Virtual private networks (VPNs) have surged in popularity recently, largely due to extensive marketing efforts and partnerships with influential figures, As a result, consumers are under the impression that the features and privacy functions of a VPN can solve all of their security problems. However, the plethora of unsubstantiated claims in the VPN industry has made it difficult to identify the best service to use. After assessing nine of the best VPN services available, we have narrowed it down to five top picks that should suit most users’ needs.
There is a common misperception that VPNs are a one-size-fits-all security solution. However, Roya Ensafi, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, warns that VPNs do not offer protection against phishing attacks or data theft. Their primary purpose is to safeguard your online activities while using untrusted networks, by tunneling and encrypting your traffic to the next hop. Yet, it is important to remember that the data or information is still stored with the VPN provider, which means that using an improperly designed or unprotected network can jeopardize your security.
It is also important to remain skeptical of sweeping claims made by VPN providers, such as military-grade encryption or total digital invisibility. Yael Grauer, program manager of Consumer Reports’ online security guide, recommends looking for services with open-source software and strong defense against attack vectors, instead. Additionally, before deciding to use a VPN, ensure that your online security is up to date by employing complex passwords, multifactor authentication methods, and securing your data sharing preferences.
VPNs are most valuable when connecting to public WiFi networks, to maintain your privacy, or when attempting to bypass geoblocking on certain services, like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Nevertheless, VPNs can lead to a false sense of security and may not be as secure as an ISP in some cases. For users in professions like journalism or activism, the Tor browser may offer a more secure alternative. To identify the best VPNs, we relied on pre-existing academic work through Consumer Reports, VPNalyzer, and other sources, keeping in mind aspects such as privacy policies, transparency reports, and security audits. Ultimately, ProtonVPN, with its strong security features and usability, emerged as our top pick among the services we tested.
While ProtonVPN is our top choice for security and usability, Windscribe was chosen as the best free VPN due to its high security and numerous server locations. However, it is important to note that even the best VPNs can slow down your internet speed and should not be relied upon as the sole means of cybersecurity.