The VPN creates a secure connection over the Internet. In the simplest terms, it works as a tunnel between a computer and a server. Every time you go online, all the data you send is encrypted and protected. In the digital age, when cybersecurity is a major concern among people all over the world, a VPN is more than a tool for upgraded web performance. It is a necessity. That is why the number of VPN users soars every year. By the end of 2020, 27.1% of people around the globe used VPN services.
We've all probably heard of VPNs, most of us even know what they are used for. But when it comes to a direct definition, not every person is able to tell what VPN means. And it is totally normal. If you know why you need this, it does not make a difference how it works. However, if you want to choose the best VPN service, you need to know what you are looking for. Providing you are well-aware of the topic, here is the list of top-rated VPN providers.
The best VPNs with free options:
Nonetheless, if you want to dig deeper, just imagine a scene from an action movie. The villain is trying to escape by taking a highway in a sports car. A police helicopter is chasing him when the car enters a tunnel with several exits. The pilot does not have an idea from which exit the car will drive out, and the villain succeeds to escape. VPN is the very tunnel that connects multiple ways you can go online. No one knows where you will go out from once you have entered the tunnel. And no one knows what is happening in the tunnel. Thus, VPNs are most often recommended for getting access to geo-blocked content as well as for improving Cyber Security in general.
While VPN services cannot guarantee the complete security of your personal data the way proxies do, they are still effective for bypassing certain restrictions and hiding some online activities. Classic VPN extensions integrated into popular browsers are less functional as they usually negatively impact the speed. Thus, most users stake on separate VPN services which can also work well on mobile devices. There are free and paid options. Let’s figure out how they work and look into the best VPNs for personal use!
You probably have a Wi-Fi router at home. Devices connected to it can exchange data even without the Internet. It turns out that you have your own private network. But in order to connect to it, you need to be physically within range of the router signal. VPN is the abbreviation for the virtual private network. It works over the Internet, so you can connect to it from anywhere.
For example, the company you work for might use a VPN for remote employees. They use a VPN to connect to their working network. At the same time, their computers, smartphones, or other devices are virtually transferred to the office and connected to the network from the inside. To enter this virtual private network, you need to know the server address, username, and password.
In this case, using a VPN is pretty easy. Generally, a company sets up a VPN server somewhere on a local computer or data center, and you can connect to it via a VPN client on your device. VPN clients are now available on all current operating systems like Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. Herewith, the VPN connection between the client and server is usually encrypted.
Today, VPN services are considered to be a Cyber Security tool that comprises methods to maintain a safe connection to public and private networks. For example, if you connect to any public hotspot, the VPN makes it more secure preventing private data leaks.
The web is a wild area where your personal and corporate information is never safe until you use a VPN or other more advanced solutions. However, a good VPN service is typically enough to encrypt your data, protect yourself from unwanted malware, and bypass geo-restrictions.
Talking about geo-restrictions and blocked content, a VPN makes it possible to access a variety of streaming services and other platforms that your Internet provider might block such as BBC Player or Netflix. Yes, for some it could sound weird but even Netflix or Facebook can be blocked or officially banned in certain countries. So, VPN services are real game-changers in the life of many users around the globe.
While VPNs cannot provide a high degree of anonymity, most individual users (not businesses) can significantly benefit from secure traffic that will not be interfered with by any attacks or disturbers. However, if your network has been hacked before you start to use a VPN, it cannot protect you. So, a reliable VPN service is recommended to enhance with a modern antivirus.
When you use a VPN service, nobody can identify your real IP address as it is replaced with the VPN address. At the same time, the connection itself is encrypted as well as all of your personal details and traffic running through it. The encryption implies a method of converting the text format of your data into an unrecognizable code. There are several types of encryption and the most reliable one is Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256. It is also used to encrypt high-level military or governmental data. And all reputable VPN services employ it to ensure your privacy.
Besides, most VPNs have their own DNS systems. DNS stands for Domain Name System that implies the set of URLs being identified by IP addresses. In simple words, it allows entering the name of a website instead of a sequence of numbers. Hackers and cybercriminals in theory can monitor DNS requests to track your online activities. However, DNS developed by VPN services is additionally encrypted to improve your privacy.
The range of VPN uses is diverse. Evading censorship is just one side of the coin. Not only countries but also big corporations have set particular limitations for users. For example, prices for different products and services may vary depending on the IP address.
Overall, the Internet is not the safest place. According to the annual Freedom on the Net Report by Freedom House, there were just 15 countries estimated as “free”, considering 65 countries participated in the rating. It reveals the fact that Internet users’ rights are violated to some extent in at least 50 countries excluding those that do not disclose their statistics. Thus, VPN is not just a tool for better security and smoother web-performance but a vital necessity for many people.
A VPN is a useful and necessary technology that copes with a wide range of challenges such as:
As you can see there are quite many ways you can benefit from a VPN. But the security of your personal data still depends on the quality of the VPN service itself. So, let’s look into the best solutions to upgrade your web-performance.
While some other VPN services offer more comfortable pricing plans, it is hard to find one with the same quality of basic features. ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN services among those I have ever tested. The overall performance is far superior to many other VPN providers. The company legally operates in the British Virgin Islands. There is no formal data protection legislation in this area. So, the company is not subject to data retention laws. Herewith, ExpressVPN clearly states that they do not record users’ activities and do not collect personal data.
ExpressVPN supports the highest level of encryption available at the moment — AES-256. And it is truly hard to hack as this standard is often used by governments and the military to maintain confidential data security.
Apart from that, there is a range of features to be emphasized. The VPN kill switch allows disconnecting your devices from the Internet immediately when the VPN connection is lost or intercepted for any reason. If you have ever messed around with alternative DNS managers, with ExpressVPN it is not a problem anymore. The service goes together with private and encrypted DNS, so nothing can block your VPN connection wherever you are. Most devices connect to the Internet automatically when turned on. So, the ExpressVPN client can also be launched automatically when you turn on any of your devices.
When you pay for any VPN service, you probably expect that your VPN will be fast and stable. However, by far not every service can ensure it. But this is definitely not the case with ExpressVPN that can be surprisingly fast when you do not even expect it.
ExpressVPN has 160 server locations which are spread over 94 countries. So, you can benefit from accessing any content on blocked websites from anywhere in the world. The service is available for all current operating systems and can be used for multiple devices including smartphones, tablets, etc. As long as I have tested ExpressVPN, there were no bugs either with DNS queries or with traffic data. It is a perfect solution for all activities you need a VPN for such as watching stream sports, accessing any content, providing a protective layer while using public Wi-Fi, safe torrenting, etc. Besides, the service provides unlimited bandwidth, a free trial, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. As for pricing options, it is not the cheapest solution out there but it is definitely worth its money. One-month subscription will cost you $12.95. But if you opt for the annual subscription, you will have to pay $6.67 per month. There is one more option implying a 6-month subscription that will cost you $9.99 per month. Plus, besides standard payment methods, you can pay by Bitcoins.
NordVPN is often considered one of the best VPN services overall. And in fact, it has a lot of advantages. It provides effective tools for enhanced anonymity and security. Besides, it integrates the most powerful encryption algorithms like AES-256 encryption mentioned above, CyberSec protecting against web threats, and Double VPN encryption. While the speed could be less impressive comparing with the two previous options, the connection is stable and your personal data is protected. The number of servers exceeds 5,400 encompassing over 80 locations in 60 countries.
Over the past year, the company has made a great step forward, significantly improved its features, developed new technologies to bypass restrictions and protect users’ privacy. For example, the service can conceal the fact of using a VPN disguising traffic as normal HTTPS. So, it is impossible to find out that the VPN service has been used at all. This is a great way out for those countries where VPN services are officially banned like the United Arab Emirates. The Double VPN feature allows running your traffic through 2 servers encrypting your data in each. Meanwhile, the CyberSec technology protects you from intrusive ads, malware, and spam. Kill Switch and protection against DNS leaks are also provided. This is a perfect solution for accessing any steaming service around the globe and bypassing geo-restrictions. Apart from that, it works well in any other case of VPN use.
You can use NordVPN on all devices. It is easily integrated with all current operating systems and has the Android TV application and proxy extensions for Firefox and Chrome. You can use up to 6 devices at the same time and benefit from unlimited bandwidth. There are three pricing plans. A 1-month plan will cost you $11.95. While choosing an annual subscription, you will have to pay $4.92 per month. The 2-year plan will cost you $3.71 per month.
CyberGhost is a Romanian-based VPN service that constantly upgrades its features and has 256-bit encryption. What makes it different from many other solutions is that you can use 7 devices simultaneously and get your money back within 45 days instead of 30 days. Besides, you can benefit from using VPN apps for iOS, Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV & Fire Stick, and some others.
The platform itself is easy to use and can boast 24/7 customer support. They also offer free proxy extensions for Firefox and Chrome as well as a 7-day trial when you can test all of the premium features. CyberGhost supports multiple payment options including PayPal and Bitcoin. The last option implies an additional security layer but the service will know your real IP address anyway. The company keeps more than 6 340 servers in 90 countries around the world. I first tried this service a couple of years ago, and then, they had just about 1 300 servers in 61 countries (or so). And this is a good omen as I see that the company keeps developing the platform. Among additional features, I can highlight one that blocks malicious websites, unwanted malware, online tracking, ads, etc.
CyberGhost also provides tools to avoid IP leaks, DNS protection, kill switch, unlimited traffic allowance, and solid VPN speeds. It supports WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2 protocols. The company publishes the annual Transparency Report that improves its online reputation. You can hide your IP address replacing it with another shared IP that will make it impossible to track your online activities. And I pretty like it when VPN services can combine some proxy features. CyberGhost is most suitable for accessing blocked content of any kind, streaming services, protecting data while gaming, etc. In this regard, it is no different from ExpressVPN.
As for prices, there are three main payment plans. Thus, you can pay $12.99 every month or choose an annual subscription that will lower the price to $3.99 per month. Another option is to opt for a 3-year subscription that will cost you just $2.25 per month.
Surfshark is an up-and-coming VPN service that runs on any popular operating system. It is distinct from most competitors because of its unlimited number of simultaneous connections and no limits on traffic allowance. Herewith, it works equally well on mobile devices. There are over 3,000 servers covering more than 100 locations. It proved effective for accessing such platforms as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Fire TV, etc. It has a similar to CyberGhost feature for connecting the Internet through two different servers. It is almost identical but called MultiHop.
The speed of performance is at a very decent level. Kill Switch function is also available as well as CleanWeb blocking ads, trackers, malicious websites, and other trash. The developers tried to make the interface as user-friendly as possible for cross-platform use. So, there are apps for almost any type of device such as Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, Android, iOS, Fire TV, browsers’ extensions, etc. Moreover, you can even stream content to devices that do not support VPN such as Xbox, PlayStation, and TV. Surfshark provides the standard for top VPN services AES-256 encryption. Also, it uses the IKEv2 protocol by default, but you can select other options such as OpenVPN or Shadowsocks.
Apart from that, there are a free trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Plus, the platform operates in the British Virgin Islands, holds a regular security audit, and pursues a no-logs policy. The pricing policy is more or less standard. For example, the annual subscription is the best deal reaching $2.49 per month. The 6-month pricing plan will cost you $6.49 per month. The monthly subscription will cost you $12.95.
FastestVPN’s name speaks for itself. The company operates from the Cayman Islands. And yes, it is really fast, the overall performance is quite impressive. The service provides not only unlimited traffic allowance but also an opportunity to switch as many servers as you need. Plus, they have dedicated servers for P2P connections like torrenting. The general for top services AES-256 encryption goes together with the NAT feature that adds another layer of security.
There are cheaper pricing plans but only a 15-day money-back guarantee. If you want to pay monthly, it will cost you $10. The 1-year plant will cost you $2.49 per month. And if you opt for a 3-year plan, you will have to pay $1.11 per month.
Private Internet Access combines a high level of security, complete anonymity, and comparatively low cost. It has a large network of servers which number exceeds 29,000 covering 99 locations in 77 countries. It is available for all devices and can be integrated with all current operating systems. It has a variety of security protocols, ad-blocking features, and a Chrome extension. You can run up to 10 simultaneous connections and benefit from safe P2P torrenting.
It provides a 30-day money-back guarantee as well as a free trial. The service is excellent for accessing blocked content and various streaming services as well as watching stream sports. However, it is not the fastest tool out there. So, gaming can be less comfortable. Malware blocking features are impressive. PIA also proved effective for avoiding ads and any tracking. You can easily hide your IP replacing it with some others for an unlimited number of times. By the way, there are well-known AES-256 encryption and unlimited bandwidth. There are three pricing plans that are the monthly ($11.95), annual ($3.33 per month), and 2-year ($2.69 per month) options.
IPVanish is a VPN service with great functionality and wide capabilities to ensure user anonymity. It is appreciated for high speed and easy settings. It supports all devices and most operating systems, including desktop OS, mobile OS, and routers. After a simple installation, the program shows the visual tutorial explaining the basics. IPVanish provides almost the same list of services as the market leaders. The company keeps over 1 600 servers in more than 75 locations.
Apart from high-level encryption and kill switch, the service changes your IP automatically every 45, 60, or 90 minutes (depending on the settings you prioritize). No logs are kept, no data about your online activities is saved. It is also possible to hide your VPN traffic disguising it as HTTPS. You can change servers and IPs as many times as necessary prioritizing the closest or the fastest option, a server for gaming or streaming activities. By the way, IPVanish is often considered one of the most suitable VPNs for gaming. The service allows you to switch to the “simple” mode that reduces the user interface to a smaller window containing only the country selector, city selector, and a button to start the connection.
IPVanish can boast solid speeds and secure torrenting that is powered with uTorrent and BitTorrent protocols. You can benefit from unlimited bandwidth, specify an encryption protocol as well as the level of anonymity and download speed. You can use 10 devices at the same time, request a refund within 30 days, and benefit from a 7-day free trial. Being in business for around 8 years, the company contributes to the wider network of servers as well as developing new features. IPVanish mobile app is well-developed, easy to use, and effective in preventing the leaks of personal data from mobile devices and struggling with Deep Packet Inspection. There are four payment plans — two monthly and two yearly plans. While the prices for monthly plans start at $9.99, the minimal yearly subscription will cost you $3.75 per month.
VyprVPN can seem to be perfect for those who deal with VPN for the first time. It is distinct for its smooth performance and easy-to-use interface. The provider does its best to improve the reliability, security, and stability of its services taking into account customer requests. As for the level of privacy and the ability to bypass geo-restrictions, VyprVPN is worth its money. It is definitely good for getting access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and many other platforms. But while considering the speed of performance, it might be less impressive than the leaders of this list. So, it is not the best option for gaming or torrenting. However, there are some features to be emphasized.
VyprVPN employs the Chameleon technology designed to disguise your data from those who want to intercept it or find out what you are doing online. It makes the service suitable for people who live in authoritarian governments monitoring their online activities. Chameleon functioning is based on the encryption of OpenVPN metadata, which afterward cannot be recognized and intercepted by DPI. There are also unlimited bandwidth, kill switch, 256-bit encryption, and up to 5 devices being used simultaneously. VyprVPN works well with Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Plus, a 30-day trial period, a money-back guarantee, and over 700 servers covering 70 locations make it quite a good choice. While the network is not that large, it does not affect the quality of the service itself. The company constantly broadens the number of servers, so there is hope that in a couple of years VyprVPN can rank with the industry leaders in this regard.
The Android app is surprisingly well-developed, and integrates all desktop features such as DNS leak protection, URL filter, kill switch, and many others. Apart from that, I pretty liked the VyprVPN Cloud feature that is a nice touch for active cloud servers’ users. It provides the additional security layer when you access such platforms as Amazon Web Services, Virtual Box, or Digital Ocean. There are three standard pricing plans — 1-month ($12.95), 1-year ($3.75 per month), and 3-year ($1.66 per month).
PureVPN is available on a variety of platforms from classic Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS to routers, gaming consoles, and Smart TVs. I liked the high speed and the stability of connection as well as a good level of privacy and some bonuses offered. The company is located in Hong Kong, an offshore area that in theory should contribute to a good level of anonymity. PureVPN claims that it ensures confidentiality and does not intend to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. According to PureVPN reports, the service keeps no logs or users’ information.
The company provides a 31-day refund policy. In terms of coverage, PureVPN is ahead of its competitors as it owns over 6500 servers in 140 countries. So, high speeds are not a big deal. If you have a problem with one server, you can instantly connect to the other. You can benefit from 5 simultaneous connections on desktop and mobile devices. When choosing servers, there is a special feature that indicates servers intended for gaming, streaming, gambling, etc. You should select them to reach the highest speed.
Apart from high-level encryption, easy bypassing geo-restrictions, unlimited traffic allowance, and kill switch, there are some features to be mentioned. Using the automatic protocol selection feature, you do not need to delve into technical difficulties. You can also opt for a dedicated IP address that will be useful for online banking, video tracking, etc.
The service provides apps for Chromebook and Kodi and allows Bitcoin payments. There is a multi-logins feature that implies you (and your family members) can use up to 10 logins. Overall, the service is perfect for streaming, unblocking content, and P2P file-sharing. There are just two pricing plans and no free trial that is quite disappointing. If you opt for a monthly plan, you will have to pay $10.95. On the other hand, 1-year plan will cost you $3.33 per month.
Excellent user experience goes together with high speeds, reliable encryption, malware blocking features, and other benefits of modern VPN services. The network of servers is not really vast. There are over 6 000 servers covering about 40 locations around the globe that are quite enough for bypassing geo-restrictions, accessing any content and streaming services. The automatic Wi-Fi security feature helps to get rid of concerns about the privacy and security of your personal data while connecting to public hotspots. There are well-developed and user-friendly apps for every device. Plus, the service provides unlimited bandwidth and up to 6 connections you can run simultaneously.
The overall performance is far above average. Besides, I pretty like some automatic features that make the process of managing the service much easier. In this regard, I would like to highlight the automatic server selection feature that determines the best server for you considering such criteria as speed, distance, and latency. At the same time, proxy extensions for Firefox and Chrome are a great tool for those who seek universal solutions and enhanced anonymity.
Though before testing this service I have seen several negative comments that there were some problems with unblocking Disney+ and Amazon, I did not face such a problem. However, all commercially viable VPN services tend to improve their features and broadening servers’ networks over time. On the other hand, I have noticed that VPN Proxy Master can be less effective for P2P torrenting. There are a free tutorial and a 30-day money-back guarantee. As for pricing policy, it is more or less standard. But in this regard, I did not find any specific features that could make me prioritize this service among the options mentioned above for $11.99 per month. However, there are also 1-year ($5.83 per month) and 2-year ($3.75 per month) plans.
While this service has a weird pricing policy, it still ensures high speed, good unblocking tools, and unlimited bandwidth. SpiderVPN does not store logs or your personal data. The overall privacy and security are at a very high level. Besides, it proved effective for unblocking content, accessing streaming services, watching stream sports, and even gaming. It provides a 30-day refund guarantee being the most affordable option on the list.
While the overall functionality and performance are pretty good, there are some features to be added for making it better. SpiderVPN has potential but to fairly rank with the leaders, it should develop new functions as well as its website. I did not find there all the necessary information, so if I was not curious to test it, I would not find out it was good enough. It is available for all current desktop and mobile operating systems and supports up to 5 simultaneous connections. However, the servers’ network is narrow while comparing with some other top VPN services. It has just around 70 servers in 18 countries. And to some extent, it is enough to benefit from unblocking Netflix and other popular streaming services as I have mentioned above. For example, some other VPN services I have tested over time could boast a wider network but had problems with unblocking Amazon or Disney+ (and they do not participate in this rating). Fortunately, it is not the case for SpiderVPN.
Getting back to the pricing policy, I was really surprised when found out they had only 3-year plans. Yes, it is quite weird, and I cannot understand the origins of this extraordinary decision. I mean, in my opinion, they could appear more viable if they provided more flexible pricing options. Anyway, there are three plans, and the prices start at just 2.67 per month for desktop and mobile devices. Two other plans are intended for routers — Lite ($3.98 per month) and Pro ($4.84 per month).
Free VPN services are not really similar to paid options. They may have the same features and contribute to safe and private online surfing. However, free services always have particular limitations. For example, they might limit your bandwidth or time of use.
Free VPN services are a kind of test drive helping you evaluate the features before opting for paid packages of the same provider. However, you cannot take maximal advantage from free versions as it does not bring any profit for the companies. So, they usually set up limits on the speed, bandwidth, number of available functions, etc. Plus, there are some major risks of using free VPNs:
1. Lower quality of customer support;
Support managers can be less attentive to those who use a free version. On the other hand, you can even face the lack of possibility to turn to customer support via live chat. Thus, if you opt for free solutions, do not rely on high-quality customer service.
2. The lack of privacy
Free services can rarely ensure complete privacy and confidentiality. Although VPN services are usually good at encrypting personal data and maintaining anonymity, free versions can be less effective and more carefree. Besides, the cookies in your browser make it possible to identify you unless you turn them off.
3. VPN restrictions
It was a problem for a while when certain companies and websites blocked access for some VPN IP addresses they succeeded to identify. That is why the wide network of servers and sufficient pool of IPs mean quite a lot. As free VPN services give users limited numbers of servers and IPs, it can turn out to be a real problem.
4. Lower speeds
When you connect to the Internet via VPN, the dataflow runs through more stages than usual. In theory, it can affect the speed. Modern top VPN services employ technologies that help even improve the speed of performance. However, it is not always the case for free VPNs. So, take into account that it is just another possible limitation for a free version.
5. Selling information about your traffic
I hope VPN services with good reputations that also offer free versions avoid this trick. However, some platforms do not have an aversion to selling information about your traffic. There are always a lot of advertisers that are willing to pay to find out more about your activities and interests. And as all your online surfing goes through the company’s servers, it can make real money on this information. As for you, it will result in a lot of ads here and there.
While using paid services, you might have a completely different experience. They will not bother you with ads, limit the speed and bandwidth, or sell your information to other companies. They have more servers you can employ as well as straightforward policy. However, it is always your choice to opt for free VPN services. Yet, forewarned is forearmed, so let’s look at the best free VPN services!
Hide.me has a variety of VPN features. Thus, you can access streaming services, benefit from P2P torrenting, unblocking content, bypassing geo-restrictions, and so on. However, there is a 10 GB limit on bandwidth per month. And it is not always enough to watch series on Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+. Hide.me also contributes to anonymous web surfing, secure file-sharing, messaging, etc. Besides, there is one more limitation regarding the number of servers you can use. Thus, there are only 5 options you can benefit from. For some users, it could be not enough, but you can always opt for extended features of a paid solution.
Yet, even if you use the free VPN, you can be sure that your private data is secure, no logs are kept, and the connection is stable. The service cares about its reputation and provides excellent customer support available for free users too. The support team operates around the clock, so you can contact them any time if there is any problem. The platform is easy to use, and registration does not take much time.
Take into account that if you opt for a free version, you can only use it on one device (mobile or desktop). On the other hand, the free plan does not affect the speed of performance. Using this service you are on the safe side as it does not store your data to sell it or benefit from it in other ways. Plus, it does not have ads. There are native apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. Overall, the number of restrictions is not that critical. So, I think you can hardly find something better than it in terms of quality and privacy.
TunnelBear is a free VPN that also provides paid services of high quality. It can be used on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. The service can boast a solid speed of performance, user-friendly interface, 24/7 customer support, and some premium VPN features available for free. While comparing with the previous platform, you can benefit from servers in over 20 locations but traffic allowance is limited to 500 MB per month. So, if you do not need extra privacy every day, it might seem a suitable option. But if you want to access some streaming content or benefit from torrenting, this is not the most appropriate solution. However, the free plan gives you a good chance to test this platform and estimate its advantages.
While using this service, your privacy is ensured. TunnelBear gathers a minimal amount of data. Besides, you do not even need to indicate your first name to get started with this platform. Yet, the free option cannot always guarantee the highest level of anonymity, but your data is still encrypted and secure. The good news for you is that TunnelBear tends to increase brand awareness. So, if you tweet about the service, you can increase your monthly traffic limit to 1 GB. It is still not perfect, but better. While this service is not suitable for traffic demanding activities, it can be quite effective in those cases when you especially need some extra protection (for example, shopping, banking, etc.).
This platform is more generous for traffic that is 500 MB per day. It supports various desktop and mobile operating systems, employs 256-bit encryption even for the free plan, and provides some premium features also for free. However, it has certain disadvantages. For example, you can use only one server that is really impractical. You can benefit from high speeds but cannot access Netflix. At all. It is pretty strange, but I am sure developers have their own reason for this limitation. Plus, you might face serious problems while using Google. So, you’d better opt for Bing or anything else. Overall, the free version is good for online shopping, banking, bypassing geo-restrictions, and protecting your data while connecting to public hotspots.
Hotspot Shield is easy to use especially for beginners. Thus, a free 7-day trial is not always necessary. But if you want to try it, you will have to provide payment details (for example, the bank card). And do not forget to cancel your payment afterward. Otherwise, the price of a monthly subscription will be charged off. The mobile app is pretty functional and provides a great user experience. When you use this VPN service, your privacy is ensured but at what cost? You will probably face a lot of ads. Plus, you will hardly get a reply from customer support as the live chat is not available if you use a free version. Well, it is not that friendly. Yet, it could have been worse.
While the paid Hotspot Shield version has a lot of high-level premium features and does not set particular limitations, the free version is not suitable for all cases of VPN use. At least, there are no logs kept.
Hide My Ass provides high-quality free privacy tools, a sufficient level of anonymity, and features that by far not every free service can boast. For example, you can benefit from the IP checker that will help you identify if your IP address is secure. At the same time, the DNS leak test and WebRTC test will contribute to better managing privacy risks. Apart from that, you can use shared proxies to enhance your anonymity and security of personal information. VPN service employs reliable encryption and is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. Overall, HMA provides not only VPN but also proxy services. And as for me, this is a great advantage especially for free tools that combine both aspects.
By using this service, you can bypass geo-restrictions, unblock content and improve your privacy. Plus, you do not need to install an app or extension. You can start just from their website. HMA is appreciated for its high speeds and a range of IP addresses available for free users. While there are just some servers around Europe and the US, they are still sufficient for most cases of VPN use. The number of free tools is limited. However, you can unblock streaming content without any limits on traffic allowance. On the other hand, the service can gather and store for 30 days some of your personal data such as URLs, real IP, downloaded files, etc.
HMA allows P2P torrenting and provides customer support via live chat (but not around the clock). Nonetheless, overall speed can be a bit lower while comparing with the paid version. The network of servers is quite wide, but get ready to deal with slower ones. The paid version covers over 190 locations and employs over 1000 servers including virtual ones.
While surfing on the Internet, your personal data is never safe and sound until you use a VPN service. One can doubt the real necessity of VPN as why does anybody need your data? In fact, privacy is rapidly eroding. Companies lose or sell information about users to make money. And cybercriminals can do exactly the same by hacking you. The last straw is a government spying on our online activities. That all could sound like a conspiracy theory 5–10 years ago, but today it is not the secret anymore — the Internet is a wild place.
According to the CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey, the majority of global citizens worry about their cyber security issues, especially privacy. Thus, the ability to choose a good and reliable VPN service is more crucial than ever.
Free VPN services have a lot of advantages, but they all are about limitations and can hardly ensure the highest level of security. Nonetheless, I selected the most appropriate options in terms of quality and reliability. On the other hand, paid VPNs provide a great variety of different features for safer online surfing, bypassing restrictions, maintaining anonymity, etc. They rarely put any limits on bandwidth or accessing certain services. However, their functionality may vary significantly. What to pay attention to while choosing a VPN service?
Not all VPN services are equal — this is an easy axiom that can help you save some money. Do not believe what they write on the main page ’cause it can turn out to be empty words. Instead, pay attention to user feedback, comments, and reviews on authoritative platforms. And do not forget to check the Terms of the service to figure out if a particular service is legal.
As a rule, reliable VPN services provide shared IP addresses that are used by several users simultaneously. In practice, it works like an additional level of protection that contributes to your anonymity. No one will be able to identify your activities if the channel is shared between several people.
The servers’ network
The wider network is, the faster connection is provided. For example, if a lot of people connect to one server at the same time, the speed of performance is negatively affected. VPN services attract a wide audience all over the world, so you have to prioritize those options that can boast a larger network of servers. Besides, the closer the server is located, the faster and more stable connection is. So, there should be an opportunity to switch between servers easily.
As I have been telling throughout the article, AES-256 encryption is the best and most reliable standard. Of course, some VPN services can offer alternative encryption, but by now there is nothing safer than 256-bit encryption. One day, new and even more reliable technologies will be developed, but in 2021 I recommend you prioritizing this one.
Reliable VPN protocols are above all things. PPTP, OpenVPN, and WireGuard are considered to be the best in this regard. It is important to have options to choose from.
Logs (or data logs) are the records of what you are doing online. A reliable VPN service must clearly indicate that it does not store your data or keep logs. Quite often, you can find some additional details about it in the Terms of the service.
If the VPN service upholds its reputation, the customer support team should always be there to answer your question. While using such a tool, it is not always easy to delve into every aspect, especially if you deal with VPNs for the first time. Sometimes, trials are not enough. So, you’d better prioritize options with 24/7 customer service.
Every VPN service is different to some extent. The industry leaders tend to develop new and unique features delivering some universal standards. There are a lot of options to choose from, so you can select a service that meets your criteria best. For example, some VPNs do not allow using BitTorrent, others do not have a WireGuard protocol, etc. Besides, some services have limitations on the number of simultaneous connections or downloads. Ad blockers, kill switch, and DNS protection tools are not the common thing for all services. So, check features carefully before opting for a particular option.
Unfortunately, not every VPN service provides a free trial. However, it is essential for testing what you are going to pay for. It will allow you to check the speed of performance, usability, and some basic functions.
Nowadays, confidentiality is often considered a privilege. However, it should be your lawful right, and if the government cannot ensure it, we have to use VPNs. On a final note, choose wisely to enjoy the security while surfing on the Internet.
VPN (a virtual private network) is a technology that enhances your privacy, the security of personal data, and anonymity when you surf on the Internet. This is software that integrates encryption algorithms, the network of servers, DNS, and many other features. A VPN service can help you bypass geo-restrictions, unblock certain content, watch stream sports, ensure your safety while connecting to public hotspots or shopping online, etc. Apart from that, several modern and well-developed VPN services combine some proxy features and additional security tools. For example, you can easily hide your real IP address replacing it with shared or dedicated IPs the service provides. However, by far not every platform can boast this feature.
First of all, a VPN service provides a safe connection while you surf on the internet by hiding or replacing your IP address, encrypting your data, and allowing you to use hundreds of servers around the world. Every website or platform you visit stays invisible to other people that could theoretically check your online activities (such as Internet providers or law enforcement agencies). It is possible because all your Internet traffic runs through servers that are located in other countries first. Thus, the VPN works as an additional layer of privacy. You could think that it should slow down the speed of performance. But in practice, modern VPN services employ technologies that can even improve your speed. However, privacy is not the only reason why people use such tools. As there are quite many countries that block certain content or websites, VPNs are often used to bypass these restrictions getting access to censored platforms.
VPN services are legal in most countries around the globe. However, some particular VPNs that have not been approved by the government can be banned in some countries. On the other hand, there are also governments where such services are completely illegal. For example, the United Arab Emirates, North Korea, Uganda, and some other countries block all VPNs. And if you use them being a citizen, you risk being fined or even imprisoned.
Authoritarian countries like China can ban certain VPNs that have not been approved by the government. And this fact makes VPN lose its entire meaning as such a government can hardly legalize a company that is not going to compromise. However, this is a different story in Hong Kong as it is a comparatively independent and liberal area. Anyway, if you travel to one of these countries, you will hardly be fined.
Yes, VPN services can unblock any content or website. The point is that the server which your traffic goes through is located in another country. Thus, if a particular website is blocked in your area, it is probably available somewhere else. Top VPN services have a large network of servers around the world. So, it is not a big deal to bypass geo-restrictions. Some services also give you a chance to select the server’s location by yourself or benefit from automatic settings.
When you download something from the Internet (especially torrents), you are vulnerable to malware or data leaks. Thus, using a VPN service is essential to prevent these leaks. It ensures your security as all your data is encrypted and runs through secure and private channels. When you download something while using a VPN, your file goes to the VPN server first and only then is redirected to your device. Other people, hackers, and cybercriminals cannot identify what and where you download. At the same time, they cannot see your real IP address but VPN’s IP.
The most popular answer to this question is to get access to those resources that do not work in your country. In this case, bypassing geo-restrictions is essential for people who want to benefit from authentic content. Such popular streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+ are blocked in some countries. So, VPNs are the easiest way to access this content.
Overall, there are a lot of cases when you might need a VPN. Thus, it can contribute to more favorable shopping as prices may vary depending on your location. Repressive governments often like the idea of blocking social media as they believe it can solve a lot of problems. For many people, it is really nonsense and one more reason to opt for a VPN. When you use public Wi-Fi, you are more vulnerable to hackers’ attacks and other disturbers. In this case, VPN is meant to ensure your privacy and security of personal data. Sometimes, it is not possible to watch stream sports online before matches are uploaded to YouTube or other platforms. By using a VPN, you can choose an appropriate location and get access to this content too. Gaming is also full of threats such as DDoS attacks or typical data leaks. So, gamers often employ VPN services to keep their identities secret. And the last (but not the least) popular case of VPN use is more secure P2P torrenting.
Businesses use VPN services as for them it is more important to ensure the security of data and corporate information. Today, fraudsters make good money selling data of usual folks. Just imagine how much money they can make out of corporate information. Companies usually organize their own Virtual Private Networks for remote workers and other purposes. In this case, the idea is to keep everyone connected inside a single private and secure network. If you have ever worked remotely, you probably had a username and password to enter your company’s virtual private network. By doing so, you virtually transferred your devices to the office and connected to the network from the inside.
In this regard, corporate virtual private networks are pretty similar to those you employ for personal use. Companies usually set up servers in offices or data centers to organize their VPN channels. This network could use up to 10–15 servers but those VPN services we have discussed in the article have a much bigger number of servers. Anyway, in both cases all data is encrypted. However, by far not every company can afford the highest level of encryption. In this case, VPN services can work even more effectively.
Malicious software can take different forms. And the only reason it exists is stealing and selling your personal data. And yes, unfortunately, malware can be hidden inside a free VPN service. There are a lot of ways cybercriminals can benefit from your information. For example, they can display various ads, send spam messages, hack your accounts. And this is not the worst thing that can happen to you. There were some cases when hackers stole money from bank cards or even appropriated intellectual property.
The number of free VPNs containing malware is surprisingly high. According to a CSIRO study, there were about 38% of free VPNs for Android that integrated malicious software. Many of the most dangerous free VPN services are highly rated in the App Stores and used by millions of people. Of course, not every free VPN service is meant to steal your data, money, or anything else. There are some reliable options such as HideMyAss, TunnelBear, Hide.me, or Hotspot Shield. They have particular limitations, but at least they will not try to make money out of your personal information.
It solely depends on the VPN service. If you use a reliable option that provides advanced features, high-level encryption, and sufficient guarantees, then the possibility of data leaks is minimal. Dealing with top VPN services, I can say that any leaks are hardly possible. On the other hand, if you opt for free VPNs, no one can truly ensure the security of your personal information.
A good VPN should provide encrypted traffic between your device and the VPN server. Otherwise, your real IP can leak out of the VPN “tunnel”. Overall, IP leaks are a problem of many VPN services, both free and paid. By far not every VPN can guarantee 100% anonymity. If a VPN service integrates some proxy features, it is a good sign as you can rely on a higher degree of anonymity.
In my opinion, there are two possible alternative solutions to VPN services. First, this is the Tor browser, which is the most popular alternative to the free VPN. If you are not willing to pay money for anonymity but you need a privacy tool to protect your devices, Tor browser may be a good choice. It employs various reconnections to protect users’ identities. However, Tor has certain disadvantages. First of all, it is quite slow, so it is not always appropriate for some activities such as watching streaming sports. Secondly, it is not 100% safe. Tor cannot guarantee complete privacy, and you are also not immune to malware inside the network.
In general, Tor is rather a complex network of proxy servers. When you use this browser to unblock websites or enhance anonymity, all your Internet traffic is channeled through a network of independent proxy servers maintained all over the world. Herewith, all traffic is encrypted several times. Overall, the Tor browser makes it extremely difficult for the Internet provider, cybercriminals, and any “observers” to reveal information about your online activities. At the same time, websites you visit cannot identify you as a user and find out your real IP address. The browser also makes it impossible to track your activities. Thus, Tor is an excellent tool to ensure your anonymity, bypass geo-restrictions, or unblock content. However, low speed will barely let you enjoy watching stream sports, gaming, etc.
Tor Browser is not similar to a VPN service as it primarily focuses on maintaining anonymity, while VPN aims at protecting privacy. It could sound similar but there is a difference. When you use a VPN, all your traffic is protected with end-to-end encryption. Then, it is redirected through a secure channel to a remote server that connects to the website you need. On the other hand, Tor takes several sophisticated actions to protect your traffic. First, your data is encrypted. Then, it is sent to a random server and encrypted again. Afterward, your data passes through several servers and stages of encryption until it reaches the server you initially accessed. Yet, there are some vulnerabilities in this system. So, it is often recommended to combine Tor browser with a reliable VPN service.
Another alternative solution is a proxy server. It might be more expensive than a VPN, but it has a variety of additional functions. The proxy can ensure better anonymity, the security of personal data, and higher speeds. When you use a proxy, your IP address is replaced with another one. Before you connect to any website, your request is redirected to the server that connects to the website providing another IP address. So, it is like an intermediary between your device and the web. The main difference from a VPN service is that proxies provide various types of IPs such as shared, dedicated, residential, semi-dedicated, etc. While for individual users proxy servers are often similar to VPNs regarding cases of use, for businesses, proxies are more crucial. They can help you gather marketing data, enhance brand protection, and verify ad placement.
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