I do not profess to be an expert on the subject of VPNs and rely mostly on editorial reviews and user comments. However, I have spent many hours researching VPN services and content in this article is largely based on that research. In other words, I’ve already done a lot of the leg work for you.
Almost three years ago to the day I wrote an article on VPNs — What Is The Best VPN — which, rather than discussing various VPNs and their respective features concentrated more on the essential elements that a user should look for in a VPN. A lot has changed in the VPN market place in the past three years, although, those basic essential ingredients remain the same. If you are new to VPNs, I strongly suggest reading through that earlier article.
Here are those essential features in summary:
- Zero logging: It’s extremely important that the VPN guarantees a zero-logging policy. If a VPN service is logging data, it pretty much defeats the whole purpose of using a VPN… namely for anonymity, privacy, and obfuscation
- Kill Switch: If your VPN connection drops out for any reason the connection will revert to your ISP’s server and your identity and activity are immediately exposed. A Kill Switch will instantly disconnect completely from the internet to prevent this from happening
- DNS Leak Protection: These days, all reputable VPNs support DNS leak protection
- Encryption: All reputable VPNs utilize strong encryption
VPNs – Other Features
Unblocking Netflix: There is an ongoing game of cat and mouse between Netflix and VPNs whereby Netflix is continually updating its VPN recognition mechanism and VPNs are constantly trying to find new ways to circumvent same. This process can be quite costly for the VPN and many have given up on unblocking Netflix for this very reason. The two VPNs which are consistently reported by testers to support unblocking Netflix are ExpressVPN and NordVPN. There are quite a few other VPNs that claim to unblock Netflix, however, this situation is entirely fluid and it’s important to note that what is true today might not be true tomorrow.
P2P – Torrents: Some VPNs support torrents without limitations, others support torrents with limitations, and others do not support torrents at all. So, if downloading torrents is a primary consideration, you’ll need to make sure that your chosen VPN unequivocally supports same.
VPN Speeds: Connecting through a VPN will generally have a detrimental effect on speeds. This is partially down to the strong 2-way encryption but also due to server location. Connections via a VPN server in a different country will always be quite a bit slower than connections via a VPN server in your country of residence. For maximum speed, you should always select a server location that is nearest to your physical location.
All VPNs claim to be super fast but, obviously, some will be faster than others. Whether those differences are significant enough to warrant choosing one VPN over another is open to debate. Again, the two VPNs which are consistently reported by testers to maintain very fast speeds are ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
Number of Devices: Most VPNs support multiple devices– generally from 3 to 10. SurfShark (mentioned below) currently supports an unlimited number of devices.
Customer Support: This is an often overlooked yet important consideration. Some VPNs include live chat support plus email support, others only include email support. Suggestion: prior to finalizing that all-important decision, contact the support team for any VPN service you are considering purchasing and you’ll be able to gauge the speed of response, quality of response, and clarity of response (in regards to VPNs based in non-English speaking countries).
Country of Origin (jurisdiction): Personally, provided a VPN guarantees zero-logging, I don’t believe it matters all that much where the company is based. That said, most of the top-rated VPNs are located in countries outside of the 5-eyes and 14-eyes jurisdictions anyway. Also, it is certainly something to take into consideration.
ExpressVPN & NordVPN – 2 of the Best
These are the two VPN services that consistently top the editorial ”best of” lists. Both tick all the right boxes and enjoy a stellar reputation. ExpressVPN, in particular, appears to be an extremely professional outfit and an excellent choice. However, ExpressVPN is also a tad on the expensive side. NordVPN is right up there too and, with a 3-year plan at just $3.49 US per month, quite a bit less expensive than ExpressVPN. That said, NordVPN does not accept payments through PayPal so it is a non-starter for me, personally.
- ExpressVPN is one of very few VPNs to undergo a third-party audit to verify its no-logs policy and privacy protection measures
- NordVPN suffered a minor data breach through one of its servers in 2018. However, in response, NordVPN has since initiated an ongoing 3rd-party audit which also includes regular penetration testing
PIA, CyberGhost, & Zenmate – A No Go?
At the time of my original article from 2017, I had just started using PIA (Private Internet Access) and reported that I was quite happy with the service. However, a lot has changed since then. PIA, CyberGhost, and Zenmate have all since been acquired by a company called Kape, formerly known as Crossrider. Now, Kape/Crossrider has a particularly shady history, having been responsible for producing and distributing advertising modules, adware, and even malware: Strange Ties: Private Internet Access, Kape, and Crossrider
As a result of the acquisition, and Kape’s nefarious history, significant numbers of PIA subscribers have now abandoned the service. I must emphasize here that I am not making any accusations in regards to Kape’s handling of PIA customers, and PIA representatives have gone out of their way to assure subscribers that PIA’s previous high ethical standards will still be strictly adhered to. However, personally, just based on Kape’s past history alone, I would not recommend going with PIA, CyberGhost, or Zenmate
SurfShark – Interesting Newcomer
Having been around for less than a year, SurfShark is the new kid on the block. Consequently, SurfShark might not offer quite the same extensive coverage and speeds of the more established VPNs but, on the other hand, in order to quickly expand its subscriber base, SurfShark is offering extremely competitive pricing (a 2-year plan at just $1.99 US per month). SurfShark is also reported to be rapidly increasing its coverage and improving its service and is quickly finding its way into many of the ”best of” lists. Definitely one to consider.
- Read through a comprehensive review of SurfShark: Surfshark VPN Review (2020)
Whichever VPN you end up choosing I would suggest considering initially paying for a one-month subscription. This is by far the most expensive subscription model but a lot more economical than paying in advance for a two or three-year plan only to discover during the early stages that it is missing a feature you particularly wanted, is too slow, or any other issues. That said, I don’t believe you can go wrong with either ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
Finally, here are links to a couple of excellent resources for checking out VPNs:
Disclaimer: All prices quoted in this article were accurate and correct at the time of writing.