These are your best, most secure VPN options
id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”> Welcome to the CNET 2020 Directory of VPN providers. In this directory, we’re taking a look at a few of the very best commercial VPN service providers on the internet like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access and others. Rather than looking at the wide range of free providers, which often have a lot of limits (and dubious loyalties), we’re looking at those vendors that charge a few bucks a month but put your interests first — instead of those of shadowy advertisers and sponsors. We’ve looked at more than 20 factors, including number of server locations, client software, dedicated and dynamic IP, bandwidth caps, security, logging, customer support and price.
Read more: Best mobile VPNs: Android and iPhone VPNs compared | Best internet providers | The best web hosting providers | The best password managers for 2020 and how to use them
Let’s look at each of our vendors below in a little more depth. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: We’re actively working on more testing and research, and expect this list to change throughout the year.
Editors’ note, November 1: The NordVPN entry on this list has been updated to reflect the security issue that was disclosed by that vendor in October 2019.
Number of IP addresses: 30,000
Number of servers: 3,000+
Number of server locations: 160
Number of simultaneous connections: 5
Country/Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
3 months Free with 1-year plan
Read our ExpressVPN review
ExpressVPN consistently proves itself one of the fastest VPNs on the market, and actively promotes their commitment to privacy. The company tells us their network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users’ online activities.
We like the quality of their setup guides, and the detailed information in their FAQ. The ExpressVPN gained points from us for their support of Bitcoin as a payment method. The company offers a useful kill switch feature which prevents network data from leaking outside of their secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails.
The company has been in business since 2009, and has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Their best plan is priced at just $6.67 per month for an annual package which includes 3 months free.
Read more: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation
See all ExpressVPN plans IPVanish IPVanish VPN
Number of IP addresses: 40,000+
Number of servers: 1,300
Number of server locations: 60
Number of simultaneous connections: 10
Country/Jurisdiction: United States
$3.99/month and $48 for a year
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 multi-platform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN.
A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we’re very 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 plugin provides access to media worldwide.
At $3.99/month and $48 for a year, they’re obviously trying to move you towards their yearly program. We’re a little disappointed that they only allow a 7-day trial, rather than a full 30-days, but they do offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for their recent increase from five to now ten simultaneous connections. We also liked their connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.
See all IPVanish VPN plans Symantec Norton Secure VPN
Number of countries: 29
Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
Number of server locations: 200 in 73 cities
$39.99 for the first 12 months
LifeLock, 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, it does not have a kill switch feature, 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 mid-tier VPNs but not particularly competitive. Although its VPN is only available on four platforms — Mac, iOS, Windows and Android — Norton gets big points for its 24/7 live customer phone support and 60-day money back guarantee.
See all Norton Secure VPN plans NordVPN NordVPN
Number of IP addresses: 5,000
Number of servers: 5,200+ servers
Number of server locations: 62
$3.49/month (75% discount) for a 3-year plan
Read our NordVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing
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 their 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 also offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast.
The company’s 1-year subscription plan costs is for $6.99/month ($83.88 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $11.95 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 16, 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49/month for a 3-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the 2-year plan is now $4.99/month ($119.76), up from $3.99/$95.75. And yes, it also has 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 that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was very 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
See all NordVPN plans Surfshark Surfshark
Number of servers: 800+
Number of server locations: 50
Country/Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, they make it up on features. Let’s start off with the biggest win they offer: 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. They also offer anti-malware, ad blocking and tracker blocking as part of their software.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Pure53 (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, FireTV and routers. Additional devices like 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 use, 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 very severe penalties.
For a year plan, Surfshark comes in very close to many of the other full-featured VPN providers, at $71.88 for the first year. Be careful, because it looks like that will jump to $143.40 after your first year is up. Month-by-month plans are $11.95. Their best offer is $1.99 a month, for their 24 month plan (you pay $47.76 up front). Definitely take advantage of their generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk them into a continued discount rate).
See all Surfshark plans PureVPN PureVPN
Number of IP addresses: 300,000
Number of servers: 2000
Number of server locations: 180
Country/Jurisdiction: Hong Kong
$3.33/month for a 1-year plan, $1.65/month for a 5-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 offer a 31-day refund policy and supports Bitcoin payments, to further extend anonymous browsing. We also like that PureVPN has both Kodi and a 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+
Number of server locations: 26 countries and 46 cities
$5.83/month (42% discount) for a 1-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. They have 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 strongest strengths is the company’s network. They own and operate their entire network infrastructure, which means they have no externally-dictated limits on bandwidth or the type of 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 their yearly price of $69.99 is among the lowest of our contenders.
See all StrongVPN plans
CyberGhost CyberGhost VPN
Number of servers: over 6,100 worldwide in 90+ countries
Number of server locations: 112
45-day money back guarantee
24/7 support response
$2.75/month for a 3-year plan, or $3.69/month for 2-year plan
CyberGhost in-depth review and hands-on testing
CyberGhost has been around since 2011 and has come out strongly as a supporter of “civil rights, a free society, and an uncensored Internet culture.” We really liked how the company specifically showcases, on their Web site, how folks normally prevented from accessing such important services as Facebook and YouTube can bring those services into their lives via a VPN.
The company has solid Linux support, supports VPN via routers, and has a solution for the popular Kodi media player. They check off all the boxes on protocol support and get kudos for offering a connection kill switch feature, along with supporting P2P and BitTorrent in most countries. Plus, they allow you to use seven devices at once with their service.
Still, the few extra dollars are worth it. We liked how the company offers custom app protection, IPV5 support and DNS, IP, and WebRTC leak prevention. CyberGhost also picked up points for preserving anonymity by not logging connection data.
See all CyberGhost VPN plans
Private Internet Access Private Internet Access
Number of IP addresses: N/A
Number of servers: 3,252
Number of server locations: 37
Country/Jurisdiction: United States
Speaking of price, if you want a solid VPN provider, Private Internet Access is the place to go.
The key to getting the most savings with this vendor is buying their two year plan for $83.87. That works out to $3.49 per month. They also offer a one-year plan for $71.88, but as you can see, you can get an entire additional year for less than ten bucks if you sign up for their two-year plan.
The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, but at 3,252, their server count is more than any of our other picks.
These folks have been around since 2010, and don’t log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.
See all Private Internet Access plans HotSpot Shield Hotspot Shield
Number of IP addresses: 50,000
Number of servers: 3,200
Number of server countries: 80+
$2.99/month for a 3-year plan
Hotspot Shield in-depth review and hands-on testing
HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company’s software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.
So what are we to make of HotSpot Shield? Frankly, the controversy caused us to drop them from our directory for a while. But they approached us, made a strong case for their ongoing dedication to privacy, and we decided to give them another chance.
Here’s the good news. They offer one of the best money-back guarantee we’ve seen for VPN services, a full 45-days. They support Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, along with plugins for Chrome and Firefox. They also support routers and media players (but not Linux). And, as a bonus, they have a connection kill switch feature.
The company does not support P2P or BitTorrent – and they also don’t support the OpenVPN. Every other vendor does, but HotSpot Shield limits its protocol support to L2TP/IPSec and something they call Hydra, an enhancement of the transport protocol.
Overall, the company did impress us with their attention to privacy. They have a published privacy canary. They also told us, “We have built in malware, phishing and spam protection. Our commitment to our users is that Hotspot Shield will never store, log, or share your true IP address.”
See all Hotspot Shield plans
Other VPN service Providers
I had to know why Goose VPN was so named. My first order of business was to reach out to the company’s co-founder and ask. Geese, I was told, make excellent guard animals. There are records of guard geese giving the alarm in ancient Rome when the Gauls attacked. Geese have been used to guard a US Air Defense Command base in Germany and a brewery in Scotland.
It’s clear that the goose is an ideal mascot for a service that’s meant to guard your digital communications. And so, we have Goose VPN.
Goose VPN has a couple of standout features. First, you can have an unlimited number of simultaneous connections (or devices) using the VPN at once. Second, if your bandwidth needs are 50 GB or less per month, you can sign up for $2.99/month, the cheapest monthly rate we’ve seen.
If you want unlimited bandwidth, the company definitely is pushing you towards buying a year at a time. Their monthly fee for unlimited bandwidth is a middle-of-the-road $12.99/month, but if you spend $59.88 for a year’s service, you’ll find it’s the second lowest by-the-year price of the services we’ve reviewed.
Goose provides all the usual clients, including iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows, and adds support for routers, Android TV, and Linux. They are working on a kill switch feature, which may even be up and running by the time you read this review. The company also offers 24/7 ticket-based support.
Ducks quack, geese honk, and swans whoop (we know, because we looked it up). Overall, especially given the unlimited connections and low yearly price, we think Goose VPN is something to honk about.
Number of IP addresses: 200,000+
Number of servers: 700+
Number of server locations: 70+
30-Day Money Back Guarantee
VyprVPN has the largest bank of IP addresses of any of the services we’ve examined. The company offers a wide range of protocols, including its own high-performance Chameleon connection protocol.
We like that the company offers a connection kill switch feature and, for those who need it, there’s an option to get a dedicated IP address. VyprVPN is a standout in their effort to provide privacy, and thwart censorship. When China began its program of deep packet VPN inspection, Golden Frog’s VyperVPN service added scrambled OpenVPN packets to keep the traffic flowing.
The company offers three plans: two years for $60, one year for $45, or monthly at $12.95. Clearly, the company’s two year offering is the sweet spot.
Number of IP addresses: 11,000
Number of servers: 800
Number of server locations: 46
Buffered VPN doesn’t disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take their service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company saddened us because they do keep some connection information. They cheered us up, though, due to their client support, unlimited bandwidth, and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.
The company is relatively new, founded in 2013. It’s based in Europe, so those who prefer an EU-based company might prefer Buffered. We like how Buffered has made a strong commitment to Internet freedom, and an equally strong commitment to providing quality customer support.
At $12.99 per month and $79.00 for a year of service, they don’t offer the least expensive plan, but we do recommend giving them a try.
Hide My Ass
Number of IP addresses: 3,106
Number of servers: 830
Number of server locations: 280
Country/Jurisdiction: United Kingdom
$2.99/month for 3-year plan
We have to give these folks an extra shout-out just for the name of their service. The firm has a strong network with a good selection of protocols supported. While they have an extensive (and very clearly written set of policy documents), the company explicitly allows P2P and torrents.
We like how HMA offers support on a wide range of devices including game consoles. We gave them kudos for bitcoin support, and their excellent money-back guarantee. They did make us frown a bit because they do log connection data. They also offer five simultaneous connections.
While their monthly pricing of $11.52 is at the high end of the spectrum, their yearly pricing is competitive at $83.88 for a full year.
Webroot WiFi Security
Country/Jurisdiction: United States
Starting price: $39.99
As VPN services go, Webroot WiFi Security is relatively bare-bones — but it’s also cheap. Starting at $39.99 for a year of VPN service, you can get a bundle with both VPN and Webroot’s antivirus software for $69.98 for your first year. Unfortunately, both of these prices bump up after the first year. VPN protection jumps to $59.99 and the bundle jumps to $119.98.
While we applaud the combination of VPN and antivirus in one package, Webroot has had a troubled few years. In 2017, it mistakenly flagged Windows’ system files as malicious. In 2018, a kernel exploit was found in the company’s Mac antivirus client. In 2019, the company was acquired by backup firm Carbonite.
If you’re only protecting a few devices and want to save money, Webroot’s VPN might be for you. That $39.99 price is for up to three devices. If you want to protect five devices, you’ll need to pay $59.99 for a year and $79.99 after that. Frankly, once you enter that price range, there are products with more capabilities available.
Webroot’s VPN is also light on protocols. While they do connect using IKEv2 by default, they also offer L2TP and the very old and very insecure PPTP protocol (although they do warn that it’s not “as” secure. Another concern for those of you who need deep protection is that the company does log both which VPN server location you connect to and the country you connect from.
So who is Webroot’s VPN for? If all you want to do is protect your Wi-Fi connection while surfing in your local coffee shop or at a hotel, you only need to connect a few devices, and you want to save money, this is a workable option. But if you’re in need of a serious VPN with deep capabilities, you’ll want to look elsewhere in this directory. Also, we didn’t find any reference to a money back guarantee, so check with their pre-sales and support before buying.
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 coworkers 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 Is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that allows you to create a secure connection over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet. It protects your privacy by allowing you to anonymously appear to be anywhere you choose.
A VPN is beneficial because it guarantees an appropriate level of security and privacy to the connected systems. This is extremely useful when the existing network infrastructure alone cannot support it.
For example, when your computer is connected to a VPN, the computer acts as if it’s also on the same network as the VPN. All of your online traffic is transferred over a secure connection to the VPN. The computer will then behave as if it’s on that network, allowing you to securely gain access to local network resources. Regardless of your location, you’ll be given permission to use the internet as if you were present at the VPN’s location. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals using a public Wi-Fi.
Therefore, when you browse the internet while on a VPN, your computer will contact the website through an encrypted VPN service connection. The VPN will then forward the request for you and forward the response from the website back through a secure connection.
VPNs are really easy to use, and they’re considered to be highly effective tools. They can be used to do a wide range of things. The most popular types of VPNs are remote-access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs.
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.
It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.
What is a site-to-site VPN?
This is when the VPN 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 career multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) 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 mobile VPN?
A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It’s best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It’s good to use when you’re facing coverage gaps, inter-network roaming, bandwidth issues, or limited battery life, memory or processing power.
Mobile VPNs are designed and optimized to ensure a seamless user experience when devices are switching networks or moving out of coverage. It generally has a smaller memory footprint, and because of that, it also requires less processing power than a traditional VPN. Therefore, it enables your applications to run faster while the battery pack is able to last longer.
A Mobile VPN is a worthwhile tool to have since it increases privacy, user satisfaction and productivity, while also reducing unforeseen support issues caused by wireless connectivity problems. The increasing usage of mobile devices and wireless connectivity make it more important to ensure that your data is being transferred through a secure network. It will allow you to access the internet, while staying safe behind a firewall that protects your privileged information.
Who needs a VPN?
Individuals that access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from using a VPN. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Therefore, both private and business users can benefit from using a VPN. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn’t know which web pages you access. They also won’t be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone that wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
How to choose a VPN Service?
There’s a vast range of VPN servers on the internet. Some are free, but the best ones require a monthly subscription. Before you decide to download a VPN, make sure you consider these factors for understanding a VPN:
Cost – VPNs aren’t too pricey, but they vary from vendor to vendor. If your main concern is price, then go with something inexpensive, or free – like Spotflux Premium VPN or AnchorFree HotSpot Shield Elite. By all means, try a free server but they do have a few drawbacks since they attract a lot of users. Free servers are often slower, and since most are ad-supported, they place adverts on the online pages you access. Others can even limit the speed of your connection, as well as your online time or amount of data transferred.
It’s also important to note that leading VPN providers offer stronger security features to ensure you’re digitally safe. When selecting a paid VPN service, always be sure to check which countries it operates servers in.
Reliability – Select a VPN that is reliable and read the reviews to make sure that it’s capable of protecting you by providing you with sufficient online privacy.
High security – An effective VPN will have the following security features: 128-bit encryption, anonymous DNS servers and an absence of connection logs.
Are there any bandwidth limits? This can often be linked to price; paying more will generally provide more bandwidth with faster internet access.
Are apps for Android, iOS phones and tablets available? Apps for Android and iOS devices are also vulnerable, so make sure your VPN server can support them.
To ensure privacy, you want to make sure you have a VPN that doesn’t store online logs. Some servers provide virus and spyware protection, and features like that can significantly increase your online safety.
Using a no-logs VPN service will provide you with a higher degree of security. It can protect you from blanket government surveillance and prevent your internet service provider from knowing your online activity.
Using a VPN for Netflix and other forbidden treasures
Online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have been making it difficult for foreign users to access their content in other countries. Many people can get around region restrictions by using a VPN service to route your traffic through another country.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You’ll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a “dedicated IP address”, “dedicated IP”, or “static IP.” Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.
This is by far the easiest way to access your forbidden apps since there’s no specific way to block VPN traffic.
A lot of people started using a VPN to evade geo-restrictions. But despite its forbidden benefits to users outside the US, a VPN is a great tool that can protect you and enhance your online experience over the internet by providing you with sufficient security and privacy. When it comes to selecting the best VPN, you have plenty of choices. There are many cost-effective VPN options, and all of them will vary in monthly offerings. Choosing the best VPN is easier once you narrow down the competition. The best indication of a good VPN service provider is that they have the right security and the right support in place for you.
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