July 17, 2024

Free Your Rive

Building Bridges to the Digital Age

Best VPN of 2024: VPN Services Tested and Reviewed

36 min read
  • Why We Picked It

    For the third straight year, NordVPN earned the highest rating among all VPNs we tested because of its privacy-focused approach, overall reliability, and ease of use. Fresh off installation, it provided us with a secure channel to keep our browsing private; no extra setup required.

    We also appreciated the useful extra features that came with our NordVPN subscription. They made the experience better, especially Threat Protection. That feature automatically blocked ads and potentially harmful sites we tried to visit. It wasn’t a feature unique to NordVPN. Our second and third picks, Surfshark and Private Internet Access, both had a similar function. But just having that feature goes to show NordVPN’s commitment to digital safety.

    VPN expert checks out NordVPN's server network in the U.S.VPN expert checks out NordVPN's server network in the U.S.
    VPN expert checks out NordVPN’s server network in the U.S.
    What We Like
    • Based in Panama, a privacy-friendly country
    • Offers multi-hop/double hop for extra privacy
    • Up-to-date encryption and VPN protocols
    • Can access blocked website and streaming content
    • Strict logging policy
    • User-friendly apps
    What We Don’t Like
    • Steeper prices than the competition
    • Hard to reach customer support
    • Limited P2P servers (used in torrenting)
    NordVPN's Mac appNordVPN's Mac app
    NordVPN’s Mac app

    NordVPN Privacy – Excellent

    NordVPN didn’t log any of our IP addresses and usage data (visited sites, downloaded files, etc.). We didn’t need to adjust any settings or manually opt out of data logging either. It was a ‘no-logs’ VPN right from the start.

    NordVPN also showed its commitment to privacy through its features. For example, it had an automatic kill switch to pause our internet connection the two times we experienced connection failures. It made sure we didn’t accidentally access the internet without NordVPN’s cloak of privacy.

    We also liked that there was a Double VPN option, also known as multi-hop. With this option, NordVPN doubled our encryption for additional security. It slowed down our internet and it required some setup, but it was a breeze to use overall for a feature that greatly boosts online privacy.

    NordVPN iOS app connected to AustraliaNordVPN iOS app connected to Australia
    NordVPN iOS app connected to Australia

    NordVPN Speed – Very Good

    Our NordVPN speed tests averaged 225 Mbps for downloads and 218 Mbps for uploads. Those were about 90-percent of our 250 Mbps connection. Overall, NordVPN was one of the fastest VPNs. But besides just raw speed, we commend NordVPN’s stability. We didn’t notice any abrupt speed drops throughout our tests, unlike when we tested Atlas, a sister company of NordVPN that has now stopped operations.

    Just like the privacy features, we didn’t have to tinker with NordVPN’s settings to enjoy fast speeds. Any of the nearby servers we connected to gave us good results. Even distant servers gave us stable speeds, although the exact readings understandably dipped at times (see the screenshot below).

    Internet speed test results while connected to NordVPNInternet speed test results while connected to NordVPN
    Internet speed test results while connected to NordVPN

    >> See More: Download Torrent Privately with The Top VPNs

    NordVPN Security – Excellent

    NordVPN offers industry standard 256-bit AES like the rest of the VPNs on this list, but it also gives users access to a private DNS server. We used a DNS checker tool to confirm this. A private DNS protects you from DNS leaks, a critical security flaw that could reveal your real IP address when using a VPN. Those NordVPN security features (encryption and private DNS) work in the background. You never really see them in action. Having done our own tests, though, we can confirm that they work.

    Pro Tip: You can check if a VPN has a private DNS server using a DNS leak test tool. Those tools will try to retrieve your IP address from your DNS queries. If the detected IP address matches your real IP address, your VPN doesn’t have a private DNS. That also means your connection is not secure. NordVPN passed our DNS leak test.

    OpenVPN and NordLynx

    NordVPN offers two of the fastest, most reliable, and most secure VPN protocols: OpenVPN and WireGuard in the form of NordLynx. Here’s a quick comparison, and for a more in-depth look, here’s our comparison of the top VPN protocols.

    OpenVPN NordLynx (based on WireGuard)
    Up to 400 Mbps Up to 1,200 Mbps
    Flexible encryption via OpenSSL Non-flexible (ChaCha 20 only)
    Adds up to 20% overhead data usage Adds up to 4% overhead data usage

    NordVPN worked well with OpenVPN and NordLynx. We used OpenVPN mostly for privacy-sensitive tasks because of its more robust encryption. On the other hand, we used NordLynx mostly on mobile devices. It was more lightweight than OpenVPN, which means our phones’ batteries lasted longer while connected. It was also faster than OpenVPN. Our average download speed on Android was 225 Mbps with NordLynx and 216 Mbps with OpenVPN.

    FYI: Keeping a mobile device connected to a VPN will drain your batteries faster than normal. That’s more true with OpenVPN than any other VPN protocols because it has to keep some network ports open to maintain a VPN connection.

    Good Price-to-Feature Ratio

    NordVPN isn’t exactly cheap. It costs about a dollar more per month than Surfshark (our #2 pick) if we compare their best prices. However, NordVPN has a good price-to-feature ratio. It’s a little more expensive than others, but it offers more features as well. Some of those features are also quite rare, like Double VPN and Onion over VPN (VPN for Tor). We’d happily pay the $1 per month extra cost to get access to those features.

    Take a look at NordVPN’s pricing:

    Features and Price Basic Plus Ultimate
    Monthly plan $12.99 $13.99 $15.99
    One-year plan $68.35 $82.35 $112.35
    Two-year plan $99.63 $126.63 $153.63
    Included features Access to NordVPN Access to NordVPN and NordPass (password manager) Access to NordVPN, NordPass, and NordLocker (secure cloud backup)

    FYI: NordVPN occasionally includes free months with its one-year and two-year subscriptions. Check out our page on NordVPN deals to learn about any on-going deals and upcoming sales.

    User Benefits of NordVPN

    NordVPN is a good all-around VPN if you want to prioritize privacy and security. It works exactly as a VPN should. It also provides additional safety features to further boost your online security. Threat Protection blocks harmful sites and ads, Meshnet enables secure file-sharing, and Dark Web Monitor checks for personal information leaks on the dark web. You don’t get those features from run-of-the-mill VPNs. On top of all that, NordVPN’s performance is high-grade. You can get good speeds wherever you are thanks to it having over 6,000 servers in 60 countries around the globe.

    Who It’s Best For:

    With its feature-set, NordVPN is a powerful VPN for power users – those who need endless customizations and access to a rich catalog of features. Even so, it’s easy to use. Even novice and casual VPN users can benefit from NordVPN.

    Gabe Turner’s video breakdown of NordVPN for Security.org
  • 2. Surfshark – Best VPN for Security

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop Yes
    Camouflage Mode Yes
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    Surfshark made this list not just because it’s a feature-rich VPN, but because of the whole Surfshark One bundle. Surfshark One is a collection of useful digital security tools offered under one subscription. It combines the Surfshark VPN with the Surfshark antivirus software, a secure search engine, webcam protection, and more. If you go with the even higher Surfshark One+ subscription, you’ll also get basic identity monitoring.

    Even just getting the antivirus and VPN together is enough to boost your digital security. Surfshark made our list of the best antivirus software for the third time since its release in 2021. And of course, Surfshark VPN has appeared in our annual ‘best VPNs’ list since 2019. Those are two powerful tools right there to give you better digital security.

    >> Learn More: Surfshark One Review

    What We Like
    • Camouflage mode
    • Unlimited devices per subscription
    • Low costs with one or two-year subscriptions
    • 30-day trial period
    What We Don’t Like
    • No phone support
    • Have to set up kill switch manually on Windows
    • Dedicated IP address costs extra
    • Not the fastest
    Surfshark Dynamic MultihopSurfshark Dynamic Multihop
    Surfshark Dynamic Multihop

    Surfshark Privacy – Good

    Surfshark’s practice of logging IP addresses at the beginning of each session and its Netherlands location might raise some eyebrows. The Netherlands isn’t the ideal homebase for a VPN company because it has laws that could undermine VPN confidentiality. Truth be told, we were skeptical about Surfshark because of that, especially after testing NordVPN – a true “no-logs” VPN based in the privacy-friendly country, Panama.

    Actually testing Surfshark cleared our doubts. We saw features similar to NordVPN. Surfshark has an automatic kill switch and a multihop feature. We also learned that logged IP addresses are removed after 15 minutes. This was later confirmed by Cure53 through an independent audit report. They also use RAM-Only servers, which means even if they wanted to log our data, they couldn’t. Surfshark isn’t the most ideal privacy-wise, but it’s far from bad.

    Surfshark Speed – Good

    The speed we got from Surfshark was a mixed bag. The download speed was excellent. It averaged 228 Mbps on our 250 Mbps network. However, the upload speed dipped to as low as 91 Mbps on one occasion. That’s only about a third of our network upload speed. Most times, though, Surfshark’s upload speed was fairly decent. It averaged 167 Mbps. We’d say that Surfshark is fast, but not always stable.

    Surfshark Security – Excellent

    Surfshark made sure to keep our VPN use covert through Camouflage Mode. It was a feature enabled automatically on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Camouflage Mode made our encrypted traffic seem like normal traffic. That’s handy if you’re in a country like China and Russia that restricts or monitors VPN usage. A colleague traveled to China recently and used Surfshark with no issues, despite it not being a government-approved VPN. We should mention that Surfshark is one of the best VPNs that work in China because of that.

    >> Learn More: Must-Have VPNs for Traveling

    Surfshark Android app.Surfshark Android app.
    Surfshark Android app.

    User-Friendly Apps

    We appreciated Surfshark’s usability despite its long list of features. It makes connecting to a VPN a simple task. The Fastest Server option in the server list automatically finds the fastest server near you. On the other hand, the Nearest Country option connects you to the fastest server outside your location if you need to unblock a website.

    We also liked how all the VPN features were neatly tucked away in the settings menu, unlike the Total VPN app we tested recently that had features all over the place. If you need to use a specific Surfshark feature, you’ll know where to find it.

    Streaming Services

    A nice little side-effect of using a VPN is gaining access to streaming content available outside your country. For instance, you can use it to unblock Hulu if you’re outside the U.S. or access Disney+ shows not available in your region. Surfshark made both our lists of the best Disney+ VPNs and best Hulu VPNs. It also worked well with other streaming services we tested, like Netflix, Max, Spotify, and even YouTube. So if you’re shopping for a VPN for any streaming service, consider taking a look at Surfshark.

    User Benefits of Surfshark

    Surfshark offers a long list of security features that are readily available to any user. CleanWeb blocks malicious sites and pesky ads just like NordVPN does; there’s an IP rotator feature that changes the VPN address every five to 10 minutes for extra security; you can make your device invisible to other devices in your networks (useful on public Wi-Fi); you can even override your device’s GPS location if you’re using an Android, a feature unique only to Surfshark.

    If you’re willing to splurge a little more on Surfshark One, you can also get a full-featured antivirus software plus additional premium features like webcam protection and a secure search engine.

    Who It’s Best For:

    Surfshark’s numerous security features makes it a great VPN for users who want to overhaul their online and digital security. It’s also highly-recommended for users living in restrictive countries thanks to Camouflage Mode.

    Gabe Turner’s 10-minute video review of SurfShark for Security.org
  • 3. Private Internet Access VPN – Best VPN for Windows 

    Product Specs

    Multihop Yes
    Camouflage Mode No
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    Private Internet Access is a fast, reliable, and secure VPN, but it did exceptionally great in our Windows tests. That’s why it’s one of the best VPNs for Windows.

    Private Internet Access’ speed on our Windows 10 laptop peaked at 236 Mbps – nearly the same as our 250 Mbps network speed when not connected to a VPN. If a fast VPN for Windows is what you’re looking for, PIA should definitely be on your short list.

    We also really liked how customizable PIA’s Windows app was. It let us tinker with a lot of settings, something a lot of Windows users are fond of doing. We got to customize which protocols are used to connect to the VPN, the encryption standard, and the auto-connect function. Because of that, we got to customize our VPN for different activities like day-to-day browsing, streaming content, and online gaming.

    >> Related: The Top VPNs for Online Gaming

    What We Like
    • Strict logging policy
    • Fast on Windows
    • High app reviews
    • Netflix access
    What We Don’t Like
    • Based in United States
    • Split tunneling unavailable for iPhones
    • Slow on Mac
    Private Internet Access VPN split tunneling optionsPrivate Internet Access VPN split tunneling options
    Private Internet Access VPN split tunneling options

    Private Internet Access Privacy – Very Good

    Private Internet Access is based in the U.S.. That’s arguably worse than Surfshark’s location in the Netherlands. The U.S. is far from privacy-friendly. Unlike Surfshark, though, PIA doesn’t log IP addresses.

    We also liked that Private Internet Access doesn’t automatically log usage metrics. Most VPNs log anonymized data like device identifiers and connection timestamps to improve their services. Even NordVPN does that, and it’s our top-pick no-logs VPN.  With PIA, usage metrics are not recorded by default. You’d have to go to the settings to allow it to log that information. But our advice? Don’t. While usage metrics are usually harmless, the less data collected by the VPN, the better.

    FYI: VPNs collect usage metrics to gather data like peak VPN usage hours and amount of bandwidth used in a certain time frame. That information helps them improve their services, so we’re not completely against logging usage metrics as long as IP addresses and websites visited are not logged.

    Private Internet Access Speed – Excellent

    Private Internet Access’ Windows speeds were fast during our tests, averaging 236 Mbps for downloads and 223 Mbps for uploads. It’s one of the fastest VPNs for Windows. Its macOS and smartphone connections were also decent (200+ Mbps average). Overall, we’re happy with how PIA’s speed turned out. Here’s our PIA speed test results:

    Metric Windows macOS Android iOS
    Download speed average 236 Mbps 219 Mbps 221 Mbps 215 Mbps
    Upload speed average 223 Mbps 208 Mbps 201 Mbps 203 Mbps
    Latency average 64 ms 72 ms 80 ms 81 ms

    Private Internet Access Security – Very Good

    Private Internet Access used MACE to help enhance our online security. It worked pretty much like NordVPN’s Threat Protection, but it was notably better at blocking ads. We’d say it’s about as good as the AdBlocker extension we use on Chrome, but it works faster because MACE is built into the PIA app. That meant our browser wasn’t using extra memory to check each URL.

    Besides MACE, Private Internet Access offers an optional Secure Socket Layer (SSL) feature. Enabling it obfuscated our VPN connection, much like Surfshark’s Camouflage Mode. It’s an extra layer of security if you want to hide your VPN use from your network admin or the government.

    Connected to New York City using Private Internet Access VPNConnected to New York City using Private Internet Access VPN
    Connected to New York City using Private Internet Access VPN

    Encryption Options

    One of our favorite things about Private Internet Access was that it let us adjust our encryption. No other VPN on this list has that option. PIA let us choose between 256-bit AES encryption (the default after VPN installation) and 128-bit AES. You can find that option in the settings under the ‘General’ menu. But why would you lower your encryption standard to 128-bit AES?

    128-bit AES is less secure than 256-bit AES, but it tends to be faster. According to our measurements, it’s about four-percent faster. That’s why we prefer 128-bit AES for less privacy-demanding tasks like streaming Netflix and online gaming. There’s also an option to turn off encryption altogether (proxy mode), which came in handy when we just wanted to change our IP address location to the Netherlands.

    » Read More: Best Proxy Servers

    Highly Efficient Apps

    Private Internet Access’ app is hands-down one of the most user-friendly out there. It’s easy to learn to use. Even our office intern who was new to VPNs when he started learned to use it in no time. And the app’s ratings back up its user-friendliness.

    iOS app rating 4.7 out of 5
    Android app rating 4.5 out of 5
    macOS app rating 4.4 out of 5
    Windows app rating 4.4 out of 5

    More than that, Private Internet Access’ app provides flexibility. We got the most out of our Private Internet Access subscription because of that. Just take a look at the split tunneling feature for example. PIA offers standard split tunneling and the less common inverse split tunneling (see our split tunneling guide for a detailed explanation). We used the former to exclude apps and URLs from our VPN connection – like Zoom to improve video call quality. As for inverse split tunneling, we used it to set apps that could connect to the internet only via PIA. For this, we set apps like browsers to make sure we’re always on a secure line whenever we’re browsing.

    >> Learn More: Are Private Browsers Really Private?

    User Benefits of Private Internet Access

    Private Internet Access’ advanced customizability was on full display during our tests. The adjustable encryption and the standard and inverse split tunneling options were the main highlights. There were other convenient features too. For example, you can automate the app. You can set it to connect to the fastest server or a specific server as soon as you turn on your desktop. You can also set it to connect to the VPN when you’re on a public or unrecognized Wi-Fi network. Minor but thoughtful features like that make PIA one of the most user-friendly VPNs.

    Who It’s Best For:

    We recommend Private Internet Access to folks who mostly use desktops, either for work or play. You can tailor it to how you use your desktop, especially if you’re a Windows user.

    In-depth review: Gabe Turner explores the features and benefits of PIA
  • 4. Hotspot Shield – Best VPN for Netflix

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop Yes
    Camouflage Mode Yes
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes, but not in all regions
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    One of the main reasons we picked Hotspot Shield is its proprietary Hydra protocol. This is a lightweight, performance-enhanced protocol that comes in handy when you’re trying to get around the VPN blockers deployed by some modern streaming services. If you’re looking to stream Netflix in other countries, this might be the right service for you.

    Of course, Hotspot Shield is more than just for entertainment. Our DNS and WebRTC leak tests proved that it’s secure. On top of security, our IP address test showed us that it can hide IP addresses well.

    Money Saver: To get discounts, sign up for long term lengths. One-year and two-year plans are typically cheaper than monthly plans.

    What We Like
    • Fast speeds
    • Free option
    • Netflix access
    • Torrenting access
    What We Don’t Like
    • Five simultaneous connections
    • Based in the U.S.
    • Unresponsive customer support
    • Keeps IP address

    Hotspot Shield Privacy – Very Good

    A lot of VPNs say they have a “no-logs” policy but with no data to back it up. Hotspot Shield actually has proof in the form of a transparency report. That report shows how many subpoenas and government requests Hotspot Shield receives. It received 56 in 2018, for example. The report also says how many times it released requested data. For the 56 requests in 2018, it released none. That because, again, it doesn’t log VPN usage and IP address information.

    All Hotspot Shield Premium servers (125 locations)All Hotspot Shield Premium servers (125 locations)
    All Hotspot Shield Premium servers (125 locations)

    Hotspot Shield Speed – Excellent

    Hotspot Shield was one of the fastest VPNs we tested with average download speeds of around 242 Mbps on our 250 Mbps network. That’s what we like to call a near loss-less VPN speed, as the drop was kept to around three-percent. That said, Hotspot Shield’s upload speed didn’t do that well. It averaged 50 Mbps, only 20-percent of our network speed. It’s great for downloads, but not so much for uploading to the web.

    Hotspot Shield Security – Very Good

    Hotspot Shield delivers security through a number of built-in app features. For one, it has IP leak protection that prevents DNS and WebRTC leaks by offering a private DNS. This was enabled by default. As soon as we connected to Hotspot Shield, it kept our IP address private.

    The protocol also plays a big role in Hotspot Shield’s security. It offers Hydra to all platforms (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android), but it also offers WireGuard to Android users. We’d still recommend Hydra in this case though. While WireGuard is secure, it doesn’t support 256-bit AES encryption (it uses the not-as-proven ChaCha20). Hydra does.

    Using Hotspot Shield on my MacUsing Hotspot Shield on my Mac
    Using Hotspot Shield on my Mac

    Hydra Catapult Protocol

    These days, we see a lot of proprietary VPN protocols — VPN protocols made and developed by a VPN company — from the best VPN brands. Not many of them, however, can claim to be as fast as Hotspot Shield’s Hydra Catapult VPN protocol. Thanks to Hydra, we notched record-high download speeds during our recent VPN speed testing (more on that below).

    Hydra is also plenty secure. It’s based on OpenVPN, one of the most secure VPN protocols. With a few tweaks, Hotspot Shield made it into a speedy protocol without compromising security.

    Super-Fast Speeds

    Hotspot Shield’s speed was right up there with our fastest VPNs. We were particularly impressed by the download speed. We lost only 3.17 percent of our regular internet speed after connecting to the VPN. The upload speed was abysmal, though. It averaged just 20-percent of our network speed, so using Hotspot Shield to upload YouTube videos was a no-go.

    Hotspot Shield Speed Tests Our regular internet speed Hotspot Shield speed
    Download 250 Mbps 242 Mbps
    Upload 250 Mbps 50 Mbps
    Latency 2 ms 79 ms

    >> Related: What Is ISP Throttling?

    User Benefits of Hotspot Shield

    Hotspot Shield provides useful security and privacy features via its apps. It has IP leak protection, auto-connect, and the Always-On feature on iOS. IP leak protection prevents IP address leakage due to DNS or WebRTC leaks. This ensures your IP address is always private when connected to the VPN. Auto-connect lets you establish rules that, when triggered, will force the VPN to connect. For example, when you connect to a public Wi-Fi or when you connect to mobile data. Lastly, the Always-On feature on iOS is one we’ve rarely seen. It prompts the VPN to reconnect automatically when disconnected unexpectedly.

    Who It’s Best For:

    Hotspot Shield has strong streaming potential. Plus, Hotspot Shield is affordable. It’s best for folks looking to expand their entertainment options without spending much.

  • 5. Norton Secure VPN – Best VPN With Dynamic IP Addresses

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop Yes
    Camouflage Mode No
    Kill switch No
    Split Tunneling Android and Windows only
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting No

    Why We Picked It

    Norton is most famous for its Norton antivirus software and LifeLock. (LifeLock is one of the best identity protection services; read more in our LifeLock review). Adding the Norton Secure VPN to the mix makes it even better. It’s not just a VPN app, but an all-in-one digital security app.

    We particularly liked the VPN’s dynamic shared IP addresses, which are more preferable than static IP addresses. Dynamic shared IP addresses are shared among multiple users. They also change every time you connect to the VPN. Both of those can give you more online anonymity.

    » Learn more: Static vs Dynamic IP Addresses

    What We Like
    • AES-256 encryption
    • Different IP addresses every time you connect
    • Affordable
    • 10 devices maximum
    What We Don’t Like
    • Based in the U.S., a Five Eyes member
    • No split tunneling on iOS devices or Macs
    • Netflix isn’t available everywhere
    • Kill switch isn’t available on Macs or iOS devices

    Norton Secure VPN Privacy – Fair

    We bought out Norton Secure VPN subscription as part of our Norton antivirus bundle (we also tested the Norton antivirus). We loved that we could access both products through the same app. Unfortunately, that also made it more difficult to nail down Norton Secure VPN’s privacy policy. The privacy policy within the app didn’t explain separately what the VPN logs and what the antivirus logs.

    Digging deeper though, we found Norton Secure VPN’s logging policy. We found that it collects more information from users compared to other VPNs. For example, it logs mobile device data and aggregate bandwidth usage. It’s still a “no-logs” VPN. It doesn’t log IP addresses and websites, but it collects aggregate data.

    Norton Secure VPN Speed – Good

    Norton Secure VPN ranked 12th in our VPN speed comparison, which is still decent considering we tested over 50 VPNs. The download speed was impressive. It kept the speed loss to less than 12-percent. However, the upload speed (averaged 84 Mbps) and latency (averaged 120 ms) were abysmal. We wouldn’t recommend Norton Secure for activities that require a fast and steady upstream of data, like video conferencing and online gaming.

    Norton Secure VPN Security – Very Good

    Norton’s app improved our digital security in more ways than one, but we liked one nifty security feature in particular. The app automatically detects if we’re connected to a suspicious Wi-Fi network, such as password-less coffee shop Wi-Fi. It then automatically connects the VPN to the fastest available server.

    We do have to point out that Norton Secure VPN doesn’t offer as many servers as other VPNs. It has servers in only 29 countries. That’s less than a third of ExpressVPN’s 105 countries and Surfshark’s 100 countries. Just something to keep in mind.

    Norton App Home PageNorton App Home Page
    Norton App Home Page

    Affordable Prices

    How much does the Norton Secure VPN cost? Well, that depends. The VPN comes complimentary with most Norton antivirus subscriptions. The cheapest antivirus subscription costs $49.99 for the first year, or about $4 per month. That’s one of the best VPN deals we’ve seen.

    You can also buy a subscription to just the VPN, but it can be pricey. Weirdly, it costs more to buy just the VPN than to bundle it with other Norton products. One month of Norton Secure for one device costs $4.99. We strongly recommend going for the 10-device plan for one year though. It costs $59.99 in total or about $5 per month.

    Maximum number of devices Contract length Amount billed
    1 1 month $4.99
    1 1 year $19.99
    5 1 month $7.99
    5 1 year $29.99
    10 1 month $9.99
    10 1 year $59.99

    Strong Encryption

    Norton Secure VPN encrypted our web activity and hid our IP address using 256-bit AES. But that’s nothing new. Most VPNs use that same encryption standard.

    What we really loved was the fact that Norton Secure offers multi-hop – a feature only the top-tier VPNs like NordVPN and Surfshark offer. By connecting to a multi-hop server pair, Norton Secure encrypted our traffic and changed our IP addresses twice. It’s impressive that Norton Secure even has this feature, considering how small its server network is.

    Norton Speed Test on Windows Without VPNNorton Speed Test on Windows Without VPN
    Speed Test on Windows Without VPN
    Norton Speed Test on Windows With VPNNorton Speed Test on Windows With VPN
    Speed Test on Windows With VPN

    User Benefit of Norton Secure VPN

    You get the most benefit from Norton Secure VPN if you get it as a part of Norton’s antivirus bundles. That way, you enjoy all-around digital protections. And really, that’s the only way we recommend using Norton Secure. By itself, it’s not a feature-rich VPN. It offers split tunneling and a kill switch (Windows and Android only), but not much else. If you use it through an Antivirus subscription, you can also keep your devices malware-free.

    Who It’s Best For:

    Norton Secure is best for those who are just starting to utilize cybersecurity tools to protect themselves online. Besides being easy to use, Norton Secure is from a brand most famous for its antivirus software.

    Norton Secure: Gabe Turner’s insights on ease of use and functionality.
  • 6. IPVanish – Best Customer Support

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop No
    Camouflage Mode No
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes, with uTorrent

    Why We Picked It

    What sets IPVanish apart from other companies is its commitment to customer service. We can’t tell you how much trouble we have sometimes getting companies to respond to our technical questions. Many VPNs don’t offer phone support, and a fair number don’t provide answers 24/7.

    IPVanish has friendly customer service agents you can talk to any time, via both phone and online chat. Yet, the company doesn’t charge any more than other VPNs. A one-year subscription, for example, is just $2.99 a month.

    IPVanish Customer Support Options Availability
    Email support 24/7 (48-hour response time)
    Phone support 9 AM to 5 PM (UTC-6), Monday to Sunday
    Live chat support 24/7
    What We Like
    • Fast download speeds
    • Streaming and torrenting-safe
    • Split tunneling
    • Unlimited number of connections
    What We Don’t Like
    • History of sharing customer logs
    • Based in United States
    • Slow speeds on Windows, but has recently gotten much faster with WireGuard protocol

    IPVanish Privacy – Good

    Back in 2016, IPVanish faced backlash after providing the U.S. government with data that helped in the arrest of a child predator. Nobody’s saying the company should have helped a criminal. We just want to be clear about that. But the data IPVanish provided showed that it was, at the time, making records of user activity.

    Fortunately, IPVanish has updated its privacy policy since then. It now says that it doesn’t log IP addresses, connection timestamps, and browsing histories. IPVanish also enlisted the help of independent firms to audit and verify its privacy policy. The results have been positive.

    IPVanish optimal server locationsIPVanish optimal server locations
    IPVanish optimal server locations

    IPVanish Speed – Excellent

    IPVanish was the second fastest VPN we’ve tested overall. It had impressive upload and download speeds plus a very low latency that was kept below 80 ms. We measured a decrease of only four to five-percent in download and upload speeds. We tested IPVanish on a Windows laptop and subsequently named it one of the best Windows VPN because of its speed.

    IPVanish Security – Very Good

    IPVanish security doesn’t stand out in any particular way, but it’s admirable that it comes complete with all the features we’re looking for in a secure VPN. It has a kill switch, it offers several VPN protocol options, it uses 256-bit AES encryption, and it passed our DNS and WebRTC leak tests. All things considered, it’s a solid and secure VPN.

    IPVanish AppIPVanish App
    IPVanish App

    Kill Switch

    All VPNs can fail at any time without warning; that’s just the reality. That’s also why we recommend looking for a VPN with a kill switch just like IPVanish. It’s not that IPVanish is unreliable. It only ever got disconnected unexpectedly once due to server maintenance. But thanks to that, we saw the kill switch in action.

    Our internet stopped working right after the VPN got disconnected. That alerted us that something was wrong, so we immediately checked and reconnected IPVanish. If our internet had continued working, we wouldn’t have known we’re no longer secure.

    An Audited Privacy Policy

    Most VPNs have privacy policies that outline the types of data they collect, why they collect them, and how they use them. Not all VPNs, though, have been audited like IPVanish.

    The Leviathan Security Group audited IPVanish’s privacy and security practices just this year. They’ve found that IPVanish’s claim that it doesn’t log browsing and usage data is true. The firm also determined that IPVanish is non-invasive to its users’ privacy, making it a solid VPN for privacy-conscious users.

    User Benefits of IPVanish

    IPVanish includes thoughtful features that make the app easy and convenient to use. For example, the server menu on Windows shows the speed (measured in latency) of each server location. That can make it easier to pick a fast server when you’re gaming or streaming. Speaking of streaming, you can also connect to streaming-optimized servers, like to access a different Netflix region. You won’t see a lot of features from IPVanish, but those that it does include are designed with user experience in mind.

    Who It’s Best For:

    IPVanish has great mobile apps and it’s also affordable. Students looking to improve their digital security and privacy and access blocked sites on their school’s network, could benefit from this VPN.

    IPVanish under the lens – Gabe Turner breaks it down in 12 minutes
  • 7. ExpressVPN – Best Encryption

    Product Specs

    Multihop No
    Camouflage Mode Yes
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    One thing you should know about VPN encryption is that it’s actually contingent on the VPN protocol in use. A lot of our top picks default to WireGuard (like Surfshark) or a WireGuard-based proprietary protocol (like NordVPN’s NordLynx). WireGuard is great, but it supports only the ChaCha20 encryption standard and not our recommended encryption, 256-bit AES.

    With ExpressVPN, 256-bit AES was constantly in use even though we were using its proprietary protocol called Lightway. And despite 256-bit AES’ inflexible construction, ExpressVPN was able to incorporate it while keeping Lightway agile and fast. This makes ExpressVPN’s Lightway one of the most efficient implementations of the gold-standard AES encryption in VPNs.

    ExpressVPN's Windows AppExpressVPN's Windows App
    ExpressVPN’s Windows App
    What We Like
    • No data retention laws
    • Great app ratings
    • Netflix access
    • Fast speeds on Windows
    What We Don’t Like
    • No phone support
    • Slow speeds on Mac
    • Five simultaneous connections per subscription
    • No browser extension for Internet Explorer

    ExpressVPN Privacy – Excellent

    Privacy is ExpressVPN’s main focus. It has invested in state-of-the-art technology, like RAM-based servers that offer better privacy than traditional VPN servers. Very few VPNs offer RAM-based servers, NordVPN and Surfshark being two of them. That puts ExpressVPN in an elite group.

    FYI: RAM-based servers are physical VPN servers that run purely on RAM, unlike traditional servers that use hard drives. RAM-based servers don’t store long-term memory. They are wiped after every reboot, which is what makes them more private.

    ExpressVPN iOS app connected to JapanExpressVPN iOS app connected to Japan
    ExpressVPN iOS app connected to Japan

    ExpressVPN Speed – Good

    ExpressVPN was middle-of-the-pack in terms of speed. It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t bad. It was speedy enough to let us stream movies in 4K resolution. Our download speed averaged 230 Mbps while our upload speed averaged around 210 Mbps.

    ExpressVPN’s balanced upload and download speed made it a great option for video conferencing. It kept our Zoom meetings flowing smoothly, unlike Hotspot Shield, which has lightning-fast download speed but very slow upload speed.

    Internet speed test results while connected to ExpressVPNInternet speed test results while connected to ExpressVPN
    Internet speed test results while connected to ExpressVPN

    ExpressVPN Security – Very Good

    ExpressVPN combines its 256-bit AES encryption with its fast and lightweight protocol called Lightway. It’s a solid pairing. We found no IP address leaks when we did DNS and WebRTC leak tests. The Lightway protocol was also quick to establish VPN tunnels. It takes ExpressVPN less than five seconds to connect, which means you can connect to it anytime without hassle. It’s our favorite VPN to use when commuting because of its convenient quick-connect function.

    Lightway Protocol

    ExpressVPN is at the forefront of VPN technology. It developed a proprietary protocol that is both secure and fast, called Lightway. This VPN protocol runs on only 2,000 lines of code, much less than protocols like OpenVPN. And as a result, it’s lightweight and it provides a smooth user-experience.

    Here’s how it compares to OpenVPN:

    Features Lightway OpenVPN
    Year established 2001 2020
    Security Secure Secure
    Speed Faster Fast
    Battery consumption Low Mid to high

    IP Leak Blocking

    We’ve encountered more than a few VPNs that have an “IP leak protection” feature, and for some reason, you can turn it off. We’re not sure why that’s even an option. IP leak is something you’d want to avoid at all cost.

    With ExpressVPN, though, all connections come with IP leak protection. It efficiently blocks DNS and WebRTC leaks. In fact, once you’re connected to ExpressVPN, you can go to its website to check if there are any WebRTC leaks. We did that, and found no leaks whatsoever – just the result we were hoping for.

    User Benefits of ExpressVPN

    ExpressVPN offers 105 server locations. That alone is a huge benefit to users. It gives you access to numerous locations, making it easier to access content from all over the world. With its impressive speed, privacy features (RAM-based servers, LightWay and OpenVPN protocols, etc.), and encryption, you can use ExpressVPN for pretty much any task. And of course, ExpressVPN is easy to use. The app works fresh off installation and you need not make any adjustments to make it secure.

    Who It’s Best For:

    ExpressVPN offers agile data protection, which is particularly ideal for frequent travelers. It has strong privacy features. Its lightweight proprietary VPN protocol also makes it a good travel companion, as it runs fast on most mobile devices and computers.

    ExpressVPN Video Review – Gabe Turner’s take on safety and security
  • 8. CyberGhost – Best VPN for Mac

    Product Specs

    Multihop Yes
    Camouflage Mode No
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    CyberGhost’s app excelled on Mac. It provided us easy access to top-quality features like split tunneling (Smart Rules), a kill switch, and several auto-connect options. It also features over 10,000 servers in 100 countries – one of the largest networks we’ve seen – to provide secure connections wherever you may be.

    CyberGhost’s Mac speed also stands out, particularly the download speed. Our download speed on Mac remained above 230 Mbps after connecting to CyberGhost. That’s a speed loss of less than 10-percent, which is one of the best speeds we’ve seen on our Macbook.

    What We Like
    • Non-member to Five eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes
    • Great customer support
    • Affordable costs
    • Thousands of servers around the world
    What We Don’t Like
    • Logging policy
    • Split tunneling available for Android only
    • Static IP addresses
    • Slow performance on Windows

    CyberGhost Privacy – Good

    In our previous tests of CyberGhost, we found that it logged IP addresses in an anonymized format. It logged IP addresses, but they weren’t tied to specific users. This raised concerns from us, but fortunately, CyberGhost adjusted its privacy policy. Last we checked, they no longer store IP addresses. They store only the country of origin of connection requests now. That’s an improvement.

    CyberGhost app on a MacCyberGhost app on a Mac
    CyberGhost app on a Mac

    CyberGhost Speed – Good

    CyberGhost provided fast download speeds but significantly slower upload speeds. It’s just like Hotspot Shield and Norton in that regard. Our upload speed went down by 70-percent, which meant we only got about 75 Mbps from our 250 Mbps network. Fortunately, the download speed remained high with an average reading of 223 Mbps. Both upload and download speeds are important, but the latter usually matters for for streaming and downloading.

    CyberGhost Security – Very Good

    In terms of security, we liked CyberGhost’s IP address masking in particular. Normally, when trying to access sites like Netflix and Disney+ that block VPNs, they’d occasionally detect that we’re using VPNs. For example, in our X-VPN review, Netflix detected two of the 10 servers we tested. With CyberGhost, we connected to 10 different servers in different locations, and all of them worked. That was, to some degree, proof that CyberGhost was hiding our IP address well.

    CyberGhost Kill SwitchCyberGhost Kill Switch
    CyberGhost Kill Switch

    Discounts Available

    CyberGhost offers a wide array of subscriptions to choose from, and this makes the VPN very flexible. You can sign up for a month subscription to try things out, or go all-in on a one-, two-, or three-year subscription. The best part is, you’ll get a discount depending on the length of your plan.

    The highest discount is over 80-percent off, which you can get by signing a three-year subscription. All in all, you’ll pay only $56.94 every three years, which breaks down to just over $2 per month.

    CyberGhost Pricing 1 Month 6 Months 2 Years
    Total subscription cost $12.99 $41.94 $56.94
    Average cost per month $12.99 $6.99 $2.19

    NoSpy Servers

    CyberGhost, like most of the VPNs we review, doesn’t keep logs of its users’ browsing data. Bur CyberGhost takes things up a notch with its NoSpy servers. These data centers operated by CyberGhost itself are located in Romania, which is outside the reach of the 14 Eyes alliance.

    Romania’s laws also make it VPN-friendly. It doesn’t require data retention and mass surveillance tactics used by other countries. When you connect to one of CyberGhost’s NoSpy servers, you can rest assured that your data is safe.

    User Benefits of CyberGhost

    CyberGhost offers several features designed to benefit users. It has RAM-based servers like ExpressVPN. It also provides NoSpy servers, as detailed above. It’s also worth noting that CyberGhost has a deep network. It has servers in 100 countries, almost the same as ExpressVPN 105 locations, but the total number of CyberGhost’s servers is over 10,000. A network that large gives CyberGhost users access to content, webpages, and services all around the globe.

    Who It’s Best For:

    It’s true that the longer subscriptions offer the best prices, but CyberGhost’s flexibility makes it a great-value VPN for pretty much anyone.

    Installation tips and tricks for CyberGhost – Gabe Turner guides you through
  • 9. Proton VPN – Best VPN for Work

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop Yes
    Camouflage Mode Yes
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    ProtonVPN is now Proton, which seems like an ignorable change, but is actually big for the VPN company. As Proton, it now includes the entire Proton suite of cybersecurity tools. That includes ProtonMail, ProtonCalendar, ProtonDrive, and ProtonVPN. As such, Proton is a good personal VPN to use at work.

    What We Like
    • Fast speeds
    • Free option
    • Netflix access
    • Torrenting access
    What We Don’t Like
    • Relatively high prices
    • Customer support limited to tickets
    • No browser support
    • Relatively few servers

    Proton VPN Privacy – Excellent

    Proton is a privacy-focused company. It offers privacy tools like a secure email (that detects phishing email well) and calendar, an encrypted cloud drive, a password manager. And of course, there’s Proton VPN.

    The company Proton is also based in Switzerland. It’s a privacy-friendly country with no mandatory data retention. That means Proton can legally maintain a “no-logs” policy not just for its VPN, but all its privacy tools and products.

    Proton VPN Speed – Very Good

    We’ve seen a fair share of VPNs with good download speed but disappointing upload speed. If you’re looking for a VPN with fast upload speeds, though, we can recommend Proton. It topped our ranking in terms of upload speed, notching just a four-percent decrease compared to our baseline speed. The average upload and download speed were both 240 Mbps. That’s why we used it a lot for Zoom meetings and other work tasks that require good upload and download speeds.

    Proton VPN Security – Excellent

    Though fast, Proton VPN was plenty secure as well. Notably, we discovered that it uses perfect forward secrecy encryption. VPNs use keys to decipher encrypted traffic as it passes through a server. If not secured, these keys can be stolen to decrypt subsequent traffic. With Proton VPN, it generated a different cipher key for every session. It’s unlikely, but even If a key is stolen, it can’t be used to decrypt future encrypted traffic. Another VPN that offers perfect forward secrecy is NordVPN, which as you might recall, is our top-pick for privacy.

    ProtonVPN App on iPhoneProtonVPN App on iPhone
    ProtonVPN App on iPhone

    Stealth VPN

    Proton recently joined the growing number of VPNs with their proprietary VPN protocols. Proton’s VPN protocol is called Stealth, and it has one special feature: obfuscation. Basically, it encrypts your traffic, but it also makes it look like regular traffic, hiding it from network, ISP, and government filters. Obfuscation is particularly useful in countries where the use of VPNs is highly controlled or monitored.

    Right now, Stealth is only available for Android, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS users. Windows support is still in the works.

    Fast Upload Speeds

    At work, we need fast upload speeds and low latency so our meeting software works smoothly. There’s nothing more embarrassing than when you laugh at someone’s joke but they don’t hear it until two minutes later. ProtonVPN was one of the fastest VPNs we tested on our Windows and Mac computers when it came to both upload speeds and latency.

    Proton VPN Speeds

    Upload speed difference, Macs 11 percent slower
    Upload speed difference, Windows 4 percent slower
    Download speed difference, Macs 87 percent slower
    Download speed difference, Windows 42 percent slower
    Latency speed difference, Macs 20 percent faster
    Latency speed difference, Windows 10 percent faster

    User Benefits of Proton VPN

    Proton’s main advantage for users is it being an all-around privacy solution. The VPN is just one of the many privacy-focused products from Proton. It also offers ProtonMail, Proton Drive, and Proton Pass. Focusing on just the VPN, Proton offers rarely-seen features such as NetShield (ad-blocker), private DNS, and Tor over VPN. Proton is one of the only two VPNs we tested with Tor over VPN, the other being NordVPN (our #1 pick). While Proton offers only a decent 3,000+ servers in 70+ countries, it more than makes up for that with its advanced security and privacy features.

    Who It’s Best For:

    Digital privacy is Proton’s main priority, with a whole suite of privacy-focused online tools. So if your profession calls for extra privacy, like if you’re a journalist, you should consider Proton.

    ProtonVPN uncovered: Gabe Turner shares the pros and cons
  • 10. UltraVPN – Best for Day-to-day Use

    Product Specs

    Multi-hop No
    Camouflage Mode No
    Kill switch Yes
    Split Tunneling Yes
    Netflix Yes
    Torrenting Yes

    Why We Picked It

    VPNs don’t always need to be as feature-rich as NordVPN and Surfshark. Sometimes, a simple option is better as long as it can do the job of protecting your privacy. That’s UltraVPN’s advantage. It’s simple and affordable, making it a great day-to-day VPN for casual users.

    While it lacked the advanced features and customizations we saw from Private Internet Access, UltraVPN’s performance as a VPN was rock-solid. It gave us decent speeds, a bug-free app, and a respectable number of VPN servers to choose from (1,000 servers in 125 locations). For its price – $7.99 monthly or $1.99 per month if you sign up for two years – it’s definitely a cost-effective solution for online privacy.

    What We Like
    • Simple to use app
    • Affordable monthly and yearly subscriptions
    • 30-day money-back guarantee
    • Strong IP address protections
    What We Don’t Like
    • No real kill switch on Android
    • Can’t pick VPN protocol on mobile
    • Higher-than-average speed loss
    • Limited VPN protocol options

    UltraVPN Privacy – Very Good

    UltraVPN’s privacy policy discusses how it doesn’t log data, but without third-party audits like we saw from Surfshark, there’s no way to concretely prove or disprove it. However, we noticed one thing that seems to indicate UltraVPN’s commitment to privacy. When India passed a law requiring VPNs to collect user data, UltraVPN was among the first to pull out from the country. It still offers India IP addresses last time we checked, but those are from virtual servers located in Singapore.

    UltraVPN's VPN protocolsUltraVPN's VPN protocols
    UltraVPN’s VPN protocols

    >> More Options: The Best VPNs for India

    UltraVPN Speed – Fair

    UltraVPN underdelivered in this area. It should have been fast because it uses Hydra, the proprietary VPN protocol of Hotspot Shield (#3 on this list). And as we saw earlier, Hydra is capable of nearly loss-less download speed. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about UltraVPN. Our download speed averaged 160 Mbps. That’s nearly a 40-percent drop compared to our real network speed. It wasn’t that bad, but UltraVPN isn’t nearly as fast as Hotspot Shield.

    Here’s a quick comparison:

    UltraVPN Hotspot Shield
    160 Mbps average download speed 242 Mbps average download speed
    185 Mbps average upload speed 231 Mbps average upload speed
    105 ms average latency 75 ms average latency

    UltraVPN Security – Very Good

    Despite its poor use of Hydra’s speed, UltraVPN used the protocol well to provide online security. It checked for and blocked malware-ridden websites. It also encrypted traffic using 256-bit AES and protected us from IP address leaks. And like our top-pick NordVPN, UltraVPN let us access a private DNS server.

    Even just the fact that it uses Hydra makes UltraVPN a secure option. Cyberattackers are more likely to try to target widely-used protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard. Using a proprietary protocol used by only a handful of VPNs is a good move by UltraVPN.

    The UltraVPN Windows appThe UltraVPN Windows app
    The UltraVPN Windows app

    Hydra Protocol

    We’ve mentioned Hydra several times already, but what really is it? Hydra is a VPN protocol much like OpenVPN, but it was developed by Hotspot Shield. Hydra promises to deliver fast speeds, agile connections, and good security. It’s actually one of the best VPN protocols after OpenVPN and WireGuard.

    We especially liked UltraVPN’s agility when using the Hydra protocol. It reconnected automatically and swiftly even when we changed Wi-Fi networks or switched from mobile data to Wi-Fi and vice versa on our phones. It left very little opportunity for attack. It also made day-to-day use a little bit easier as we didn’t have to check our connection as often as we did with less agile protocols like OpenVPN.

    >> See Also: What Can Someone Do With My IP Address?

    Flexible Pricing

    UltraVPN can be quite affordable in terms of pricing. Even its monthly subscription costs only $7.99. For comparison, most VPNs cost more than $10 per month. NordVPN costs $12.99 with a monthly subscription and Surfshark costs $10.99.

    If you’re looking for a VPN for long-term use, UltraVPN’s pricing gets even better. You’ll pay only $47.76 to sign up for two years. That’s an average of just $2 per month. See the pricing breakdown below.

    Duration Total cost Cost per month (averaged)
    2 years $47.76 $1.99
    1 year $35.88 $2.99
    1 month $7.99 $7.99

    The bottom line is, whether you’re looking for a short-term or long-term VPN, UltraVPN is a practical choice.

    User Benefits of UltraVPN

    Features aren’t the only benefits you can get from a VPN. A streamlined user experience is also an advantage, and it’s certainly UltraVPN’s biggest flex. The app is easy to use; it’s not feature-rich, but it’s not lacking anything critical either. It has split tunneling, a kill switch for Windows (and a makeshift kill switch for Android), and one of the best VPN protocols in Hydra. Best of all, it’s affordable. With prices starting at $2 per month and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, UltraVPN offers good value if you’re looking for something more straightforward than NordVPN and our other top picks.

    Who It’s Best For:

    With its affordable pricing and user-friendly apps, we recommend UltraVPN to students and casual internet users looking for a day-to-day VPN. It’s not the fastest, but it’s reliable for daily use.

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