- Member Since: July 4, 2022
These VPNs Can Help Improve Your Online Security And Privacy
A VPN is a great way to protect your privacy online and secure your digital information. The best VPN can also prevent data throttling by your internet service provider and increase your personal safety by making it more difficult for public and private entities to view your browsing and search history. A bonus is that a VPN can help you unblock geographically restricted content online, which can open up your streaming options.
Here's how it works: A VPN, short for "virtual private network," encrypts the connection between your device and the internet. This encrypted connection gives you an extra layer of security, which is a must-have if you ever send or receive sensitive information over the internet.
However, finding the best VPN for your needs can be challenging. Wow servers all over Over the past several years, a flood of VPN providers has entered the marketplace, which has come with both benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, the array of affordable VPN options now available means that -- no matter how casual or critical your privacy needs -- there's a VPN service suited to your purpose. But it also means consumers have to wade through even more VPN advertising hype.
That's why we put each VPN through its paces with our hands-on testing and review process, which is designed to cut through the hype. We're not just examining VPNs for their technical weaknesses; we're also looking for their individual performance strengths. We want to know what each service does best. We test each VPN across over 20 factors and we're always improving our methodology as we learn more.
We test VPNs for browsing and streaming speed in multiple countries as well as their connection stability and even the smallest potential privacy leaks. By testing across multiple devices and platforms, we're able to assess which VPNs are best for gaming versus those best for streaming, torrenting, or sharing sensitive information. Most importantly, we focus on doing the deep-dive research necessary to vet each VPN's historical credibility and its ownership in a notoriously murky market. Based on those continued evaluations, you'll see a few bullet points on each entry in our list, highlighting each VPN's strengths and the uses we recommend it for most. And because we strive to keep on top of a fast-changing market, you'll notice that the rank of each VPN service changes as we learn more and retest.
Editors' note, Feb. 9, 2022: The VPN industry has undergone significant change in the past few months, with all three of our top VPN choices announcing major changes in corporate ownership. In December, ExpressVPN announced that it had officially joined Kape Technologies, a company that already owns several other VPNs and has raised privacy concerns in the past. In February, NordVPN and Surfshark announced the companies were merging, though they'll continue to operate autonomously. We're in the process of re-evaluating all of our top picks in light of these changes. We will update our reviews and, if necessary, our rankings to account for this new competitive landscape.
What's the best VPN in 2022?
ExpressVPN received a CNET Editors' Choice Award for best overall VPN. We evaluate VPNs based on their overall performance in three main categories: speed, security and price. Express isn't the cheapest, but it's among the fastest and, so far, is the most secure. (Note that we're currently re-evaluating ExpressVPN based on the news mentioned above.)
Surfshark, with its lower price, is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited devices.
NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that's constantly getting faster and more secure and is easily the most reliable service we've tested.
What is a VPN?
A commercial virtual private network is technology that allows you to create a private connection over a less private network by creating an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the internet. You can install a VPN just like you would any other app or program on your smartphone or computer. A VPN can let you get around censorship in your country or access georestricted media content from another country -- and prevents your internet service provider from being able to intrude on your privacy by snooping on your web browsing. VPNs do this by allowing you to appear as though you're connecting from a different location or country.
A VPN is great for anyone using public, unprotected Wi-Fi, such as what's offered in airports, bars or coffee shops. Your VPN protects your sensitive information -- from your work projects to bank account login information -- from being seen by malicious actors who trawl public Wi-Fi networks. When you browse the internet while on a VPN, your computer will contact the website through your VPN's encrypted connection. The VPN will then forward the request for you and forward the response from the website back through its secure connection.
For more beginner-focused VPN help, we've demystified some of the jargon in our guide to all the VPN terms you need to know.
The best VPN in 2022
Let's look at each of our VPN vendors below in more depth. Keep in mind that this list is constantly being updated. We're actively working on more VPN testing and research, so expect this guide to change throughout the year as we put each VPN through its paces.
The list below presents our favorites overall in 2022 so far. We'll call out when specific traits make for a better choice in a more narrow evaluation.
Blazing speeds, proven privacy
Number of IP addresses: 30,000
Number of servers: 3,000-plus in 160 locations
3 months free with 1-year plan, plus a free year of Backblaze cloud backup (limited-time offer)
ExpressVPN gets our Editor's Choice Award for best VPN. The VPN provider tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users' online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved its zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN's setup guides and the detailed information in its FAQ.
While its speeds consistently compete with heavy-hitting competitors, our speed tests saw ExpressVPN produce a 52% overall loss of our normal internet speeds, representing a significant slowdown compared with its 2019 score of 2% speed loss.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we've reviewed, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill-switch feature that prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method -- something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout. With a single ExpressVPN subscription, you can get VPN connectivity for every device you own -- Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, Linux, routers and more.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
A speed leader, packed with features
Number of server locations: 65
Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
$2.49 a month (82% discount) for a 2-year plan + 2 months free
While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up on features and speed. Let's start off with the biggest feature it offers: 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. It also offers anti-malware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
And it's fast. With more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, we lost less than 17% of average internet speed during our most recent speed tests. That's faster than the 27% speed loss we saw in previous tests, and pushes it ahead of ExpressVPN to be the current front-runner in our speed comparisons.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (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, Fire TV and routers. Additional devices such as 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 uses, 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 severe penalties. During our testing, we didn't see a single IP address or DNS leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Unlike many of the other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn't offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A 12-month plan is $3.99 a month (about $48 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk Surfshark into a continued discount rate).
Best VPN for reliability and security
Number of IP addresses: 5,000
Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
Number of server locations: 62
$3.99 a month for a 2-year plan
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 its 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 offers a kill-switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests.
In our most recent speed tests, NordVPN's performance was on par with many of its competitors, reducing our speeds by 53% on average (which is slower than the 32% loss measured in previous speed tests). We found NordVPN's speeds were reliably fast. There were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected the VPN to underperform, it proved itself up to the task.
The company's two-year VPN subscription plan currently costs $3.99 a month ($96 billed at once). That price is lower than some contenders, but creeps up for the one-year plan ($4.99 a month or $59 total) and the monthly plan ($11.99 a month). But it does have 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 it if Nord had self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was 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.
High security standards at high speeds
Number of servers: 1,259
30-day money back guarantee
$4.99 a month for a 2-year plan
When we speed-tested ProtonVPN, we saw an impressively small 9.6% speed loss compared with average speeds clocked without a VPN. ProtonVPN's base speeds sent it blazing past most of our roster of tested services and into second place behind ExpressVPN. Even more impressive is Proton's ability to reach those speeds despite a relatively small fleet of 1,259 servers in 55 countries. Like ExpressVPN, Proton also costs more than some of the VPNs we've reviewed. Even so, ProtonVPN's high security standards and legacy of transparency may make this VPN option worth the price.
Along with its options to send your traffic through a secure bunker of private servers, we love ProtonVPN's transparency policies: It's completely open-source with routinely published audits, and includes a built-in route to VPN into Tor servers. We're also confident in recommending its mobile app, since it has eliminated the use of some weaker security protocols, like PPTP and L2TP, which are still used by some other VPNs.
Read our ProtonVPN review.
Strong reputation of parent company
Multihop and split tunneling
$6/mo (billed as $71.88/yr)
See at Proton
Best VPN choice for beginners
Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plus
Number of servers: 1,600-plus
Number of server locations: 75-plus
Number of simultaneous connections: Unlimited
$3.75 a month (65% discount) for a 1-year plan
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 multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN.
A unique feature of the IPVanish VPN, and one we're 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 plug-in provides access to media worldwide.
At $10.99 per month for its monthly plan, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you toward its yearly program. We're a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from 10 to now-unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill-switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.
Other VPNs we've tested
Not every VPN can be a favorite. These are ones we reviewed, but they're not full-throated recommendations for one reason or another, including limited features and concerns over adequately hiding your identity.
Servers: 3,200-plus in 82 locations
Country/Jurisdiction: US (Five Eyes member)
Platforms: Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Linux, Amazon Fire TV
Price: $8 per month or $95.88 billed annually. Month-to-month plan at $13
Hotspot Shield VPN's TLS-based Hydra Catapult protocol, US jurisdiction, 128-bit AES encryption support and large percentage of virtual servers might strip away our trust in its ability to provide more privacy protections than its competitors -- but those are all key components to its ability to achieve the blazing speeds it delivered during its most recent speed tests.
It's the second-fastest VPN I've tested, effortlessly delivers smooth-streaming media and can dance between server connections without missing a beat, no matter how many interruptions you throw at it. A 26% speed loss puts it in second place, falling behind Surfshark -- which lost just 16.9% of its speed the last time I tested it -- and knocking ExpressVPN down to third place with a 51.8% speed loss at last measurement. Speed losses on UK connections were under 8%. Gaming, torrenting, browsing, streaming -- these speed-dependent services won't be slowed down for Hotspot Shield users.
We're not excited about Hotspot's privacy and security, though. Since the services uses a closed-source proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, instead of the more transparent open-source OpenVPN protocol, we'd like to see Hotspot give the public more third-party audits -- a necessary step to bring Hotspot up to speed with routinely audited VPNs like TunnelBear. As recently as April 2021, review site VPNMentor discovered a DNS leak in Hotspot Shield's plug-in for Google Chrome. Hotspot acknowledged the issue at the time and aimed to improve the product.
While its interface is user-friendly and its speeds are thrilling, spending time with Hotspot is going to leave your wallet a little lighter than you might prefer. It's current price is higher than its nearest competitors, its speeds slightly slower and its privacy more questionable. If you're looking for a VPN purely on the grounds of speed, we still recommend passing on Hotspot until it improves.
Read more: Hotspot Shield VPN Review: This Speedster Costs More Than Faster, More Private Competitors
See all Hotspot Shield plans
Average speed loss: 63%
Number of servers: 1,800 in 23 countries
Jurisdiction: Canada, with US parent company
Price: $3.33 per month, or $120, for a 3-year plan
TunnelBear's gotten a lot of hype in the last couple of years. But when we looked under its hood and compared it with its VPN competitors, our excitement waned.
TunnelBear's speeds are reasonable. We lost nearly 63% of internet speed overall when we used it, which is about average for a VPN. TunnelBear's speeds have steadily improved over the years as measured by other review and testing sites, though, and the US scores we recorded saw a speed loss of only 54%.
On the plus side, TunnelBear is holding its own in the transparency competition among VPNs by publishing the results of its independent security audits and annual transparency reports. No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing, but in the past TunnelBear was observed to have been leaking WebRTC information. TunnelBear's VPN encryption is standard AES-256 and it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy.
However, it's also a Canadian business owned by US-based McAfee, so if you're looking for subpoena-proof international online privacy, you're playing with fire. It holds a paltry 23 server locations from which you can't manually choose your VPN server or even a city. It doesn't offer Tor-over-VPN, it offers split tunneling only on Android and it can't even unblock Netflix.
On a per-month breakdown, the least expensive TunnelBear plan is its $120, three-year plan. You can also go month to month for $10, or pay $60 up front for a single year. Either way, TunnelBear accepts payment via credit card and bitcoin. Unlike other VPNs, it doesn't take PayPal. Also unlike other VPNs, it doesn't support Amazon Fire Stick or Android TV.
Read more: TunnelBear VPN review: The overpriced ursine has trouble living up to the hype
See at TunnelBear
Number of servers: Over 6,800 worldwide in 89-plus countries
Number of server locations: 111
Jurisdiction: Romania, with UK parent company
Number of simultaneous connections: 5
$2.29 a month for a 3-year plan, or $3.25 a month for 2-year plan
In CNET's previous coverage of virtual private networks, we've praised CyberGhost for its roster of competitive features. Our in-depth review of CyberGhost in 2019 included speed testing, security verification and an analysis of its full suite of privacy tools. Since then, the VPN company has increased its number of servers and is prepared to roll out new privacy tools, all while remaining one of the cheapest VPNs we've reviewed -- at $2.29 per month for a three-year plan.
As we've bolstered our approach to VPN reviews, however, CyberGhost has raised some red flags. Its parent company's history warrants skepticism; our previous tests have shown it to expose your VPN use to your ISP; its website and app trackers are more numerous than warranted; and its ad blocker uses an untrustworthy method of traffic manipulation no VPN should even think about. Its low price previously made it worth considering if you needed to change the appearance of your location online, but not if you wanted best-in-class security.
While CyberGhost's connection speed and security features appear to be improving, I don't currently recommend using the VPN service provider if you're in a country where VPNs are illegal. I also recommend that anyone in the US review CyberGhost's parent company before deciding whether to pay for a subscription.
On the plus side, however, CyberGhost is still faster than Norton Secure VPN and was less taxing on my device's processing power during testing. It also offers split tunneling in its Windows client and has its servers neatly organized into categories: NoSpy servers, servers geared for torrenting, servers best for streaming and servers best for use with a static IP address. CyberGhost imposes no data caps and allows unlimited server switching.
Read more: CyberGhost VPN review: Competitive Features, but Its Parent Company Concerns Me
See all CyberGhost VPN plans
Norton Secure VPN
Number of countries: 29
Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
Number of server locations: 200 in 73 cities
$40 for the first 12 months
NortonLifeLock, 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, 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 midtier VPNs but not particularly competitive. Although its VPN is only available on four platforms -- Mac, iOS, Windows and Android -- Norton gets points for its 24/7 live customer service phone support and 60-day money back guarantee.
See all Norton plans
Read more: Norton Secure VPN Review: Why We Don't Recommend It
Other VPNs in the mix
Below you'll find some additional VPNs. We're in the process of re-evaluating them in the coming months.
Number of servers: 6,500
Number of server locations: 180
Country/jurisdiction: Hong Kong
$1.99 a month for 1 year plan (Renews at $5 per month after 1 year), $1.99 a month for a 2-year plan
PureVPN does not log connection information. The company joined the "no log" movement in 2018, which was verified via a third-party audit by Althius IT (albeit one commissioned and paid for by PureVPN).
We like that PureVPN offers a 31-day refund policy and supports bitcoin payments, to further extend anonymous browsing. We also like that PureVPN has both Kodi and 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-plus
Number of server locations: 26 countries and 46 cities
$3.66 a month (67% 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 a VPN should be 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. It has 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 customer support to get help setting it up.
One of StrongVPN's strengths is the company's network. It owns and operates its entire network infrastructure, which means it has no externally dictated limits on bandwidth or the type of internet 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 $10.99 is in the middle of the pack, but its yearly price of $70 is among the lowest of our contenders.
See all StrongVPN plans
Private Internet Access
Number of IP addresses: N/A
Number of server locations: At least 37 (101 with proxies included)
Speaking of price, if you want one of the less expensive providers, Private Internet Access is the place to go.
The key to getting the most savings with the Private Internet Access VPN is buying a three-year plan for $79. That works out to $2.03 a month. It also offers a one-year plan for $39.95 (which comes out to $3.33 a month) and a monthly plan for $11.95 a month.
The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, though it does offer a dedicated IP option. The company claims to have an extraordinarily high number of servers -- more than 31,000. But Private Internet Access appears to have arrived at that number by counting both encrypted VPN servers and proxy servers. It is crucial to note that proxy servers are not VPNs.
Operating since 2010, Private Internet Access now offers 110 simultaneous connections, a kill-switch feature and a 30-day refund period.
See all Private Internet Access plans
VPN FAQ continued
In today's hyper-connected world, online privacy and security are increasingly critical. From online banking to communicating remotely with colleagues, we're transferring more data on our computers and smartphones than ever before. Much of that data is confidential information that we need to keep safe from hackers and snoops, so VPN use is on the rise as people take steps to secure their digital lives.
How do I choose the right VPN for me?
Picking a VPN requires knowing two basic things to start with: What you want to use it for, and what you're willing to pay. The range of VPN offerings is vast, but those two things will help you find a VPN that has the right blend of speed, security and cost.
Below, you'll find specific FAQ sections on picking a VPN based on the most common needs: gaming, streaming media, working from home and privacy-critical professions. But in general, you'll want a VPN that provides sufficient encryption, doesn't log your activity, offers essential security features like DNS leak protection and a kill switch, has server locations where you need them and can give you fast connection speeds. Our top five VPNs have all these features, although connection speeds will vary based on your internet provider and the server you connect to.
For a deeper dive, check our detailed walk-through of how we evaluate and review VPNs. If you're looking for some quick pointers, here are universally applicable advice guides for beginners.
VPN Red Flags to Watch Out For
How to Identify a Good VPN
Should I be worried about consolidation in the VPN industry?
The recent trend of consolidation in the VPN industry isn't showing signs of slowing down. We saw the latest example of this trend in February when NordVPN and Surfshark announced they were merging. As of right now, just three companies control many of the biggest VPN providers, including some of CNET's top picks listed in this guide.
There are several legitimate concerns about VPN consolidation. First, the general lack of transparency in VPN ownership structures is typically bad for users. In the VPN industry, where privacy and security are so critical, ownership transparency is equally imperative. When you sign on with a VPN and trust it with protecting your privacy online, you'll want to know exactly what corporate entity is in control of the service, if and how your data is shared and secured within the larger organization and in what jurisdiction your data is stored. Too often, the picture isn't as clear as it should be. Consolidation also dilutes competition in an industry, ultimately leading to higher costs for the customer and less incentive for companies to improve services.
The VPN services involved in these mergers and acquisitions insist they will all operate independently and will not share user data between entities. However, Surfshark's communications head told CNET the company has no plans of sharing information "without notifying our customers in advance," suggesting the door may indeed still be open for future data sharing. It's too early to tell yet what the long-term implications will be here, but we're keeping a close eye on the developing situation in the industry and will update our reviews accordingly.
Our top picks remain safe to use in the meantime, but it's still a good idea to do research on what other products or other services are under the same parent company umbrella. The more you know, the more you stay in control of your digital privacy.
Do I need a VPN?
Anyone who accesses the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone can benefit from using a VPN because it encrypts communications between the VPN server and your device. So your internet service provider, government entity, network administrator or anyone else spying on you won't know which websites you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details. Anyone who wants to improve their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs sadly aren't among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and a free VPN service is almost always a malware-laden data snoop. But there's good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hypercompetitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive VPN we've seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.
Does everything I use need a VPN?
If your goal is to protect your personal data from prying eyes, you want a VPN on whatever you are using. That means having a VPN to protect your laptop, your MacBook, your phone, your Xbox and your smart TV.
If your goal is to use a VPN to gain access to streaming services which have been made unavailable in your country for whatever reason, you want a VPN on whatever device you are using to access those streaming services. This could be as simple as a VPN for your Chrome browser or setting up a VPN for your Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Whatever your reason for wanting a VPN, it's usually a good idea to have it set up and ready to go on as many of your web-connected devices as possible.
A mobile VPN is simply a VPN you can use on your mobile device like your iPhone or Android phone. All of the providers we recommend have mobile versions of their desktop clients. You can use a mobile-focused VPN app to ensure greater data privacy designed for your whole device. Mobile VPNs also generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they tend to yield faster connection speeds and don't eat up your battery as quickly. Keep in mind, however, that most mobile VPN clients will use a lighter form of encryption than a desktop client to achieve those smartphone speeds. So be sure to check your VPN apps' settings to ensure you're using the apps' strongest encryption if your privacy needs are heightened. Our top three VPN picks all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile VPN app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of mobile platform -- like iOS or Android -- and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information, so check back often.
How to Set Up a VPN on Your Smartphone
Best Android VPNs for 2022
Are VPNs legal?
VPNs are perfectly legal to use in most countries. There's nothing wrong with taking steps to protect your privacy online, and you shouldn't have to worry that using a VPN as part of that process will get you in any kind of legal trouble.
However, there are countries where VPNs are either banned or outright illegal. If you're using a VPN in a country like China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkmenistan, UAE or Belarus, you may find yourself in legal trouble. The irony here is that these are the countries where internet censorship and surveillance are most common. In those countries, you'll need to make sure you use a VPN that provides strong obfuscation so your VPN traffic is disguised as ordinary HTTPS traffic, meaning government entities won't even know you're using a VPN in the first place.
But you won't run into any trouble with the law for using a VPN across most of the world. One important reminder, though: VPNs are legal in most places, but engaging in illegal activity online is still illegal regardless of whether you're using a VPN.
What's the best VPN for working from home?
If you're working from home, you may be sharing your internet connection with multiple devices and family members or roommates. That's a lot of simultaneous connections to a VPN and a lot of drag on a network. Pick a VPN that lets you use one subscription on as many devices as possible and has excellent speeds so your Wi-Fi isn't bogged down. If your job involves handling sensitive information like financial or medical records, however, your priority VPN criteria is security. Our top three VPN picks are the most secure we've found, and each has a different number of connections they'll allow for a base-level subscription. There are a few other factors worth considering for a home office VPN, though, so check out our guide to picking the right VPN for working at home.
What's the best VPN for gaming?
Most VPNs are chosen based on having a good balance of speed, security and cost. But if you want a VPN specifically to connect to game servers in another country, speed is everything. Free VPNs won't be fast enough, but, fortunately, high-end security won't be a cost driver, which gives you more options at modest prices. Since all VPNs reduce speed -- most by half or more -- that means picking one from the set that performed best in our speed tests. In tests, Surfshark managed to win our speed race while still being one of the least expensive VPNs we've seen. If you're focused on VPNs for game consoles, have a look at our best VPNs for Xbox and our primer on installing them. Before choosing the one right for your needs, visit the VPN's official website to see whether they offer servers specifically aimed at gaming in the countries where you most want to connect to other players.
What's the most secure VPN for privacy?
If you're a journalist, a lawyer or a professional in any other privacy-sensitive field, forget about speed and price when choosing a VPN. Focus, instead, entirely on security. Your VPN may be somewhat slower but, for both VPNs and presidential motorcades, speed is always the trade-off for privacy. Avoid free VPNs and browser-based VPNs. If you're concerned with government monitoring in your current country, choose a VPN headquartered outside of the country you're currently in, and avoid choosing a VPN with a jurisdiction in an allied country. For example, US journalists should avoid VPNs with a jurisdiction in the US or other Five Eyes countries. Keep an eye on encryption: Your VPN should offer a protocol called OpenVPN TCP (for its mobile apps, IKEv2 is fine). You may find our primer on VPN evaluations useful. Although speed does play a factor in our rankings, our top three VPNs were all selected by veteran journalists, scrutinized and reviewed with complete editorial independence, with the most privacy-sensitive professions in mind.
How do I use a VPN for Netflix?
If you live in a country that censors its media or are traveling to one, georestricted content is a pain. You can use a VPN to circumvent censorship or access your home country's normal media content for an online streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or Disney Plus. Pick a VPN that lets you manually select which country you want to connect through and has something called obfuscation. (Our top three picks offer this.) You don't always need to use the obfuscation feature to unblock Netflix, but since streaming services actively try to block VPN connections, obfuscation can help because it disguises your VPN traffic as regular internet traffic.
If you're looking to try out other VPNs, choose one with a large number of IP addresses, preferably 10,000 or more. This is because one of the ways Netflix and others block VPNs is by blacklisting known VPN IPs -- and if your VPN has tens of thousands of IPs, there's a better chance that you'll be able to connect to an IP address that Netflix hasn't flagged.
Once you have your VPN installed, connect to the country whose content you wish to view, restart your browser and go to the streaming site. If your VPN is working, the site should treat you as a resident of your selected country and serve you content assigned to that audience. If you're still having trouble, you can try using incognito mode on your browser or try clearing your cookies and cache.
How do I know if my VPN is working?
Your first and most apparent indication that your VPN is working is that your IP address will change and your location will be registered as that of the VPN server you're connecting through. You can check this on a site like whatismyipaddress.com.
You'll also want to make sure your VPN is protecting your privacy and not leaking any of your data outside of the VPN tunnel, thus exposing it to your ISP and other entities that may be monitoring your online activity. You can check for leaks by going to a site like dnsleaktest.com or ipleak.net. If your location is being registered as the VPN server location, and your leak tests turn up negative, then you know your VPN is working to protect your privacy.
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.
What is a site-to-site VPN?
This is when the VPN technology uses a gateway device to connect 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. IPsec-based encryption protocols are often considered by VPN specialists to be less secure against modern surveillance. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use multiprotocol label switching 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.
Here are some additional tips on what to consider when choosing a VPN, each of which links to a more in-depth discussion.
Don't use free VPN services: You'll find only paid VPN options on this list above because they're the only ones we can recommend.
Look for a no-logs VPN, but understand the caveats: The best VPNs keep as few logs as possible and make them as anonymous as possible, so there's little data to provide should authorities come knocking. But even "no-logs" VPNs aren't 100% anonymous.
VPN transparency is important, but warrant canaries are only the beginning: Many services use "warrant canaries" as a way to passively note to the public as to whether or not they've been subpoenaed by a government entity, as many investigations from national security agencies can't be actively disclosed by law. But -- like the no-logging issue -- warrant canaries aren't always as straightforward as they seem. You should spend more time investigating whether your prospective VPN has cooperated with authorities in the past, and how and when it's disclosed that fact.
Think twice about using a US-based VPN: The Patriot Act is still the law of the land in the US, and that means US-based VPNs have little recourse if and when the feds show up with subpoenas or national security letters in hand demanding access to servers, VPN user accounts or other data. Yes, they may have little data to access if the service has a strong no-logs policy, but why not just choose a service that's based outside Uncle Sam's jurisdiction? (If this is a concern for you, you'll want to avoid countries that the US has intelligence-sharing agreements with, too.)
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