In A Nutshell
There are now over a hundred VPN providers located across the world. To create this list of the best VPN service providers, I test customer service, the reliability of their network, and commitment to privacy. I also research actual customer feedback posted in online forums.
I recommend these VPN service providers:
- For Privacy: Private Internet Access, VPN.AC (now supports OpenVPN obfuscation), AirVPN (supports SSL tunneling)
- For Torrenting: ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, NordVPN (based in Ecuador)
- For Unblocking Netflix and YouTube: UnblockUS (SmartDNS), ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access
- For Unblocking Hulu: UnblockUS, Overplay (see my SmartDNS article for more info)
- For Unblocking BBC (iPlayer): UnblockUS, Overplay or use IPVanish (VPN)
- For iPhones/iPads: ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access
- For Android: ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access
- For Bypassing Chinese Firewall: ExpressVPN, VPN.AC, 12VPN (for more info see my article The Best VPNs For China)
- For Australia: ExpressVPN
- VPNs Offering Dedicated IP Addresses: PureVPN, NordVPN (for more info see my article The Best VPN Providers That Offer Dedicated IPs)
- European-Based VPNs For Privacy: VPN.AC (Romania), AirVPN (Italy)
I no longer recommend these VPN service providers:
- EarthVPN: The service was recently hacked, and is apparently keeps logs
- BTGuard: Numerous reports of slow connection speeds, and poor customer service.
- StrongVPN: Fairly expensive. Confusing sign-up options. Also they do not allow P2P/Torrenting, and they able to match an external IP address to a subscriber.
I’ve also created a list of the VPN providers I do not recommend.
You may want to create your own VPS (virtual private server) and install OpenVPN. I recommend using a reliable VPS like Digital Ocean. You can purchase their $5 per month plan, and then follow these instructions to set up OpenVPN.
What Is A VPN?
A VPN (virtual private network) is a service encrypts and redirects all the internet connections on your computer. This means all the data leaving your computer is encrypted, which adds a layer of protection against hackers and eavesdroppers. It is also very difficult for your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to monitor you or block your connections. A VPN service will also allow your to computer to appear to be Europe, the USA, or other countries at will. This is helpful if you want to access blocked media like streaming videos. VPNs differ from web proxies because VPNs encrypt and redirect all of your computer’s outgoing network connections, whereas proxies will only usually only redirect particular protocols within an application. Note that VPNs may slow down your internet connections a bit, but in some cases they may actually speed up your connections. VPNs won’t really affect direct downloads, but they will affect web browsing and torrenting (basically anything that pulls data in lots of small bursts). Personally, I don’t notice a difference unless I’m connected a very remote server in Japan or Romania (from the US). I don’t recommend using free VPNs because they are usually run by untrustworthy companies, and tend to sell your private information. If you need a extra layer of privacy when signing up to VPN services, I suggest using an pseudo-anonymous payment method such as Bitcoin or Liberty Reserve, and doing a DNS Leak Test when using a VPN. However, for most people, this kind of obfuscation is not necessary.
The Best VPN For Privacy
Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access is a VPN service that is highly regarded by privacy advocates. It remains our top choice for a privacy-oriented VPN service. In the online discussions I’ve been monitoring, the comments are almost universally positive. It also received a PC Magazine Editor’s Choice Award for VPN services. The company operates out of the United States with gigabit gateways in the USA, Canada, UK, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. I’ve been testing their VPN service for about 12 months now, and I’ve had no problems. I use it continuously now, and I don’t notice any lag when browsing the web, or downloading files. They are also one of the least expensive private VPNs, with rates at $39.95 year, or $6.95 per month. In regards to logging user activity, the company says:
We absolutely do not maintain any VPN logs of any kind. We utilize shared IP addresses rather than dynamic or static IPs, so it is not possible to match a user to an external IP. These are some of the many solutions we have implemented to enable the strongest levels of anonymity amongst VPN services. Further, we would like to encourage our users to use an anonymous e-mail and pay with Bitcoins to ensure even higher levels of anonymity should it be required. Our core verticals are privacy, quality of service, and prompt customer support. We will not share any information with third parties without a valid court order. With that said, it is impossible to match a user to any activity on our system since we utilize shared IPs and maintain absolutely no logs.
Their VPN service supports all the major platforms: Window, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. They support the following VPN protocols: PPTP, IPSEC, OpenVPN and L2TP. You can also configure Private Internet Access to work on a DD-WRT router or Tomato router (via SSL/OpenVPN) for constant security. Their VPN client also has handy features like DNS leakage blocking and an “internet kill switch” (a feature that shuts off your internet connection if your VPN connection goes down). For payment they accept credit cards, Paypal, almost any Gift Card, Amazon Payments, CashU, Google Wallet, OKPay, Bitcoin, and Liberty Reserve, The service costs $6.95 per month, or $40 per year. Link: Private Internet Access
The Best VPN For Privacy (based in Europe)
VPN.AC, based in Romania, is an excellent choice for use in countries with firewalls and other internet censorship. VPN.AC are experts in VPN security and obfuscation.
VPN.AC hosts servers in 9 countries (US, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, France, Romania, Hong Kong and Canada) capable of reaching gigabit port speeds.
They a recently rolled out obfuscation for OpenVPN feature. Here are the details:
Obfuscating the OpenVPN protocol makes it look like regular SSL traffic — making it harder to be blocked by Firewalls with DPI capabilities relying on protocol signatures to identify known VPN protocols. This is the case in China, where default OpenVPN implementations are blocked almost immediately. While our AES 256-bit implementation is still stealthy and working in China, we added one more protocol-type to bypass the GFW. It runs on several ports including TCP port 443 (HTTPS), replacing an instance of OpenVPN Blowfish 128-bit we used with port TCP/443. With this method, the handshake packets are obfuscated so it’s not possible to identify the traffic as being part of an OpenVPN tunnel. Encryption relies on RSA 4096-bit + ECDHE for key-exchange, AES 128-bit for data channel.
They also introduced support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography along with TLS 1.2 — one of the most secure types of cryptography available today.
VPN.AC offers one VPN package, which grants you access to all of their international servers ($9 per month or $58 per year). For payment they accept Alipay and Unionpay, Paypal, BitCoin, CashU, Paysafecard and UKash.
AirVPN is a VPN provider located in Italy that puts a great deal of attention on providing a truly anonymous service. The company says “When we built our infrastructure we had in mind access from people who live in freedom of expression extremely hostile areas, where identity disclosure can lead to critical threats to physical safety and to personal freedom.” Their servers are located in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, United States and United Kingdom, and in each country there’s at least a 1 Gbit/second server. The company says:
All servers come with dedicated uplink ports. IP addresses are shared with option to forward ports from the control panel. Servers exit-IP and entry-IP are different, against correlation attacks. No logs are kept, and there’s no traffic limit.
The Best VPN For Torrenting and P2P
Not all VPNs are BitTorrent friendly. In fact, some explicitly prohibit the use of file-sharing software. However, there are some VPNs that welcome torrenting and do not log your online activities, thereby preserving your privacy. If want to torrrent without being bothered, it is essential that the VPN you use does not track your online connections. We now recommend these providers for torrenting and P2P:
Best VPNs For Unblocking Hulu, Netflix and YouTube
See my SmartDNS article for more info.
The Best VPN For Mobile Devices
A number of VPNs now support mobile devices like Android phones and tablets, iPhones, iPads and Windows phones. On most devices, you’ll be using the PPTP or the L2TP protocol, and you’ll have to enter your VPN connection information manually. We recommend using L2TP where possible, because this protocol is more secure than PPTP. Currently, you can’t use OpenVPN on iPhones and iPads, due to Apple restrictions. You can use the GuizmOVPN app on a jailbroken iPhone or iPad. On Android you can use FeatVPN app, or on a rooted device running Android 4, you can use the OpenVPN Settings app. Our top picks here are those VPN providers that provide good documentation for setting up mobile devices:
- ExpressVPN (great set of mobile apps)
- Private Internet Access (reliable apps, good documentation, doesn’t keep logs)
- IPVanish (provides step-by-step instruction for setting up mobile devices, note that they do keep logs)
VPNs That I Do Not Recommend
They ask for your bank info during registration. I also did not enjoy my interactions with their customer service representatives. They declined comments about privacy, locks your account immediately if you get a DMCA notice.
Numerous reports of slow connection speeds, and poor customer service.
Poor customer service. Requires a phone number.
Fairly expensive, confusing sign-up options, and does not allow P2P and are able to match an external IP address to their subscribers. They limit the number of times you can change servers and changes your username and password each time you do.
They don’t support torrenting. They don’t respond to people’s questions.
Keeps logs, doesn’t support torrenting.
Customer service fairly slow and minimal. Some (very limited) logs are kept, slow speeds, limited servers. Also costs $97.76
Limited support, some slow connections including “Multihop” mode (mostly unreliable)
Keeps logs, they say they support P2P, but shut down account as soon as they receive DMCA notice.
Awful customer service, constant disconnection issues.
Requires your personal info when signing up, doesn’t respond to request for refunds.
Essentially a scam, customer support non-existent.
Only supports OpenVPN, limited number of servers.