The best VPN services

The best VPN services

Virtual private networks (VPNs) promise the potential to stream any content, from anywhere. They unlock content from abroad across nearly any streaming platform you use regularly, which can come in handy if you’re into some obscure BBC exclusive not available in the United States. But that’s actually just one small perk of VPN services. VPNs provide a private traffic tunnel to keep your internet service provider out of your business, and provide an extra layer of security to protect your browsing habits. We tested nine of today’s most popular VPNs to help you find the best option for your needs.

VPNs, or virtual private networks, mask your IP address and the identity of your computer or mobile device on the network and creating an encrypted “tunnel” that prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from accessing data about your browsing history. VPNs are not a one-size-fits-all security solution, though.

Instead, they’re just one part of keeping your data private and secure. Roya Ensafi, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, told Engadget that VPNs don’t protect against common threats like phishing attacks, nor do they protect your data from being stolen. Much of the data or information is stored with the VPN provider instead of your ISP, which means that using a poorly designed or unprotected network can still undermine your security. But they do come in handy for online privacy when you’re connecting to an untrusted network somewhere public because they tunnel and encrypt your traffic to the next hop.

That means sweeping claims that seem promising, like military-grade encryption or total digital invisibility, may not be totally accurate. Instead, Yael Grauer, program manager of Consumer Reports’ online security guide, recommends looking for security features like open-source software with reproducible builds, up-to-date support for industry-standard protocols like WireGuard (CR’s preferred protocol) or IPsec, and the ability to defend against attack vectors like brute force.

Before considering a VPN, make sure your online security is up to date in other ways. That means complex passwords, multi-factor authentication methods and locking down your data sharing preferences. Even then, you probably don’t need to be using a VPN all the time.

“If you’re just worried about somebody sitting there passively and looking at your data then a VPN is great,” Jed Crandall, an associate professor at Arizona State University, told Engadget.

That brings us to some of the most common uses cases for VPNs. If you use public WiFi networks a lot, like while working at a coffee shop, then VPN usage can help give you private internet access. They’re also helpful for hiding information from other people on your ISP if you don’t want members of your household to know what you’re up to online.

Geoblocking has also become a popular use case as it helps you reach services in other parts of the world. For example, you can access shows that are only available on streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, in other countries, or play online games with people located all over the globe.

There are also a few common VPN features that you should consider before deciding if you want to use one, and which is best for you:

Split tunneling allows you to route some traffic through your VPN, while other traffic has direct access to the internet. This can come in handy when you want to protect certain activity online without losing access to local network devices, or services that work best with location sharing enabled.

A double VPN, otherwise known as multi-hop VPN or a VPN chain, passes your online activity through two different VPN servers one right after the other. For VPN services that support this, users are typically able to choose which two servers they want their traffic to pass through. As you might expect, this provides an extra layer of security.

Whether or not VPNs are worth it depends how often you could use it for the above use cases. If you travel a lot and rely on public WiFi or hotspots, are looking to browse outside of your home country or want to keep your traffic hidden from your ISP, then investing in a VPN will be useful. But, keep in mind that even the best VPN services often slow down your internet connection speed, so they may not be ideal all the time.

In today’s world, we recommend not relying on a VPN connection as your main cybersecurity tool. VPN use can provide a false sense of security, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Plus, if you choose just any VPN, it may not be as secure as just relying on your ISP. That’s because the VPN could be based in a country with weaker data privacy regulation, obligated to hand information over to law enforcement or linked to weak user data protection policies.

For VPN users working in professions like activism or journalism that want to really strengthen their internet security, options like the Tor browser may be a worthwhile alternative, according to Crandall. Tor is free, and while it’s less user-friendly, it’s built for anonymity and privacy.

To test the security specs of different VPNs and name our top picks, we relied on pre-existing academic work through Consumer Reports, VPNalyzer and other sources. We referenced privacy policies, transparency reports and security audits made available to the public. We also considered past security incidents like data breaches.

We looked at price, usage limits, effects on internet speed, possible use cases, ease of use, general functionality and additional “extra” VPN features like multihop. The VPNs were tested across iOS, Android and Mac devices so we could see the state of the mobile apps across various platforms (Windows devices are also supported in most cases). We used the “quick connect” feature on the VPN apps to connect to the “fastest” provider available when testing internet speed, access to IP address data and DNS and WebRTC leaks or when a fault in the encrypted tunnel reveals requests to an ISP.

Otherwise, we conducted a test of geoblocking content by accessing Canada-exclusive Netflix releases, a streaming test by watching a news livestream on YouTube via a Hong Kong-based VPN and a gaming test by playing on servers in the United Kingdom. By performing these tests at the same time, it also allowed us to test claims about simultaneous device use. Here are the VPN services we tested:

Read more: The best password managers for 2023


Simultaneous connections: 10 | Number of devices: 10 | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox | Dedicated IP addresses: Yes, for business users only | Trial/Money-back guarantee: None/30-day money-back guarantee

Read our full VPN review of ProtonVPN

The VPNs we tried out ranked pretty consistently across all of our tests, but ProtonVPN stood out as a strong option because of its overall security, usability and privacy features. The Proton Technologies suite of services includes mail, calendar, drive and a VPN known for its end-to-end encryption. This makes it a strong contender for overall security, but its VPN specifically came across as a well-rounded independent service.

ProtonVPN’s no-logs policy has passed audits, and the company has proven not to comply with law enforcement requests. Because it is based in Switzerland, there are no forced logging obligations, according to the company. Plus, it’s based on an open-source framework, and has an official vulnerability disclosure program along with clear definitions on what it does with personal information.

While ProtonVPN offers a free version, it’s limited compared to other options, with access to server networks in just three countries. Its paid version, starting at about $5.39 per month, includes access to VPN server locations in more than 65 countries on 10 devices at a time. For dedicated Proton Technologies users, they can pay closer to $8.63 for a monthly plan to access the entire suite.

ProtonVPN passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests with only a very small toll on connection speeds. It also comes with malware-, ad- and tracker-blocking as an additional service, plus it has a kill switch feature on macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and the latest version of Android. It’s available on most major operating systems, routers, TV services and more including Firefox, Linux and Android TV. For dedicated Linux users, ProtonVPN added a new Linux-specific app to support its services in August.


  • Easy to use
  • No-logs policy
  • Based on open-source framework
  • Kill switch feature on macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android

$4.99/month at ProtonVPN

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Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Number of devices: Unlimited | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox | Dedicated IP addresses: No | Trial/Money-back guarantee: None/None

By signing up for Windscribe’s free plan with your email, users can access 10GB per month of data, unlimited connections and access to more than 10 countries. We selected it as the best free VPN because of its high security and wide range of server locations compared to other free VPNs. It has over 500 servers in over 60 countries, according to the company, and can be configured to routers, smart TVs and more on top of the usual operating systems.

Windscribe doesn’t have a recent independent security audit, but it does publish a transparency report showing that it has complied with zero requests for its data, runs a vulnerability disclosure program encouraging researchers to report flaws and offers multiple protocols for users to connect with.

On top of that, it’s easy to use. The set up is intuitive and it passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests. The paid version costs $5.75 to $9 each month, depending on the plan you choose, and includes unlimited data, access to all servers and an ad/tracker/malware blocker. Or, for $1 per location per month, users can build a plan tailored to the VPNs they want to access. Windscribe is still expanding its reach, adding Japan to its list of available spots.


  • 10GB of data per month with free version
  • Unlimited connections with free plan
  • Wide range of server locations
  • Easy to use

  • Does not offer dedicated IP addresses

$0 at Windscribe

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Simultaneous connections: 8 | Number of devices: 8 | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox | Dedicated IP addresses: No | Trial/Money-back guarantee: 3 free months/30-day money-back guarantee

Read our full VPN review of Express VPN

We picked the best VPN service for travel, gaming and streaming based on which one had access to the most locations with high speed connections and no lag. ExpressVPN met all those criteria and was one of the most premium VPNs we tried, not to mention one of the fastest VPNs, too. Now, it even comes with an in-house password manager, ExpressVPN Keys, to manage and autofill logins across sites included with the subscription. That will make it easier to toggle between streaming and gaming accounts while browsing securely.

An internet speed test measured faster upload and download speed compared to using no VPN, practically unheard of compared to the other VPNs tested. But being this fast is likely a fluke due to the VPN service circumventing traffic shaping by the ISP or another disparity because even top VPNs will in some way slow down speeds. With 2,000 servers in 160 cities, according to the company, it had one of the broadest global reaches. It also passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests, and it does regular security audits. Plus, Network Lock is its kill switch feature, which keeps your data safe even if you lose connection to the VPN. Subscription costs range from $8.32 to $12.95 per month depending on the term of the plan, and include a password manager.

With ExpressVPN, users can connect to up to five devices at once, which is on the lower side compared to other services. That said, it works on a bunch of devices from smart TVs to game consoles, unlike some other services that lack support beyond the usual suspects like smartphones and laptops.


  • High speed connections with no lag in many locations
  • Supports Network Lock kill switch feature
  • Works on a variety of devices like smart TVs and game consoles

$8.32/month at ExpressVPN

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Simultaneous connections: 7 | Number of devices: 7 | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox | Dedicated IP addresses: Yes, additional purchase required | Trial/Money-back guarantee: 2 free months/45-day money-back guarantee

Because several of the best VPN services connect to routers, cross-platform accessibility isn’t always necessary. By connecting a VPN to your home router, you can actually connect to unlimited devices in your household, as long as they all access the internet through that router.

But if you use VPNs on the go, and across several devices, being able to connect to a wide range of platforms will be indispensable. CyberGhost offers simultaneous connectivity on up to seven devices for $2.11 to $12.99 per month depending on subscription term. It supports several types of gadgets like routers, computers, smart TVs and more. It’s similar to the support that ExpressVPN offers, but CyberGhost provides detailed instructions on how to set up the cross-platform connections, making it a bit more user-friendly for those purposes. Plus, it just expanded its network of servers from 91 to 100 countries, adding Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic to its available locations.

From a security perspective, CyberGhost completed an independent security audit by Deloitte earlier this year, runs a vulnerability disclosure program and provides access to a transparency report explaining requests for its data. An updated version of its transparency report went live in August. While it did pass all of our tests, it’s worth noting that we had trouble connecting to servers in the United Kingdom and had to opt to run our gaming test through an Ireland-based server instead.


  • Works well across different kinds of devices/platforms
  • Provides detailed instructions for setting service up on different devices

  • Dedicated IP addresses come at an additional cost

$2.11/month at CyberGhost

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Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Number of devices: Unlimited | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox, Edge | Dedicated IP addresses: Yes, additional purchase required | Trial/Money-back guarantee: 1 free month/30-day money-back guarantee

Read our full VPN review of Surfshark VPN

As we mentioned before, connecting to a router can provide nearly unlimited access to devices in a single household. But Surfshark VPN is one of few VPN services that offer use on an unlimited number of devices without bandwidth restrictions, according to the company. And you get that convenience without a significant increase in price: Surfshark subscriptions cost about $2.49 to $12.95 for a monthly subscription, and the company recently conducted its first independent audit. It added QR-code-enabled login across devices and expanded support for alternative ID profiles since our initial review, a feature that some of its competitors already had.

We ran into some trouble connecting to Surfshark’s WireGuard protocol, but tested on an IKEv2 protocol instead. The VPN speed was a bit slow and struggled to connect for our geoblock test at first, but ultimately passed. What makes it different from other VPNs with unlimited connection options is that it has access to a larger number of servers and is available on more types of devices.


  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Large number of servers available

  • On the expensive side
  • Slower speeds than the competition

$2.49/month at Surfshark

NordVPN didn’t quite make the cut because it’s overhyped, and underwhelming. As I’ve written in our full review of NordVPN, the pricing, up to $14.49 for a “complete” subscription, seemed high compared to other services, and its free or lower cost plans just didn’t have the same wide variety of features as its competitors.

Despite the cute graphics and user friendliness, TunnelBear wasn’t a top choice. It failed numerous basic security tests from Consumer Reports, and had limited availability across platforms like Linux. It did, however, get a major security boost in July when it updated to support WireGuard protocol across more of its platforms.

Bitdefender doesn’t offer support for devices like routers, which limits its cross-platform accessibility. It also lacked a transparency report or third-party audit to confirm security specs.

Atlas ranked lower on our speed tests compared to the other VPNs tested, with a notably slower difference on web browsing and streaming tests. It was a good option otherwise, but could easily cause headaches for those chasing high speed connections. Security-wise, an Atlas VPN vulnerability leaked Linux users’ real IP addresses.

VPNs are traditionally used to protect your internet traffic. If you’re connected to an untrusted network like public WiFi in a cafe, using a VPN hides what you do from the internet service provider. Then, the owner of the WiFi or hackers trying to get into the system can’t see the identity of your computer or your browsing history.

A common non-textbook use case for VPNs has been accessing geographically restricted content. VPNs can mask your location, so even if you’re based in the United States, they can make it appear as if you’re browsing abroad and unblock access. This is especially useful for streaming content that’s often limited to certain countries, like if you want to watch Canadian Netflix from the US.

A VPN doesn’t hide all of your data. It only hides information like your IP address, location and browser history. A common misconception is that VPNs can make you totally invisible online. But keep in mind that the VPN provider often still has access to all of this information, so it doesn’t grant you total anonymity. You’re also still vulnerable to phishing attacks, hacking and other cyberthreats that you should be mindful of by implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

Generally, yes. VPNs are a safe and reliable way to encrypt and protect your internet data. But like most online services, the safety specifics vary from provider to provider. You can use resources like third-party audits, Consumer Reports reviews, transparency reports and privacy policies to understand the specifics of your chosen provider.

Google One subscriptions include access to the company’s VPN, which works similarly to other VPNs on our list, hiding your online activity from network operators. However, Google announced recently that it plans to shut down the One VPN because “people simply weren’t using it.” There’s no specific date for the shutdown, with Google simply saying it will discontinue the service sometime later in 2024. Pixel phone owners, however, will continue to have access to the free VPN available on their devices.

Update November 10, 2023: This story was updated after publishing to remove mention of PPTP, a protocol that Consumer Reports’ Yael Grauer notes “has serious security flaws.”

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