Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts a device s Internet access through a secure server. It is most frequently used for remote employees accessing a business s potentially sensitive information or individual users who want to maintain Internet privacy away from home. Unlike non-VPN connections, information transmitted via VPN tunnels cannot be accessed by Internet service providers (ISPs), government entities, or malicious hackers because the system requires a multi-step authentication process to verify that the end user is secured to the website. While no security is foolproof, having a VPN is much more secure than not having one.

Top VPN Vendors

Note: The list below contains affiliate links. Webopedia may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

1. ExpressVPN

As one of the best known vendors in the VPN market, ExpressVPN boasts 160 servers across 94 countries. ExpressVPN is slightly more expensive than other providers, but its functionality, connection speeds, and security are generally regarded as top notch.

ExpressVPN

  • 5 device limit
  • 160 servers in 94 countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and PPTP
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunnelling
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • 30 day money back guarantee
  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $12.95/mo.
          • 6-month pricing: $9.99/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $6.67/mo.

 

2. NordVPN

NordVPN offers an average number of device connections and has at times been criticized for its user experience, but what sets it apart is the server volume. Of the vendors mentioned here, NordVPN supports the second-largest number of servers worldwide and does so without sacrificing connection speeds.

nord

  • 6 device limit
  • 5,100 servers in 59 countriesUses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and NordLynx for desktop/mobile, TLS v1.2 for browser encryption
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • 24/7 email and live chat support
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Exclusive: save 68%

  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $11.95/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $6.99/mo.
          • 24-month pricing: $4.99/mo.
          • 36-month pricing: $3.49/mo.

3. SurfShark

SurfShark is among the most budget-friendly providers on the list, with a 2-year subscription rate just under $2 USD per month. Low cost does not mean low quality, however, as SurfShark maintains more than 1,700 servers in 63 different countries and supports an unlimited number of devices.SurfShark

  • Unlimited devices
  • 1700+ servers in 63 countries
  • Uses IKEv2, OpenVPN, Shadowsocks
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • 24/7 email and live chat support
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Exclusive: save 81%

  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $11.95/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $5.99/mo.
          • 24-month pricing: $1.99/mo.

 

 

4. CyberGhost

CyberGhost has the largest number of servers on this list and its app interface automatically chooses the best one to connect to based on the user s goals a big benefit for user experience. It also has a relatively small 12-month subscription price tag and gives users a longer money back guarantee window than most of its competitors.

ghostbusters

  • 7 device limit
  • 6,200 servers in 90 countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, L2TP/IPSec
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling, but not by default
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • 14- to 45-day money back guarantee

Exclusive: save 79%

  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $12.99/mo.
          • 6-month pricing: $7.99/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $2.75/mo.

 

5. IPVanish

Unlimited device connections and fast customer support response times add intrigue to the relatively large number of servers IPVanish manages worldwide. Although the annual subscription price is higher than other vendors on this list, it does come with SugarSync storage and backup capabilities.

ipvanish

  • Unlimited devices
  • 1,500+ servers in 75+ locations
  • Uses IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling, but only on Android devices
  • 24/7 email and live chat support
  • 30 day money back guarantee
  • Comes with SugarSync storage & backup subscription bonus
  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $11.99/mo.
          • 3-month pricing: $8.99/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $6.49/mo.

 

6. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN has the smallest server network of the vendors on this list, but is one of the more affordable options for a user whose VPN needs are minimal. Its simplicity may be most appealing for someone looking for a user-friendly vendor.

private vpn

  • 6 device limit
  • 150+ servers in 60 countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Does not support split tunneling
  • Ticket support only (not 24/7)
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $8.10/mo.
          • 3-month pricing: $5.03/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $3.82/mo.

 

 

7. Private Internet Access

Among the more affordable VPN vendors, Private Internet Access offers a competitive balance of simultaneous device connections, server availability, and connection speeds.

private internet access

  • 10 device limit
  • 3,000+ servers in 47 countries
  • Uses WireGuard, PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling, but for desktop only
  • Email and live chat support only (not 24/7)
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • Pricing:
        • 1-month pricing: $11.95/mo.
        • 12-month pricing: $3.33/mo.
        • 24-month pricing: $2.69/mo.

8. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is one of the few VPN providers to offer a proprietary protocol in addition to some of the common ones listed above. It also offers a free version, plus separate subscription models for individuals and families. While it sits toward the top of VPN price ranges, Hotspot Shield offers a longer money back guarantee (45 days) than most others and includes access to a security suite (1Password, Identity Guard, and Robo Shield) as part of an individual Premium subscription.

hotspot shield

  • 5 device limit
  • 3,200+ servers in 80+ countries
  • Uses Hydra (proprietary), OpenVPN, IPSec, WireGuard
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling (referred to as Smart VPN)
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • Single Premium account also has security suite access
  • 45-day money back guarantee
  • Pricing:
          • Free plan: 500MB daily limit, 1 server, limited support and streaming access
          • Premium: 1-month pricing: $12.99/mo.; 12-month pricing: $7.99/mo.
          • Premium Family (up to 5 member accounts): 1-month pricing: $19.99/mo.; 12-month pricing: $11.99/mo.

 

9. StrongVPN

StrongVPN is among the mid-range vendors on this list, but some major draws are the larger number of device connections it supports and the SugarSync storage it offers as a subscription bonus.

strong vpn

  • 12 device limit
  • 950+ servers in 30+ countries
  • Uses WireGuard, L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN, IPSec, IKEv2
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling, but only on Android devices
  • Email, phone, live chat support (not 24/7)
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • 250GB of SugarSync storage as subscription bonus

Exclusive: save 20% on first billing cycle

  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $10.00/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $5.83/mo.

 

10. ProtonVPN

While ProtonVPN only offers customer support via email, it markets itself as a no-nonsense VPN provider and speaks to the heart of Internet privacy. By offering a range of subscription models from Free to Visionary (which includes a ProtonMail feature that allows subscribers to avoid attaching any personally identifying information to their accounts), ProtonVPN has the widest range of pricing options to meet a user s needs.

proton

  • 10 device limit
  • 1,019 servers in 51 countries
  • Uses IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN (no PPTP or L2TP/IPSec because they are not as secure)
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • Email support only (not 24/7)
  • Swiss based, so free of many security-related jurisdiction issues
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Exclusive: save 33%

  • Pricing:
          • Free: subsidized by paid users, 1 device, medium connection speeds
          • Basic: 1-month: $5.00/mo.; 12-month: $4.00/mo.; 24-month: $3.29/mo.
          • Plus: 1-month: $10.00/mo.; 12-month: $8.00/mo.; 24-month: $6.63/mo.
          • Visionary: 1-month: $30.00/mo.; 12-month: $24.00/mo.; 24-month: $19.96/mo.

11. TunnelBear

TunnelBear is one of the few vendors listed here that offers a free version of its subscription for customers who are interested in trying it out without needing to pay upfront. While it doesn t explicitly advertise its number of servers and offers fewer customer support options than its competitors, it does offer some flexibility with pricing for both individuals and teams to meet a range of needs.

tunnelbear

  • 5 device limit
  • Servers in 23+ countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec
  • Unlimited bandwidth with paid versions
  • Supports split tunneling, but only on Android devices
  • Ticket support only (must login to access, not 24/7)
  • No money back guarantee, but free version available

Exclusive: save 58%

  • Pricing:
          • Free plan: 500MB data cap
          • Unlimited plan: 1-month pricing: $9.99/mo.; 12-month pricing: $4.99/mo.; 36-month pricing: $3.33/mo.
          • Teams plan: Depends on number of users

 

12. VyprVPN

At the second-lowest price point for an annual subscription, VyprVPN offers competitive features such as its proprietary Chameleon protocol, 24/7 email, live chat, and phone support, and the peace of mind that comes with a Swiss-based company.

vypr

  • 5 device limit
  • 700+ servers in 64 countries
  • Uses Chameleon (proprietary), WireGuard, IPSec, OpenVPN
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • 24/7 email, live chat and phone customer support
  • Swiss based, so free of many security-related jurisdiction issues
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $12.95/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $3.75/mo.
          • 24-month pricing: $2.50/mo.

13. Windscribe

Canadian-based Windscribe may be susceptible to security-related jurisdiction laws based on the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes international intelligence-sharing alliances, but some users may not find that concerning in light of its unlimited device policy, custom build-a-plan subscription option, or free subscription that allows users access to servers in 10 countries.

windscribe

  • Unlimited devices
  • Servers in 63 countries
  • Uses IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • Good to know: Based in Canada
  • Ticket, Subreddit, and 24/7 live chat support (English only)
  • 3-day money back guarantee, but free plan available
  • Pricing:
          • Free: servers in 10 countries
          • 1-month pricing: $9.00/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $4.08/mo.
          • Custom build-a-plan option available

14. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited

A unique draw of KeepSolid’s VPN Unlimited solution is the option to purchase a lifetime subscription as opposed to ongoing monthly or yearly payments. While the server network is smaller, users may find benefit in KeepSolid’s proprietary Wise protocol or pricing flexibility according to device connections.

keepsolid

  • 5-10 device limit (depending on subscription)
  • 500+ servers in 55 countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, KeepSolid Wise, WireGuard
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling (referred to as App Exceptions)
  • 24/7 email and live chat support
  • 30-day money back guarantee (7-day free trial)

Exclusive: save 20%

  • Pricing:
          • 5 devices: 1-month pricing: $9.99/mo., 12-month pricing: $5.00/mo., 36-month pricing: $2.78/mo., Lifetime pricing: $199 single payment
          • 10 devices: 1-month pricing: $14.99/mo., 12 month pricing: $7.50/mo., 36-month pricing: $4.17/mo., Lifetime pricing: $299 single payment

15. HideMyAss! VPN

HMA is the only VPN provider on this list that does not offer a month-to-month pricing option, meaning customers must choose a one-, two-, or three-year subscription, although a 7-day free trial and standard money back guarantee are available. It does offer different subscriptions for individuals and families, plus it supports router configurations so Wi-Fi enabled devices like smart TVs can be protected.

hidemya

  • 5 device limit (10 devices for family plan) — includes router
  • 1,100+ servers in 190+ countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • 24/7 email and live chat support
  • 30-day money back guarantee (7-day free trial)

Exclusive: save 75%

  • Pricing:
        • Single: 12-month pricing: $4.99/mo., 24-month pricing: $3.99/mo., 36-month pricing: $2.99/mo.
        • Family: 12-month pricing: $7.99/mo., 24-month pricing: $6.99/mo., 36-month pricing: $5.99/mo.

 

 

16. Norton VPN

Although Norton is better known for its comprehensive 360 Deluxe product, its standalone VPN subscription offers pricing flexibility according to billing frequency and the number of devices a user wants to protect. Subscribers also have access to Norton s robust customer service support and the VPN connection speeds that come with the Deluxe package, but without the price tag.

norton

  • Device limit depends on package
  • 1,500+ servers in 29 countries
  • Uses OpenVPN, IPSec
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • No support for split tunneling
  • 24/7 live chat and call support
  • No money back guarantee, but 30-day free trial
  • Pricing: customized according to number of devices and billing frequency
          • Monthly: 1 device: $4.99/mo., 5 devices: $7.99/mo., 10 devices: $9.99/mo.
          • Annually: 1 device: $3.33/mo., 5 devices: $6.67/mo., 10 devices: $8.33/mo.

 

17. ZenMate

ZenMate combines access to a large server network with limitless device connections while still keeping annual subscription costs at the low end of the spectrum. Prospective customers may be encouraged to purchase a subscription after downloading the free ZenMate browser extension for Google Chrome or completing the 7-day free trial.

zenmate

  • Unlimited devices
  • 3,500+ servers in 73+ countries
  • Uses IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Ticket and 24/7 live chat support
  • German based, so free of many security-related jurisdiction issues
  • Offers free Chrome extension without subscription required
  • 30-day money back guarantee (7-day free trial)

Exclusive: save 80%

  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $10.99/mo.
          • 6-month pricing: $5.39/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $2.22/mo.

18. PureVPN

While the number of servers PureVPN operates might be relatively middle-of-the-road, the list of countries in which those servers are based is notably longer than many of the other providers on this list. This geographic diversity adds reliability to connections from virtually anywhere in the world. Plus, the larger device limit makes the higher price tag a bit more worthwhile.

purevpn

  • 10 device limit
  • 2,000+ servers in 140+ countries
  • Uses PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, OpenVPN
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports split tunneling
  • Based in Hong Kong, so free of many security-related jurisdiction issues
  • 24/7 live chat and email support
  • 31-day money back guarantee (7-day $0.99 trial)
  • Pricing:
          • 1-month pricing: $10.95/mo.
          • 6-month pricing: $8.33/mo.
          • 12-month pricing: $6.49/mo.

VPN protocol types

There are several types of network protocols used with VPNs. Most VPN providers will list which protocol(s) they offer, so consumers can determine which benefits are most important. Here is an overview of the most common protocol types:

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)

Internet Protocol Security (IPSec)

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)

  • SSTP was developed by Microsoft for Windows Vista

  • More secure than PPTP

  • Often compared to OpenVPN because it uses SSL 3.0

Transport Security Layer (TLS) & Secure Socket Layer (SSL)

  • TLS or SSL is used by all sites that start with https://

  • SSL 3.0 is the predecessor of TLS, but is still widely deployed

OpenVPN

  • Open source VPN, based on TLS and SSL protocols

  • Most common protocol used by VPN services

  • Requires third-party software

  • Faster than L2TP

  • Difficult to block, but has potential to slow down connection speeds

Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2)

  • IKEv2 is used with IPSec for mobile devices

  • Developed by Microsoft and Cisco

  • Has no known vulnerabilities

  • Uses a Diffie-Hellman key exchange

WireGuard

  • WireGuard was developed in 2017 by Jason Donenfeld for Linux (deployment has since been expanded to include Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and BSD)

  • Intended to be faster, simpler, and more performant than OpenVPN

  • Still under development

Reasons for using a VPN

While VPN connections offer obvious advantages for data privacy, such as protecting sensitive information while online shopping or avoiding data records with ISPs, there are other reasons a user might opt to use a VPN. First, major content streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Youtube will restrict content depending on geographical location. Some customers will use a VPN to circumvent the restricted content (a tactic called geo-spoofing ) since the privacy of the network automatically hides any geographic information (such as IP addresses) about the user trying to gain access.

Similarly, VPN connections can be used to access restricted Internet-wide content in various parts of the world. Heavily censored countries, including China, Iran, Cuba, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia, will frequently ban access to sites that feature inflammatory political or religious content, social networking sites, or even filtered email content that is deemed inappropriate. VPNs can be used to evade detection while browsing the Internet in these countries and protect anonymity for content publishers who might otherwise risk legal ramifications.

Common VPN features

Some of the most significant features of VPN tools are what inevitably set them apart from one another depending on what a user values most. A few differentiators include logging policies, security, connection speed, server location, data caps, and customer service.

  • Logging: While several VPN vendors advertise no-logging policies, this typically only applies to traffic logs that would keep a record of browsing history, downloads, etc. VPN providers will often keep connection logs, which are used to record metadata about when the VPN is used, the duration of use, how much bandwidth is used, etc. and will sometimes sell this information to advertisers under the guise of innovation.

  • Security and speed: Perhaps the most fundamental feature of any VPN is security if a connection s security is compromised, the VPN is rendered useless. At the same time, VPN users should expect connection speeds to be slightly slower than non-VPN connections, but the value of VPN encryption is diminished if it significantly impacts the connection speed. Factors that impact connection speed include the protocol(s) used, server capacity, bandwidth availability, and network traffic among others.

  • Server location: Generally, a VPN user s connection speed will be faster the closer they are to the VPN server; however, connection speeds can also be impacted by how much geographic area one server is expected to cover and the relative traffic it will receive. Additionally, the country where the server is physically located can have implications for the vendor s approach to privacy as well as its ability to deliver on security promises. VPN providers based in countries like China and Russia are at higher risk for security issues because of their laws surrounding data privacy and surveillance. Similarly, nations in the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances (namely U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia among others) pose challenges for VPN providers in their jurisdiction because of the intelligence-sharing nature of those agreements.

  • Device limits: In an age when using multiple Internet-accessing devices is commonplace, it only makes sense that a VPN provider should accommodate a similar volume of secure connections. The number of simultaneous device connections varies by vendor, and some will allow unlimited application downloads but moderate how many are able to connect at the same time. A few vendors grant unlimited access, while even fewer will include routers in their supported devices.

  • Split tunneling: An emerging trend in VPN tunneling is to divert some traffic to the VPN server while allowing other traffic to continue directly through the ISP server. This discernment is particularly useful in cases where latency can cause more trouble than the extra security is worth, such as online gaming.

  • Data caps: For new VPN adopters, free VPN services offer a taste of the benefits of Internet privacy without the price tag. However, the limited data allocation of free VPNs is generally ill-suited for anything more advanced than occasional public browsing.

  • Support: The mark of an effective VPN is that its user forgets it s there. Ideally, VPNs should maintain seamless connectivity, but it s important to have an agile customer service team ready to address any issues or questions that might arise. The best VPN vendors offer 24/7 support through multiple channels, including phone, email, and live chat.

 

 

 

 

Webopedia Staff
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