has long taken a “kitchen sink” approach to its VPN and includes a little bit of everything. From the start, it has included features such as multi-hop connections and access to Tor over VPN, both of which are still rare among competitors. In the still-newish world of VPNs, NordVPN has also managed to set itself up as an established player that now buys other companies and adds entirely new products in addition to improving its VPN.
To its credit, NordVPN has always been a solid product to use. For years, it has kept up a consistent and modern design across all its platforms. And it’s not afraid to change, either, being one of the first VPN companies to fully embrace the new WireGuard VPN protocol and RAM-only servers.
Who It’s For
NordVPN’s greatest strength is that it has something to offer everyone. Privacy wonks appreciate its set of rare tools. People looking to unlock streaming content are empowered by Nord VPN’s large selection of servers and the ability to select specific servers in different locations. First-time users should have no trouble getting started, and they may also be intrigued by Nord VPN’s growing list of additional services—including encrypted storage and a password manager.
That flexibility comes with a very literal price, however. NordVPN is quite a bit above the average monthly price we’ve seen across the industry.
is a relative newcomer to the scene but hit the ground running with a slick product that iterated quickly to match the competition. While it doesn’t have all the features of its competitors, it does offer multi-hop connections and supports the WireGuard protocol.
Its blue color scheme and higher-than-average monthly cost invite comparison to another blue VPN: NordVPN. That company recently purchased Surfshark VPN, but both continue to operate independently. Surfshark VPN has also expanded and now offers antivirus protection, at an additional cost.
Who It’s For
Surfshark has a good collection of features, but its real value is that it places no limit on the number of devices you can use with a single subscription. Most VPNs limit you to just five. Large families, or just households with lots of devices, can protect everything with just one subscription.
VPN with its funny bear-themed app, bright colors, and limited feature set. It lacks much of the muscle found among our top choices. But that does TunnelBear VPN a grave disservice. This VPN is extremely easy to use and features a limited free subscription option, making it an excellent choice for anyone unfamiliar with VPNs. TunnelBear VPN also has one of the most transparent audit processes in the industry, making it a name you really can trust.
Who It’s For
TunnelBear VPN is a great choice for anyone new to VPNs, thanks to its simple and friendly interface. It’s also a strong option for anyone who just needs a general-purpose VPN and isn’t going to fuss with network settings.
has, perhaps, the largest collection of VPN servers available. That alone isn’t an indicator of quality, but coupled with its large collection of server locations in 90 countries, CyberGhost VPN becomes a strong contender for anyone in need of VPN coverage across the globe. It’s not the complete package, however, as it lacks multi-hop connections and the company has yet to release the results of a third-party audit.
Who It’s For
With its large collection of server locations and enormous server network, CyberGhost VPN gives you the best chance of finding a nearby VPN server no matter where you go. It also provides myriad options for spoofing your location. Although its monthly subscription rate is higher than the average we’ve seen, its annual rate undercuts most of the competition.
When you switch on a VPN, it routes your web traffic through an encrypted connection to a server controlled by the VPN company. From there, your traffic exits onto the web as normal. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted, even after leaving the VPN. This sounds simple, but it can improve your privacy online.
Think of it like this: If your car pulls out of your driveway, someone can follow you and see where you’re going, how long you’re at your destination, and when you return. They might even peek into your car to learn more about you, the driver. With a VPN, it’s like driving from your house into an underground tunnel, exiting it into a closed parking garage, switching to a different car, and driving out. No one who was following you can know where you went.
With your VPN on, no one snooping around your network can see what you’re up to. This is true even if the snooper controls the network. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous and convenient, are unfortunately also extremely convenient for attackers. How do you know, for example, that “starbucks_wifi-real” is actually the Wi-Fi network for said coffee shop? In fact, a popular security-researcher prank is to create a network with the same name as a free, popular service and see how many devices automatically connect.
Even if you’re inclined to trust your fellow humans, you might not want to trust your internet service provider (ISP). In the US, your ISP has enormous insight into your online activities. To make matters worse, Congress has decided your ISP is allowed to sell your anonymized browsing history. Considering you are already paying for the service, selling your data seems egregious. A VPN prevents even your ISP from keeping tabs on you.
Another VPN benefit is that your true IP address is hidden behind the address of the VPN server. This makes it harder to track you across the web. Even dedicated observers have a hard time telling whose traffic is whose because your data is mixed in with that of everyone else using the server.
Hiding your IP address has another benefit: it makes it harder for snoops to figure out where you are located. You can use this to your advantage and connect to distant VPN servers to spoof your location, too.
Note: VPNs are not the same thing as proxies, with which they are sometimes confused.
VPN services, while helpful, don’t protect against every threat. A VPN can’t help if you download ransomware or if you give up your data in a phishing attack. We strongly recommend using local antivirus software, enabling multi-factor authentication wherever available, and using a password manager to create and store unique, complex passwords for each site and service you use.
There are also limitations to how anonymous you can be with a VPN. Advertisers have many tactics at their disposal to gather data on you and track your movements. These range from online trackers to browser fingerprinting. We recommend using the anti-tracking features in your browser and installing dedicated ad or tracker blockers.
Many VPN services also provide their own DNS resolution system. Think of DNS as a phone book that turns a text-based URL like “pcmag.com” into an IP address computers can understand. Savvy snoops can monitor DNS requests and track your movements online. Greedy attackers can also use DNS poisoning to direct you to bogus phishing pages designed to steal your data. When you use a VPN’s DNS system, it’s another layer of protection. Secure DNS is improving privacy already, but VPNs go further.
There’s some debate among security experts about the efficacy of VPNs. Since most sites now support secure HTTPS connections, much of your online experience is already encrypted. Secure DNS products like Cloudflare 184.108.40.206 exist precisely because some feel VPNs are overkill. Still, a VPN covers the information not already protected by HTTPS, places an important buffer between you and the people controlling internet infrastructure, and makes online tracking harder.
VPNs are useful for improving individual privacy, but there are also people for whom a VPN is essential for personal and professional safety. Some journalists and political activists rely on VPN services to circumvent government censorship and safely communicate with the outside world. Check the local laws before using a VPN in China, Russia, or any country with repressive internet policies. Another place people might want to use a VPN is in a war zone such as Ukraine, where hiding locations might well be a matter of life and death.
For comprehensive anonymization of your traffic, you’ll want to access the free Tor network. While a VPN tunnels your web traffic to a VPN server, Tor bounces around your traffic through several volunteer nodes which makes it much harder to track. Using Tor also grants access to hidden Dark Web sites, which a VPN simply cannot do. That said, some services, such as NordVPN and ProtonVPN, offer Tor access on specific servers. Note that Tor will slow down your connection even more than a VPN.
A determined adversary will almost always breach your defenses one way or another. What a VPN does is protect you against mass data collection and the casual criminal vacuuming up user data for later use.
How Do I Choose a VPN? PROTON VPN
The VPN market has exploded in the past few years, growing from a niche industry to an all-out melee. Many providers are capitalizing on the general population’s growing concerns about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it’s getting hard to tell when a company is providing a useful service and when it’s selling snake oil. In fact, fake VPNs have even popped up, so be careful.
When looking for a VPN, don’t just focus on speed, since that’s the factor you and the VPN company have the least control over. Since nearly all VPN companies offer some mixture of the same technologies, consider value instead. How can you get the most for the least? Look for extra features like split tunneling, multi-hop connections, and so on. You may not need these all the time, but they’re useful when you do.
Nearly every VPN service provides its own app with a full GUI for managing connections and settings, and we recommend using it. You might dismiss such things as mere chrome, preferring to manage your VPN connections manually. This works, but doing so is tedious, requires manual updating, and won’t give you access to the additional privacy tools many VPNs provide. When considering a VPN, decide whether you can stand looking at it.
The best way to know if a VPN works for you is to try it in your own home. See if you can access all the sites and services you need. Find out if the interface is usable and if the speeds in your area are acceptable. Some VPN services provide free trials, so take advantage of them. Make sure you are happy with what you signed up for and use any money-back guarantees if not.
This is why we also recommend starting with a short-term subscription—a week or a month—to make sure you are happy. Yes, you may get a discount by signing up for a year, but that’s more money at stake should you decide the service doesn’t meet your performance needs.
Sometimes, a VPN will be tacked on to another service as a sweetener. These are tricky to compare since they often have a completely different set of features than the average VPN. The VPN included with Google One lacks many of the tools we expect with a VPN, but also comes with 2TB of cloud storage—unmatched by any VPN service we’ve seen. In cases like this, it’s best to consider what you want to use a VPN for and whether a tacked-on VPN meets those needs.
Which Free VPN Is Best?
Not all VPN services require you to pay. There are, in fact, many excellent free VPNs. But all the free VPNs we’ve tested have limitations. Some limit you to just a few simultaneous connections or devices on an account. Others restrict your data or limit you to a handful of servers. Still, others do all of the above.
Finding the best free VPN is an exercise in balancing those restrictions. TunnelBear, for example, lets you use any server on its network but limits you to 500MB-1GB per month. Editors’ Choice winner ProtonVPN has the unique distinction of placing no data restrictions on free users, but it does limit which servers you can access.
For those of you who are at least willing to put down some cash, we also have a roundup of the best cheap VPNs.
Can You Be Tracked If You Use a VPN?
If you’re using a service to route all your internet traffic through its servers, you have to be able to trust that service. It’s easier to trust companies that have been around longer, simply because their reputation is likely to be well-established. The trouble is, the VPN industry is young, and some VPN companies play dirty. In this environment, figuring out who to trust is difficult.
At ONLYBESTHUB, we give special attention to the privacy practices of VPN companies and not just the technology they provide. In our testing, we read through the privacy policies and discuss company practices with VPN company representatives. We look for a commitment to protecting user information, and practices that gather and retain as little user information as possible.
As part of our research, we also make sure to find out where the company is based and under what legal framework it operates. Some countries don’t have data-retention laws, making it easier to keep a promise of “We don’t keep any logs.” It’s also useful to know under what circumstances a VPN company will hand over information to law enforcement and what information it would have on hand to provide if that were to happen.
What Are the Best VPNs for Streaming and Banking?
Some security-conscious companies like banks may be confused by your VPN. If your bank sees you logging in from what appears to be another US state or even another country, it can raise red flags. Expect to see captchas and more frequent multifactor requests when your VPN is on.
Netflix and other streaming services often block VPN access, since a VPN can be used to access region-locked content. Unfortunately, a service that works today may be blocked tomorrow, and vice versa. That could be an issue for many readers because while the preponderance of you appear to use VPNs to protect yourselves, nearly a quarter use VPNs primarily for streaming.
In general, we found that VPNs have improved their ability to access far-flung streaming content. In previous years, it was extremely unusual to find a VPN that could stream Netflix content from outside the US. Keep in mind that accessing region-locked streaming content can breach terms of service, and ONLYBESTHUB cannot supply legal advice for such situations.
Lastly, because a VPN encrypts your data as it’s transmitted from your device, it’s often impossible to access local devices on the same network. A great example is the Google Chromecast media streamer. If you have a VPN running, you won’t be able to use a Chromecast. You may as well be on a different Wi-Fi network. Some VPNs allow for split-tunneling, letting you designate applications and sites that can travel outside the VPN connection. Others include an option to make traffic visible to LAN devices.
VPNs by the Numbers
Some important things to look for when shopping for a VPN include the number of simultaneous connections the VPN service allows, the number of servers available, and the number of server locations the company has.
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service offering fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind you’ll need to connect every device you wish to protect to the VPN service, so a mere two or three licenses will barely be enough for even one person, let alone a connected couple or family.
This paradigm may be changing, however. Many services now offer far more than five simultaneous connections. Some have even done away with the restriction entirely. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt. me VPN, IPVanish VPN, Editors’ Choice winner Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN all place no limit on the number of simultaneous connections.
Of course, there are more than just phones and computers in a home. Game systems, tablets (including Chromebooks), and smart home devices such as light bulbs and fridges all need to connect to the internet. Many of these things can’t run VPN software on their own. Some VPN companies provide instructions on how to configure a router to use a VPN, which would protect all the devices on the network. There’s some debate on whether this will cause even more unforeseen complications. We don’t recommend this solution to anyone other than an experienced and patient tinkerer.
VPN Servers Matter
The distribution of VPN servers is a key consideration. Having numerous servers in diverse locales means that, no matter where you travel, you’ll be able to find a nearby VPN server. The closer the VPN server, the better the speed and reliability of the connection it can offer you. Remember, you don’t need to connect to a far-flung VPN server to gain security benefits. Depending on where you live, a server down the street is as safe as one across the globe.
We also look at how many virtual servers and virtual locations VPN companies use. A virtual server is just what it sounds like—a software-defined server running on server hardware that might have several virtual servers onboard. A virtual location is a server configured to appear somewhere other than where it is physically located. While neither is inherently problematic, it’s worrisome to choose one location and discover you’re connected somewhere else entirely. Some VPN companies take a smart view of virtual servers, using them to provide VPN support for regions where it might be too risky to physically house a server. When VPNs use these technologies, we prefer they be transparent about them.
What’s the Fastest VPN?
When a VPN is active, your web traffic is taking a more circuitous route than usual, often resulting in sluggish download and upload speeds as well as increased latency. The good news is, using a VPN probably isn’t going to remind you of the dial-up days of yore.
When we test VPNs, we use the Ookla speed test tool. This test provides metrics for latency, download speeds, and upload speeds. Any one of these can be an important measurement depending on your needs, but we tend to view the download speed as the most important. After all, we live in an age of digital consumption.
Conclusion Should You Use a VPN?
Using a VPN is a simple way to protect your privacy online, and it can be a tool for circumventing unwanted internet restrictions, too. None of the services listed here are perfect, and there will surely be times when it won’t make sense to use a VPN. All that said, a VPN is undoubtedly a valuable tool, it’s well worth having in your personal security toolbox.
LIST OF 2023 VPN