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Fire TV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn't know you're using a VPN. Multihop jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode "allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions." Just be careful. Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we didn't see a single IP address or DNS leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. Unlike many of the other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn't offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month, for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).Read more:












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NordVPN




Best VPN for reliability and security








NordVPN




Number of IP addresses: 5,000Number of servers: 5,200-plus serversNumber of server locations: 62Country/jurisdiction: panama city mortgage62 countries$3.75 a month (68% discount) for a 2-year planNordVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing (ZDNet)
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests.In our , NordVPN's performance was on par with many of its competitors, reducing our speeds by 53% on average (which is slower than the 32% loss measured in previous speed tests). We found NordVPN's speeds were reliably fast. There were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected the VPN to underperform, it proved itself up to the task.The company's two-year VPN subscription plan costs $3.75 a month ($90 billed at once). That price is lower than most contenders, but creeps up for the one-year plan ($4.92 a month or $59 total) and the monthly plan ($11.95 a month). But it does have a full 30-day refund policy. While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was . Nord's actions following the discovery included -- eventually -- multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. While we'd have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the  served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list as a recommended vendor. Read more:












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ProtonVPN




High security standards at high speeds








ProtonVPN




Number of servers: 1,25955 countriesCountry/jurisdiction: Switzerland30-day money back guaranteePlus Package: $8 per month ($96 charged yearly)
When we speed-tested ProtonVPN, we saw an impressively small 9.6% speed loss compared to average speeds clocked without a VPN. ProtonVPN's base speeds sent it blazing past most of our roster of tested services and into second place behind Along with its options to send your traffic through a secure bunker of private servers, we love ProtonVPN's transparency policies: It's completely open-source with , and includes a built-in route to VPN into On price, we'd like to see ProtonVPN come down a bit. ProtonVPN's standard package, called Plus, runs $8 per month ($96 charged yearly). That price is higher than our Editors' Choice VPN, ExpressVPN, whose best plan is priced at . ProtonVPN also gets beat on price by 







Best VPN choice for beginners








IPVanish




Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plusNumber of servers: 1,600-plusNumber of server locations: 75-plusNumber of simultaneous connections: UnlimitedCountry/jurisdiction: US$5.20 a month (57% discount) for a one-year plan
A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN. A unique feature of the IPVanish VPN, and one we're intrigued by, is the VPN's support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.At $10 a month or $80 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We're a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from 10 to now unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. Read more: 












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Other VPNs we've tested Not every VPN can be a favorite. These are ones we reviewed, but they're not full-throated recommendations for one reason or another, including limited features and concerns over adequately hiding your identity.
HotSpot Shield
Hotspot ShieldServers: 3,200-plus in 82 locations
Country/Jurisdiction: US (Five Eyes member)
Platforms: Windows, Android,  ($40 at Amazon)Price: $8 per month or $95.88 billed annually. Month-to-month plan at $13

Hotspot Shield VPN's TLS-based Hydra Catapult protocol, US jurisdiction, 128-bit AES encryption support, and large percentage of virtual servers might strip away our trust in its ability to provide more privacy protections than its competitors -- but those are all key components to its ability to achieve the blazing speeds it delivered during its most recent speed tests.  As of May 2021, it's the , and effortlessly delivers on smooth-streaming media, and can dance between server connections without missing a beat, no matter how many interruptions you throw at it. A 26% speed loss puts it in second place, falling behind We're not excited about Hotspot's privacy and security, though. Since the services uses a closed-source proprietary , instead of the more transparent open-source OpenVPN protocol, we'd like to see Hotspot give the public more -- a necessary step to bring Hotspot up to speed with routinely audited VPNs like in Hotspot Shield's plug-in for Google Chrome. Hotspot acknowledged the issue at the time and aimed to improve the product.  We're also not thrilled about the amount of user data Hotspot collects, and its privacy policy. With its premium product, it gathers and retains much more information about users than most other VPNs. And if you're using the free version of its product, it shares that information -- along with even more finite data, including your MAC address and specific phone identifier -- with advertising companies.  While its interface is user-friendly and its speeds are thrilling, spending time with Hotspot is going to leave your wallet a little lighter than you might prefer. It's current price is higher than its nearest competitors, its speeds slightly slower and its privacy more questionable. If you're looking for a VPN purely on the grounds of speed, we still recommend passing on Hotspot until it improves.  Read more:
TunnelBear
Average speed loss: 63% Number of servers: 1,800 in 23 countriesJurisdiction: Canada, with US parent company




ISSN: 1980-5861