Military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection ensure private, safe connections.forticlient vpn offline installer downloadYou. IPVanish VPN has impressive speedtest scores, but is also one of the few VPNs to It boasts good download scores, but its upload results are iffy and its. ipvanish vpn download.
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Connect My VPN
Your VPN is a virtual private network that adds a level of security and privacy when you are working online from home. Once you install the software, turn on and configure your VPN, it will encrypt data that you send and receive. All of your data travels through the VPN server, basically setting up a secure tunnel, using a variety of encryptions and protocols.
Setting up your employer's VPN
Use your Frontier Internet service to connect to your VPN through your VPN software.
- Your company's IT department should be able to provide you the necessary software.
- Follow your company's instructions to download the software and connect. These instructions should include all the necessary information to ensure you are connecting to the proper server.
- Connect to the VPN when your first log on each day to be sure your data is encrypted.
Choosing your own VPN software
If your company does not provide you with a VPN, and you want one for your own personal purposes, do your research online or with your colleagues. You want positive reviews on the following:
- Download speeds
- Privacy and security features
- Ease of use
- Available support and troubleshooting
How to install your own VPN software
- Download the software program
- Make sure the device you wish to connect via VPN is compatible. Check their website
- Follow the VPN instructions to download and connect
Troubleshooting your VPN
If you are having trouble connecting to your VPN
- For help with your VPN, please contact the manufacturer or your company's IT department
If you are experiencing slow speeds, try the following:
- Reboot your computer
- Restart your modem/router
- Check your in-home network and limit activities like video streaming and online gaming, which use a lot of bandwidth, when connected to a VPN
- Use a wired connection rather than wi-fi connection
- Check for and install any software updates
- If none of these are helping your speed, and you think you might have an issue with your Frontier service contact us. Otherwise contact your company's or VPN software manufacturer's IT Help Desk
After a new round of testing and research, we still think Mullvad and IVPN are the best options. We’ve updated this guide throughout with new information.
November 11, 2021
As more people’s work and personal lives go digital, online privacy and security become increasingly important. Although a virtual private network, or VPN, is not a complete answer for protecting your online privacy, it can be a useful part of your security toolkit. However, the VPN industry is riddled with false promises and shady businesses. After sorting through dozens of VPNs and reviewing four security audits, we think the best option for most people is Mullvad, an open-source VPN that is not only trustworthy and transparent but also fast and reliable.
Mullvad collects minimal user data and engages in comprehensive and transparent privacy practices. It meets our security standards with a recent, publicly available third-party security audit. Though anonymity guarantees are nearly impossible for any company to make, we like that Mullvad allows you to pay in cash simply by using an account number it generates (you can also pay with more common payment types, including credit card and PayPal). Mullvad offers the speedy WireGuard protocol, which is lightweight and quick compared with IPsec and OpenVPN, the previous tunneling protocols. Mullvad’s desktop and mobile apps make setup simple on a variety of devices even if you have little technical knowledge, and the service’s kill switch helps protect your privacy by automatically disconnecting your device if the VPN connection fails. Although Mullvad doesn’t offer a free trial, it does have a money-back guarantee. You can also set IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer many types of routers to connect with Mullvad’s servers, and you can use your Mullvad account on up to five devices at once.
If you plan to use six or seven devices at once, or if your speeds with Mullvad aren’t as good as what we saw in our tests, IVPN is just as transparent and trustworthy. IVPN also gives you some extras that Mullvad lacks, such as the ability to let it choose the fastest server for you or to block Facebook and Google with its Hardcore Mode feature. Depending on how many devices you need to connect, IVPN can be cheaper or more expensive than Mullvad. IVPN’s less expensive option allows only two devices compared with Mullvad’s five, and its more expensive premium plan allows seven. IVPN’s premium plan includes two features the basic plan doesn’t: port forwarding and multihop (though most people don’t need either). While IVPN doesn’t offer a free trial, it does include a 30-day money-back guarantee. Like Mullvad, IVPN offers instructions on how to set up many types of routers to connect with its servers, as well as instructions on using it with network-attached storage.
Why you should trust us
We scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, security audit reports, and forums to compile the pros and cons of various VPN services, different VPN protocols and encryption technologies, and signals indicating transparency, trustworthiness, and security.
We interviewed Electronic Frontier Foundation director of cybersecurity Eva Galperin about limitations of VPNs and tips for selecting the appropriate VPN based on individual circumstances. We spoke with Trail of Bits co-founder and CEO Dan Guido about the security challenges inherent in VPNs and the limitations of security audits and reports. We got answers from Joseph Jerome, then the policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPNs were for their business models, privacy practices, security protocols, and protections, and how that related to trustworthiness. We discussed what to look for—and avoid—in VPNs with security researcher Kenneth White, co-director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, and with cryptographer and Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green. We also touched base with blockchain privacy expert and Clovyr co-founder Amber Baldet to discuss the privacy advantages and pitfalls to consider when paying for a VPN with cryptocurrency.
We interviewed the leadership of three top-performing VPN services about their operational security and internal standards, participating in phone calls with TunnelBear CEO and co-founder Ryan Dochuk and IVPN CEO Nick Pestell, and exchanging emails with Mullvad CEO Jan Jonsson.
As a digital security trainer at Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), David Huerta has consulted and trained media makers in hundreds of newsrooms, including The New York Times, on how to make the best use of privacy-enhancing technology in journalistic work. Since the beginning of his time at FPF in 2017, he has shown journalists how to use encryption tools to protect the identity of their sources, how to address privacy concerns related to having a highly public presence online, and how to circumvent national firewalls when reporting from abroad. VPNs have been a recurring topic; he has helped demystify how they work, as well as how to pick a VPN based on its technology and policy features.
Yael Grauer did the initial reporting for this guide and wrote Wirecutter’s previous recommendations in the summer of 2020. She has written about privacy and security for Wired, Vice, BreakerMag, The Intercept, Slate/Future Tense, and Ars Technica, and she now covers the category for Consumer Reports. She collaborated with the Electronics Frontier Foundation on its Street-Level Surveillance project and wrote curricula for TrollBusters, a just-in-time rescue service for women writers and journalists who are experiencing online harassment. She has also co-organized events, taught workshops, and spoken on panels about digital security and source protection.
This guide builds on work by Wirecutter editor Mark Smirniotis, including feedback from the information security team at The New York Times, which at the time included Runa Sandvik, Bill McKinley, David Templeton, James Pettit, and Neena Kapur. They all provided feedback on a wide range of issues, from technical concerns to provider transparency.
Who this is for
For this guide we focused on virtual private networks, or VPNs, as an option for people who are hoping to add a layer of privacy or security to their web browsing. Using a VPN can stop your computer or mobile device from revealing your IP address to websites, services, and the rest of the internet when you connect. One reason to protect your IP address is that it can give away your location. Anyone can plug in an IP address at various websites to find your rough location, usually your city, state, and country. Although some IP addresses are only loosely connected to a specific geographic location, those associated with Wi-Fi hotspots are much more precise. Commercial outfits such as Skyhook have used hotspot scanning and app partners to amass large databases correlating IP addresses with hotspot locations, and companies can turn to these services to determine your exact location.
VPNs work by routing your web traffic through a secure, encrypted connection to the VPN’s server so that those other parties see the VPN’s IP address, not the one connected to your home or office, or to the coffee shop, airport, or hotel you happen to be in. Using a VPN can also stop your internet service provider from recording your online activities; in 2017, President Donald Trump signed a law repealing internet privacy rules passed by the FCC, allowing ISPs to record all of your traffic, insert ads, track you in a variety of ways, and sell that data to third parties. Although the VPN provider can see what you’re doing, your traffic mixes with that of other people using the same VPN. See our article “What Is a VPN and What Can (and Can’t) It Do?” for more information on how VPNs work and whether you need one.
And it’s not just about ISP behavior: Your IP address is typically recorded by the websites you visit and is usually attached in emails you send, becoming exposed to your email’s recipient. Even loading images embedded in emails you receive can reveal your IP address to wherever the images are loading from.
IP addresses can pinpoint your places of work, too. For example, a court document indicates that a New York Times reporter accidentally tipped off a company to a major investigation by visiting its website too often. You don’t have to be a journalist to sometimes want to keep your place of business private from the site you’re visiting.
Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Illustration: Sarah MacReading
But standard VPN services may not be enough in some instances. Human-rights activists, journalists, people hoping to use VPNs in oppressive regimes, or people who are likely to be individually targeted by nation-state actors may need to take steps beyond using a commercial VPN; in these cases, it’s worthwhile to consult a digital-security specialist such as Access Now before signing up for one of our picks.
One of the main reasons people want to use VPNs is to geoshift: making a website or web-based service such as Netflix think that you’re connecting from, say, the United States instead of Germany to access videos or other content with geographic restrictions. But the biggest sites often block connections from VPNs, making geoshifting like this unreliable. We tested each of our candidates for the ability to access content in different countries—and based on the results, we don’t IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer that people expect them to work for that purpose.
Trusting a VPN
Because VPNs see all of the traffic you are hoping to protect, the most important quality of a good VPN is trustworthiness, while the second most important is security. Unfortunately, these are also the most difficult qualities to ascertain. In recent years, VPNs have begun hiring independent firms to conduct security audits to back up their security or privacy claims and have been sharing the results publicly.
All of your internet activity will flow through the servers of the company whose VPN you use, so you’ll need to trust it more than you trust the network you’re hoping to secure, whether that’s airport Wi-Fi, a hotel internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. “That last mile between you and your ISP is extremely treacherous,” said Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits. In the past, executives traveling overseas have been attacked with malware served through unsecured hotel Wi-Fi, and ISPs have hijacked and rerouted customer search queries, injected targeted ads based on browsing history, and injected supercookies to track mobile customers. In-flight broadband providers have been caught issuing fake HTTPS certificates.
The FTC announced in 2019 that it was seeking information about different broadband providers’ privacy practices. “There is this widespread suspicion that broadband providers aren’t being forthright with how they use your data,” Guido said. A look through broadband providers’ terms of service reveals that they typically include a lot of privacy opt-outs for information collected by default and being provided to third parties.
So there are reasons to trust some VPN providers over some ISPs, or to seek protection in the form of a VPN.
But not all VPNs are an improvement, as more than a few VPN providers have been caught lying about their policies in the past or sharing data with third parties, and many VPN services have had poor configurations that leaked the very data they were being paid to secure. “A lot of times VPNs that promise you privacy and security don’t deliver because they’re lying,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “A lot of VPNs that say, ‘We will protect your privacy, we won’t IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer, we won’t comply with a subpoena,’ that kind of thing, turn out to be full of lies. That is a very serious problem because it’s really hard to evaluate for.”
Your internet activity will flow through the servers of the company whose VPN you use, so you’ll need to trust it more than you trust the network you’re hoping to secure.
In fact, there are so many stories about VPNs not being true to their claims that we can list only a sample:
- In 2016, one study (PDF) found a mix of VPNs that had embedded third-party tracking and insecure implementations. Another project found that 90% of the VPNs it tested used insecure or outdated encryption.
- In May 2019, the director of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that foreign adversaries were interested in exploiting VPN services (PDF).
- In early 2019, more than half of the top 20 free VPNs in the App Store and the Google Play store were owned by or based in China, a country where VPN services are banned.
- There have been multiple instances of individual VPNs being caught or accused with evidence of violating their own privacy policies or sharing customer data, including claims against EarthVPN, Facebook’s Onavo, HideMyAss, Hola VPN, Hotspot Shield (PDF), IPVanish, and PureVPN.
On the other side, there are some VPNs whose no-logging cases have been proven in court:
Knowing who is behind your VPN is a big step toward trusting them. Some VPNs offer great service or pricing but little to no insight into who exactly is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including the information security team at The New York Times, about whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if the company wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. We decided we’d rather give up other positives—such as faster speed or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Considering the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, having a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security—is the most concrete way a company can build trust.
Even with visibility into a company’s leadership, there are more factors to consider when you’re evaluating that leadership’s history. In recent years, a number of VPN companies including CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, PIA, and Zenmate VPN have been bought by Kape Technologies, formerly known as Crossrider. The company previously created invasive ad programs that are largely considered potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), with many search results for “Crossrider” being instructions on how to remove it.
Kape was co-founded by Koby Menachemi, a former developer at Israel’s Unit 8200, a rough equivalent to the United States’s National Security Agency. Recent reports also revealed that ExpressVPN’s CIO, Dan Gericke, was involved with Project Raven, a group of hackers working at the behest of the United Arab Emirates to target and surveil its critics, including a number of human-rights activists. We think the privacy promises of people with ties to an intelligence collection agency should be considered with some skepticism.
Another major factor we looked for: published security audits conducted by reputable third parties, which are much more common than they have been in the recent past.
Security audits aren’t perfect. Although independent companies evaluate a VPN provider’s technology as best they can, such audits are limited to a moment in time; there are no assurances that the VPN will have the same technology or security practices the next day. Additionally, the auditors themselves are limited by time and sometimes are contracted to look only at certain aspects of a VPN.
For this guide, we insisted that our VPN picks have published third-party security audits of their core product.
“They’re not going to be intimately familiar with the entire company. They’re not going to have time to look through every line of code. They’re given a set of constraints, usually a very small amount of time that they’d prefer is longer, and they don’t have any familiarity with any of the technology earlier than day one and they need to figure it all out,” said Trail of Bits’s Dan Guido.
However, software companies and service providers that are willing to engage with third-party auditors to review their code and implementation—and make the results public—do send a signal of trust. For this guide, we insisted that our VPN picks have published third-party security audits of their core product—their server and back-end infrastructure, rather than just their apps and web-browser extensions. Although audits for apps and extensions are a nice supplement, apps and extensions can be independently dissected by any security researcher with a smartphone or web browser. Security researchers have no other legal way to evaluate a VPN company’s servers except by getting the company’s permission to look inside them. Infrastructure audits considering both the security of a VPN’s servers and its back-end code—not just the verification of a no-logging policy—were our baseline for third-party audits that we considered in our evaluation.
Some VPNs have had no-log audits conducted in order to show that they are living up to their privacy promises. As with security audits, there’s never a guarantee that practices in place during audits aren’t changed the next day, if compelled by a government, for example. And even if companies intend to stick to their promises, they may be inadvertently failing to secure the data they are entrusted with protecting. Although the move toward transparency with no-log audits is a positive one, competition makes it mandatory that such audits be paired with security audits that can help find vulnerabilities so that companies can patch or mitigate them.
If you penny-pinch on privacy and security services, you may end up without privacy or security.
Even if you know who’s behind your VPN, you shouldn’t trust a free one. A free service may make you and your data the product, so you should assume that any information it gathers on you—whether that’s an actual browsing history or demographics such as age or political affiliation—is being sold to or shared with someone.
If you penny-pinch on privacy and security services, you may end up without privacy best windows 10 activator - Free Activators security. As Bill McKinley, head of the information security team for The New York Times, put it: “If I can spend more on organic bananas, I can spend more for confidence in a VPN provider.”
The Center for Democracy & Technology brought just such a complaint against one VPN provider in 2017, though no investigation was ever announced. Many privacy sites suggest finding a VPN service outside the prying eyes of US intelligence agencies and their allies, but FTC protections could be an argument for finding one in the US so that there’s a penalty if the service deceives its customers.
Limitations of VPNs
There are three common scenarios in which other parties would be able to quickly link your online habits. For one, if you sign in to a Google account from home without a VPN, Google has a log of your home IP address. Even if you turn on your browser’s private or Incognito mode and don’t log in, your “private” searches are also linked to your IP address, and then back to your Google account. If you then connect your VPN and sign in to your Google account just once, your “anonymous” VPN IP address is just as trivially linked back to your secret browsing history.
In fact, government requests for data have included asking ISPs for accounts linked to other accounts—if Google knows which VPN you use and that there are multiple accounts on your computer, it knows that your accounts are linked, as does anybody else it shares that data with.
Even if you were to practice perfect separation, VPNs can’t protect against browser cookies and browser fingerprinting techniques that can track you regardless of logins and IP addresses.
People in the US who believe that offshore VPNs will protect their identities in the case of criminal activity will be disappointed to learn that the US government actually has mutual legal assistance treaties with dozens of countries throughout the world.
How we picked
To narrow down the list of VPN providers we would consider, we looked at VPNs listed in reviews from sources such as CNET, PCMag, and The Verge, as well as recommendations from the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation (where current guide author David Huerta is a digital security trainer) and the security firm Bishop Fox. We also looked at VPNs that had answered questions on the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Signals of Trustworthy VPNs survey. We combined these results with customer experiences and tips on the r/VPN subreddit, as well as reviews in the App Store and Google Play store. We piled this research on top of our work from previous years, which looked at sites such as vpnMentor and TorrentFreak and technology-focused websites like Lifehacker and Ars Technica, as well as those services that were simply on our staff’s personal radars.
In 2019, we settled on 52 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended or at least so highly visible that you’re likely to encounter them when shopping for a VPN provider. In 2020, we added four, and then in 2021 we considered one more. From there, we dug into the details on how each VPN handled issues from technology to subscriptions, as well as the steps they’ve taken to improve their transparency and security posture.
Trust and transparency
The minimum: recent, published back-end security audits by a reputable third-party firm; public-facing leadership
The best: comprehensive, published white-box (aka open-box) security audits by a reputable third-party firm conducted annually; transparency reports; a bug-bounty program or a coordinated vulnerability-disclosure program
We thoroughly reviewed all audits, paying close attention to how comprehensive they were and what they included. We also factored in which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership. We looked for audits by third-party firms, prioritizing those that assessed the overall security of a VPN provider.
Privacy and terms-of-service policies
The best: easy-to-read policies; companies located in countries with strong consumer protections; no third-party trackers on the website
The VPNs we chose said they logged minimal information. We looked for clear and easy-to-read terms-of-service and privacy policies and checked to confirm that they were consistent with the site’s marketing copy. We asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards, and how they would respond to requests for information, in order to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging. Although third-party trackers for ads, analytics, and social media are the norm for many websites, trackers ultimately do what they say they will: track what you’re up to on a website. For a VPN service, this can feel somewhat contradictory to the larger promises made in website copy (probably written by the same marketing team making use of these trackers).
Trial or refund policy
The minimum: a free version (or trial) or a money-back guarantee
The best: a free version (or trial) and a money-back guarantee
Despite our extensive testing, we know that VPNs work differently in different locations and on different computers and networks. A trial or a free version of a VPN can allow you to test out several of them risk-free to see if any are a better fit for your specific circumstance. In lieu of a free trial or tier, we recommend trying out a new VPN for a month before committing to buying it for a full year.
The minimum: at least 75 server locations in at least 20 countries
The best: more than 1,000 servers
The more servers a network has at each of its locations, the more likely you are to have a speedy connection. And a VPN with a wide variety of server locations can help you geoshift your location without losing connectivity or allow you to log on to a less-congested part of the world. However, VPNs tend to be slower at peak times even on the most robust networks due to limited bandwidth in and out of an area.
Security and technology
The minimum: OpenVPN with SHA-256 authentication; RSA-2048 or better handshake; AES-256-GCM or AES-256-CBC data encryption
The best: RSA-4096, Curve25519, P-256, P-384, or P-521
We built our requirements based on interviews with experts and recommendations (PDF) put out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. All the trust in the world won’t help a VPN provider keep your browsing information private if it’s not secure. We recommend the open-source WireGuard protocol, a new lightweight protocol that is gaining prominence. It now has Windows and macOS support and is integrated into the Linux kernel, which required additional security review. If the VPN you choose doesn’t offer WireGuard, we recommend using the OpenVPN protocol due to security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and IPsec protocols.
Although AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance. And while RSA-2048 is sufficient for now, we prefer the future-proof RSA-4096 as our top standard.
The minimum: a kill switch that’s effective and that you can activate with one click
The best: customizable rules allowing you to activate a kill switch on startup or on specific networks
When a VPN “kill switch” is turned on, the VPN software is supposed to shut off all network traffic in and out of your computer or mobile device if the encrypted connection fails. Without a kill switch, if your Wi-Fi drops or another connectivity issue occurs, your VPN stops securing the connection. In some cases, VPN software doesn’t even alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic, thereby wiping out all of the benefits of your using it in the first place.
We considered kill switches to be mandatory, but people who find that they can’t log on to their home Wi-Fi, for example, may simply turn off their VPN out of frustration. That’s why we also looked for apps that allow you to easily set your own rules about when the kill switch should activate and when it shouldn’t, in order to customize the experience.
The minimum: native apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS (including iPadOS)
The best: additional operating systems, routers, and smart TVs
We consider native apps for Windows and Mac a necessity because they’re far easier to use than open-source or third-party VPN apps. Native apps for iOS and Android are a requirement because although IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer possible to manually configure your phone to use a VPN, it’s not exactly a user-friendly or easy process.
Number of connections
The minimum: two simultaneous connections
The best: five or more simultaneous connections
Though the majority of VPN providers allow you to install their software on as many devices as you’d like, most of them limit simultaneous connections. A two-connection limit is likely sufficient for most individuals, but five or more connections offer flexibility for couples, families, or people with many devices.
The minimum: email support, with responses sent within 24 business hours; robust help section
The best: email, chat support during business hours, quick response to weekend tickets
If you can’t set up or reliably use your VPN, you won’t use it—thereby eliminating all of the benefits. An extensive help section on the website can resolve many problems. Although we consider online-chat support to be the gold standard, quick and clear responses to emails can be equally helpful.
Some VPNs offer additional features that can be nice to have but weren’t crucial to our decision making:
- Additional payment options: Cryptocurrency, cash, PayPal, Amazon Pay, bank wire, gift card balances, and even jars of honey are accepted for payment, but since a VPN doesn’t guarantee anonymity (see the section on limitations), we don’t think such an array of options is crucial for most people.
- Stealth modes: A stealth mode helps circumvent networks that block VPNs by making your encrypted VPN traffic look like it’s some other type of data.
- Custom ad blockers: Although this is a nice feature to have in a VPN, you can find a number of trustworthy and free browser extensions for this purpose.
- Multihop connections: For added encryption and obfuscation, some VPNs can route your traffic through multiple servers. This is unnecessary for most people, though, and it can reduce speeds.
- Warrant canaries: Many companies proudly display “warrant canaries” on their websites. These are digitally signed notices that say something to the effect of “We have never been served a warrant for traffic logs or turned over customer information.” Law enforcement can prohibit a company from discussing an investigation, but in theory it can’t compel a company to actively lie. So the theory goes that when the warrant canary dies—that is, the notice disappears from the website because it’s no longer truthful—so does privacy. The EFF supports this legal position, though it stopped tracking warrant canaries in 2016; other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done. Such notices may provide a nice sense of security, and they are important to some people, but we didn’t consider them essential.
How we tested
After going through the above criteria in 2021, we narrowed our initial list down to just four services that met our requirements: IVPN, Mullvad, Surfshark, and TunnelBear. We signed up for each one of those services and dug deeper into their policies, technology, and performance on a custom-built gaming PC, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and a Pixel phone.
Your browsing speed and latency while connected to a VPN depend on several factors, including the VPN server’s physical location—with a server located far away, your data takes longer to arrive—and the bandwidth of the VPN provider’s internet connection.
We tested each service using Ookla’s Speedtest on macOS for each VPN over Wi-Fi, selecting OpenVPN as the connection protocol but otherwise leaving the configuration as is. We recorded baseline download rates of nearly 230 megabits per second without a VPN active and checked our non-VPN speeds at random intervals to confirm that our local ISP wasn’t affecting the tests.
Ookla takes a “multi-threaded” approach to testing, using up to 16 streams. Multi-threaded testing, according to a 2016 white paper by OTI, has a higher tolerance for background packet losses and can obfuscate deficiencies in the network, so it tends to be more forgiving than other tests. Though other rating options like M-Lab’s Speed Test may be a better measure of real-world results, in our experience Ookla’s tests worked on every service and allowed us to get a true relative comparison. Plus, Ookla’s data has been cited by the FCC in publications including the agency’s first Consolidated Communications Marketplace Report (PDF), according to the company’s blog.
These two tests show how using a VPN, especially a distant server, will generally slow down your internet connection. We did this second speed test in Southern California with a VPN connection to a server in the United Kingdom. This screen recording has been sped up, so the connection time may be longer than depicted.
These two tests show how using a VPN, especially a distant server, will generally slow down your internet connection. We did this first speed test in Southern California without a VPN connection. This screen recording has been sped up, so the connection time may be longer than depicted.
From Portland, Oregon, we ran the VPN-enabled test using eight different server locations per service:
- New York
For services that offered automatic location selection—a feature designed to give you the best speed possible—we also ran the tests on whichever location the VPN software chose.
We ran the full series of tests with each location during three time periods that we chose to see whether internet rush hours drastically reduced performance:
- Tuesday midday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Pacific
- Tuesday evening, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Pacific
- Sunday midday, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Pacific
We also tested each VPN outside of these hours using its fastest connection on a MacBook Pro running macOS Catalina, a Pixel 2 phone running Android 11, and an iPhone SE running iOS 14.7. Additionally, we tested the apps over video calls to see if any service caused frozen screens, slowdowns, or dropped connections.
To verify that each service we tested hid our true IP address effectively, we used a geolocation tool as well as sites that detect DNS leaks and WebRTC leaks. We visited the websites for Yelp, Target, and Akamai—sites that sometimes block suspicious IP addresses—to make sure the VPN IP addresses did not prevent us from accessing them.
Desktop and mobile apps
We also evaluated the interface and experience of the desktop and mobile apps of all the top-performing services. We set up each service’s Android app on a Pixel 2 phone running Android 11. We used iOS apps, when available, on an iPhone SE with iOS 14.7. We looked at the payment process, how easy each app was to set up and connect, and what options were available in the settings pane.
We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about their service and troubleshooting. VPN companies provide technical support through email, online ticketing systems, or live chat, but some chat options are not available outside of business hours. Our response times to support inquiries ranged from immediate chat responses to two days. Self-help support sites can be useful when you’re waiting for a reply with the inability to connect, so we looked at both the speed of response and the robustness of troubleshooting information available in the site’s support section.
Interviews and openness
In 2019, we whittled our list of four contenders down to three: IVPN, Mullvad, and TunnelBear. We reached out to these finalists for more information about their operations to judge their trustworthiness and transparency, and we spoke to two by phone and one over email. In 2021, the criteria we look for when evaluating VPN trustworthiness and transparency are now publicly visible, so we didn’t need to call the companies for our latest update to this guide.
Our pick: Mullvad
Mullvad is a secure VPN that provided a seamless experience during our testing: It was easy to set up, and it hummed along so quietly in the background that we would often forget that it was even turned on. The company excelled in signals of transparency and trust, and in our testing the service was easy to use and delivered some of the fastest speeds of any VPN we tried. Dedicated apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS make Mullvad simple to set up on a variety of devices even if you have little technical knowledge. Mullvad’s subscription is reasonably priced and costs the same whether you use the service for a month or a year, and one subscription can support up to five simultaneous connections at a time, so it’s easy to use on all of your devices, too.
Although other VPNs we’ve considered have had third-party security audits in some form, Mullvad’s audits have been among the broadest in scope. Mullvad has also been the most consistent in conducting audits regularly, about once a year. In November and December 2020, Mullvad underwent its latest security audit, a process that is key for improving trust in an opaque industry. Conducted by cybersecurity consulting firm Cure53, the most recent infrastructure audit took five testers a total of 22 person-days to complete. In evaluating Mullvad, the auditors spotted 12 vulnerabilities, implementation issues, and other findings: two of high severity, two of medium severity, four of low severity, and four informational. In comparison, IVPN’s latest infrastructure audit, which was similar in scope, found three high-severity issues, two of medium severity, three of low severity, and one informational. Neither audit found any issues of critical severity, and both companies addressed the security issues quickly. Cure53’s report on Mullvad’s infrastructure states that “the attack surface offered by the published services should be judged as successfully minimized.”
Mullvad’s transparency is another strong signal of trust. Located in Sweden, the company behind the service (Amagicom) is directly owned by founders Fredrik Strömberg—who works on research and development in security—and Daniel Berntsson, and it lists its employees on its site. Many other VPNs have begun disclosing their ownership in recent years; it may be no coincidence that the services that still haven’t done so tend to also be prone to deceptive marketing and include suspicious “free” VPNs. Plus, according to Mullvad’s CEO, many of the people on its 22-person team use Qubes, a security-focused operating system designed to keep sensitive work isolated and secure even if an attacker were to breach another portion of the computer.
Mullvad has fairly readable terms of service, including details about what kinds of information the company collects and how it uses that information.
Mullvad also collects very little data on its website visitors, and all of the cookies that may track you on the Mullvad website expire when you close the browser window. Those cookies include one that allows you to log in, a cookie that retains your language preference, a security cookie that prevents cross-site request forgeries, and cookies for Mullvad’s payment processor for some payment types. In contrast, IVPN uses a self-hosted web-analytics service called Matomo and collects data on your browser user-agent, language, screen resolution, referring website, and IP address, though it does discard the last piece of the IP address. Research from The Markup shows that other VPNs have far more advertising and other third-party trackers on their sites. Along with ProtonVPN and Windscribe, Mullvad and IVPN were the only two services The Markup tested that had no trackers on their sites.
Mullvad has fairly readable terms of service, including details about what kinds of information the company collects and how it uses that information. As we discuss in the section on trusting a VPN, using a VPN service beholden to US laws provides for some level of consumer protection, but some people argue that services outside the US—like Mullvad in Sweden—are less likely to be swept up in US-government data-collection efforts. We’re unable to draw distinctions between the laws of Sweden and those of the US in this regard, but we do like that Mullvad includes details on how it handles government requests for data. It also says it retains lawyers to monitor the legal landscape and is prepared to shut down the service in the affected jurisdiction if a government somehow legally forces it to spy on its customers: “Just as where no data can be revealed if it does not first exist, the service can’t be used as a surveillance tool if it’s not in operation,” the company says.
Free trials are rare in this category, but we like that Mullvad offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can see if the server speeds and connections work for you. When you sign up for an account, Mullvad offers more payment options than IVPN, as it accepts credit card, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, PayPal, or Swish. Mullvad offers a 10% discount for payment in cryptocurrency. Although Mullvad accepts cash payments, too, most people aren’t going to mail cash to Sweden from the US, and those payments are not eligible for the money-back guarantee.
For a trusted VPN to be worthwhile, its network has to be useful, which generally means offering fast connection speeds and a wide variety of locations to connect through. Mullvad’s app allows you to connect to servers in 63 cities across 38 countries—more locations than on IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer VPNs we considered, although with fewer total servers than Surfshark, which offers more than 3,200 servers. With OpenVPN connection speeds, on average, Mullvad ranked first among the VPNs we tested during rush hour, and it did not freeze or drop video calls. Across nine locations, it averaged just about 15% faster than IVPN. During non-rush-hour traffic, Mullvad averaged 120.65 Mbps in the US. Mullvad’s phone apps were much faster than connecting on a computer, even with a mix of protocols available, averaging 163 Mbps on Android and 178 Mbps on iOS over Wi-Fi during non-rush-hour times. Like IVPN, Mullvad didn’t disrupt basic web browsing tasks, and neither service caused video calls to drop or freeze.
As for the security and connection standards Mullvad uses, it’s competitive with the other VPN services we found to be trustworthy. On Windows and macOS, Mullvad allows you to choose between the OpenVPN and WireGuard standards; on its iOS and Android apps, it uses WireGuard exclusively. We recommend using WireGuard for better security and faster speed. We like that Mullvad lays out its security standards clearly; although IVPN meets our standards, that company is less technical in its descriptions.
Mullvad includes a kill switch, which stops all traffic if the VPN disconnects. As with other competitors we tested, this feature worked as promised and kept our browsing and connections offline until the VPN connection was confirmed.
Mullvad’s open-source apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. This flexibility makes Mullvad simple to set up on a variety of devices even if you have little technical knowledge. You can customize whether to launch the app on startup and to autoconnect when it launches. It also has a local-network sharing setting to access other devices on the same network, which prevents problems with printing and file sharing, a common issue for some VPNs. And though Mullvad didn’t disconnect randomly during our testing, it clearly and visually indicates when you are disconnected by changing the closed green lock icon to an open red lock. (IVPN is the same on Windows, but on a Mac, IVPN’s icon is black when connected and gray when disconnected, which can be harder to discern at a glance.) If you think a colorful icon clashes with an otherwise clean set of single-color icons, you can set the Mullvad icon not to change color by turning on the Monochromatic tray icon setting in Mullvad’s preferences panel.
|Mullvad||About $6||About $72|
|IVPN Standard||$6||$60 (or $100 for two years, $140 for three years)|
|IVPN Pro||$10||$100 (or $160 for two years, $220 for three years)|
Prices accurate as of October 21, 2021.
Whether you sign up for a month or a year, the cost of a Mullvad subscription is the same: €5 a month (usually around $5.50 to $6). In contrast, if you commit to a whole year of service of IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer, that company charges $60 per year for its Standard tier and $100 per year for its Pro tier.
Mullvad offers some features that other VPN providers don’t. Although most people won’t take advantage of these extras, the existence of these options shows that the company invests a lot of thought into privacy and security. For instance, you can download Mullvad apps using the Tor Browser and verify the signatures for new app releases as well as install them on Android from the open-source Google Play store alternative, F-Droid. We were particularly impressed with the company’s design specifications, which describe how the application should work, the connections that it should be allowed to make, and how that differs on each individual platform. “That level of upfront specification means that you can test against that specification, which means that you can actually find deviations from it that indicate security issues. That’s a deeper level of knowledge about what you’re building than what I’ve seen for many other VPN providers,” said Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits. Mullvad also supports installation on many routers, though it’s worthwhile to check and confirm that yours is supported and what steps are required.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
It’s unfortunate that Mullvad doesn’t offer a free trial of any sort, but its 30-day money-back guarantee is a longer guarantee than many of its competitors offer. We prefer free trials because they make the process of verifying speeds before subscribing to a service so much easier.
Although Mullvad does not have a bug-bounty program, it does have a dedicated email address and PGP key for security researchers to report vulnerabilities, and it says it has rewarded findings in the past.
If you need to contact support, you have to go through email, as Mullvad doesn’t offer chat or phone support and does not use any third-party vendors for ticketing. When we checked its customer service in 2021, the company responded quickly, although not as quickly as some of its competitors, to a support email during the weekend and provided clear and informative responses. Its team operates support during weekday office hours on Central European time. Mullvad provides clear setup and anonymity guides, too.
Mullvad’s ad and ad-tracker blocking feature is a nice extra but requires some hands-on manual configuration to activate on its Android app. This stands in contrast to Mullvad’s iOS and macOS apps, which feature easy on/off switches for blocking ad tracking or blocking ads altogether.
Also great: IVPN
If you want to get faster responses to support tickets, more easily install a VPN on network-attached storage, or pay for your subscription with Monero, IVPN is a good choice. It is fast, consistent, and easy to use on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Like Mullvad, its website includes detailed information on its policies and a readable terms-of-service page. Although IVPN has fewer server locations than Mullvad, it was almost as fast in our tests.
As with Mullvad, we found that the company behind IVPN (Privatus Limited) stands out from the competition on signs of trust and transparency. The company, incorporated in Gibraltar, lists its core team on its website, and founder and CEO Nick Pestell answered all of our questions about its operations. IVPN has 11 full-time staffers, one of whom works specifically on infrastructure security and reliability. It seems committed to transparency, and it has undergone a public, third-party security audit of its infrastructure; the auditors also confirmed that IVPN fixed the issues found during the audit. In 2021, IVPN followed up with an additional security audit of its apps, bringing its audit coverage roughly to parity with Mullvad’s.
IVPN also posts a transparency report that shows the number of valid legal requests it received from government or law enforcement agencies in a given year, going back to 2016. VPN advertisements are ripe with overstatements, so we like that IVPN makes a point to say that it does not advertise or guarantee complete anonymity, enable geoblocked content on streaming services, or offer a way around the Great Firewall of China. Additionally, IVPN has published ethical guidelines on its site, including clear, detailed information on its marketing methods and ethical commitments.
Although IVPN has fewer servers than Mullvad, it was almost as fast in our tests, and it was the second-fastest VPN we tested during rush hour. We like that IVPN lets you choose the city of the server you want to log in to, or it can automatically select the fastest connection, an option that Mullvad does not offer.
Like Mullvad, IVPN is open source and includes an option to use WireGuard, which we recommend. WireGuard’s modern and minimal architecture makes it fast, as well as easier for VPNs to implement securely. Although OpenVPN remains the most common VPN protocol, WireGuard has recently made inroads with many other VPNs, as well. Mullvad and IVPN are also pretty similar once configured. IVPN offers a kill switch in the form of an always-on firewall option, which worked when we tested IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer Mullvad has a hard limit of five devices per subscriber, IVPN provides two subscription tiers: a Standard account, which works for up to two devices simultaneously, or a more expensive Pro account, which works with as many as seven. A Pro account also includes port forwarding, which most people don’t need, and multihop, which routes your connection through multiple servers in separate jurisdictions; multihop can also slow down your speed exponentially, however, and you can get the same benefit from using Tor for free. Both plans offer the ability to subscribe for a week, a month, or one, two, or three years, with an increasingly discounted rate when you start committing to years—a pricing feature not available with Mullvad, which charges a fixed monthly price. If you go with IVPN, we recommend choosing an account type by the number of devices you plan to install it on. Annoyingly, IVPN limits you by how many devices you’re logged in to, not how many you’re actively using; for example, although you can install IVPN on a tablet, computer, and phone with a Standard account, you have to repeatedly log in and out if you bounce between those devices.
IVPN may be a better choice for anyone who is less comfortable with doing their own technical troubleshooting. Its support was more responsive and helpful than some we tried, as IVPN representatives responded quickly to our support ticket during the weekend, providing clear and informative answers. You can also get help via chat during business hours. The company has two customer service staffers providing around 18 hours of coverage per day both through ticket requests and via chat (though the chat may be offline if a staff member is working on a ticket). IVPN’s CEO told us that 81% of tickets in May 2020 were answered within an hour, and that an additional 18.1% were answered within one to four hours. Mullvad doesn’t keep stats on its support responses but says it operates customer support during weekday office hours in Central European time.
Annoyingly, IVPN limits you by how many devices you’re logged in to, not how many you’re actively using.
As with Mullvad, most of the IVPN apps have the ability to block trackers (though this function isn’t available for Android phones using the app from the Google Play store; instead you have to delete previously installed versions and download the APK file from the site). But most people should block trackers through free extensions like Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin, anyway. IVPN also offers a Hardcore Mode in which you can block Facebook and Google altogether, though this isn’t a feature that most people will want to use unless they have a high tolerance for broken sites. In addition, IVPN allows you to set specific Wi-Fi networks as trusted, so you can choose not to use your VPN on your home Wi-Fi, for example, without disabling the kill-switch setting.
What about HTTPS?
If HTTP browsing is a postcard that anyone can read as it travels along, HTTPS (HTTP Secure) is a sealed letter that gives up only where it’s going. For example, before Wirecutter implemented HTTPS, your browsing traffic could reveal both the exact page you visited (such as http://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-surge-protector/) and its content to the owner of the Wi-Fi network, your network administrator, or your ISP. But if you visit that same page today—our website now uses HTTPS—those parties would see only the domain (that is, https://www.nytimes.com). The downside is that the website operator has to implement HTTPS. Sites that deal with banking or shopping have been using these types of secure connections for a long time to protect financial data, and in the past few years many major news and information sites, including that of The New York Times, have implemented it, as well.
What a snooper sees when you’re browsing
|Secure HTTPS websites||Outdated HTTP websites|
Even without a VPN, websites like these that default to HTTPS give you extra privacy online. If they didn’t, a lot more information about your browsing habits would be available to prying eyes, whether they be Wi-Fi operators, ISPs, or independent bad actors.
HTTPS is a powerful feature because it helps keep sensitive browsing private at no extra cost to the people using it. But like most security standards, it has some potential problems. That little lock icon in your browser bar, which indicates the HTTPS connection, relies on a certificate “signed” by a recognized authority. But there are hundreds of such authorities, and as the EFF says, “the security of HTTPS is only as strong as the practices of the least trustworthy/competent CA [certificate authorities].” Some security professionals have worried about those least-competent authorities, spurring groups to improve on the certificate standards and prompting browsers to add warnings when you come across certificates and sites that don’t withstand scrutiny. So HTTPS is good, and it’s getting better—but like anything, it isn’t perfect.
What about Tor?
Tor is a free service that attempts to preserve anonymity—something that VPNs do not do. It is a distributed network that runs traffic through multiple relays.
If you aren’t familiar with Tor, this handy interactive graphic shows how it protects an internet connection, and this series of articles goes into more detail about how Tor works. Runa Sandvik, a former researcher with The Tor Project who was part of the information security team at The New York Times at the time of our interview, described it as “a tool that allows users to remain anonymous and uncensored.”
Tor does not write any history to disk, allowing you to do internet research without leaving a trail back to you or leaving a forensic trace on your computer.
Although it cannot protect you from, say, targeted government surveillance, Tor can be useful for looking up private information, such as medical conditions, without your activity being traced back to you or added to a marketing profile. Tor uses a different circuit from a different IP address in each tab, making it more difficult for other parties to link your searches and accounts across tabs. However, Tor can be blocked by some websites and has a reputation for slow connections.
What about creating your own VPN?
One way to resolve the issue of trust is to be your own VPN provider, but that’s not a feasible option for most people. Plus, it still requires trust in any company providing the hardware that your VPN would run on, such as Amazon’s cloud services. Multiple projects can help you cheaply turn any old server into a VPN, including Algo, Outline, and Streisand. By encrypting all the traffic from your home or mobile device to a server you manage, you deprive your ISP and a potentially villainous VPN of all your juicy traffic logs. But most people lack the skills, patience, or energy—or some combination of the three—to do this. If you don’t manage servers or work in IT, it may be harder to manage perfect security, operation, and performance better than trustworthy professionals can. Lastly, although you remove one threat from the equation by cutting out a VPN service provider, you also lose the extra layer of privacy that comes from your traffic mixing in with that of hundreds or thousands of other customers.
Surfshark had previously kept details of its leadership private but made them public in 2021. The company also conducted a white-box infrastructure audit. Although its regular pricing is less competitive than Mullvad’s and IVPN’s at $13 per month, that price includes the ability to use Surfshark on an unlimited number of devices, something those other services don’t offer. Surfshark’s customer service response time was generally faster than that of Mullvad or IVPN, but its OpenVPN speeds were 50% slower than our top pick’s average. Surfshark privileges the use of the speedier, but somewhat questionable, IPsec protocol over OpenVPN or WireGuard whenever it’s faster. We noticed the app switching back to IPsec even after setting the preferred protocol to WireGuard in the macOS app. If you want to connect to Surfshark with OpenVPN on macOS, you need to separately download a certificate file and use it with a third-party OpenVPN client. Still, if the security concerns surrounding IPsec are not relevant to your situation, it’s not a bad choice, especially if you have a lot of devices to connect.
Like Mullvad and IVPN’s apps, Mozilla VPN’s apps were audited by Cure53, with results comparable to those of competitors that have opted to have their apps audited. Mozilla VPN connects to Mullvad’s servers rather than its own infrastructure, which gives it an advantage in leveraging the already-existing servers of a VPN company with high marks for security, privacy, and speed. But there’s little reason to use Mozilla VPN over Mullvad, as Mullvad’s apps are just as easy to use, have also undergone security audits, and ultimately connect to the same servers. One small advantage that Mozilla VPN offers: Its pricing does get cheaper than Mullvad’s, lowering to $5 a month if you pay for a whole year in advance.
We dismissed several other services before performance testing for a variety of reasons.
Encrypt.me, formerly Cloak and now StrongVPN, was recently bought by J2 and has been rolled into the new parent company’s existing StrongVPN product. The acquisition brought in Encrypt.me’s servers and customers but not its tradition of conducting third-party audits and making them available to prospective subscribers.
Some other VPNs—including VyprVPN and Cloudflare’s Warp—had public audits but with a scope limited to verifying enforcement of their no-logging policies, leaving out the security of their server infrastructure; we ruled them out for that reason.
ExpressVPN has released a mix of audits for the build verification process it used when compiling its apps, but not for the apps themselves or its infrastructure. Its new ownership and staffing additionally raised other trust concerns in our minds, making its omission of an infrastructure audit even more of a problem.
Similarly, NordVPN has recently undergone a series of third-party audits for its apps by cybersecurity consulting firm VerSprite, but this series did not include an audit of its infrastructure. Additionally, NordVPN makes these audit reports available only to existing subscribers, so prospective customers have no way to see the audit’s findings until after they’ve made their purchase.
Other VPNs we considered testing but ruled out because they had no recent public audits at all include: AirVPN, Astrill, AzireVPN, blackVPN, BTGuard, CactusVPN, Cryptostorm, CyberGhost, Disconnect, Faceless.me, FrootVPN, F-Secure Freedome VPN, Goose VPN, Hide.me, InvinciBull, IPredator, IPVanish, KeepSolid, nVpn, OVPN, Perfect Privacy, personalVPN, PrivateVPN, Private Tunnel, Private Internet Access, PureVPN, SurfEasy, TorGuard, TorrentPrivacy, Trust.Zone, VPN.AC, VPN.ht, VPNTunnel, Windscribe, ZenGuard/ZenMate, and ZorroVPN.
We ruled out some VPNs for trust issues. EarthVPN appears to have lied about its logging practices, while ProxySH confessed to spying on customer traffic in 2013. HideMyAss has handed customer information IPVanish Vpn Offline Installer to police. The Center for Democracy & Technology filed a 14-page complaint about Hotspot Shield with the FTC, alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices. None of these VPNs appear to have had third-party security audits, either.
We did not include the Guardian firewall and VPN, which is currently available only for iOS.
Frequently asked questions
Can I change my location with a VPN?
Yes, most VPNs allow you to pick a location for your IP address, which can get around some geo-restricted websites and online censorship. However, doing so isn’t always useful for accessing international video services, despite VPN companies’ claims that it is. If that’s your main goal, a VPN isn’t a reliable option. Circumventing censorship in countries that block sites you’re trying to access may also vary in effectiveness depending on the type of blocking involved. Some VPNs have features—including TunnelBear’s GhostBear and VyprVPN’s Chameleon—specifically to disguise VPN traffic as normal web traffic.
Will a VPN see all my web browsing?
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