Here’s the scenario: you’re about to sit down to a brand-new season of your favourite show on Netflix but, what’s this? It’s showing in every country except yours? Shock and horror. But don’t fret, that’s when a virtual private network (VPN) comes in handy, and thanks to its huge surge in popularity over the years, the near-essential service is as simple to use as a click of a button.
A VPN does more than just let you endlessly browse through country-specific shows on different streaming services, as it also offers anonymity when browsing on public Wi-Fi, bypasses region-restricted websites, and keeps your online activity encrypted.
Essentially, no hacker threats, no government eyes snooping about your business, and no problems accessing the site of your choice — even if you’re heading to countries with heightened internet censorship like the UAE, Cuba or China.
So, why are there hundreds of VPNs to choose from if they all basically do the same job? Each service has different perks, from the number of servers it provides and its various locations in select cities and countries to its compatibility with laptops, PCs, smartphones and gaming consoles, along with a multitude of security options.
A VPN is a valuable tool to protect your privacy online. To help you find the best VPN service of 2021, we’ll go through connection speeds, protocols, support, server numbers, value and unique features.
What is a VPN?
Accessing the internet with a VPN means making a connection to a VPN server, which acts as a proxy when you’re accessing websites. So, instead of your real IP address — given to you by your internet service provider (ISP) to identify you on a website — the internet will only see the VPN server’s IP address and location. What’s more, the VPN server’s IP address changes regularly. It’s like wearing a forever-changing mask that hides your internet activities.
VPN servers are placed around the world, which is why you can access otherwise censored or restricted country-specific websites and content. A VPN can also be seen as an enclosed tunnel, one that offers safe travel for all your data coming to and from a server. Data inside this tunnel is encrypted and encapsulated to make it harder for potential threats to snoop around.
So, looking to become anonymous? Check out our picks of the best VPN services below.
If you haven’t heard this anywhere else by now, let it be known by us: ExpressVPN is the best VPN service around. From its large number of servers that connect wicked fast despite its global reach, to its incredible accessibility for users, it’s the VPN service that will never disappoint. ExpressVPN offers multiple security protocols including OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2 and, coming soon, its very own Lightway protocol. Even better, it uses 256-bit AES encryption which is nearly impossible to break. That, along with its no-log policy and Perfect Forward Secrecy so your encrypted data won’t be captured and deciphered later put any security fears at ease.
All that with lightning-fast speeds? Indeed. Even playing online multiplayer games isn’t a bother, and it’s all done with a one-click connection that links to the fastest server. Speaking of, user accessibility is the real star of the show, offering easy connections for those who simply want to be anonymous, along with DNS leak prevention, split tunnelling, a kill switch and then some. It also works on pretty much every device including laptops, web browsers, smart hubs, gaming consoles – you name it.
While ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest for the five devices it supports, it can also be used on a router thanks to the router app, meaning you can link all those devices and still be secure with one connection. Continue to shine, ExpressVPN.
King of the internet ocean, some might say, and the reason it places second on this list is quite simply because of the maximum number of devices it supports: Unlimited. Whether you’re a family of five with three devices — each streaming Netflix or Hulu — or a company with rows of PCs, Surfshark supports simultaneous connections at one of the cheapest prices on this list. And it does it all with the high-security protocols and speed a VPN user could ask for.
Surfshark uses an unbreakable 256-bit encryption, along with DNS and IPv6 protection, to prevent anyone from trying to get your real IP address. If that wasn’t enough, it also has an automatic kill switch when your VPN drops, a MultiHop mode that routes your data through two different VPN servers, its CleanWeb, which is a built-in ad and malware blocker, and a multitude of other nifty security features. For those overwhelmed, not to worry, as it also handily comes with a one-click fast connection found on an easy-to-navigate interface. The only downside of Surfshark is its speeds. While still top-tier on this list, they don’t quite match the speeds of other VPN services, especially when some servers suddenly dip out of nowhere. That’s okay, the unlimited devices more than make up for it.
The fastest VPN in the west… and the world over. It would be strange not to put NordVPN on this list, as it beat its competition in terms of server numbers and their speeds. It has multiple servers in nearly every country, and each one, whether it’s in the U.S. or Hong Kong, delivers consistent connection speeds. From watching Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, to playing online multiplayer games, it didn’t seem to matter what server we used – connected speeds barely dipped. That probably has something to do with the unlimited bandwidth and data each server brings.
NordVPN also combines the very best speeds with brilliant security. It has AES 256-bit encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and two security protocols including OpenVPN UDP/TCP and IKEv2/IPsec. It also has CyberSec to avoid ads and protect you from malware, an internet and app-specific kill switch, along with split tunnelling. Keep in mind, the service is not for desktops. NordVPN seems to have a few little quirks when it comes to different devices, from iOS to Android, including presenting different security protocol options. That said, this is a minor thing to an otherwise incredible VPN with an even more incredible quick connect feature, which means lightning-fast VPN speeds at a click of a button. In need of speed? NordVPN is a no-brainer.
For those leaning more toward security, ProtonVPN is your top choice. It’s the only VPN available that uses its own ‘Secure Core’ network, meaning your traffic first goes through privacy-friendly countries such as Switzerland and Iceland to prevent compromised VPN servers (unfortunately, that happens) so your IP address is never revealed. Even better, it uses Perfect Forward Secrecy so your encrypted data won’t be captured and deciphered later. Along with its no-log policy, Tor connections and being based in Switzerland (a country known for its privacy laws), rest assured your data is safe with ProtonVPN.
Oh, and it can be completely free to use. While that alone is a major plus on this list, this does only give you access to three countries on one device, with limited speeds. For simple browsing, this works fine (especially seeing how not a dollar is being spent). However, the service does offer neatly priced paid plans, and it even comes with its one-of-a-kind ProtonMail that encrypts your emails. However, its lack of servers and countries is where ProtonVPN falls behind. Even with its all-access Plus package, connection speeds can be a tad slow, and that’s quite a bit more expensive than the speedier VPNs on this list. Once it offers more servers, the (internet) sky’s the limit for ProtonVPN.
Aside from having the slickest name on the list, CyberGhost is perfect for streaming and torrenting – among the most popular uses for a VPN. Its security features are at the top of the VPN game – offering AED 256-bit encryption, OpenVPN TCP/UDP, IKEv2, and WireGuard security protocol options (although not for all devices), a kill switch, DNS and IP leak protection, no logs and split tunnelling (only on PCs). All that with fantastic server speeds and seven supported devices? Not bad seeing as you can get a three-year subscription for a fairly desirable price with three months included completely for free.
While it has plenty of features, the highlight is its optimized servers for streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. It’s a shame that when we tried Amazon Prime, it remained blocked. Two out of three is nowhere near bad when getting wicked speeds streaming our favorite shows around the globe. For the torrent-savvy VPN users, there’s even a specific torrenting tab with brilliant P2P sharing. Unfortunately, CyberGhost dips in some of its servers in certain countries, especially in Europe. This could be an issue for those all about server speeds, that said, it only meant a few seconds more of buffering. It also has the huge plus of having a router app, even though it takes a bit more information on its site on how to set it up. CyberGhost not only offers a premium service for your buck, it also means using a slick-sounding VPN service.
After the easiest way to make yourself anonymous? Point yourself in the direction of Hotspot Shield. Without a doubt, it’s one of the simplest user interfaces a VPN can have while still offering a top-of-the-line service with speedy servers. Hotspot Shield has you covered at a commendable price – with multiple plans to choose from.
While it may not offer the best security features or connection speeds compared to other VPN services, it does have a completely free package, albeit with a few setbacks. If you can excuse the ads, virtual US-only server usage and 500MB limit, you’re set. Either way, couple along its ease-of-use across multiple devices and fantastic speeds, and that makes Hotspot Shield worth a look.