Nowadays, most of our information lives on the web. If you’re working from home or your local coffee shop, you need an extra layer of security to keep your data and interests safe from hackers. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) give protection and more. Suppose you’re using a public WiFi connection from a nearby Starbucks. In that case, you can connect your mobile device to your trusted VPN to disguise your location and browsing history using your provider’s connection. Or, if you’re working from home, your company will likely protect your information and data using a VPN.
VPNs are used for several other purposes, such as streaming shows while bypassing censorship and restrictions. It can also prevent activity and connection logging. Each VPN’s features and services will vary, so it’s best to find one that tailors to your most common Internet use and device. Whether it’s gaming, streaming or working, there’s a VPN for that.
Why you need a VPN
Whether you’re just browsing the web at a coffee shop or handling proprietary data at home, you need a VPN to secure your personal information. Some of the benefits you’ll get:
- Boost security: When browsing or streaming, you shouldn’t have to worry about your data being shared or compromised. VPN encryption keeps your information secure from others.
- Avoid hackers through encryption: Cybercriminals are less likely to access your information when it’s encrypted. They won’t be able to decode your data for their gains.
- Secure passwords, usernames and bank information: VPNs are great ways to keep your data safe and prevent identity theft.
- Access private networks: A VPN is the safest way to access and share files, data and applications conveniently.
- Maintain anonymity online: The less information you share on the web, the better. You’ll be able to browse and share without a trace to prevent hacks and cybercrimes.
Top 3 VPN Features to Consider
If you’re looking for a VPN, you’ll want to have a few top features whether you’re working, shopping or streaming.
Number of servers: The more servers a VPN has, the better. A high number of servers gives customers better upload and download speeds because one server won’t be too crowded. Keep in mind that the more servers a company has, the more expensive maintenance is for the company, so subscription costs tend to scale up with server count.
Available platforms: Before you decide which VPN you want to use, it’s essential to make sure it works with your preferred platforms. You can find out by checking the VPN’s website or asking the customer support team. You’ll also want to make sure the VPN has a browser extension and mobile app to connect on your mobile device conveniently.
Number of connected devices: If you have a family that all use the internet in many ways, you’ll want something with a high number of simultaneously connected devices to cover gaming consoles, laptops, tablets, smartphones and more if needed.
Compare the Best VPNs
We narrowed down the best VPNs and the top features to help you decide which one works best for you. Hotspot Shield, IPVanish and CyberGhost are all-around VPN favorites worth considering. Our top picks are neck and neck with each other when it comes to features and services. Fortunately, our methodology identifies key strengths and weaknesses that matter based on how you use the internet.
|Hotspot Shield||IPVanish||Cyberghost||Surfshark||NordVPN||Private Internet Access||ExpressVPN||StrongVPN|
|Best VPN Overall||Best VPN for Unlimited Devices||Best for Mac||Best VPN for Android||Best VPN for Streaming||Best VPN for Beginners||Most Widely Available VPN||Best VPN for Customer Service|
|Yes - 7 days||No||Yes - 1 day||Yes - 30 days||Yes - 30 days||Yes - 30 days||Yes - 30 days||Yes - 30 days|
Number of Servers
Number of Sim. Connected Devices
24/7 Customer Service
Compare VPN Services Review
IPVanish is affordable, easy to use and perfect for streaming. The company offers advanced encryption, private browsing and anonymous IP addresses starting at $3.33 per month with a yearly plan. IPVanish’s upgraded plan comes with 500 GB of secure storage for $4.15 per month with an annual plan. Each plan comes with unlimited connected devices, 24/7 customer support and a proxy web server that’s free of traffic logs.
IPVanish also lets you safely share your IP address with others to increase your privacy when browsing. You’ll be able to connect to IPVanish in 75 countries without the risk of blocking websites or streaming services. However, reviews noted a few tradeoffs: Customers weren’t happy with download and upload speeds and the lack of browser plugins. IPVanish also doesn’t have as many “nice to have” security features as providers like Surf Shark.
CyberGhost gives you everything you need in a VPN with a “No-Logs” Policy, AES 256-bit encryption, an automated kill switch and unlimited bandwidth. It also offers 24/7 customer service and 6,800 VPN “NoSpy” in-house servers to stay safe in 88 countries. CyberGhost lets you hide your IP address and use one of there’s for better browsing security. Mac users are fond of the company because it is committed to security and privacy with their traffic encryption when using public WiFi networks.
But you won’t be able to get CyberGhost’s cheapest pricing of $2.25 per month without a 39-month commitment. And even then, you’ll only be able to connect up to seven devices simultaneously. Customers also are unhappy with their customer support and troubleshooting. Fortunately, CyberGhost offers a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Surfshark is one of the most popular VPN options, especially for Android users. You’ll be free of hacking, malware, identity theft and ads based on your browsing history. Surfshark’s VPN technology and privacy also prevent businesses from price discrimination based on your city.
Every Surfshark plan includes a kill switch and MultiHop to send your data through multiple servers to protect your data and browsing history further. Surfshark also offers CleanWeb to let you browse without fear of malware or pop-ups, or you can use Whitelister to let websites bypass Surfshark. You’ll also be able to connect unlimited devices simultaneously.
As with most VPN providers, you’ll get the most significant savings with a two-year commitment. You’ll only pay $2.49 per month instead of $12.95 with a monthly plan. The main drawback for the service ?Customers haven’t been totally satisfied with Surfshark’s unblocking features for streaming services including Hulu and Netflix in other countries.
NordVPN has top-of-the-line encryption and more than 5,550 servers. Customers have a verified “no-logs” policy to keep browsing and information private. They also have access to live customer support chat and WireGuard, just like StrongVPN. Other popular features include worldwide access to all streaming services without blocking, advanced encryption to protect your browsing data, and peer-to-peer (P2P) capabilities to share files securely. Best of all, NordVPN masters streaming videos with its SmartPlay feature using DNS technology and NordVPN’s apps.
However, NordVPN only lets you connect to six devices simultaneously. And its lowest price requires a 2-year commitment. Customers aren’t fans of NordVPN’s customer service when needing help with their connection and mobile app glitches. If you’re on the fence, NordVPN offers a 30-day risk-free trial period.
Private Internet Access claims to have the largest network capacity worldwide with over 25,100 servers. The company focuses on giving customers unrestricted streaming and browsing. Private Internet Access uses its IP cloak to prevent leaking your data or tracking your browsing. You’ll get a different IP address with a different location to keep your information safe. The company also offers free email breach monitoring as an added security service. Private Internet Access is $9.95 with a monthly plan but costs $2.69 per month with a two-year plan. You’ll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee.
You can pay for your Private Internet Access plan using a gift card trade-in. Just enter your gift card information from Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Walmart or other accepted retailers. Your number of access days will depend on your card’s balance.
Private Internet Access customers love the browser extension and customer service, but there are several customer service complaints and unfulfilled refunds. Customers are also unhappy with download speeds and blocked websites.
ExpressVPN is a popular VPN pick for almost everything, including TV streaming, gaming and shopping. The company prides itself on being able to “unblock everything.” It has a zero-log policy to keep all of your information private. And customers love its speed, reliable connectivity and the ability to hide your IP address and location for extra privacy.
But ExpressVPN is more costly than others. Plans start at $12.95 per month, making it one of the more expensive VPN options. And for the cost, you won’t be able to connect unlimited devices simultaneously. ExpressVPN only allows five. Customers also have some concerns with the VPN connection speed.
StrongVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with your service. It was the first VPN provider to offer WireGuard, a VPN protocol that gives customers better speed and security with encryption. You’ll use less computer memory and have better performance than other providers. StrongVPN has an app available for all platforms and has a “Best Available Location” feature to help you have the best connection nearby. StrongVPN only costs $10 per month and includes 250 GB of SugarSync® Secure Storage. You’ll be able to connect 12 devices.
Customers enjoy StrongVPN’s reliability, customer service and fast speed. But some have reported concerns about frequent failed connections. It doesn’t have as many privacy and security features as other providers like Surfshark or ExpressVPN, but it’s still a popular choice for its value.
Are VPNs Illegal?
Some countries ban or restrict VPNs. Here’s a short list of countries that ban the use of VPNs.
- North Korea
You can use a VPN in the U.S. with very few restrictions. It’s important to point out that you cannot use a VPN to bypass illegal activity. It’s still illegal, even if you use a VPN. If you’re visiting another country, it’s important to check the country’s VPN policy and restrictions to prevent any further possible legal action.
How Do I Choose a VPN?
A VPN is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cyber attacks and hackers. But the best one will depend on several factors. If you’re wondering which VPN is best for you, here’s how to narrow down your top picks.
Internet usage: Start by thinking about what you primarily use the internet for. Is it gaming or just browsing? You should also think about how other household members use the internet to pick one that meets everyone’s needs. If you’re just using a VPN for browsing and shopping, you may not need one with thousands of servers, but instead, one that focuses on security and privacy to protect your payment and shipping information. Other factors are good to keep in mind, like the number of devices but aren’t as important as how you’ll use your VPN to keep you safe online.
Devices: Not every VPN works for every device or operating system. Before you settle on one with all the right features, make sure your devices are compatible. Keep in mind that some VPNs may not work on TVs, TV sticks or gaming consoles. You should also check to make sure your VPN protocol supports the latest operating system version.
Servers and server location: If you’re a gamer or use the internet for lots of uploading and downloading, you’ll need a VPN with a high number of servers. The more servers, the better speed. You should also look closely at where the servers are located because it determines content restrictions, and a higher number of servers per location also helps with connection speed.
Affordability: VPNs shouldn’t break the bank. Look for a VPN with an affordable monthly plan. Be sure to look for discounts and deals for extra savings. And beware of VPNs that require contracts. The best ones offer monthly plans that let you cancel anytime. Talk to the pros: If you’re not sure which VPN is best for you, don’t hesitate to ask some of your tech-savvy friends or get help from local Internet providers. Sometimes a second opinion can help you decide which one works best for you. And don’t hesitate to reach out to the VPN’s customer service team for any questions or concerns.
We Asked Our Own Expert
To ensure that we understood VPNs at an appropriate level, we talked to Brian Santiago, a SecOps engineer for Safety’s parent company. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: How Do VPNs Work?
VPNs ensure the messaging that happens behind the scenes while you browse the web is encrypted and unrecognizable if intercepted. A common example used to visualize this concept is with traditional mail. When sending a letter to your friend or service you run the risk (even if illegal) of someone opening it and reading your message. A VPN in this case would scramble the message in a way that only you or your intended recipient would be able to read it.
Q: Why do I need a VPN?
The need depends on how much value you place on your online activity and privacy. One of the most referenced scenarios where a VPN should be leveraged is when using public wifi. Other users connected to that network could potentially intercept your private traffic and be a vector to other issues. VPNs are also traditionally used to avoid geographic restrictions since traffic can be masked to appear like it originates from a different country where that content is available.
Q: Can a VPN Track You Online?
It’s important to understand that when you decide to use a VPN you are now entrusting that service with handling your traffic. The question now becomes, do you trust your internet service provider or your VPN provider with that data? Since VPN providers have different operating models and potential regulatory/legal requirements you should review if the service is trustworthy and provides what you’re looking for (e.g. not logging your IP address or traffic, protecting metadata, affiliate relationships, etc).
Q: What is the most important feature in a VPN?
The most important feature would really be subjective to your requirements. Are you concerned with privacy, data logging, kill-switches, geo-blocking etc. VPNs have increased in popularity and each one has pros and cons. The most important aspect is to fully understand what your use-case is and thoroughly research what the VPN provides and how it operates. Choose an option that confirms what you’re looking for in their terms and conditions and not just make vague claims and promises. However cliche it sounds, data is gold nowadays and as our world gets more interconnected your data becomes more desired and valued by corporations and external entities.
How to Install a VPN
Setting up a VPN is usually pretty simple. Just download and install the VPN software onto your computer. You won’t have to worry about adding all the VPN features because the software should include them. Usually, you can follow the prompted instructions to determine the best serve and location. Oftentimes, you can choose your location to shield your identity and adjust any features for your internet needs.
You should also be able to download the VPN mobile app for remote security if your VPN provider offers one. Look out for any software or app updates for the best security measures.
If you’re thinking about getting a VPN subscription or you already have one, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind.
- Be skeptical of “no-log” claims: It’s tough to tell whether or not your VPN provider is logging your activity or connections, even if the company says it isn’t. You’ll need to hire an expert or auditor to take a closer look. Logs may not matter if you’re watching a movie, but if your job includes sensitive data, you’ll want to dig deeper to make sure your connection and usage aren’t being logged.
- Watch out for warrant canaries: A warrant canary is a message company’s post to inform customers that the government or other authorities have not subpoenaed the company for data. Companies are not required to post warrant canaries, but some do in the spirit of transparency. If the canary has been “killed” or the message has been removed, it’s possible that the government has targeted the company and they cannot speak on the data request.
- Think twice before using a U.S.-based VPN: Often, the best internet privacy doesn’t come from VPNs based in the U.S. The reason? The country isn’t the biggest fan of privacy, and the government may still be watching. Many U.S.-based VPNs cooperate with the federal government if they’re under scrutiny for data and secret monitoring. If you feel comfortable with your U.S.-based VPN choice, make sure that it offers top-notch encryption, and stay up to speed on any news or concerns.
- Look for a free trial period: Before you commit to one VPN, check to see if the provider has a free trial period. You’ll be able to see if it’s the best option for you before choosing an annual plan. You should also make sure the VPN has a trial period that gives you time to test the VPN the way you’d like to.
Methodology: How we research VPNs
The best VPNs give you control and peace of mind when using the Internet. The Safety.com team looks closely at the top features and factors to provide you the safest online experience. Cost and reputation are important, but you should feel confident that you’re safe and in control with a reliable provider that’s always there if you need help. Here’s a breakdown of what we consider most important.
Control: Many VPN features give users control of their online activity and data. We look closely at a few, including the ability to bypass censorship, unblocking features and storage availability. We also know that many VPN users rely on their VPN’s mobile app to connect and check their VPN status quickly. Providers with these and other features score higher than their competitors.
Prevention: The Safety.com team looks carefully at whether providers offer features to prevent hacks and cybercrimes. Standard VPN features include a killswitch, a “No Logs” policy and a private DNS for your privacy.
Reliability: If you’re shopping for a VPN, you’ll want a reliable connection and guaranteed security. Our team looks at the number of servers to help determine speed because we believe the more servers available, the better.
Response: Our team looks closely at customer reviews and ratings to understand each company’s response. VPN providers with 24/7 customer support score higher for their dedication to assisting customers and making sure they have a safe browsing experience.
A VPN is a private network that protects your connection, activity and data by hiding your IP address. VPN providers will give you a different IP address that has a different location to protect your privacy.
A VPN is the easiest and most lawful way to protect your data online. You’ll be able to browse, shop, game and stream using an encrypted connection without leaving a footprint. It’s also the fastest way to securely share, download and upload files because VPNs have thousands of servers to avoid customers overloading one server.
Simply put, a VPN works by wirelessly connecting your device to your VPN’s network using your home or public WiFi connection. Once your device is linked to the VPN, the web will hide your IP address and encrypt your data while using the internet to protect your data, location and activity.
Hotspot Shield is the best VPN. It’s a free VPN service with upgraded plans starting at $7.99 per month. Hotspot Shield has military-grade encryption and the fastest speed compared to competitors. Hotspot Shield is free to use but offers paid subscriptions for upgraded features for better streaming and speed and for access to more devices.
Be careful choosing free VPNs without optional paid plans because they may share your data or have questionable privacy policies. Paid VPN subscriptions often come with better encryption, speed and data limits than most free VPN plans.
VPNs have a few limitations worth keeping in mind. Your VPNs speed may not be as fast as advertised, depending on your WiFi connection’s reliability and speed.
Secondly, the VPN will only be as secure as your login information. Remember to create strong usernames and passwords to keep your VPN and data safe. Other common VPN limitations include the number of connected devices and data usage limits.
Netflix often blocks VPN users because they have certain rights to show certain countries’ content as part of their agreements. There are several workarounds to stream Netflix, YouTube and other streaming services. But the safest way is to look into a fast VPN that specializes in unblocking and censorship restrictions but still gives top-notch encryption for your privacy.
Companies often use a site-to-site VPN to connect multiple networks and their offices for all employees to stay connected to their network and data securely.
A mobile VPN is a secure network that protects your activity and data on your mobile device regardless of your location. It’s commonly used for smartphones and tablets for travelers or those working remotely to keep their data encrypted. Some mobile VPNs are also remote VPNs to give you online safety wherever you are.