Today everyday citizens are at odds with their own governments about how the internet should be run and the effect that changes to the status quo have on our freedoms. Privacy is not a privilege, it’s a right, and yet internet users are forced to give up that right each time they log on. Thankfully millions of internet users around the world have discovered the power of virtual private networks (VPNs) over the past decade.
With a whole host of unique features and functions that make browsing much more secure, VPNs offer a level of privacy that a “bare” connection just cannot. With constant leaks and scandals revealing how governments keep tabs on their citizens, it’s no wonder why VPNs continue to grow in popularity.
In the battle to be crowned the best VPN service, providers are striving to enhance their services, improve usability, and lower prices. As of 2017, the premium grade services boast some of the most advanced features imaginable – many of which currently include discounts and promotions.
Here are our choices for the best Virtual Private Networks of 2017 (updated April 24th):
Considered the most reliable market leader, ExpressVPN offers a user-friendly interface with a very helpful customer service team and an impressive network, boasting high speeds with a variety of server locations.
ExpressVPN’s enhanced encryption enables users worldwide enjoy content and privacy with record breaking speeds and location options.
With an easy setup and a wide variety of servers, Nord offers users the ability to have six simultaneous connections on a trusted and reliable service with excellent customer support.
The software is compatible with most operating systems and mobile devices, which offers flexibility and security for all of your day-to-day needs. Overall this is a great choice for casual web-browsing and surfing.
IPVanish’s virtual private network is one of the best available. The service offers users one of the most streamlined and efficient experiences around, no matter what their location. Users can log in from anywhere around the world and experience the same fast speeds and quality servers. IPVanish offers subscriptions at a very low price, with options to personalize IP locations and secure your Wi-Fi connection from hackers.
Offering users a choice of over 500 servers around the world, PureVPN provides leading security features and a platform that is extremely versatile to cater to new and inexperienced users. Plans and prices vary but are competitive with similar options.
Hide My Ass
Don’t be taken aback by the crude name, Hide My Ass! takes its job very seriously with its astounding 100,000 IP addresses spread across 900 servers in 300 locations. It also offers great compatibility for both Mac and PC users, as well as an advanced network setup that makes browsing quick, easy, and affordable.
Although many wrongly consider it an entry-level provider, VyprVPN is a leading virtual networking client that suits even advanced user needs. Once prone to issues with slow loading times and limited connectivity in certain parts of the world, Vypr is constantly upgrading and improving – so much so that they have found their way back to the top of many lists. The client is very affordable but can be frustrating during peak hours.
What is a VPN and Why Should You Care?
The latter benefit is one of the main reasons that initially leads people to invest in virtual networks. Whenever you log on to the internet, your computer or mobile devices display their own unique IP address. If this address attempts to view content or multimedia that is restricted to particular regions (such as on Hulu, for example), then it will not be allowed access.
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a service that reroutes your internet connection and everything you access to another computer through a secure connection. This prevents other people, including your internet service provider, from seeing your internet browsing habits and potentially using them against you, or selling the information to a third party.
The concept of tunneling a connection through a remote server originated as a way for workers to access their office computers from home. The same technology, it was discovered, could allow users to tunnel their connection through a secure encrypted server, thereby hiding their online activity. While both uses are very popular, VPNs have become best known as a way for private users to surf the internet safely.
This is all great, you may be thinking, but a VPN seems like a bit much. As long as you don’t do anything illegal online you having nothing to worry about, right? Unfortunately, it is that kind of thinking that enables legislators to continue to create laws that violate your online rights. As long as there is valuable data to harvest from online activity, someone is willing to put your information at risk.
Online security should be something that everyone cares about. Only a secure VPN can create a truly safe connection that guarantees your privacy.
How Does a VPN Keep You Safe Online?
VPNs cover several different security needs. They offer protection from mass government surveillance, in addition to protection from hackers on public networks. This means that you cannot be targeted by major governmental organizations like the NSA or even small-time cyber criminals just looking to steal your banking information. This is accomplished by routing all of the information you send and receive through a third-party server that encrypts it and keeps it safe.
Virtual Private Networks can also enable you to get around internet restrictions imposed by fascistic governments. A VPN can spoof your geographic location and make websites think you are visiting from somewhere else. Through this, you can bypass government or ISP imposed censorship, download torrents, or even used country-limited services (like Spotify).
There is no better or safer way to browse online than through a VPN.
The Legality and Safety of a VPN
VPNs are legal throughout most of the world. Some countries forbid them, but they are generally allowed as they are routinely used in business settings and a complete ban could be economically harmful.
Using a VPN to download torrents is a moral gray area, but because your identity is hidden, there is no way to trace peer-to-peer connections back to you. If you plan on using your VPN for this purpose, make sure that the service allows it. Many VPNs do not cover torrenting.
When it comes to your online safety, there are three general categories of entities that may try to observe your actions online that you should be aware of: ISP Spying, Untargeted Government Surveillance, and Targeted Government Surveillance.
Most ISPs collect bits of information about your browsing activity known as metadata. This information does not specify a user’s personal information, but it can be sold to advertisers, essentially serving as a guide to how to advertise to you. Additionally, your browsing can be tracked and sent to government authorities upon request. This method of data collection can be prevented by using a VPN.
Untargeted government surveillance refers to the wholesale collecting of citizen internet browsing data. Usually done in the name of counterterrorism, this method of surveillance is constantly abused and has been demonstrated to violate First Amendment rights time and again. This kind of targeting can be stopped with a VPN.
Targeted government surveillance, where an official body specifically wants information about you, is generally inescapable and unavoidable. Most users who employ a VPN are not those who worry about such things, but it is generally preferable that law enforcement can target such individuals.
VPN and Content Restriction
When you spend a lot of time online, you are likely to run across the occasional error message relating to geofencing and content restrictions. Typically, these involve sites that are only accessible when you are seen as being located in specific areas in the world. These geolocation-oriented restrictions can be frustrating to encounter, but that aren’t unbeatable. In fact, VPN services are an ideal way for accessing content that is normally unavailable in your country. Here’s how it works.
VPN services allow users to select specific servers for their connection. Often, VPN service providers offer multiple server options, including some located in countries other than where you reside. When you select a foreign-based server for your connection, it makes it appear as though you are actually located in that particular country.
Since you are using a connection through another country, you can access sites that are reachable based on that country regardless of where you are physically located. This means you can bypass geo-fencing restrictions and enjoy the content instead!
The Limits of Getting Around Content Restrictions
VPNs are great tools for getting around content restrictions. They achieve this by telling a website that you are based in a different location from the one you are in. This allows users to watch videos that are location specific and even sign up for services they would normally be unable to use in their home countries.
While most services know that this is being done and are okay with it, there are some who have, unfortunately, prevented people from using the services with a VPN. Most notably is Netflix, a company which banned VPNs after the service became available in most countries in the world. Hulu is another service that forces users to be in areas of coverage.
Thankfully, these limits are not employed by most services and the number of content restricted items that are available far exceeds those which are not.
Gaming on a VPN
The popularity of video games continues to increase as connected play makes for truly immersive and unique experiences for gamers. With that popularity comes more risk, however, and more and more gamers are choosing to play using a VPN connection. Some wonder if the threat of online gameplay is overblown, but there are several reasons why you should consider a VPN if you are a gamer.
One of the biggest risks when playing online is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. A system is especially exposed during online gaming tournaments. If you fall victim to this kind of attack, your system can be used and controlled with malicious intent by a hacker. This can result in anything from disrupted gameplay to the use of your gaming system as an additional point of attack. A VPN can help protect against this and other kinds of hacker attacks.
[box type=”alert”]Take control of your gaming with a VPN.[/box]
Contrary to popular belief, virtual private networks can actually speed up your gaming experience. There is nothing more frustrating than experiencing lag while playing online and using a VPN to connect to a server nearest to the gaming server can lower your ping. This can provide you with an advantage over other players who are not using a VPN.
Aside from the highly practical, there are other benefits to using a VPN for gaming. Many video games offer country-exclusive content. Gamers hate this, as it essentially bars them from improving or upgrading their games with cool extras, but because a VPN can spoof your location, you can access all downloadable content, no matter where in the world you are.
The same goes for the playing of specific games that are region limited. Just like certain films and websites, repressive governments often block video games that they deem to be against their cultural values. You can bypass this easily with a VPN. If you don’t live under these kinds of restrictive laws, a VPN can even come in handy for accessing games early, if they launch in your country on later dates.
Take note that not all VPNs are able to handle online gameplay and some may actually serve as more of a detriment than a benefit. If you want to use a VPN for online gameplay, it is important to make sure that your provider allows it. Based on our tests, we recommend ExpressVPN and IPVanish as your best VPN gaming options.
Why is this a Political Issue?
Most people don’t realize that the internet is ruled by various different bodies. Without governance, it could not function the way we have come to expect and enjoy. The problem, however, is that with the continued growth of the internet and the potential it represents, governments see it as a way to further control what the masses see and think, and many have attempted to implement laws, both nationally and internationally, to exploit this.
You may have heard about net neutrality. It is one of the hottest issues regarding internet regulation to come up in recent years. Net neutrality refers to the concept that every page on the internet should be treated the same. This means that internet service providers (ISPs) cannot charge users differently based on what content they view or what websites they use. It is often debated whether this is a fair practice (mostly by ISPs), but still remains standard policy for the internet in the United States.
In a world where globalization is making its way into all facets of modern life, it does not make sense that one entity should have the power to dominate a borderless and community-driven institution.
That’s where virtual private networks come in. As their name might suggest, they work by creating a virtual digital network that users can log into. Once accessed, these networks will typically possess their own national IP address. Any interactions that then take place once connected, will operate via this single IP address.
In the case of international browsers, a virtual network can help by masking the real IP address and then providing a new one, thus lifting any restrictions that may be in place as far as location is concerned. Whenever a user logs into a digital network, they will be able to define a digital location for their browsing.
Setting Up a VPN
Setting up a VPN can be as simple and straightforward as installing any other piece of software. Most VPN providers offer a software suite that provides users with everything they need to begin safe browsing right away. All that the user needs to do is activate the VPN and make sure that it is connected to the desired server.
Not all VPNs offer software for every platform — or at all. When this is the case, they generally provide setup guides to explain how you can manually input the VPN protocol necessary for you to use the service. While these are not always the easiest to use, most VPNs make sure that users have no trouble accessing their resources.
Torrenting With Virtual Private Networks
Torrents are one of the most popular methods for peer-to-peer content sharing available on the internet today. They can make the downloading of large files quicker, providing an efficient method for sharing content, like clips and videos. The technology in itself is completely legal, but the nature of the content being shared can infringe on copyrights. When that is the case, the users involved can be at risk for legal action. Additionally, peer-to-peer sites can present security issues, putting users at risk of downloading malicious files.
Virtual Private Networks allow you to access torrent content anonymously, lowering the risk associated with accessing content that may be under certain legal protections. The connections are generally well encrypted, making it more difficult for others to gain access to your system based on your connection to the torrent system.
VPNs and Your Privacy
Often, the most coveted benefit of using these services is increased privacy while using the internet. The VPN service hides your actual IP address while substituting the IP from your selected provider in its place. This means that tracking your actual location is significantly more complex, and may even be impossible depending on the variable involved. In fact, since you can select the location of the VPN server your traffic routes through, your connection can even appear to be coming from an entirely different country than its true.
Other services are unable to see the origin of your traffic while you are accessing various sites or services online. This includes your ISP as well as various government agencies. Instead, they see the information associated with the server which provides no direct connection to you.
Depending on the service you select, even the VPN provider may have limited, if any, information on you. For example, some services don’t require an email address, a bank-associated method of payment, or even your name. You may have the option of only using a login ID and chosen password, and the chance to use fairly anonymous payment methods like BitCoin. Additionally, most of the best VPN services don’t store any information about your activities while your connection is live, ensuring that no one is keeping a record of the sites you visit or the activities in which you participate.
However, it is important to review all of the information listed in a VPN service provider’s privacy policies and other use oriented policies. Each company will have different operating standards, making it critical to review them in detail before signing up.
The above software represents our top picks for the year. Be sure to check out the free VPN service each one has to offer before purchasing a full license, as trials are a good way to ensure you are satisfied with your provider.
Ian Gilbride: “I completely agree with the ranking on this site. ExpressVPN is by far the best service I’ve ever come across. I’m in Texas and I’ve visited the majority of their servers. Zero issues, nice payment plans and the customer support team are more than happy to help give advice on how to beat tracking tools!”
Other Advantages of Private Networks
Another great bonus when using a private network is that your browsing habits will remain confidential. In simple terms, this means that if you want to visit websites without having your IP address logged, or if you want to avoid your details being harvested by pesky spam bots, advertisers, and other irritating databases, a private network will keep all of these things at bay.
What sort of things should you look for when trying to find the top VPN software online? Well, in this day and age there is really no reason why internet users should settle with having all of their data tracked. Analytics tools are one of the biggest offenders, and they will harvest information relating to your gender, age, and location. Take a look at this FTC warning and recommendation on using a virtual private network while traveling.
Companies invest thousands of dollars in advanced tracking software that monitors your behavior, collates information, and then provides them with data for market research and more. This is how spam emails are able to make their way into our inboxes, and how we end up finding our email addresses signed up to online mailing lists that we’ve never even heard of.
Unique Features of The Best VPN Services
With so many activities to take part in online – from visiting your favorite websites, sharing your opinions in comment sections and forums, keeping in touch with your family, watching movies and streaming videos – the last thing on your mind may be your privacy. As mentioned above, companies, organizations, and data harvesting tools will be desperate to obtain your information.
They use this information to sell products, promote services, and target ads. Virtual clients will eliminate this by tricking these establishments into thinking that you are someone else entirely. Most modern providers offer unique packages that can be customized to suit your needs. This is a great way to minimize your cost while still receiving the benefits of a VPN.
This is a great way to minimize your cost while still receiving the benefits of a VPN. That’s not to say that you can’t flick between different clients, especially as prices drop and discounts are offered. The most beneficial feature of using online virtual platforms is that there are so many to choose from.
Before deciding on a service, pay careful attention to the following features:
- Ease of use, including a user-friendly interface and device compatibility.
- An affordable rate that doesn’t introduce any hidden fees.
- An extensive amount of servers to rely on, to guarantee uninterrupted browsing.
- A friendly customer support team to assist you, should you ever have difficulties with the software.
To learn more about VPNs, or if you are still looking for the best VPN service to suit your needs, take a look through our comprehensive review section.