A VPN (virtual private network) is a great tool to protect your privacy and security while you use the internet, as well as a nifty means of working around geo-blocking. Whether you're at home or using public Wi-Fi while travelling, the best combine great pricing with security features and privacy guarantees that make them worth your trust. This week, we're looking at five of the best VPN providers, based on your nominations.
Photo by Maksim Kabakou
The best VPN services don't keep logs, protect your anonymity, don't discriminate against traffic or protocol types, offer exit servers to help you get around location-restricted content blocks, and deliver the best bang for your buck. It takes a lot to make a VPN service worth your trust, but there are some good choices out there. Here are some of the optionsyou thought were the best, in no specific order:
Private Internet Access is one of our favourite VPN service providers. As well as protecting your privacy and security by encrypting all of the traffic between your home computer and the service, but also anonymizes it and helps you get around regional content restrictions by giving you a choice of exit servers (close to 1000, in 10 different countries.) PIA doesn't log data about your session or connection details, it doesn't discriminate against protocols or IP addresses, and it doesn't host any data about its users activities at all.
It supports a number of different authentication and encryption methods, and is available virtually every mobile and desktop operating system. The pricing isn't bad either ($US7/month or $US40/year for up to five devices connected simultaneously.) PIA has made the list every time Torrentfreak has looked into privacy protecting VPN providers, and picked up an Editors Choice award from PCMag.
TorGuard's claim to fame is that it offers specific types of servers for different activities. That gives you the ability to connect to torrent-friendly services if you need to download something, or encryption and anonymity-friendly servers if you just need a little privacy and security. It's also one of the few VPN service providers to take DNS leaking seriously, and it even offers a test to make sure that your VPN isn't leaking DNS data.
Depending on your usage habits and patterns, TorGuard has different pricing plans. Its full VPN service will set you back $US10/month or $US60/year, while there are less expensive plans if you just want an anonymous proxy or a torrent proxy. Their full VPN service features over 200 exit servers in 18 countries, no logging or data retention of any kind, and the network is set up in a way that they actually have no information to collect on their user activities -- TorGuard doesn't know what you're doing or when you're connected. The service delivered a really great response to Torrentfreak's questions that's well worth a read for more info. It handles multiple connectivity protocols, supports most desktop and mobile OSes, and even offers encrypted, offshore email service if you want to take advantage of it.
IPVanish takes an interesting approach to privacy and security. It uses shared IP addresses, so your activity can't be singled out from others using the service. They claim over 14,0000 IPs to share on over 100 exit servers in 47 different countries. You can choose where you'd prefer to connect, which again is perfect for getting around location restrictions, and encryption makes sure your traffic is safe from prying eyes. The service supports Windows, Mac and Ubuntu (although it wouldn't be too hard to stretch that to other distributions), along with iOS and Android, and offers configuration utilities so you can set your home router to connect to them as well. IPVanish doesn't discriminate against traffic types or port usage, and doesn't log anything. Accounts with IPVanish are $US10/month or $US78/year, and you can connect two devices at once (as long as they're using different protocols.)
CyberGhost has been around for a long time, offering to encrypt all of the data that passes through your connection and anonymise your location. It offers free and paid subscription plans, so if you just need a little security on the go, you may be able to get away with a free account. The service went through a massive overhaul about a year ago, removing traffic and bandwidth restrictions for free accounts, and improving security. CyberGhost doesn't log any traffic or user data. It offers choice of exit servers in 23 different countries (free users can pick from one of 14), and you can see server status at any time. The clients are easy to use, support virtually every mobile and desktop platform, and don't discriminate against traffic types, protocols or IP addresses (in fact, CyberGhost just donated 10,000 licences to users in Turkey to get around recent location blocks in that country.)
The only major difference between free and pro CyberGhost accounts is that free accounts disconnect after 3 hours, and are limited to the official client, while pro accounts can use other connection protocols and have far more servers in more countries to choose from. You'll pay $US7/month or $US40/year for a premium account, but if you need more than one device connected at any given time, you'll need to step up to Premium Plus, at $US11/month and $US70/year.
Naturally, the DIY approach is popular at Lifehacker. If you don't need exit servers in different countries, and your primary requirement is to encrypt and secure your data when you're away from home, you can roll yout own VPN with OpenVPN or a number of other free, open-source tools. Many of the best routers on the market support OpenVPN. Alternatively, DD-WRT or Tomato firmware both offer VPN, so if you can install either of those on your router, you'll be set. The beauty of a home-rolled VPN is that you get to set the level of encryption, and you have complete control over who connects, who has access to what parts of your home network, and where your data goes from there.
This setup is particularly appealing for people travelling who want to encrypt their data while they're on the road, but if you work with a couple of friends, it's easy to set up a mesh network that would get you around content restrictions and port blocks. Similarly, advanced users can fire up a VPN on their preferred host or VPS provider and keep their VPN running there while they connect to it when necessary. You won't receive quite as much as a professional VPN service provides, but you might get everything that you need at no cost.
We have quite a few honourable mentions this week, including one of my personal favourites, Hideman VPN, which offers a cross-platform, mobile-friendly, no-logging VPN service, complete with free VPN options. Also noteworthy are the great team over at Tunnelbear, who are constantly working to improve and update their service to help you get around regional restrictions and blocks.
We'll also give the nod to AirVPN, a popular pick around Lifehacker HQ. You can forward remote ports, pick and choose exit services in multiple countries, and even generate an OpenVPN config through its wizard to connect your home network to their service all the time.
VyprVPN was a popular nomination, in part because it works hand-in-hand with Giganews, the Usenet service provider. Ultimately, we left it out because the company has a history of logging user data, and doesn't seem overly willing to discuss how long it retains its logs for.
A final note on a point we mentioned when we talked about how to tell if your VPN provider is trustworthy. Don't fall into the "geography trap" of assuming that an overseas VPN or one outside your country is somehow safer or more committed to privacy than ones based in your own or subject to your own laws. A local VPN that doesn't keep logs and has none to turn over is more trustworthy than an overseas VPN that logs everything and is happy to turn your data over to anyone who asks -- and there are definitely VPN providers that fall in both categories.
As always, the Hive Five list is based on nominations from the Lifehacker US site. If there are particular services you've found work better (or worse) in Australia, we'd love to hear about them in the comments.