id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”>

More people are increasingly taking up remote working, which means it’s more important than ever to secure your sensitive information with a VPN. But as demand for virtual private networks continues to boom, new VPN services keep jumping into the market, and that can make it challenging to sort through the options to find the best VPN service to meet your particular needs.  

That’s why we’ve done the legwork for you. After researching and testing a multitude of VPN services, we’ve rounded up the best VPN options that are reliable, fast, and will keep your privacy totally protected. In our current testing and ranking system, we evaluated more than 20 factors, including price, number of server locations, security, ease of remote access, bandwidth caps, logging, dedicated and dynamic IP, client software and customer support. Below, we’ve listed your best VPN options, including such popular names as ExpressVPNSurfshark, IPVanishNordVPN  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 VPN 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 US-based VPNs 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.

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.

ExpressVPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 30,000
  • Number of servers: 3,000-plus in 160 locations
  • Number of simultaneous connections: 5
  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • 94-plus countries
  • 3 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. 

Read more:

Surfshark

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).

Read more:

IPVanish

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 $80 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 10 to now unlimited simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. 

Read more: 

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. 


tunnelbear-logo

TunnelBear

TunnelBear

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.

Read more:


cg-22-1

CyberGhost

CyberGhost VPN

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 privacy tools. Since then, CyberGhost has increased its number of servers and is prepared to roll out new privacy tools, all while remaining one of the cheapest VPNs we’ve reviewed — at $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


logo-norton-360-with-lifelock

Norton

Norton Secure VPN

  • Number of countries: 29
  • Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
  • Number of server locations: 200 in 73 cities
  • Country/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.

Read more: 


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.   


purelogo

PureVPN

$10.95 a month, $3.33 a month for a 2-year plan

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.


private-internet-access-ad-300x250

Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access

  • Number of IP addresses: N/A
  • Number of servers: 3,252
  • Number of server locations: 37
  • Country/jurisdiction: US

Speaking of price, if you want a solid VPN provider, Private Internet Access is the place to go. 

The key to getting the most savings with this vendor is buying its two-year plan for $69.95. That works out to $2.69 a month. It also offers a one-year plan for $39.95 (which comes out to $3.33 a month), or a monthly plan for $11.95 a month.

The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, but at 3,252, its server count is more than any of our other picks.

These folks have been around since 2010, and don’t log anything. It provides a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that its refund policy is seven days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for its excellent performance in the space of a week.


hotspot

HotSpot Shield

Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, it picked up some positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky’s comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, in 2018, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company’s software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.

So what are we to make of Hotspot Shield? Frankly, the controversy caused us to drop it from our directory for a while. But it approached us, made a strong case for its ongoing dedication to privacy, and we decided to give it another chance.

Here’s the good news. It offers one of the best money-back guarantees we’ve seen for VPN services, a full 45 days. It supports Linux, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, along with plugins for Chrome and Firefox. It also supports routers and media players. And, as a bonus, it has a connection kill switch feature.

The company does not support P2P or BitTorrent — and it also doesn’t support OpenVPN. Every other vendor does, but Hotspot Shield limits its VPN protocol support to L2TP/IPSec and something it calls Hydra, an enhancement of the transport protocol.

Overall, the company did impress us with its attention to privacy. It has a published privacy canary. It also told us, “We have built in malware, phishing and spam protection. Our commitment to our users is that Hotspot Shield will never store, log or share your true IP address.”


VPN FAQ

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. We evaluate VPNs based on their overall performance in three main categories: speed, security and price. Express isn’t the cheapest, but it’s among the fastest, and so far, is the most secure. At lower costs, Surfshark is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that’s constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we’ve tested. 

What is a VPN?

A commercial virtual private network is technology that allows you to create a private connection over a less-private network by creating an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the internet. You can install a VPN just like you would any other app or program on your smartphone or computer. A VPN can let you get around censorship in your country, access geo-restricted media content from another country, and prevents your internet service provider from being able to intrude on your privacy by snooping on your web browsing. VPNs do this by allowing you to appear as though you’re connecting from a different location or country. 

For more beginner-focused VPN help, we’ve demystified some of the jargon in our guide to all the VPN terms you need to know

Now playing:

Watch this:

Which VPN should you pick?

4:28

How do I choose a VPN?

Picking a VPN requires knowing two things to start with: what you want to use it for, and what you’re willing to pay. There is a vast number of VPNs available to choose from which range widely in what they offer, but with those two answers, you can start hunting for a VPN that has the right blend of three key ingredients: speed, security and cost. Below, you’ll find specific FAQ sections on picking a VPN based on the most common needs: gaming, streaming media, working from home, and privacy-sensitive professions. For a deeper dive, check our detailed walk-through on how we evaluate and review VPNs. If you’re looking for some quick pointers here are universally applicable advice guides for beginners.

What is a mobile VPN?

Use a mobile-friendly VPN to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. Our top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile app options for their services. Some VPNs will have will only work with one type of platform — like Apple or Android — and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our re-testing information so check back often. 

Do I need a VPN?

People who access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from VPN usage. A VPN service will almost always boost your privacy by encrypting your online activity. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so an internet service provider or someone on your Wi-Fi network 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.

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 remote-access VPN?

A remote-access VPN uses public infrastructure like the internet to provide remote users secure access to their network. This is particularly important for organizations and their corporate networks. It’s crucial when employees connect to a public 

What’s the best VPN for gaming?

Most VPNs are chosen based on having a good balance of speed, security, and cost. But if you want a VPN specifically to connect to game servers in another country, speed is everything. Free VPNs won’t be fast enough, but, fortunately, high-end security won’t be a cost-driver, which gives you more options at modest prices. Since all VPNs reduce speed — most by half or more — that means picking one from the set which performed best in our speed tests. In 2021 tests, Surfshark managed to win our speed race while still being one of the least expensive VPNs we’ve seen. If you’re focused on VPNs for consoles, have a look at our best VPNs for Xbox, and our primer on installing them

What’s the best free VPN?

None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs sadly aren’t among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and free ones are almost always malware-laden data snoops. But there’s good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hyper-competitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive VPN we’ve seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range. 

What’s the most secure VPN for privacy?

If you’re a journalist, a lawyer, or a professional in any other privacy-sensitive field, forget about speed and price when choosing a VPN. Focus, instead, entirely on security. Your VPN may be somewhat slower but, for both VPNs and presidential motorcades, speed is always the trade-off for privacy. Avoid Free vpn VPNs, browser-based VPNs, and any VPN headquartered in the US or other Five Eyes countries. Keep an eye on encryption: your VPN should offer a protocol called OpenVPN TCP (for its mobile apps, IKEv2 is fine). You may find our primer on VPN evaluations useful. Although speed does play a factor in our rankings, our top three VPNs were all selected by veteran journalists, scrutinized and reviewed with complete editorial independence, with the most privacy-sensitive professions in mind. 

How do I use a VPN for Netflix?

If you live in a country that censors its media or are traveling to one, geo-restricted content is a pain. You can use a VPN to circumvent censorship or access your home country’s normal media content for  like Netflix and Hulu. Pick a VPN that lets you manually select which country you want to connect through, and has something called obfuscation. Our top three picks offer this. If you’re looking to try out other VPNs, choose one with a large number of IP addresses, preferably 10,000 or more. Once you have your VPN installed, connect to the country whose content you wish to view, restart your browser and go to the streaming site. If your VPN is working, the site should treat you as a resident of your selected country, and serve you content assigned to that audience. 

More internet service and WFH guides