The 5 Best VPN Services in 2018

  • Hide your IP and never have your internet activity recorded again.
  • Secure browsing with guaranteed online privacy
  • Access websites and apps securely from anywhere in the world
  • Stream TV shows in HD with super fast speeds
  • Free trials, exclusive prices, and money back guarantees

Editor's Choice 1. From $3.99 / month
BestVPN.com Score 10 out of 10
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2. From $6.67 / month
BestVPN.com Score 9.8 out of 10
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3. From $3.5 / month
BestVPN.com Score 9.6 out of 10
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4. From $2.73 / month
BestVPN.com Score 9.2 out of 10
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5. From $4.17 / month
BestVPN.com Score 8.8 out of 10
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VPN Considerations

When using a commercial VPN service, you connect to the internet via a VPN server. The VPN server is operated by a VPN provider, and the connection between your computer (or smartphone, tablet, or similar) and the VPN server is encrypted.

  • You still need an ISP to provide your internet connection, and that ISP can still see how much data you consume.
  • Your ISP cannot see what data you consume, however. This is because it is securely encrypted.
  • It also cannot see which websites you visit on the internet, as the VPN server acts as a proxy. Your ISP can only see that you have connected to an IP address belonging to a VPN provider. It cannot see which websites you visit after that.
  • Because governments rely on ISPs to gather surveillance data for them, using a VPN is a very effective way to prevent blanket government surveillance. They will not help you, however, if your government individually singles you out for targeted surveillance.

The big proviso here is that your VPN provider can see what you get up to on the internet. Please see my notes regarding privacy and logging below for further discussion on this issue.

WiFi Hotspots

The connection between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. Not only does this hide your data from your ISP, but it protects it from criminal hackers.

  • Private WiFi networks are almost always securely encrypted, but using public ones is a major liability.
  • The most common dangers are packet sniffers that can read your data on unencrypted networks, and “evil twin” hotspots. These have names such as “Free airport WiFi” in order to fool you into connecting to them.
  • Using a VPN means that even if hackers can access your data, they will not be able to read it.

VPNs Act as Proxy Servers

Because the VPN server acts as a proxy, from the internet it looks as if you are accessing the internet from the IP address and location of that server. This means that web pages cannot see your real IP address, only that of the VPN server.

VPN providers usually operate servers located in strategic locations around the world. By connecting to one of these, you can pretend to access the internet from that location. This is known as geo-spoofing, and is very useful for accessing online services that are restricted to those living in a certain country.

Tracking the IP address of torrent downloaders is trivially easy. But when using a VPN, anyone doing this will only see the IP address of the VPN server. Assuming your VPN provider does not hand over your details to copyright holders, this means that VPNs are great for protecting you when torrenting. It is vital, however, to choose a provider that will not hand over your details (some will!). For a full discussion on this topic, please see here.

It is worth noting that many online streaming services are currently trying to block VPN users. This takes the form of blocking IP ranges known to belong to VPN providers. These blocks do not affect all services, and others have found ways around them. But it remains an issue.

I therefore strongly recommend taking advantage of any VPN's with free trials and/or money-back guarantees on offer. This allows you to check that any given service works with the content you wish to access.

VPN Services and Privacy

If privacy is important to you then it is important to understand that your VPN provider knows who you are, and can see what you do on the internet. Privacy-focused VPN services mitigate this issue by using shared IP addresses and keeping no logs. Some even accept (potentially) anonymous payments methods such as Bitcoins, store cards, or (in the case of Mullvad) cash sent by post.

However:

  • Your VPN provider will always know your real IP address. The only exception to this rule is if your provider offers VPN through Tor.
  • Even services that keep usually no logs can monitor your activity in real-time.
  • They can also be forced (for example by a court order or subpoena) to start keeping logs.

In general, many VPN services' business model is to protect their customers’ privacy. And they can be relied on to do this much better than your ISP will. If you are doing something highly criminal, however, using a VPN is unlikely to protect you.

Please see 5 Best Logless VPNs for a more thorough discussion on this subject.

IP Leaks

In theory, when you visit a website using a VPN, the website will only see the IP address of your VPN server, not your real IP. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

  1. When first you start using a new VPN service, visit ipleak.net. It is always worth checking now and again thereafter to make sure that nothing has changed.
  2. If you see your real IP address or one that belongs to your ISP, then you have an IP leak.
  3. If you detect an IP leak, then consult my Complete Guide to IP Leaks. This covers every known reason why your IP might be leaking, together with solutions.

Using a Kill Switch

Sometimes your VPN connection will just drop. There are many possible reasons for this, but it happens when using even the best VPN services. This is dangerous, because it means that you may surf the internet thinking that you are protected by a VPN, when you are not.

Torrenters who leave their downloads unattended for long periods of time are in particular danger from this problem. The solution is to use a kill switch. This prevents you from accessing the internet unless your VPN is turned on and is active. Firewall-based kill switches are best, but any kill switch is better than none at all!

ExpressVPN's custom vlinet included a dandy kill switch.

Many VPN providers’ custom VPN clients include a kill switch. It is also possible to build your own using firewall rules, or use third party software. For more information on kill switches, please see here.

Resources

  • If you would like to learn more about the ins and outs of VPNs, a number of guides are available on this website. VPNs for Beginners – What you need to know covers all the basics, and should give you a firm grasp of what VPNs can and cannot do.
  • If you would like a greater technical understanding of the various terms that VPN websites bombard you with, then I recommend also checking out PPTP vs L2TP vs OpenVPN vs SSTP vs IKEv2, and VPN encryption terms explained (AES vs RSA vs SHA etc.).

Best VPN Services: Conclusion

VPN services are fantastic tools, and should be routinely used by every serious internet user. Free VPN services do exist, but they are generally either rubbish, or are actively hostile to your privacy. After all, running VPN servers is expensive, and no-one is going to do it out the kindness of their heart.

If viewed in the context of being one (very powerful) tool among many, using a VPN will greatly improve your online security and privacy.