Published: Tuesday, 10 August 2021 12:37
A virtual private network can help maximize your security and anonymity online. Rae Hodge, Russell Holly, David Gewirtz Aug. 1, 2021 4:00 a.m. PT
- ExpressVPN Editor's Choice Award for best VPN: Blazing speeds, proven privacy Jump to details See at ExpressVPN
- Surfshark A speed leader, packed with features Jump to details See at Surfshark
- NordVPN Best VPN for reliability and security Jump to details See at NordVPN
- ProtonVPN High security standards at high speeds Jump to details See at Proton
- IPVanish Best VPN choice for beginners Jump to details See at IPVanish
A VPN can help keep you safe online by creating an encrypted connection between you and the internet. Whether you're working remotely or you simply want to keep your online information secure, a virtual private network is key for maximizing your privacy. Put simply, a VPN comes in handy if you want to keep your online life safe from prying eyes.
But there's a growing number of VPN options on the market, and not every VPN service offers the same performance. That can make it tricky to find the best VPN service to meet your particular needs. That's where our best VPN guide comes in.
What is a VPN?
A commercial virtual private network is technology that allows you to create a private connection over a less-private network by creating an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the internet. You can install a VPN just like you would any other app or program on your smartphone or computer. A VPN can let you get around censorship in your country or access geo-restricted media content from another country -- and prevents your internet service provider from being able to intrude on your privacy by snooping on your web browsing. VPNs do this by allowing you to appear as though you're connecting from a different location or country.
A VPN is great for anyone using public, unprotected Wi-Fi, such as what's offered in airports, bars or coffee shops. Your VPN protects your sensitive information -- from your work projects to bank account login information -- from being seen by malicious actors who trawl public Wi-Fi networks. When you browse the internet while on a VPN, your computer will contact the website through your VPN's encrypted connection. The VPN will then forward the request for you and forward the response from the website back through its secure connection.
For more beginner-focused VPN help, we've demystified some of the jargon in our guide to all the VPN terms you need to know.
Do I need a VPN?
People who access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from VPN usage. A VPN service will almost always boost your privacy by encrypting your online activity. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so an internet service provider or someone on your Wi-Fi network spying on you wouldn't know which webpages you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone who wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
Does everything I use need a VPN?
If your goal is to protect your personal data from prying eyes, you want a VPN on whatever you are using. That means having a VPN to protect your laptop, your phone, your Xbox and your smart TV.
If your goal is to use a VPN to gain access to streaming services which have been made unavailable in your country for whatever reason, you want a VPN on whatever you are using to access those streaming services. This could be a simple as a VPN for your Chrome browser or setting up a VPN for your Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Whatever your reason for wanting a VPN, it's usually a good idea to have it set up on as many of your web-connected things as possible.
How do I choose the right VPN for me?
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 become available. 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 hit the market.
That said, the VPN landscape can be confusing and mystifying. Here are some quick tips, each of which link to a more in-depth discussion.
Don't use free VPN services: You'll find only 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 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 just choose a service that's based outside Uncle Sam's jurisdiction? (If this is a concern for you, you'll want to avoid countries that the US has intelligence-sharing agreements with, too.)
After researching and testing a multitude of VPN services, we compiled a list of the VPN providers that do the best job in keeping your online information totally secure. When determining the best VPN, there are a lot of details to consider. In our current ranking and testing system, we evaluated more than 20 factors, including price, security, performance, 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 ExpressVPN, Surfshark, IPVanish and NordVPN.
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's 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 Mac
- Best Android VPN
- Best VPN for iPhone
You'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.
Editor's Choice Award for best VPN: Blazing speeds, proven privacyExpressVPN ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Apr 2020
- Number of IP addresses: 30,000
- Number of servers: 3,000-plus in 160 locations
- Number of simultaneous connections: 5
- Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
- 94-plus countries
- Three months free with one-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 its 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 2020 speed tests saw ExpressVPN produce a 52% overall loss of our normal internet speeds, representing a significant slowdown compared with 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 that 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: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation
Read our ExpressVPN review.
See at ExpressVPN
A speed leader, packed with featuresSurfshark
- 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 speed during our most recent speed tests. 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 upfront). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 upfront), 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: Surfshark VPN review: A feature-rich service with blazing speeds and a security focus
Read our Surfshark VPN review.
See at Surfshark
Best VPN for reliability and securityNordVPN
- Number of IP addresses: 5,000
- Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
- Number of server locations: 62
- Country/jurisdiction: Panama
- 62 countries
- $3.75 a month (68% discount) for a two-year plan
- NordVPN 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 most recent speed tests, 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 accessed without authorization in 2018. 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 it if Nord had self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information 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: NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed
Read our NordVPN review.
See at NordVPN
High security standards at high speedsProtonVPN
- Number of servers: 1,259
- 55 countries
- Country/jurisdiction: Switzerland
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Plus Package: $8 per month ($96 charged yearly)
When we speed-tested ProtonVPN, we saw an impressively small 9.6% speed loss compared with 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 ExpressVPN. Even more impressive is Proton's ability to reach those speeds despite a relatively small fleet of 1,259 servers in 55 countries. Like ExpressVPN, Proton also costs more than most of the VPNs we've reviewed. Even so, ProtonVPN's high security standards and legacy of transparency may make this VPN option worth the price.
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 routinely published audits, and includes a built-in route to VPN into Tor servers. We're also confident recommending its mobile app since it has eliminated the use of some weaker security protocols, like PPTP and L2TP, which are still used by some other VPNs.
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 the Editors' Choice Award-winning ExpressVPN, whose best plan is priced at $6.67 a month for an annual package. ProtonVPN also gets beat on price by NordVPN's two-year plan at $3.75 per month ($45 a year), and Surfshark's two-year plan at $2.95 monthly ($30 a year). While ProtonVPN offers a $4 per month package, that package doesn't come with enough valuable features to make it competitive against NordVPN.
Read more: ProtonVPN review: A secure service with a solid reputation that costs a pretty penny
Read our ProtonVPN review.
See at Proton
Best VPN choice for beginnersIPVanish
- Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plus
- Number of servers: 1,600-plus
- Number of server locations: 75-plus
- Number of simultaneous connections: Unlimited
- Country/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 plug-in provides access to media worldwide.
At $10 a month or $80 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you toward 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: IPVanish review: Get under the hood with this zippy VPN
Read our IPVanish review.
See at IPVanish
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
- Servers: 3,200-plus in 82 locations
- Country/Jurisdiction: US (Five Eyes member)
- Platforms: Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Linux, Amazon Fire TV ($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 second-fastest VPN I've tested, effortlessly delivers 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 Surfshark -- which lost just 16.9% of its speed the last time I tested it -- and knocking ExpressVPN down to third place with a 51.8% speed loss at last measurement. Speed losses on UK connections were under 8%, Gaming, torrenting, browsing, streaming -- these speed-dependent services won't be slowed down for Hotspot Shield users.
We're not excited about Hotspot's privacy and security, though. Since the services uses a closed-source proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, instead of the more transparent open-source OpenVPN protocol, we'd like to see Hotspot give the public more third-party audits -- a necessary step to bring Hotspot up to speed with routinely audited VPNs like TunnelBear. As recently as April 2021, review site vpnMentor discovered a DNS leak in Hotspot Shield's plug-in for Google Chrome. Hotspot acknowledged the issue at the time and aimed to improve the product.
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: Hotspot Shield VPN review: This speedster costs more than its faster, more private competitorsSee all Hotspot Shield plans TunnelBear
- Average speed loss: 63%
- Number of servers: 1,800 in 23 countries
- Jurisdiction: Canada, with US parent company
- Price: $3.33 per month, or $120, for a three-year plan
TunnelBear's gotten a lot of hype in the last couple of years. But when we looked under its hood and compared it with its VPN competitors, our excitement waned.
TunnelBear's speeds are reasonable. We lost nearly 63% of internet speed overall when we used it, which is about average for a VPN. TunnelBear's speeds have steadily improved over the years as measured by other review and testing sites, though, and the US scores we recorded saw a speed loss of only 54%.
On the plus side, TunnelBear is holding its own in the transparency competition among VPNs by publishing the results of its independent security audits and annual transparency reports. No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing, but in the past TunnelBear was observed to have been leaking WebRTC information. TunnelBear's VPN encryption is standard AES-256 and it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy.
However, it's also a Canadian business owned by US-based McAfee, so if you're looking for subpoena-proof international online privacy, you're playing with fire. It holds a paltry 23 server locations from which you can't manually choose your VPN server or even a city. It doesn't offer Tor-over-VPN, it offers split tunneling only on Android and it can't even unblock Netflix.
On a per-month breakdown, the least expensive TunnelBear plan is its $120, three-year plan. You can also go month to month for $10, or pay $60 upfront for a single year. Either way, TunnelBear accepts payment via credit card and Bitcoin. Unlike other VPNs, it doesn't take PayPal. Also unlike other VPNs, it doesn't support Amazon Fire Stick or Android TV.
Read more: TunnelBear VPN review: The overpriced ursine has trouble living up to the hypeSee at TunnelBear CyberGhost
- Number of servers: Over 6,800 worldwide in 89-plus countries
- Number of server locations: 111
- Jurisdiction: Romania, with UK parent company
- Number of simultaneous connections: five
- $2.25 a month for a three-year plan, or $3.49 a month for two-year plan
- CyberGhost in-depth review and hands-on testing
In CNET's previous coverage of virtual private networks, we've praised CyberGhost for its roster of competitive features. Our in-depth review of CyberGhost last year included speed testing, security verification and an analysis of its full suite of privacy tools. Since then, the VPN company has increased its number of servers and is prepared to roll out new privacy tools, all while remaining one of the cheapest VPNs we've reviewed -- at $2.25 per month for a three-year plan.
As we've bolstered our approach to VPN reviews in recent months, however, CyberGhost has raised some red flags. Its parent company's history warrants skepticism; our previous tests have shown it to expose your VPN use to your ISP; its website and app trackers are more numerous than warranted; and its ad blocker uses an untrustworthy method of traffic manipulation no VPN should even think about. Its low price previously made it worth considering if you needed to change the appearance of your location online, but not if you wanted best-in-class security.
While CyberGhost's connection speed and security appear to be improving, I don't currently recommend using the VPN service provider if you're in a country where VPNs are illegal. I also recommend that anyone in the US review CyberGhost's parent company before deciding whether to pay for a subscription.
On the plus side, however, CyberGhost is still faster than Norton Secure VPN and was less taxing on my device's processing power during testing. It also offers split tunneling in its Windows client and has its servers neatly organized into user-friendly categories: NoSpy servers, servers geared for torrenting, servers best for streaming and servers best for use with a static IP address. CyberGhost imposes no data caps and allows unlimited server switching.
Read more: CyberGhost VPN review: Promising improvements but its parent company concerns meSee all CyberGhost VPN plans Norton
Norton Secure VPN
- Number of countries: 29
- Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
- Number of server locations: 200 in 73 cities
- Country/jurisdiction: US
- $40 for the first 12 months
NortonLifeLock, long known for excellence in security products, has a relatively limited offering in its VPN product. Norton Secure VPN does not support P2P or BitTorrent, and it does not support Linux, routers or set-top boxes. Its Netflix and streaming compatibility is somewhat limited. Even worse, during testing, we experienced privacy-compromising data leaks.
During CNET's testing, Norton Secure VPN speeds were comparable to other midtier VPNs but not particularly competitive. Although its VPN is only available on four platforms -- Mac, iOS, Windows and Android -- Norton gets points for its 24/7 live customer phone support and 60-day money back guarantee.See all Norton plans
Read more: Norton Secure VPN review: More work is needed for this privacy product to shine
Other VPNs in the mix
Below you'll find some additional VPNs. We're in the process of re-evaluating them in the coming months.PureVPN
- Number of servers: 6,500
- Number of server locations: 180
- Country/jurisdiction: Hong Kong
- $10.95 a month, $3.33 a month for a 2-year plan
PureVPN does not log connection information. The company joined the "no log" movement in 2018, which was recently verified via a third-party audit by Althius IT (albeit one commissioned and paid for by PureVPN).
We like that PureVPN offers a 31-day refund policy and supports Bitcoin payments, to further extend anonymous browsing. We also like that PureVPN has both Kodi and Chromebook solutions available. In addition, PureVPN was the first VPN service we noted to fully implement the GDPR.See all PureVPN plans
- Number of IP addresses: 59,500
- Number of servers: 650-plus
- Number of server locations: 26 countries and 46 cities
- $5.83 a month (42% discount) for a one-year plan
- StrongVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing
StrongVPN blasts onto our favorites list with excellent infrastructure and decent price performance. As with our other favorites, StrongVPN has a strong no-logging policy. Since VPN is all about protecting your privacy, that's a place the savvy VPN providers can pick up points.
Strong also picks up kudos for its large base of IP addresses, which also helps protect your anonymity. It has a solid collection of servers and worldwide locations. For those of you who need a dedicated IP, you can get one from the company, but you'll need to contact support to get help setting it up.
One of StrongVPN's strengths is the company's network. It owns and operates its entire network infrastructure, which means it has no externally dictated limits on bandwidth or the type of internet traffic allowed on the network. This gives you the confidence that you'll be able to power through your work.
StrongVPN's regular monthly price of $10 is in the middle of the pack, but its yearly price of $70 is among the lowest of our contenders.See all StrongVPN plans
Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access
- Number of IP addresses: N/A
- Number of server locations: At least 37 (101 with proxies included)
- Country/jurisdiction: US
Speaking of price, if you want one of the less expensive providers, Private Internet Access is the place to go.
The key to getting the most savings with this vendor is buying its two-year plan for $69.95. That works out to $2.69 a month. It also offers a one-year plan for $39.95 (which comes out to $3.33 a month) and a monthly plan for $9.95 a month.
The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, though it does offer a dedicated IP option. The company claims to have an extraordinarily high number of servers -- more than 31,000. But PIA appears to have arrived at that number by counting both encrypted VPN servers and proxy servers. It is crucial to note: Proxy servers are not VPNs.
Operating since 2010, PIA now offers 110 simultaneous connections, a kill-switch feature and a 30-day refund period.See all Private Internet Access plans
VPN FAQ Continued
Since we're living in a connected world, security and privacy are critical to ensure our personal safety from nefarious hacks. From online banking to communicating with co-workers on a daily basis, we're now frequently transferring data on our computers and smartphones. It's extremely important to find ways of securing our digital life and for this reason, VPNs have become increasingly common.
What's the best VPN right now?
- ExpressVPN received a CNET Editors' Choice Award for best overall VPN. We evaluate VPNs based on their overall performance in three main categories: speed, security and price. Express isn't the cheapest, but it's among the fastest and, so far, is the most secure.
- Surfshark, with its lower price, is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support.
- NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that's constantly getting faster and more secure and is easily the most reliable service we've tested.
How do I know what I need in a VPN?
Picking a VPN requires knowing two things to start with: what you want to use it for and what you're willing to pay. There is a vast number of VPNs available to choose from that range widely in what they offer, but with those two answers, you can start hunting for a VPN that has the right blend of speed, security and cost. Below, you'll find specific FAQ sections on picking a VPN based on the most common needs: gaming, streaming media, working from home and privacy-sensitive professions. For a deeper dive, check our detailed walk-through of how we evaluate and review VPNs. If you're looking for some quick pointers, here are universally applicable advice guides for beginners.
- Red flags to watch out for when choosing a VPN
- How to identify a good VPN: 3 features to look out for
If you subscribe to only one CNET newsletter, this is it. Get editors' top picks of the day's most interesting reviews, news stories and videos.
What is a mobile VPN?
Use a mobile-friendly VPN to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. Our top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of platform -- like Apple or Android -- and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information, so check back often.
- How to set up a VPN on your iPhone or Android phone, and why you need one
- Best Android VPNs for 2021
- Best iPhone VPNs of 2021
What is a site-to-site VPN?
This is when the VPN technology uses a gateway device to connect to the entire network in one location to a network in another location. The majority of site-to-site VPNs that connect over the internet use IPsec. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use multiprotocol label switching clouds as the main transport for site-to-site VPNs.
VPNs are often defined between specific computers, and in most cases, they are servers in separate data centers. However, new hybrid-access situations have now transformed the VPN gateway in the cloud, typically with a secure link from the cloud service provider into the internal network.
What is a remote-access VPN?
A remote-access VPN uses public infrastructure like the internet to provide remote users secure access to their network. This is particularly important for organizations and their corporate networks. It's crucial when employees connect to a public hotspot and use the internet for sending work-related emails. A VPN client on the user's computer or mobile device connects to a VPN gateway on the company's network. This gateway will typically require the device to authenticate its identity. It will then create a network link back to the device that allows it to reach internal network resources such as file servers, printers and intranets, as if it were on the same local network.
What's the best VPN for working from home?
If you're working from home, you may be sharing your internet connection with multiple devices and family members or roommates. That's a lot of simultaneous connections to a VPN and a lot of drag on a network. Pick a VPN that lets you use one subscription on as many devices as possible and has excellent speeds so your Wi-Fi isn't bogged down. If your job involves handling sensitive information like financial or medical records, however, your priority VPN criteria is security. Our top three VPN picks are the most secure we've found, and each has a different number of connections they'll allow for a base-level subscription. There are a few other factors worth considering for a home-office VPN, though, so check out our guide to picking the right VPN now that you're working at home.
What's the best VPN for gaming?
Most VPNs are chosen based on having a good balance of speed, security and cost. But if you want a VPN specifically to connect to game servers in another country, speed is everything. Free VPNs won't be fast enough, but, fortunately, high-end security won't be a cost driver, which gives you more options at modest prices. Since all VPNs reduce speed -- most by half or more -- that means picking one from the set that performed best in our speed tests. In 2021 tests, Surfshark managed to win our speed race while still being one of the least expensive VPNs we've seen. If you're focused on VPNs for game consoles, have a look at our best VPNs for Xbox and our primer on installing them.
What's the best free VPN?
None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs sadly aren't among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and free ones are almost always malware-laden data snoops. But there's good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hypercompetitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive VPN we've seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.
What's the most secure VPN for privacy?
If you're a journalist, a lawyer or a professional in any other privacy-sensitive field, forget about speed and price when choosing a VPN. Focus, instead, entirely on security. Your VPN may be somewhat slower but, for both VPNs and presidential motorcades, speed is always the trade-off for privacy. Avoid free VPNs, browser-based VPNs and any VPN headquartered in the US or other Five Eyes countries. Keep an eye on encryption: Your VPN should offer a protocol called OpenVPN TCP (for its mobile apps, IKEv2 is fine). You may find our primer on VPN evaluations useful. Although speed does play a factor in our rankings, our top three VPNs were all selected by veteran journalists, scrutinized and reviewed with complete editorial independence, with the most privacy-sensitive professions in mind.
How do I use a VPN for Netflix?
If you live in a country that censors its media or are traveling to one, geo-restricted content is a pain. You can use a VPN to circumvent censorship or access your home country's normal media content for online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Pick a VPN that lets you manually select which country you want to connect through and has something called obfuscation. (Our top three picks offer this.) If you're looking to try out other VPNs, choose one with a large number of IP addresses, preferably 10,000 or more. Once you have your VPN installed, connect to the country whose content you wish to view, restart your browser and go to the streaming site. If your VPN is working, the site should treat you as a resident of your selected country and serve you content assigned to that audience.
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