If all you want a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for is to stream US Netflix, then it might not matter whether or not it keeps logs of everything you do. If, however, you value the privacy a VPN can afford (even as a side-benefit) then the amount of logs that your VPN provider keeps is of critical importance. But what does no logs really mean? And how can we trust that VPN providers will do what they promise?
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The Best No Logs VPNs for 2018
The guide below looks at all aspects of using a No Logs VPN. Simply click the links in the table of contents below to jump to a section relevant to you!
Why No Logs?
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can usually see much of what you get up to on the internet (more on this later), and it invariably keeps detailed logs of this information. When using a VPN, your ISP cannot see what you get up to on the internet. However, your VPN provider now has access to the same information that your ISP had.
So on a basic level, you have now simply shifted the entity you must trust your privacy to away from your ISP and onto your VPN provider. That’s why it is very important to know that your VPN provider can be trusted!
I will discuss reasons why VPNs can usually be trusted more than ISPs later in this article, but a key aspect of this is that they keep fewer logs than ISPs. This means that if anyone comes a-knocking at their door, demanding access to your internet history, they have little or nothing to hand over.
Best No Logs VPN List: Considerations
What Your ISP Logs
Your ISP is responsible for connecting you to the internet. Unless you take measures to prevent it (such as using a VPN), your ISP knows the IP address you connect to the internet from (which will be linked to a named individual), when you connect, for how long you connect, and every website that you visit.
When you visit any regular unencrypted (Hypertext Transfer Protocol – HTTP) website, it can see everything that you do on that website. When you visit an encrypted (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure – HTTPS) website, your ISP cannot see what you get up to on that website, but it does know that you have visited that site.
These logs can be accessed with a legally binding court order or subpoena in almost all countries. In many countries (such as the UK), they can be freely accessed by a ridiculously large number of government organizations, with no meaningful oversight. In the US, Congress has just given ISPs the go-ahead to sell customers’ data without their permission or even knowledge!
When you use a VPN, your ISP is prevented from seeing any of this data. But your VPN provider now can.
What Do VPNs Log?
This varies by VPN company, and is often determined by the country/jurisdiction in which the VPN company is based.
Also known as session logs, usage logs are records of the actual websites you visit. No reputable VPN company that I am aware of admits to keeping usage logs (although I would not put it past the myriad “free” cowboy VPNs that have flooded the market of late).
Note, however, that many VPN companies advertise themselves as keeping “no logs,” when in fact they mean that they keep no usage logs but do keep (often extensive) connection logs.
Connection logs are also known as metadata logs. These can range from detailed connection logs to minimal connection logs. Detailed or extensive connection logs can include everything except the IP addresses of every website you visit (that is, everything except actual usage logs).
This includes timestamp, duration of connection, amount of data transferred, and VPN server(s) connected to. These logs are often associated with your unique account details (including payment details) and IP address.
ExpressVPN is an example of a company that keeps minimal connection logs. The date of connection is recorded, but not the time. Server choice and total amount of data used are recorded, but none of the information collected is associated with an individual’s account details or IP address.
A further kink is the duration for which any collected logs are kept before being deleted. This can range from forever to a just a few minutes.
Obviously, as far as privacy is concerned, the fewer logs a VPN keeps the better. The more logs that are kept, the easier it is to perform an end to end timing (traffic correlation) attack.
No Logs (at All)
Many of the more privacy-minded VPN providers promise to keep no logs whatsoever. Now… the first thing to note here is that such promises are a cause of controversy inside the VPN industry. Some VPNs argue that it is impossible to run a VPN service without keeping at least some logs, and that any service claiming not to is being duplicitous.
However, many of the companies that do claim to keep no logs dispute this – and these number some of the most respected names in the security community. So let us try to unpick things a little.
Every VPN service can monitor what happens on its system in real time. It is how computers and VPN technology works. I don’t think that any VPN company out there will dispute that it uses this real-time data to analyze usage, troubleshoot problems, and deal with abuse.
So every VPN provider has access to real-time data and will make use of it in real-time. But if a provider does not save nor store this information, so that it cannot be retrieved at a later point, I think it can accurately say that it keeps no logs.
So how does a truly no logs VPN provider know when customers’ subscriptions have run out? Exactly how each provider handles this no doubt differs, but a simple no logs solution would be to maintain a list of usernames together with the expiry date of the subscription associated with that username.
The usernames on this list do not need to be associated with any email addresses, contact details, or other personally identifiable information. Once a username has been checked off against an expiry date upon login to a VPN server, there is no need to associate any activity with that username.
So if you are being pedantic then you could argue that a log is being kept – a list of usernames and subscription expiry dates. However, the names on this list are not associated with an identifiable individual, and are not associated with any activity while using the VPN (even when the VPN is being monitored in real-time).
I think that any VPN company using such a system could justifiably describe itself as keeping no logs.
In my view, therefore, it is possible for a VPN service to operate on no logs principles.
How Do We Know a VPN Can Be Trusted?
A VPN company may say it keeps no logs, but how can we know this is true? The short answer is that we can’t. However, your ISP is definitely logging your data and has no reason whatsoever not to share it with whoever asks (or sell it!)
Most VPN companies’ business model, on the other hand, relies on offering privacy. Failure to protect their customers’ privacy would be a commercial disaster. So it comes down to a matter of trust: do you trust your ISP (lol hysterically!) or a reputable VPN company that is in the business of providing privacy?
Also, if that VPN company is based in another country, then it has very little incentive whatsoever to hand over the data it does have when asked. This should preferably be one with as few political and/or legal links to yours as possible.
Another point to consider is that the more logs a VPN company keeps, the weaker its position when it comes to handling legal demands. A no logs VPN provider can, on receipt of a National Security Letter, subpoena, or court order, honestly turn around and say, “sorry, we are happy to help in every way we can, but we have nothing to give you.”
This will put it in a much stronger position than a company that keeps logs and whose staff then have to decide between betraying their customers (and therefore destroying the reputation of their business) and facing legal action. Just remember that no VPN company staff member will be willing to go to jail to protect your privacy!
So keeping no logs is the safest thing (from a purely selfish standpoint) any company that is even half-way serious about privacy can do!
Here at BestVPN.com we are investigating ways to independently audit the claims made by VPN companies. This is a fledgling project, and will require broad cooperation from across the VPN industry. We are hopeful that we can leverage our influential position in order to improve standards and bring about increased transparency in this burgeoning industry.
Even a No Logs VPN Will Only Protect You Retroactively
As already noted, all VPN systems generate real-time data. A no logs VPN will not usually record (log) this real-time data, but it can do at any time. And if coerced in some way (by legal or other means), it will do so. As I say, no-one is willing to go to jail (or worse) to protect your privacy.
So if police (or whoever) turn up at the door of a true no logs VPN, that VPN will have nothing to give them. If you have used that VPN in the past to hide your internet activity, then you are safe as regards that past activity.
But the police could then demand that the VPN start to log. If the demand has legal force behind it then the VPN company will comply. If you use the service after that point, your activity can be logged.
This is, however, a highly targeted demand or request, so only specific individuals already identified by the authorities need be too concerned.
If performed by the police or an official government agency, any such demand will almost certainly be accompanied by a gag order. This is intended to prevent the company from warning its customers that it has been compromised.
Some companies try to mitigate this issue through the use of warrant canaries. Please see Are Warrant Canaries Useful? for an in-depth look at this subject. As discussed in that article, I am somewhat dubious about their practical benefit.
Most VPN companies are not huge. In order to offer VPN servers located around the world, they rent servers from server providers. Even if a VPN provider itself keep no logs, the companies owning its servers will.
Unlike privacy-focused VPNs, these companies will have no compunction against handing them over to the police and similar agencies. This, in fact, is precisely what happened to an EarthVPN user back in 2013.
Although server logs are an issue, the situation is not as bad as it may at first seem:
- No one should be able to access the real-time data available on the servers themselves, as any reputable VPN company will protect this with full disk encryption.
- All data centers will keep broad logs relating to overall data usage by severs, server uptime, and so forth. However, it is not standard practice to log the IP address of everyone who connects to that server. Any good VPN service will be careful to partner with server providers that keep minimal such logs.
- Incoming and outgoing IPs can be logged (either as a matter of routine or in response to a legal demand). However, as real-time data is unreachable (and a no logs VPN should not have this information anyway), trying to associate any particular internet activity with a specific IP address is very difficult.
- This is a difficulty compounded by use of shared IPs. When 50 or more users are all accessing the internet from the same IP address, sorting out who did what becomes nearly (but possibly not entirely) impossible.
There is no denying that against a determined and targeted attack, server logs are a weak point in the VPN chain. But the threat posed is fairly minimal. That said, I recommend using VPN servers located as far from your country’s jurisdiction as possible. Just to be on the safe side.
A Note on US Companies
I have decided, however, to not include any US companies on this list. Thanks to Edward Snowden, plus other revelations that have come to light since the infamous whistleblower went public, we know that the NSA and other US alphabet agencies have a “collect it all” attitude, which does not respect the constitutional or legal rights of their own citizens, let alone anyone else’s!
Thus, through no fault of their own, I consider simply being a US company to be a liability when it comes to privacy. As the notion of being a no logs company is all about privacy, I think excluding US companies from this list is reasonable.
Update: PIA is one of the very few VPN companies anywhere to have proved its no-logs claims in front of a court of law after it was unable to help the FBI convict an airport bomb hoaxer. After careful consideration, I have decided that this proof of honesty offsets any (still valid) concerns about NSA spying on US privacy companies.
Best No Logs VPN: Expert Summary
- No logs – proven in court!
- Accepts Bitcoin
- Great OpenVPN encryption
- Client features kill switch and DNS leak protection
- 7 day money back guarantee
- US based company
- Apple users not so impressed
PIA is based in the US, so is not a provider for the more NSA-phobic out
there. However, it keeps no logs, which is a claim that it
proven in court
! It is not common to have such definite proof that the VPN does what it
says it does when it comes to logs, so well done PIA!
And although optional, its security can be first rate. Its desktop software supports multiple security options, a VPN kill switch, DNS leak protection, and port forwarding.
Up to 5 simultaneous connections are permitted. Its Android client is almost as good, and PIA boasts excellent connection speeds. We should, however, note that Apple users seem to have a less positive view of this service. As with all the providers listed here, PIA has servers located in the UK and 29 other countries.
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- Super fast – great for streaming!
- Super secure – 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited downloading
- 5* customer support and 24/7 live chat
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- A bit pricey - but worth it!
Although this top-tier VPN provider keeps some minimal anonymous usage statistics, these do not include a timestamp or IP address. To all practical intents and purposes, this makes ExpressVPN a no-logs VPN. And a very good one it is too!
Its headline act is its ridiculously fast performance, but fantastic 24/7 customer support and a generous 30-day, no-quibble, money-back guarantee certainly sweeten the deal!
For those concerned with privacy, robust encryption keeps hackers at bay and what is in effect a no logging policy means that it will have nothing useful hand over, even should it be forced to.
Servers located in a whopping 94 countries around the world are also a big draw if you’re seeking speed, privacy, and access to geographically restricted content. Users in China will appreciate ExpressVPN’s special “stealth” servers located in Hong Kong, and users everywhere will appreciate the new free Smart Domain Name System (DNS) service (included with all accounts) that keeps streaming media like Netflix running smoothly on a VPN.
Top it all off with an easy-to- use desktop software for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (command line only), simple apps for Android and iOS plus custom router firmware, and you can see why ExpressVPN impressed our experts and remain one of our most popular providers.
Additional features: three simultaneous connections, peer-to- peer (P2P) permitted.
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- High speed for ultra-fast streaming
- More than 800 servers & global coverage
- Multiple usage on up to 5 devices
- No Logs (worth mentioning) Policy, guaranteed security and encryption
- Could be faster
CyberGhost‘s software is easy-to-use while also being veryfully featured. It usesvery strong encryption, and 5 simultaneous connections is generous. Being based in Romania and keeping no meaningful logs is also a big draw. Like ExpressVPN, some minimal statistics are kept, but with no time stamp or IPs recorded, these present no threat to users' privacy.
CyberGhost’s great logging policy, decent local (burst) speeds, and fully featured software are a winning combination. And witha 7-day free premium trial plus 30-day no-quibble money back guarantee, there is zero reason not to give it a whirl.
- Helpful customer service
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Full DNS leak protection
- 6 simultaneous connections
- Excellent mobile apps
- No much
PrivateVPN is a zero-logs Swedish provider with 80+ servers in 52 countries around the world. It features both a firewall-based system kill switch and aper-app kill switch, which pretty neat. Full IPv4 and IPv6 DNS leak protection is also built-in to its client.
We have been particularly impressed by PrivateVPN’s high level of customer service, which even features remote installation for technophobes! Up to a generous6 simultaneous devices are permitted, andport forwarding plus HTTPS and SOCKS5 proxies are a nice bonus.
With a 30-day no-quibble money back guarantee, why notgive PrivateVPN a try?
Additional features: servers in 52 countries, works with US Netflix and iPlayer, kill switch and auto-connect, website available in English, German, Dutch, and Swedish.
- No logs at all
- Up to six devices at once
- Fantastic value for money
- Servers in 47 countries worldwide
- Excellent technology
- Works well but lacks wow factor
VPNArea is based in Bulgaria, and is therefore firmly out of the National Security Agency (NSA) and UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) areas of influence, which makes it a great option for any privacy-heads out there. This focus on privacy is reinforced with a great no logs policy, strong encryption, and the fact that it accepts payment in bitcoins. Speeds are superb, and there are plenty of server locations (over 60 countries).
Its desktop client is a custom version of Viscosity, and offers DNS leak protection, disables IPv6, and provides a per-app kill switch. The auto Internet Protocol (IP) feature changes your IP every five minutes, which is interesting.
Additional features: P2P permitted.
As long as you understand their limitations, no logs VPNs are great way to hugely increase your privacy on the internet. There are some great VPN providers out there, who care a great deal about their customers’ privacy, and are very competent when it comes to protecting it.
They do this with minimal negative impact on your day-to-day web browsing experience.
But will they protect you from a powerful adversary who is willing to go to great lengths to target you as a specific individual? Probably not.
If you are that paranoid about getting “caught,” then you should be using Tor instead.