The Best VPN

Because a fake mustache won’t fool online spies

The 30-Second Review

There’s no such thing as total internet security (or anonymity), but using the best VPN service is the first step you can take to protect your identity online. So we looked at over 100 VPN providers and tested the best to determine which offered the most robust and reliable security measures, the fastest connection speeds, and the most competitive prices.

Top Picks
Best Overall

Fast and simple, this service offers an extremely high level of security and every premium feature, including multiple encryption methods and up to six simultaneous connections. Even better: It's pretty to look at and only $69/year.

Best for Streaming

A heftier $100/year, but it performed best in our speed tests.

Best if You're on a Budget

Private Internet Access
It may not be easy on the eyes, but it's only $40/year.

If you wouldn’t ask a complete stranger to hold your wallet for you, then you shouldn’t be using public WiFi without a VPN service. And “public” doesn’t just mean your average coffee shop. Even if your WiFi connection is password-protected and comes from a trustworthy source, like a hotel or a university, a VPN service can seriously boost your online security.

Best Overall

NordVPN Top-notch security for $69 per year.

The best VPN services combine top-notch security features that protect against unwanted data collection, a simple interface that makes it easy to connect to the server of your choice, and a no-bull privacy policy that doesn’t couch its promises in vague language. They also have a fast enough connection speed to make it seem like you’re not actually using VPN at all. All of our top picks have these aspects in common, but NordVPN came out on top. It performed well all-around during our hands-on testing, which assessed both the connection speeds and user interface of every top contender. It also has rock-solid, reliable security — and simple, elegant apps for both desktop and mobile — all for $69 per year.

Best for Streaming

ExpressVPN For $100 a year, the fastest VPN available.

ExpressVPN had the fastest connectivity of any VPN service we tested — a must for users whose primary concern is streaming videos — and also provides top-notch security, but at nearly $100 annually, costs a little more than NordVPN. If you’re looking for a low-cost VPN option that will still get the job done, Private Internet Access has no frills, but gives you the most bang for your buck (or your bitcoin, as the case may be) for just under $40 per year.

“VPN” stands for “Virtual Private Network,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: an online network that keeps prying eyes away while you surf the web. A VPN essentially takes the data you send online — which includes personal information such as your IP address — and disguises it so that nobody spying from another computer can identify who’s sending it, or where it’s coming from. You’ll still be able to use the internet at normal or close-to-normal speeds, but hackers and government officials will have a much harder time tracking your every movement online.

Be warned: VPNs are not a one-stop security shop. “If someone really wants to get at what you have, there are tons of ways for them to do it,” explains Jennifer Golbeck, a computer scientist and world-renowned internet security expert at the University of Maryland, College Park. A VPN service improves your online privacy, but it’s not bulletproof protection against hackers, and it certainly won’t make you totally anonymous (as so many services claim). Golbeck describes a VPN as “absolutely the first priority if you’re on public WiFi,” though she notes that it’s most effective when used in conjunction with other common-sense security measures, such as an online backup service and a solid password manager.

Our Picks for the Best VPN Services

Best Overall

NordVPN Reliable, elegant, and secure — all for a reasonable price.

We poked and prodded to find cracks in NordVPN, but we couldn’t find anything that failed to impress us about this simple, elegant, and highly secure VPN service. At $69 for a full year of service, it ranks among the less expensive options (Golden Frog’s VyprVPN, by contrast, can cost as much as $120 per year) but still offers more premium features than just about any other service out there. Users can choose from three encryption methods (PTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN) to further customize their security on desktop and mobile, and a single subscription covers six simultaneous connections. That’s three more than other top contenders like IVPN and, giving you a perfect excuse to go out and buy those three extra cellphones.

Screenshot of NordVPN VPN

All of that’s great, but what really made us fall in love with NordVPN was actually using it. Connecting to a VPN every time you log onto the internet can seem like a real pain — and with some services it is. VPN S, for example, was never able to establish a stable connection in multiple tries, while OctaneVPN offered up a clunky, confusing desktop interface that reminded us of the ‘90s for all the worst reasons.

But NordVPN’s simple, dedicated mobile app for Android and iOS allows you to establish a secure connection with just a tap of your finger. A lot of VPNs feel like they’re made for coders or even criminals — just check out the cheesy image on SlickVPN’s homepage — but NordVPN offers an inviting, unintimidating interface for all levels of user.

While NordVPN probably won’t give you the fastest speeds possible, we found it to be more than adequate and slightly above average. Our tests indicated a roughly 14 percent decrease in browsing speed, and since we’re talking milliseconds here, that’s a discrepancy most people won’t notice. To sweeten the deal, NordVPN even offers dedicated streaming servers to ensure a faster connection when it really matters. (Note: does not condone illegal streaming or torrenting, but we acknowledge that it’s a feature a lot of people look for in a VPN.)

Finally, NordVPN offers an additional level of security simply because it’s based in Panama and operates under Panamanian jurisdiction. Unlike other countries, Panama has no mandatory data-retention laws, so users can be absolutely sure that the company’s “no logs” promise doesn’t contradict local laws. This isn’t something that most people need to worry about, but it does reinforce the notion that NordVPN protects your information as well as — if not better than — any other service out there.

Oh, and did we mention that it’s pretty to look at? Rather than simply displaying a list of servers and countries, NordVPN presents the user with a beautiful interactive world map that works great on both desktop and mobile. Of course, if you do decide to switch over to the list format, it clearly displays the exact distance of each server so you always know where your best connection will be.

Best for Streaming

ExpressVPN Consistently the fastest VPN connection we could find.

As with NordVPN, we are huge fans of ExpressVPN’s clean, simple desktop and mobile interface, which doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary information, but makes it clear that you’re protected. A large graphic of a padlock clicks into place as soon as you successfully connect to a server, and bold green and red color-coding leave no doubt as to your current state of security.

With an impressive 136 server locations spread out across 87 countries, you’ll be able to find a connection almost anywhere in the world. ExpressVPN allows unlimited server switches, so you’ll be able to test out as many as you’d like to find the fastest connection. And once you do, boy, is that connection fast. ExpressVPN finished at the very top of our speed test, slowing down browsing by less than 10 percent without compromising anything in the way of security (the network is SSL secured with 256-bit encryption).

Screenshot of ExpressVPN VPN

ExpressVPN’s desktop app is clean and simple, but even more impressive are its speeds.

Combine high speeds with two of the cleanest desktop and mobile apps we tested, and ExpressVPN is a perfect service for people who prefer not to be reminded by slow connection speeds that they’re using a VPN service. It’s pretty stable at those speeds, too; none of the connections we established were dropped at any point of the test. The only real downside we could find was the price: At nearly $100 per year, ExpressVPN is considerably more expensive than NordVPN, without offering much more. It may be worth it if you use a VPN primarily for streaming and other activities that necessitate super-fast speeds, but otherwise it’s hard to justify paying that much more.

Best If You're On a Budget

Private Internet Access Fast, simple, secure — and only $40 a year.

Here’s what you’ll get with Private Internet Access: fast performance, responsive live support, a ton of servers to choose from, and one of the most budget-friendly VPN prices out there. An annual subscription will only set you back $40, or roughly half of NordVPN’s asking price. Basically, this is a VPN that does what it says it’s going to do, and does it on the cheap.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, Private Internet Access does have its deficiencies, some of which might matter to you, and some of which might not. For starters, the app and website aren’t easy on the eyes, and the website especially may confuse users who need more instruction to set up a VPN connection. The site provides a few instructional videos, but if you’re new to using VPN services, they still might leave you a little confused.

Screenshot of Private Internet Access VPN

A look at the Windows desktop app for Private Internet Access.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Private Internet Access offers compelling features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and PIA MACE, which automatically blocks ads and malware when engaged. There’s even IPv6 leak protection, which ensures that you stay protected when connecting to an IPv6-enabled website (more on that later).

As you can also see from the screenshot above, this is one ugly and unintuitive app. Users who aren’t already familiar with what to look for might find themselves lost and unsure if they’re connected, so we only recommend Private Internet Access to more experienced users who want a VPN that will run in the background, but not skimp on the truly important stuff, like speed and security.

Other VPN Services to Consider

Cyberghost’s free VPN service takes money out of the equation, which may be a deciding factor for some users. Generally speaking, we would advise against using a free VPN, because the speeds are inevitably slower; the security is inevitably more lax; and the overall experience is just worse. But if not spending any dough is your top priority, you won’t find a better free VPN out there than Cyberghost. The service is easy to use and offers all of the key protections we look for in a top VPN, including shared IPs, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection. But you’ll only be able to connect on one device, and the service will be noticeably slower than what you’re used to — by about 40 percent, according to our tests. If you can spare just a few dollars a month, Private Internet Access is the better way to go.

IVPN is another VPN service that performed well in our speed tests and features an intuitive interface that’s really great for first-time VPN users. We appreciate the transparent privacy policy, as well as the collection of privacy guides designed to clear up any confusion. At $100 a year, IVPN is on the pricey side, however, and didn’t distinguish itself among our very top picks, but it’s also a worthy option for those just diving into the VPN world.

Did You Know?

It’s easier than you think to get hacked through social media.

Robert Schifreen, the founder of SecuritySmart and an expert on internet security, warns that a VPN won’t help you if you aren’t smart about how you use the internet. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are one area where he sees a real vulnerability.

“If you want to get hacked as a result of using social media, it’s very easy. Just make sure you post loads of personal information. Make it public. And use the same password on your social media accounts as you use everywhere else.”

Conversely, you’ll stay much more secure if you don’t post too much info about yourself online. Golbeck agrees, adding that a potential hacker shouldn’t be able to find the answers to your security questions by looking at your profile. “A lot of that data — What elementary school did you go to? What was your pet’s name? — is really easy to get from social media profiles,” she says.

You shouldn’t sweat paying with a credit card — as long as you trust the site.

Because VPN services are so concerned with anonymity, nearly all of them offer the option to pay via PayPal or bitcoin instead of a credit card. This is a nice option to have, but Golbeck says that you shouldn’t be too concerned about paying with a credit card as long as you aren’t doing so on an unsecured WiFi connection. “A credit card is often a good way to pay for things, because in many countries you’re covered if the VPN operation turns out to be a scam,” she notes. None of our top picks are scams, so no worries if you stick to those.

IPv6 leaks may be a cause for concern.

To understand what IPv6 is, it helps to know what IPv4 is. Until quite recently, all IP addresses were defined by the Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4. But when IPv4 addresses started running out around 2011, a new protocol — IPv6 — was created to expand the total available number of web addresses. Because IPv6 is still relatively new, most VPNs don’t do a great job of directing IPv6 traffic through their secure tunnels. This means that, when your browser makes an IPv6 DNS request, it may not be protected by your VPN.

This is referred to as an “IPv6 leak,” and it may compromise your security if and when it occurs. Some VPNs offer the option to disable IPv6 requests in the OS, but if you really want to be sure that you aren’t experiencing IPv6 leakage, test your IPv6 connectivity using The good news is that most VPNs, including all of our top picks, are in the process of adding IPv6 support, and this problem should be temporary. It’s hard to say when IPv6 will be fully deployed, but it now accounts for about 13 percent of internet users. Google continuously updates a chart that shows the percentage of users accessing the site over IPv6, and that’s as good an indicator as any.

You’ll probably never be totally secure, so act accordingly.

No level of encryption or security feature is enough to keep you totally free from being spied on, so don’t treat the internet like it’s your own personal playground. The best a VPN can do is make it much harder for hackers to see your activity, and that’s usually more than enough for most people. But if you happen to be a journalist with sensitive information or a person that the National Security Agency (NSA) is targeting, don’t bet on a VPN protecting you. “If you’re a target, they’ll be able to get at you,” cautions Golbeck, who warns that some hackers or agencies might even resort to physically stealing your computer. If you do suspect that you’re being individually targeted, think twice before trusting your fate to a VPN and ignoring other security measures, including everything from malware protection to physical locks.

The Bottom Line

While there’s no such thing as “total anonymity” online, a VPN is an essential internet security tool that can shield you from prying eyes while surfing the web on a public WiFi connection or even an unsecured home WiFi connection. Most VPNs compromise security in favor of speed or vice versa, but the best of them find a way to deliver both at a price that won’t break the bank.

Take Action

Always check to see if you’re using a secure http connection. Even without a VPN, there’s one super-easy way to see if your connection is secure. When logging onto email or using a social media site like Facebook, look at the URL and make sure there’s a green lock followed by “https” at the front. It should look like this:

This means you’re connected through a secure http connection, which ensures that a website is only sending you encrypted information. “If you’re on a site and it’s not secure, just put that ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the address bar, and on a lot of sites it will switch you over to a secure encrypted connection,” says Golbeck. “It’s a really simple little step that anybody can do, but you don’t know to look for it unless somebody has told you.”

Our Top Pick

NordVPN Top-notch security for $69 per year.

Invest in a great antivirus, password manager, and other security tools. As we’ve tried to reiterate throughout this article, a VPN is not enough on its own. The best internet security plan also protects against malware and includes tools ranging from a password manager to an online backup service. If you’re using Chrome, Golbeck also recommends using the Do Not Track extension so that third-party advertisers can’t track your activity across the web.

Look out for warrant canaries and changes in your VPN’s privacy policy. On the internet, what’s true today might not be true tomorrow. This is why some sites regularly publish a “warrant canary,” or a declaration that no warrants have been served to them that may compromise your security. Here’s what IVPN’s looks like. Not every site publishes a warrant canary, and it’s a good idea to re-read your VPN’s privacy policy about once a month to see if it has changed in any meaningful way. Chances are it hasn’t, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.