The Best VPN Services for Streaming, Privacy, and Torrenting (Free vs Paid)
You might understand a VPN (Virtual Private Network) as something primarily needed overseas, to bypass international censorship or maybe something a hacker would use to avoid getting caught.
However, there are many reasons to invest in a good VPN, even in North America, and even if you’re clean as a whistle in your surfing habits. In this review, we’re going to discuss what a VPN does, how to know if yours is safe and legal, and which of the best VPN companies rank highest in certain categories.
10 Best VPNs by Category
1. NordVPN – Best VPN for Streaming
NordVPN is one of the best VPN providers with over 5,000 servers and reliable speeds in most countries. Based in Panama, the company offers expat-friendly policies, including no data retention policies, like in the U.S.
The company also offers three high-tech features: Double VPN, allowing users to jump across multiple servers for extra encryption, as well as VPN cloaking technology; a Kill Switch, which protects your privacy even if the VPN server goes down by dropping all internet communication; and DNS leak blocking too, which prevents any monitoring by your ISP.
The company’s friendly policies and solid, and reliable performance, makes it our top pick for VP-security.
2. CyberGhost – Best VPN Provider by Total Servers
CyberGhost is one of the most talked-about companies in the VPN market, especially since it’s highly recommended for bypassing restrictions and unlocking apps like Netflix, Disney+, and others. With over 7,000 servers, CyberGhost is a strong runner-up, and many consider its interface to be among the most user-friendly.
CyberGhost’s relationship to the parent company Kape troubles some users, though the real issue is the fact that the company does log some limited information. Kill switch issues have also been reported, particularly that CyberGhost does not always reload by default after activating the Kill Switch. This could leave some information vulnerable.
Still, with a huge number of servers and solid speeds reported, it’s a close second.
3. ExpressVPN – Most Diverse Geography of all VPN Services
ExpressVPN has earned a lot of attention from users for its privacy policies. Based in the British Virgin Islands, the company has some leeway in keeping records and intentionally not storing user activity.
It doesn’t store IP addresses or even a VPN IP, nor even the length of the session or a timestamp. The records it does keep only traces back to a group of users based in a certain location.
The company also offers fast speeds, one of the fastest in the world across many of its servers. The VPN also reaches over 90 countries, surpassing even our top selection. Nord VPN.
Express is also a well-connected program, with apps for all major operating systems as well as browser plug-ins for all the best browsers. The plug-ins work as proxies, letting you change the location of the browser. All in all, VPN Express lives up to its name of fast, private, and user-friendly.
4. SurfShark – Cheapest VPN for Streaming
Surfshark is one of the best options for fast torrenting, P2P, and unblocking all the major streaming services around the world. The service offers DNS leak protection (which happens because of routing requests through an ISP instead of a VPN) as well as IPv6 leak protection.
With a contract, you get advanced multihop and split-tunneling features, meaning you can connect to one server and exit from the last one. You can multiple routes so that no one can track down your IP address even when entering or exiting.
The company, based in the British Virgin Islands, offers even more privacy guarantees than companies based in North America or even most of Europe.
Some users reported trouble with kill switch disconnection and not everyone agreed on the consistency of speed. Still, a solid contender.
5. TunnelBear – Best Free VPN Service
TunnelBear has a great gimmick: the faces of roaring cartoon bears, ready to protect your internet privacy. But don’t be turned off by the cutesy gimmick. A free VPN, not to mention a low-cost unlimited VPN plan, is hard to ignore.
TunnelBear also offers a great deal on advanced security features, such as a KillSwitch, and even an annual auditing process by independent companies, proving its transparency in dealing with customers.
One concerning factor though is that the company is based in Canada, and while it claims not to log any information, it is still subject to Canadian law and may occasionally be required to share information with law enforcement. This is one disadvantage compared to a company based overseas.
Still, the McAfee-owned company has a great reputation in the business.
6. Zenmate – Best VPN for Multiple Devices
The fact that it’s based in Germany and that its government does share information with North American countries may be a deal-breaker for some. On the plus side, it does offer a free preview and accommodates the needs of most users, from allowing torrents to unblocking most major services.
For a low-cost plan, ZenMate will give you your basic needs.
7. Private Internet Access – Best American VPN Option
PrivateInternetAccess claims to be the number one VPN company in the world and the only company that offers no logging – in addition to unblocking services and protecting your online privacy and identity.
With over 3,000 servers in 30 countries, the company offers a good deal for new customers. The problem is that other companies offer slightly more of everything.
However, the fact that the company doesn’t offer services in every major country could be a good sign, because they choose not to do business in countries that don’t allow true VPN advantages, putting their customers first. However, using virtual servers outside the censored country would still work.
The fact that it offers no logging is reassuring (and not the only company that offers best non logging VPN), though its establishment in the United States is not all that comforting. Unless, of course, you want to stay in the U.S. and get faster service.
8. Proton VPN – Best for Private VPN Services
Proton’s best features are right at the top of its page, a Swiss-based company, and high=speed VPN services. Besides encrypted tunnel protection, the company also offers a SecureCore network, which bypasses servers under surveillance, and also protects encrypted web traffic from being captured, stored, and decrypted at a later date.
The company certainly benefits from Swiss laws which are neutral and the best in the world when it comes to individual privacy. No IP address is ever revealed, nor is user activity logged or shared with anyone else.
With Proton VPN, you can also benefit from Tor anonymity and route all traffic through the Tor network. No wonder journalists and activists have been using Proton mail for a while, since their lives are very often on the line in acquiring information.
9. IPVanish – Best VPN for Personal Use and Storage
IPVanish has received critical acclaim from many media locations, including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, for its VPN and storage services. You can not only guard your main computer’s privacy but every other gadget you own. Kill Switch is included, as well as other security features to protect you in every worst-case scenario.
The VPN service offers secure and encrypted traffic, an anonymous IP address, and the ability to access media anywhere. In addition, the storage service gives you 500 GB of data to sync and secure, as well as access from any location.
IPVanish also tested well for Firestick and Kodi software, while also having a wide range of VPN servers all across the world – and not all in the same usual big cities. On the negative side, browser and app development could be better.
10. WindScribe – Best VPN Blocker for Ads
Windscribe offers beyond the basic VPN services, including ad-blocking, as well as the ability to block IPs and domains on all your devices. Besides the strongest level of encryption available, (AES-256 cipher), the company also offers unlimited simultaneous connections as well as bandwidth, DNS leak protection, a kill switch, port forwarding, and browser extensions.
Available in over 63 countries and with no IP logging, WindScribe sounds like a great deal. Even better is the company’s free plan with a 10GB allowance. However, there are some issues with speed and with the fact that it’s a Canadian company subject to the country’s laws on sharing information with the government, or another country’s government.
Guide to the Best VPNs and How Use Them
A Virtual Private Network is a tool that guarantees you privacy and anonymity – two things most people on the internet don’t have, even if they think they have “private and anonymous” browsers.
But whether you’re surfing incognito or not, if you’re using a WI-FI connection, there’s nothing private about your online habits. A VPN service is an equalizer you need since it can mask your IP address and create a virtual private connection, even if you use a public or shared resource.
What VPNs Do
Technically speaking, the VPN service encrypts your data as it travels between online connections and various web servers across the internet. While not all WI-FI networks are unsecured (think library or coffeehouse) practically all unprotected WI-FI connections mean personal information could be leaked to third parties.
A VPN reroutes your computer’s connection through a private server instead of the ISP. That way, when your data travels between web servers, the encryption prevents it from being read. The encryption technology renders your data unreadable unless you have a key, which is saved to your device.
The key decrypts the data and it goes to a server destination as normal. But while it’s encrypted it cannot be intercepted by anyone
Types of VPNs
While there are different types of VPNs, including remote access, intranet-based, extranet-based, most people categorize VPN as an individual account or corporate account. The difference is that individual VPNs (or remote access networks) connect users to a secure remote server, in order to reach the private network. Encryption service is typically included.
Corporate VPNs are used by medium to large businesses and require secure web connections, with multiple server locations. Businesses are more likely to use virtual networks, and depending on their technology, either extranet (connecting with clients ) or an intranet (working virtually with no outside parties).
Corporate safety is understandable. But why should individuals use VPN services? Don’t be ashamed if you’ve heard of a TOR browser and deep web cruising, and VPNs and Ashley Madison leaks. (Well, maybe Ashley Madison leaks, but that’s not our businesses)
There’s nothing actually wrong with VPN services, despite all the web hysteria.
The Legality of Individual VPN Use
VPN services are completely legal in the United States, though it’s a stretch to say free use “worldwide.” In some countries like China, North Korea, Russia, UAE, and others, VPNs are outlawed because of their own internet publishing laws.
That said, the United States allows VPNs for personal use, although they do not endorse launching your own Silk Road II, or any other drug or sex trafficking scheme. Obviously, VPN companies do not endorse criminal activity and there’s certainly no guarantee from anyone that you will never be investigated for a crime if you committed a crime.
However, you may use a VPN service to keep your work private and ensure your online safety and security. According to the Norton Anti-Virus website, you may have to verify whether VPNs are legal to use in certain countries when you’re traveling abroad.
For the most part, VPN services that simply connect to servers in other countries, without physically being in that country, are risk-free.
Using a VPN Safely on Your Computer or Device
The only risk of anything bad happening would be using VPN service in a country where VPNs are banned, and possibly be fined by that government. However, using VPN equipment, using encryption, and a virtual private network is not against the law in the U.S.
Nor will using VPN expose your computer to any malware or cyber threats.
The problem is, using a VPN is not always guaranteed to protect you from malicious websites, which sometimes do create cyber threats, viruses, and malware. But using VPN is one of the best ways to keep your computer and other connected devices safe.
Why You Need a VPN
The U.S. Congress recently declared that private browsing is not a guaranteed right of Americans. In fact, they voted against regulations aimed to protect an individual’s privacy back in 2017. This is one primary reason why users pay for VPN services, to protect their internet privacy – completely legal to do, if not an easy thing to do.
A VPN company can offer users encryption protection, which disguises your IP address, and prevents anyone from spying on your online activity.
What Can a VPN Do
There are several reasons why individuals and businesses might want to use a VPN service. For example, if you ever use public WI-FI, it’s a bad idea to log in to websites giving personal information. Public WI-FI is usually not encrypted.
Naturally, people in other countries will use a VPN to bypass government censored websites. Even Facebook is banned in some locations, not to mention news websites.
Sometimes a VPN can even help you access your favorite TV shows when you travel abroad, since not all shows are available worldwide, or even if a public institution bans content, like a place of work or school.
The Virtual Private Network also lets you choose a server in your home country, regardless of where you are, so you can use your American accounts to access your content.
Finally, you also have the option to completely turn off third-party spying on your account by making all data encrypted – thereby locking out websites from tracking and logging your online activities, which they do sell to third-party advertisers.
VPNs hide not only your browsing history but also mask your personal IP address, which is the only true way to surf the web anonymously and securely.
In case you have further questions about how VPN technology works, check out our FAQ section.
What are the pros and cons of using a VPN?
The pros of using a VPN lie in protecting data leaks, protecting your computer devices, and in bypassing various restrictions. You can access whatever online streaming service you want from anywhere.
You can also more effectively use TOR browsers and other programs that let you surf the deep web (unlisted sites) or even the dark web (sites only available with specific software and configurations).
You can prevent people from stealing your bandwidth, access torrent files, and even play online games without worrying about Denial-of-service attacks or unfair bans.
With a VPN, you get the structure of a private network (literally, meaning one network in one physical building) but spread across the world virtually, connected through tunneling.
What is a mobile VPN service?
While some users mainly use a desktop PC, many people use tablets and smartphones for most of their surfing. No wonder mobile VPN service, a virtual private network on a mobile device, is more popular today.
Mobile VPN configuration requires not only the same high security as a desktop PC but also the ability to switch across public or private networks and various access methods, all without interruption.
Some technologies (such as SSL and PPTP) work well with stationary devices since they identify the object by IP address. However, with a moving device like a phone, with changing IPs and even changing point of the network, the technology must be different, or else there would be too many timeouts.
VPN mobile allows users to use a logical IP address, which stays with the device, wherever it goes, even switching between WI-FI, 3G, 2G, and an ethernet connection. Even though there are several physical IP addresses attached, only one logical IP address is actually networked for communication.
In addition to VPN mobile, look for unlimited or at least close to ten unlimited simultaneous connections, which can all be connected to the main interface.
How can I choose the best VPN?
The issue of choosing the “best” concerns two factors: ensuring privacy and meeting speed requirements. For speed and reliability, pay attention to the number of servers as well as quotes on how fast Mbps can reach.
For ensuring privacy, it’s best to find a service that does business outside North America or even territories part of or associated with the U.K. Some European and South American countries offer services outside of the jurisdiction of many countries. That usually means the company is not required by law to keep “logs” of its customer’s online use.
American, Canadian, and U.K. companies tend to work together on sharing online data, and laws are written to make this process easy. If the VPN stores your data, or keeps records for years on end for legal inquiries, then you’re at risk of having data leaked, stored, or even sold to other companies.
Should I use a paid VPN service?
Frankly, yes. Free VPN services compromise on quality, very low speeds, or on sharing your data with third parties. They never include the most sophisticated features which protect you and give you the greater control you want in the first place.
Conclusion – Use the Best VPN for Your Situation
While NordVPN came in at the top of our list of VPNs for its server number and security features, that’s not to discount the competition and their unique offerings. Some companies specialized in additional software, while others ranked high because of their country of origin.
Don’t underestimate companies like NordVPN and CyberGhost, which are far off the grid of the typical U.S. or Canadian host. Now that you can sample these VPNs for free and upgrade later, why wait any longer? Your online privacy is in danger, but this time you know the solution.
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