Many people search online for an “anonymous VPN.” In reality, what they are looking for is a VPN that is good for digital privacy. VPNs don’t actually provide anonymity, and anyone that tells you that a “VPN makes you completely anonymous” is lying. What a reliable VPN can do is encrypt all your internet data so that no one other than the VPN can tell what you do online. In addition, a VPN will conceal your real IP address (location) – so that the websites you visit don’t know where you really are (and you can pretend to be in a different country).
We have tested over 150 VPNs in the last 5 years searching for the best VPNs for privacy. So if you came looking for an “anonymous VPN,” these are by far the best services for you!
List of the Best Anonymous VPNs
Take a look at the table below to see what our experts picked as the best Anonymous VPN. Scroll below for more information.
9.8 9.4 9.0 8.6 8.2
Provider Price Our Score Visit 1 Visit Site » ExpressVPN review » 2 Visit Site » NordVPN review » 3 Visit Site » PrivateVPN review » 4 Visit Site » VyprVPN review » 5 Visit Site » PrivateInternetAccess review »
In addition to providing encryption, a VPN disguises your real location by concealing your IP address. When you connect to a VPN server you appear to be in a different location to the one you are really in. People often use VPNs to pretend to be in a different country in order to unblock censored or geo-restricted content.
Are VPNs really Anonymous?
While it is true that the websites you visit cannot detect your real IP address when you use a VPN, they may still be able to tell who you are. The most obvious way is if you are signed into the service. However, there are other ways they can ID you – such as cookies. It is for this reason, that we don’t generally refer to VPNs as “anonymous”.
VPNs provide unprecedented levels of digital privacy – but not true anonymity – mainly because the VPN knows who you are at all times. To gain true anonymity you should use Tor. The VPNs in this guide all have zero logs policies and military grade encryption: which is why they are considered the most “anonymous” VPNs.
I don’t understand! Why aren’t VPNs anonymous?
When you use a VPN service by itself you are never truly anonymous. Anonymous VPNs just don’t exist.
A VPN provider can always identify its users’ IP addresses and knows what they are doing online – even if no one else can. Even providers that keep no logs can monitor traffic in real-time.
Being truly anonymous online
For true online anonymity, nobody must be able to detect you are who you really are – or what you are doing – at any stage. VPNs simply do not do this. A VPN provides privacy from scrutiny by third parties (such as ISPs and network admins) using encryption. This is digital privacy NOT anonymity – it is a subtle difference, but it is a very important difference.
If you desire or desperately require true anonymity, we strongly urge you use Tor instead of a VPN.
Building a Threat Model
If you believe you require anonymity on the internet you must first identify why you want to be anonymous and (perhaps most importantly,) from who. Having that figured out permits you to build a threat model which will determine what level of privacy you actually require on the web.
There is a massive difference between being a whistleblower on the run from the government, and being an everyday person who wants to avoid getting in trouble for torrenting movies. The former will require bulletproof protection like that which Tor provides. The latter does not actually require absolute anonymity, and a VPN is a superb solution.
How a VPN can help you become more “anonymous”
Although a VPN will not provide definitive anonymity, it does have features that allow it to provide a high degree of digital privacy. Certain VPN features are vital if a VPN is going to give you the most “anonymous” experience possible.
The VPNs in this guide have all been selected because they provide the highest levels of digital privacy available on the VPN market. Thus, these are the VPNs that people are looking for when they type “Anonymous VPN” into Google! Let’s take a look at those features:
The most private VPNs must keep zero logs. That means that after you finish a VPN session there is no connection logs or usage logs stored anywhere. Everything that you did online is completely unrecorded, including the time you connected and what VPN server you connected to. With no logs stored anywhere, copyright holders or government agencies can never come knocking at the VPN’s door for evidence of a paper trail. For more information about VPN
When you use a VPN server with “shared IPs” it means that not only you but many other people are all using that server IP address at the same time. With a large number of people all using the same IP address, it becomes hard to know what each person did online.
This provides a certain level of anonymity by mixing in your web traffic with the web traffic of many other VPN users. A dedicated IP, on the other hand, is one that only you use. This kind of VPN IP address is much easier to track you on. Because you are the only person using it – you do not get lost in a sea of fellow VPN users.
Connection Logs and e2e timing attacks
Some minimal connection logs or aggregated statistics are not particularly damaging to a VPN service. However, when a VPN stores connection time stamps alongside IP addresses or personally identifiable account details this is a problem.
Timestamps stored alongside IP addresses allow for time correlation attacks (e2e timing attacks). This is when data gathered from third-party endpoints (websites) is tied to a VPN user by analyzing what time they logged onto a specific VPN server.
With a little effort, time, and money (and enough information), it is possible to use these logs to figure out what a VPN user did online. For this reason, these kinds of logs can pose a direct risk to your privacy. A no-log VPN is the closest thing you will find to an anonymous VPN. For more information check out our best vpn no logs guide.
Using a VPN through Tor
Some people want to use Tor and a VPN together. On the whole, this is considered overkill. However, some VPNs do accommodate this desire by offering VPN into Tor and VPN through Tor. For most people, this simply isn’t necessary. Allow me to explain why:
- Using a VPN into Tor stops the first Tor node from knowing your real IP address. If you are somehow traced through the Tor network then an adversary will find the VPN server, not your real IP. If using the Tor browser the VPN cannot see your data, but if using a service that routes your regular VPN connection to the Tor network, it can. Either way, this provides no protection from malicious Tor exit nodes. Non-HTTPS traffic entering and leaving Tor exit nodes is unencrypted and could be monitored. Tor exit nodes are also often blocked.
- VPN through Tor. Some people want to route their traffic via Tor before it arrives at the VPN. This has some merits and can provide an anonymous VPN experience since the VPN will not know your real IP address. However, this is only true if you also sign up to the VPN anonymously with a burner email and using an anonymous payment method (like posting cash through the post or using “washed” bitcoins). The fact that the end-point is fixed rather than random (as is normal with Tor), however, reduces your anonymity on the Tor network.
For a detailed look at this subject please see 5 Best VPNs when using Tor.
Paying with bitcoin or with cash
One way to gain more anonymity when you use a VPN is to ensure that the VPN knows as little about you as is possible. Using a burner email, a fake name, and paying with “washed” bitcoins is one method to gain that extra privacy. Some VPNs even allow you to send cash by post!
However, it is worth noting that the VPN still knows what IP address you are connecting to their servers from. That IP address is unique to home, which means that it can be used to identify where and who you are.
Double Hop or Chaining VPNs
Double Hop is a feature that allows VPN users to jump through various VPN tunnels usually via two (but sometimes more) servers. This helps to further obfuscate the VPN users web habits and location, particularly if those servers are also shared IPs.
Chaining VPNs will slow your internet connection down, because of the extra processes it entails. However, if you prefer to trade connection speed for this extra security measure, it is worth a try. Read more about how it works and how to set it up here.
Benefits of using a VPN with strong privacy
When you use a VPN that has strong encryption and a zero logs policy you stop local network administrators (workplaces, schools, shared accommodation, landlords, WiFi hotspots) from being able to tell what you are doing online.
ISPs are also stopped from tracking you – which means that they can’t retain web browsing habits on behalf of the government (in countries with mandatory data retention). In the US, where ISPs are legally permitted to retain and sell web browsing histories to create a source of revenue, VPNs stop ISPs from keeping those logs on the first place.
If a VPN keeps zero logs it has nothing to hand over to the authorities – even if they come knocking at the VPN’s door with a warrant. It is for this reason that a zero logs VPN with strongly implemented OpenVPN encryption is the most private option on the market.
Staying Anonymous on Mobile
Anonymous VPN for Android & Anonymous VPN for iPhone
As previously mentioned, VPNs provide privacy – not anonymity. On mobile devices, which can be tracked with a MAC address, for example, things get even more tricky. Because a mobile is usually tied to the person that owns it (especially true if you have a mobile contract, but also true for many people with a pay as you go SIM), anonymity is always going to be very hard to come by.
Purchasing a burner phone and SIM with cash from a supermarket is an option that will provide much higher levels of anonymity. This, combined with a zero logs VPN which you purchase with a fake name, a burner email address, and pay for in cash or with bitcoins, is the only way to get high levels of anonymity on a mobile device.
However, if you use that mobile device from your home’s WiFi address, for example, your IP address will still let the VPN know who you are. If served a warrant by the authorities (and the VPN keeps connection logs), an e2e timing attack could be used to figure out your IP address which would then be tied to you by your ISP. It is for this reason that a zero logs VPN is necessary for strong privacy.
Furthermore, even if your VPN does not keep logs, it could be served a warrant and gag order and VPN servers could be monitored for activity in real time. It is for this reason that a VPN is said to provide privacy, not anonymity.
“Anonymous VPN” – Conclusion
In this article, we have taken an honest and transparent look at the themes and disinformation surrounding anonymous VPNs. Many VPNs claim to provide anonymity. However, in reality, this is a marketing tactic used to sell VPNs.
VPNs are an absolutely invaluable online service that provide the highest levels of digital privacy available on the market without sacrificing performance. There is no doubt, however, that anybody who desires true anonymity online should use Tor. However, Tor is not suitable for data-intensive tasks such as streaming, gaming, and P2P torrenting.
For this reason, VPNs are a unique privacy service that has no real alternative. In this article, we have described how to get the most private VPN experience possible. Our recommended VPNs keep no logs and implement high standards of OpenVPN encryption. Thus, you will be secure using any one of these services. If you have any questions about anything in this article please don’t hesitate to contact us below.