Working remotely has become the new norm for millions of people -- which makes remote VPN access all the more essential for protecting your online privacy and security. But with the market for commercial VPNs continuing to expand exponentially, it can be a challenge to sort through the options to find the best VPN to meet your particular needs.
That's where this VPN guide comes in. After researching and testing a multitude of VPN services, we've rounded up the fastest and most reliable options. In our current testing and ranking system, we assessed more than 20 factors, including price, security, ease of remote access, bandwidth caps, number of server locations, logging, dedicated and dynamic IP, client software and customer support. Below, we've listed your best VPN options, including such popular names as ExpressVPN, Surfshark, IPVanish, NordVPN and more.
We're keeping a close eye on how each VPN provider stands compared with its competitors, as well as any new VPN services that may hit the market. We've catalogued our favorite VPN services to date -- and listed some less viable options, too, based on our testing. We'll be updating this directory periodically as new options become available.
That said, the VPN landscape can be confusing and mystifying. Here are some quick tips, each of which link to a more in-depth discussion of the topic in question.
Don't use free VPN services: You'll only find paid options below because they're the only ones we can recommend.
Look for a no-logs VPN, but understand the caveats: The best VPNs keep as few logs as possible and make them as anonymous as possible, so there's little data to provide should authorities come knocking. But even "no-logs" VPNs aren't 100% anonymous.
VPN transparency is important, but warrant canaries are only the beginning: Many services use "warrant canaries" as a way to passively note to the public as to whether or not they've been subpoenaed by a government entity, as many investigations from national security agencies can't be actively disclosed by law. But -- like the no-logging issue -- warrant canaries aren't always as straightforward as they seem. You should spend more time investigating whether your prospective VPN has cooperated with authorities in the past -- and how and when they've disclosed that fact.
Think twice about using a US-based VPN: The Patriot Act is still the law of the land in the US, and that means that any VPNs in the United States have little recourse if and when the feds show up with subpoenas or national security letters in hand, demanding access to servers, user accounts or any other data. Yes, they may have little data to access if the service has a strong no-logs policy, but why not do an end-run on the feds and just choose a service that's based outside Uncle Sam's jurisdiction? (You'll want to avoid those countries that the US has intelligence-sharing agreements with, too.)
The best VPN right now
Let's look at each of our VPN vendors below in more depth. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: It was originally published earlier and is constantly updated. We're actively working on more VPN testing and research, so expect this guide to change throughout the year as our virtual private network use continues and we put each VPN option through its paces.
The list below presents our favorites in an overall ranking; if you want to see each top VPN judged by more specific criteria, check out the links below. Best VPNs for Mac Best Android VPNBest VPNs for iPhone
You'll mostly find the same names you see here, but we'll call out when and where specific traits make for a better choice in a more narrow evaluation.
Number of IP addresses: 30,000Number of servers: 3,000-plus in 160 locationsNumber of simultaneous connections: 5Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands94-plus countries3 months free with 1-year plan
ExpressVPN tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users' online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN's setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ.
While its speeds consistently compete with heavy-hitting competitors, our saw ExpressVPN produce a 52% overall loss of our normal internet speeds, representing a significant slowdown compared to its 2019 score of 2% speed loss.
Like the rest of the top five VPN services we've reviewed, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method -- something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.
The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.
Number of servers: 3,200-plus
Number of server locations: 65
Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
$2.49 a month (81% discount) for a two-year plan
While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up on features and speed. Let's start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark's VPN, you don't have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.
And it's fast. With more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, we lost less than 17% of average internet speeds during our . That's faster than the 27% speed loss we saw in previous tests, and pushes it ahead of ExpressVPN to be the current front-runner in our speed comparisons.
Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) -- though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.
The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Fire TV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important.
Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn't know you're using a VPN. Multihop jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode "allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions." Just be careful. Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we didn't see a single IP address or DNS leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix.
Unlike many of the other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn't offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month, for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).
Number of IP addresses: 5,000Number of servers: 5,200-plus serversNumber of server locations: 62Country/jurisdiction: Panama62 countries$3.71 a month (68% discount) for a 2-year planNordVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing (ZDNet)
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests.
In our , NordVPN's performance was on par with many of its competitors, reducing our speeds by 53% on average (which is slower than the 32% loss measured in previous speed tests). We found NordVPN's speeds were reliably fast. There were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected the VPN to underperform, it proved itself up to the task.
The company's two-year subscription plan costs $3.71 a month ($89 billed at once). That price is lower than most contenders, but creeps up for the six-month plan ($9 a month or $64 total) and the monthly plan ($11.95 a month). But it does have a full 30-day refund policy.
While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was . Nord's actions following the discovery included -- eventually -- multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security.
While we'd have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list as a recommended vendor.
Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plusNumber of servers: 1,300Number of server locations: 60Number of simultaneous connections: 10Country/jurisdiction: US$5.20 a month (57% discount) for a one-year plan
A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN.
A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we're intrigued by, is the VPN's support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.
At $10 a month or $62 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We're a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from five to now 10 Steps to Win $32 simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.
Other VPNs we've tested
Not every VPN can be a favorite. These are ones we reviewed, but they're not full-throated recommendations for one reason or another, including limited features and concerns over adequately hiding your identity.
Average speed loss: 63% Number of servers: 1,800 in 23 countriesJurisdiction: Canada, with US parent companyPrice: $3.33 per month, or $120, for a three-year plan
TunnelBear's gotten a lot of hype in the last couple of years. But when we looked under its hood and compared it to its VPN competitors, our excitement waned.
TunnelBear's speeds are reasonable. We lost nearly 63% of internet speeds overall when we used it, which is about average for a VPN. TunnelBear's speeds have steadily improved over the years as measured by other review and testing sites, though, and the US scores we recorded saw a speed loss of only 54%.
On the plus side, TunnelBear is holding its own in the transparency competition among VPNs by publishing the results of its independent security audits and annual transparency reports. No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing, but in the past TunnelBear was observed to have been leaking WebRTC information. TunnelBear's encryption is standard AES-256, and it supports .
However, it's also a Canadian business owned by US-based McAfee, so if you're looking for subpoena-proof international privacy, you're playing with fire. It holds a paltry 23 server locations from which you can't manually choose your VPN server or even a city. It doesn't offer Tor-over-VPN, it only offers split tunneling on Android, and it can't even unblock Netflix.
On a per-month breakdown, the least expensive TunnelBear plan is its $120, three-year plan. You can also go month to month for $10, or pay $60 upfront for a single year. Either way, TunnelBear accepts payment via credit card and Bitcoin. Unlike other VPNs, it doesn't take PayPal. Also unlike other VPNs, it doesn't support Amazon Fire Stick or Android TV.
Number of servers: Over 7,100 worldwide in 90-plus countries
Number of server locations: 112
Jurisdiction: Romania, with UK parent companyNumber of simultaneous connections: 5$2.25 a month for a 3-year plan, or $3.49 a month for 2-year plan CyberGhost in-depth review and hands-on testing
In CNET's previous coverage of virtual private networks, we've praised CyberGhost for its roster of competitive features. Our in-depth last year included speed testing, security verification and an analysis of its full suite of $2.25 per month for a three-year plan.
As we've bolstered our approach to VPN reviews in recent months, however, CyberGhost has raised some red flags. Its warrants skepticism; our previous tests have shown it to expose your VPN use to your ISP; its website and app trackers are more numerous than warranted; and its ad-blocker uses an untrustworthy method of traffic manipulation no VPN should even think about. Its low price previously made it worth considering if you needed to change the appearance of your location online, but not if you wanted best-in-class security.
While CyberGhost's connection speed and security appear to be improving, I don't currently recommend using CyberGhost if you're in a country where VPNs are illegal. I also recommend anyone in the US reviews CyberGhost's parent company before deciding whether to pay for a subscription.
On the plus side, however, CyberGhost is still faster than Norton Secure VPN and was less taxing on my device's processing power during testing. It also offers split-tunneling in its Windows client and has its servers neatly organized into user-friendly categories: NoSpy servers, servers geared for torrenting, servers best for streaming and servers best for use with a static IP address. CyberGhost imposes no data caps and allows unlimited server switching.
Read more: CyberGhost VPN review: Promising improvements but its parent company concerns me
Number of countries: 29Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)Number of server locations: 200 in 73 citiesCountry/jurisdiction: US$40 for the first 12 months
LifeLock, long known for excellence in security products, has a relatively limited offering in its VPN product. Norton Secure VPN does not support P2P or BitTorrent, and it does not support Linux, routers or set top boxes. Its Netflix and streaming compatibility is somewhat limited. Even worse, during testing, we experienced privacy-compromising data leaks.
During CNET's testing, Norton Secure VPN speeds were comparable to other mid-tier VPNs but not particularly competitive. Although its VPN is only available on four platforms -- Mac, iOS, Windows and Android -- Norton gets points for its 24/7 live customer phone support and 60-day money back guarantee.
Other VPNs in the mix
Below you'll find some additional VPNs. We're in the process of re-evaluating them in the coming months.
PureVPN does not log connection information. The company joined the "no log" movement in 2018, which was recently verified via a third-party audit by Althius IT (albeit one commissioned and paid for by PureVPN).
We like that PureVPN offers a 31-day refund policy and supports Bitcoin payments, to further extend anonymous browsing. We also like that PureVPN has both Kodi and Chromebook solutions available. In addition, PureVPN was the first VPN service we noted to fully implement the GDPR.
Since we're living in a connected world, security and privacy are critical to ensure our personal safety from nefarious hacks. From online banking to communicating with coworkers on a daily basis, we're now frequently transferring data on our computers and smartphones. It's extremely important to find ways of securing our digital life and for this reason, VPNs have become increasingly common.
What's the best VPN right now?
ExpressVPN is the current CNET Editors' Choice for best overall VPN. It offers excellent speeds and has a proven track record when it comes to security and reliability. Plus, its clean, easy-to-navigate interface makes it a solid choice both for novices and professionals.
Surfshark is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support. Even though it has a smaller server fleet than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, it got high marks on our speed tests, outperforming its older, more established rivals.
And the popular heavy hitter that continues to rank high on our list is NordVPN. With its impressive array of security features and 5,500-plus servers in 59 countries, it's hard to find another VPN service that will bring you more bang for your buck.
Among other VPNs we've tested, ProtonVPN delivered high security standards at high speeds, while IPVanish distinguished itself as a good choice for beginners.
What is a site-to-site VPN?
This is when the VPN technology uses a gateway device to connect to the entire network in one location to a network in another location. The majority of site-to-site VPNs that connect over the internet use IPsec. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use career multiprotocol label switching clouds as the main transport for site-to-site VPNs.
VPNs are often defined between specific computers, and in most cases, they are servers in separate data centers. However, new hybrid-access situations have now transformed the VPN gateway in the cloud, typically with a secure link from the cloud service provider into the internal network.
What is a mobile VPN?
A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It's best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It's good to use when you're facing coverage gaps, internetwork roaming, bandwidth issues or limited battery life, memory or processing power.
Mobile VPNs are designed and optimized to ensure a seamless VPN user experience when devices are switching networks or moving out of coverage. It generally has a smaller memory footprint, and because of that, it also requires less processing power than a traditional VPN. Therefore, it enables your applications to run faster while the battery pack is able to last longer.
A Mobile VPN is a worthwhile tool to have since it increases privacy, user satisfaction and productivity, while also reducing unforeseen support issues caused by wireless connectivity problems. The increasing usage of mobile devices and wireless connectivity make it more important to ensure that your data is being transferred through a secure network. It will allow you to access the internet, while staying safe behind a firewall that protects your privileged information.
Who needs a VPN?
People who access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from VPN usage. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn't know which web pages you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone who wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
How to choose a VPN service?
There's a vast range of VPN services on the internet. Some are free VPN services, but the best ones require a monthly subscription. Before you decide to download a VPN, make sure you consider these factors for understanding a VPN.
Cost: VPNs aren't too pricey, but they vary from vendor to vendor. If your main concern is price, then go with something inexpensive, or a free VPN service -- like Spotflux Premium VPN or AnchorFree HotSpot Shield Elite. Free servers are often slower, and since most are ad-supported, they place adverts on the online pages you access. Others can even limit the speed of your connection, as well as your online time or amount of data transferred.
It's also important to note that leading VPN providers offer stronger security features to ensure you're digitally safe. When selecting a paid VPN service, always be sure to check which countries it operates servers in.
Reliability: Select a VPN that is reliable and read the reviews to make sure that it's capable of protecting you by providing you with sufficient online privacy.
High security: An effective VPN will have the following security features: 128-bit encryption, anonymous DNS servers and an absence of connection logs.
Are there any bandwidth limits? This can often be linked to price; paying more will generally provide more bandwidth with faster internet access.
Are VPN apps for Android, iOS phones and tablets available? Apps for Android and iOS devices are also vulnerable, so make sure your VPN server can support a VPN app.
To ensure privacy, you want to make sure you have a VPN that doesn't store online logs. Some servers provide virus and spyware protection, and features like that can significantly increase your online safety.
Using a no-logs VPN service will provide you with a higher degree of security. It can protect you from blanket government surveillance and prevent your internet service provider from knowing your online activity.
How do I use a VPN for bypassing Netflix regional restrictions?
like Netflix and Hulu have been making it difficult for foreign users to access their content in other countries. Many people can get around region restrictions by using a VPN service to route your traffic through another country.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address," "dedicated IP" or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.
This is by far the easiest way to access your forbidden apps since there's no specific way to block VPN traffic.
Many people started using a VPN to evade geo-restrictions. But despite its forbidden benefits to users outside the US, a VPN is a great tool that can protect you and enhance your online experience over the internet by providing you with sufficient security and privacy. When it comes to selecting the best VPN, you have plenty of choices. There are many cost-effective VPN options, and all of them will vary in monthly offerings. Choosing the best VPN is easier once you narrow down the competition. The best indication of a good VPN service provider is that it has the right security and the right support in place for you.
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