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The Best VPN services for 2018

A virtual private network (VPN) enables users to send and receive data while remaining anonymous and secure online.

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Welcome to the CNET 2018 Directory of VPN providers. In this directory, we're taking a look at a few of the very best commercial VPN service providers on the Internet like CyberGhostIPVanish, Buffered, Private Internet Access and others. Rather than looking at the wide range of free providers, which often have a lot of limits (and dubious loyalties), we are looking at those vendors who charge a few bucks a month, but put your interests first, rather than those of shadowy advertisers and sponsors. Our VPN rankings are based more than 20 factors including number of server locations, client software, dedicated and dynamic IP, bandwidth caps, security, logging, customer support and price. 

Let's look at each of our vendors below in a little more depth. 



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NordVPN – 5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 2,000
  • Number of servers: 3500+ servers
  • Number of server locations: 61
  • Country/Jurisdiction: Panama
  • 60+ countries  
  •  $3.99/month price ($95.75/2-year) .  

NordVPN picks up our first five/five rating. In terms of absolute point count, it is one point above the other two five point winners. NordVPN is firing on all cylinders, so we deducted only a few points from a perfect score.

They even offer the most generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through their network, where everyone else offers five or fewer. NordVPN's network isn't as large as some of their competitors, so if you're trying to obfuscate your tracks, you might want a company with more servers. Otherwise, this company is clearly providing a winning offering.

Their best plan is 1-year subscription plan: $6.99 ($83.88). While their monthly price of $11.95 is at the high end of the spectrum (and they did lose a few points for that), their yearly price of $83.88 is lower than most our contenders. And yes, they also have a full 30-day refund policy. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. They do offer $3.99/month price ($95.75/2-year) .


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StrongVPN – 5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 59,500
  • Number of servers: 689
  • Number of server locations: 70

StrongVPN blasts into the exclusive 5/5 club with excellent infrastructure and decent price performance. As with our other 5/5 winners, StrongVPN has a strong no-logging policy. Since VPN is all about protecting your privacy, that's a place the savvy VPN providers can pick up points.

Strong also picks up points for its large base of IP addresses, which also helps protect your anonymity. They have 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 support to get help setting it up.

One of StrongVPN's strongest strengths is the company's network. They own and operate their entire network infrastructure, which means they have no externally-dictated limits on bandwidth or the type of traffic allowed on the network. This gives you the confidence that you'll be able to power through your work.

StrongVPN's monthly price of $10 is in the middle of the pack, but their yearly price of $69.99 is among the lowest of our contenders. 

See it at StrongVPN


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IPVanish VPN – 4.5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 40,000+
  • Number of servers: 900
  • Number of server locations: 60
  • Country/Jurisdiction: United States

A big win for IPVanish is the fact that the company keeps zero logs. Zero. We also like the company's stance towards privacy. They even provide support to EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit at the front lines of protecting online privacy.

A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we're very 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 plugin provides access to media worldwide.

At $7.50/month and $58.49 for a year, they're obviously trying to move you towards their yearly program. We awarded the company points for Bitcoin support, and their money-back guarantee. We're a little disappointed that they only allow a 7-day trial, rather than a full 30-days. The company is generous, with five simultaneous connections. They also picked up points for their connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. 

See it at IPVanish


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PureVPN – 4.5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 95,000
  • Number of servers: 500
  • Number of server locations: 180
  • Country/Jurisdiction: Hong Kong

There is only one reason the company got a 4.5 rating instead of a full five. That's because they do log connection information, although kudos for their clarity in explaining exactly what they do and don't log. We like that they offer a 30-day refund policy.  They got bonus points because, important for some of our readers, PureVPN supports bitcoin payments.That said, if you don't mind the slight dings on privacy and refunds, you're going like their blazing fast performance. Also, you can grow with them. If after some time, you need to scale up to business-level plans, the company has offerings for growth. Pricing is middle-of-the-road,at $10.95 per month and $69.00 for three year's service.Finally, we like that PurVPN has both Kodi and a Chromebook solution called out right on their Web page. In addition, PureVPN earns the distinction of being the first VPN service we've seen to fully implement the GDPR.

See it at PureVPN


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ExpressVPN – 4/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 15,000
  • Number of servers: 1,700+
  • Number of server locations: 145
  • Country/Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands

ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, and has impressive protocol support. While few will use PPTP (unless there are specific needs), the added support of SSTP and L2TP/IPSec may be welcome to some users.

We like the quality of their setup guides, and the detailed information in their FAQ. The ExpressVPN gained points from us for their support of Bitcoin as a payment method, and their reliable and easy-to-use connection kill switch feature.

The company has been in business since 2009, and has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Their best plan is priced at just $6.67 per month for an annual package which includes 3 extra months free. ExpressVPN's commitment to privacy is a standout feature.  

See it at ExpressVPN
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Hide My Ass – 4/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 3,106
  • Number of servers: 830
  • Number of server locations: 280
  • Country/Jurisdiction: United Kingdom

We'd give these folks an extra point, if we could, just for the name of their service. The firm has a strong network with a good selection of protocols supported. While they have an extensive (and very clearly written set of policy documents), the company explicitly allows P2P and torrents.

We like how HMA offers support on a wide range of devices including game consoles. We gave them extra points for bitcoin support, and their excellent money-back guarantee. We did deduct a couple of points, because they do log connection data. They also offer five simultaneous connections.

While their monthly pricing of $11.52 is at the high end of the spectrum, their yearly pricing is competitive at $78.66 for a full year.

See it at Hide My Ass VPN
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CyberGhost - 4.5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 2,800
  • Number of servers: over 2,800 worldwide.
  • Number of server locations: 115
  • 24/7 support response.

CyberGhost has been around since 2011 and has come out strongly as a supporter of "civil rights, a free society, and an uncensored Internet culture." We really liked how the company specifically showcases, on their Web site, how folks normally prevented from accessing such important services as Facebook and YouTube can bring those services into their lives via a VPN.

The company has solid Linux support, supports VPN via routers, and has a solution for the popular Kodi media player. They check off all the boxes on protocol support and pick up points for offering a connection kill switch feature, along with supporting P2P and BitTorrent in most countries.

At $2.75 per month and $33 for a year of service ($2.75 /mo),they are a great option to consider for VPN coverage.

Still, the few extra dollars are worth it. We liked how the company offers custom app protection, IPV5 support and DNS, IP, and WebRTC leak prevention. CyberGhost also picked up points for preserving anonymity by not logging connection data.

See it at CyberGhost VPN
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VyprVPN Services – 4/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 200,000+
  • Number of servers: 700+
  • Number of server locations: 70+
  • Country/Jurisdiction: Switzerland
  • 30-Day Money Back Guarantee  

VyprVPN has the largest bank of IP addresses of any of the services we've examined. The company offers a wide range of protocols, including its own high-performance Chameleon connection protocol.

We like that the company offers a connection kill switch feature and, for those who need it, there's an option to get a dedicated IP address. VyprVPN is a standout in their effort to provide privacy, and thwart censorship. When China began its program of deep packet VPN inspection, Golden Frog's VyperVPN service added scrambled OpenVPN packets to keep the traffic flowing. 

At $9.95 for a month's service, and $80.04 for a year, the service is a good deal. So why did we only give VyprVPN four out of five? We had to ding them for two things: a lack of Bitcoin support and logging of connection data.

See it at VyprVPN
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Private Internet Access – 5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: N/A
  • Number of servers: 3,252
  • Number of server locations: 37
  • Country/Jurisdiction: United States

Speaking of price, if you want a 5/5 rated VPN provider and you want the lowest yearly price anywhere, Private Internet Access is the place to go. At $6.95 a month, their monthly fee is the second lowest of our picks, but at $39.95

per year, Private Internet Access beats even the second lowest yearly price by a full Jackson (a $20 bill).

The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, but at 3,252, their server count is more than any of our other picks.

These folks have been around since 2010, and don't log anything. They provide a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that their refund policy is 7-days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for their excellent performance in the space of a week.

See it at Private Internet Access
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TorGuard – 5/5

  • Number of IP addresses: N/A
  • Number of servers: 1,600
  • Number of server locations: 50
  • Country/Jurisdiction: United States

Even though the company doesn't release the number of IP addresses it supports, TorGuard still earned a full five out of five. In addition to basic VPN services, TorGuard offers a wide variety of additional services, depending on your privacy needs.

As with our other 5-rating winners, TorGuard keeps no logs whatsoever. They have a full suite of protocol support, so no matter how you want to connect, you can have your preference. We also like the active blog the company maintains. It's relevant and interesting to anyone with Internet security concerns.

While TorGuard only offers a 7-day return policy, with a 5/5 review, we're sure you'll be able to decide if you're satisfied within the week period. The monthly price of $9.99 is pretty much at the middle of the range, but the yearly fee of $59.99 is a bargain compared to almost all our other contenders.

See it at TorGuard
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Buffered VPN - 4/5

  • Number of IP addresses: 11,000
  • Number of servers: 800
  • Number of server locations: 46
  • Country/Jurisdiction: Gibraltar

Buffered VPN doesn't disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take their service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company lost a few points from us because they do keep some connection information. They gained points for their client support, unlimited bandwidth, and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.

The company is relatively new, founded in 2013. It's based in Europe, so those who prefer an EU-based company might prefer Buffered. We like how Buffered has made a strong commitment to Internet freedom, and an equally strong commitment to providing quality customer support.

At $12.99 per month and $99.00 for a year of service, they don't offer the least expensive plan, but we do recommend giving them a try. 

See it at Buffered VPN
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Goose VPN - 4.5 / 5

  • Number of IP addresses: 8
  • Number of servers: 8
  • Number of server locations: 39

I had to know why Goose VPN was so named. My first order of business was to reach out to the company's co-founder and ask. Geese, I was told, make excellent guard animals. There are records of guard geese giving the alarm in ancient Rome when the Gauls attacked. Geese have been used to guard a US Air Defense Command base in Germany and a brewery in Scotland.

It's clear that the goose is an ideal mascot for a service that's meant to guard your digital communications. And so, we have Goose VPN.

Goose VPN has a couple of standout features. First, you can have an unlimited number of simultaneous connections (or devices) using the VPN at once. Second, if your bandwidth needs are 50 GB or less per month, you can sign up for $2.99/month, the cheapest monthly rate we've seen.

If you want unlimited bandwidth, the company definitely is pushing you towards buying a year at a time. Their monthly fee for unlimited bandwidth is a middle-of-the-road $12.99/month, but if you spend $59.88 for a year's service, you'll find it's the second lowest by-the-year price of the services we've reviewed.

Goose provides all the usual clients, including iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows, and adds support for routers, Android TV, and Linux. They are working on a kill switch feature, which may even be up and running by the time you read this review. The company also offers 24/7 ticket-based support.

Ducks quack, geese honk, and swans whoop (we know, because we looked it up). Overall, especially given the unlimited connections and low yearly price, we think Goose VPN is something to honk about.  

See it at GooseVPN


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Hotspot Shield– 4/5

  • Number of IP addresses: N/A
  • Number of servers: 2500
  • Number of server locations: 26

HotSpot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, they picked up some very positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, just this year, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company's software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.

So what are we to make of HotSpot Shield. Frankly, the controversy caused us to drop them from our directory for a while. But they approached us, made a strong case for their ongoing dedication to privacy, and we decided to give them another chance.

Here's the good news. They offer the very best money-back guarantee we've seen for VPN services, a full 45-days. They support Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, along with plugins for Chrome and Firefox. They also support routers and media players (but not Linux). And, as a bonus, they have a connection kill switch feature.

The company does not support P2P or BitTorrent – and they also don't support the OpenVPN. Every other vendor does, but HotSpot Shield limits its protocol support to L2TP/IPSec and something they call Hydra, an enhancement of the transport protocol.

Overall, the company did impress us with their attention to privacy. They have a published privacy canary. They also told us, "We have built in malware, phishing and spam protection. Our commitment to our users is that Hotspot Shield will never store, log, or share your true IP address."

See it at HotSpot VPN

RATING METHODOLOGY 

The above nine vendors have been carefully selected for our best VPN directory. We've looked carefully at their offerings, and have assigned a rating scale based on some important criteria. All these vendors are excellent, but you may find you prefer one over another because of features, privacy capabilities, or price.

In preparing this article, we cataloged capabilities from each vendor and awarded a rating on a 1-5 scale. We awarded extra points based on features they provide (with points for each feature). We awarded extra points based on the number of simultaneous sessions allowed, and the number of protocols (beyond OpenVPN) supported.

We also awarded points for price. Some vendors' services are more than twice the price of the services of other vendors. Less expensive vendors were rated higher than more costly vendors.

Finally, we awarded extra points for money-back guarantees. Those that offered short trial periods (or no refunds at all) got fewer points than those with generous 30-day money-back guarantees.


VPN FAQ

Since we're living in a connected world, security and privacy are critical to ensure our personal safety from nefarious hacks. From online banking to communicating with coworkers on a daily basis, we're now frequently transferring data on our computers and smartphones. It's extremely important to find ways of securing our digital life and for this reason, VPNs have become increasingly common.

What Is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that allows you to create a secure connection over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet. It protects your privacy by allowing you to anonymously appear to be anywhere you choose.

A VPN is beneficial because it guarantees an appropriate level of security and privacy to the connected systems. This is extremely useful when the existing network infrastructure alone cannot support it.

For example, when your computer is connected to a VPN, the computer acts as if it's also on the same network as the VPN. All of your online traffic is transferred over a secure connection to the VPN. The computer will then behave as if it's on that network, allowing you to securely gain access to local network resources. Regardless of your location, you'll be given permission to use the internet as if you were present at the VPN's location. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals using a public Wi-Fi.

Therefore, when you browse the internet while on a VPN, your computer will contact the website through an encrypted VPN service connection. The VPN will then forward the request for you and forward the response from the website back through a secure connection.

VPNs are really easy to use, and they're considered to be highly effective tools. They can be used to do a wide range of things. The most popular types of VPNs are remote-access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs.

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.

It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) or L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) running across the base IPsec connection.

What is a site-to-site VPN?

This is when the VPN uses a gateway device to connect to 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. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use career multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) 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.

What is a mobile VPN?

A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It's best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It's good to use when you're facing coverage gaps, inter-network roaming, bandwidth issues, or limited battery life, memory or processing power.

Mobile VPNs are designed and optimized to ensure a seamless user experience when devices are switching networks or moving out of coverage. It generally has a smaller memory footprint, and because of that, it also requires less processing power than a traditional VPN. Therefore, it enables your applications to run faster while the battery pack is able to last longer.

A Mobile VPN is a worthwhile tool to have since it increases privacy, user satisfaction and productivity, while also reducing unforeseen support issues caused by wireless connectivity problems. The increasing usage of mobile devices and wireless connectivity make it more important to ensure that your data is being transferred through a secure network. It will allow you to access the internet, while staying safe behind a firewall that protects your privileged information.

Who needs a VPN?

Individuals that access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from using a VPN. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Therefore, both private and business users can benefit from using a VPN. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn't know which web pages you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone that wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.

How to choose a VPN Service?

There's a vast range of VPN servers on the internet. Some are free, but the best ones require a monthly subscription. Before you decide to download a VPN, make sure you consider these factors for understanding a VPN:

Cost - VPNs aren't too pricey, but they vary from vendor to vendor. If your main concern is price, then go with something inexpensive, or free - like Spotflux Premium VPN or AnchorFree HotSpot Shield Elite. By all means, try a free server but they do have a few drawbacks since they attract a lot of users. Free servers are often slower, and since most are ad-supported, they place adverts on the online pages you access. Others can even limit the speed of your connection, as well as your online time or amount of data transferred.

It's also important to note that leading VPN providers such as NordVPN and Privacy Internet Access offer stronger security features to ensure you're digitally safe. When selecting a paid VPN service, always be sure to check which countries it operates servers in.

Reliability - Select a VPN that is reliable and read the reviews to make sure that it's capable of protecting you by providing you with sufficient online privacy.

High security - An effective VPN will have the following security features: 128-bit encryption, anonymous DNS servers and an absence of connection logs.

Are there any bandwidth limits? This can often be linked to price; paying more will generally provide more bandwidth with faster internet access.

Are apps for Android, iOS phones and tablets available? Apps for Android and iOS devices are also vulnerable, so make sure your VPN server can support them.

To ensure privacy, you want to make sure you have a VPN that doesn't store online logs. Some servers provide virus and spyware protection, and features like that can significantly increase your online safety.

Using a no-logs VPN service will provide you with a higher degree of security. It can protect you from blanket government surveillance and prevent your internet service provider from knowing your online activity.

Using a VPN for Netflix and other forbidden treasures

Online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have been making it difficult for foreign users to access their content in other countries. Many people can get around region restrictions by using a VPN service to route your traffic through another country.

It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address", "dedicated IP", or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.

This is by far the easiest way to access your forbidden apps since there's no specific way to block VPN traffic.

A lot of people started using a VPN to evade geo-restrictions. But despite its forbidden benefits to users outside the US, a VPN is a great tool that can protect you and enhance your online experience over the internet by providing you with sufficient security and privacy. When it comes to selecting the best VPN, you have plenty of choices. There are many cost-effective VPN options, and all of them will vary in monthly offerings. Choosing the best VPN is easier once you narrow down the competition. The best indication of a good VPN service provider is that they have the right security and the right support in place for you.

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