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Countless websites providing information about privacy tools are misleading users. They sell tall tales about “The Best VPNs” when fun fact: they don’t even have any ranking criteria!
How did I get to know this? A month ago, I searched the keyword “best VPN” on Google to check what type of results the search engine would show.
After analyzing the 100 different results, my hunch was validated…
Only a handful of websites offered information on how they reached a verdict on their recommendations but nothing conclusive! The ambiguity was surprising. No wonder, why digital anonymity sounds like a façade!
Therefore, to help our readers, I have put together an in-depth guide on our rating criteria and suggestions for selecting a VPN. I spent over sixty days, putting in 480 hours, and researched 180 different VPNs to find hardcore data that’ll leave you 100% convinced you’re making the right choice!
Do you know what’s one of the hardest things about leveraging digital anonymity? In this article, I have compiled the most important information you need to know about VPNs.
What is a VPN and What’s Going on in the Industry?
A VPN service is a tool that successfully cloaks your IP address, masks your locations, and encrypts incoming/outgoing traffic, giving users a key to opening locked doors (unblocking VoDs or websites in VPN-ban countries).
Such a product only continues gaining popularity, especially in a time where governments seek more control, imposing laws that mandate data retention and mass surveillance.
To check how popular VPNs are getting, I looked up its trend. A report from Google Trends below from 2014 to 2019 affirms the rising trend.
I went one step further to validate the increasing usage of VPN by adding statistics from Ahrefs (an SEO software suite) regarding the “Best VPN” keyword. The keyword term has a global search volume of 364k and a cost per-click (CPC) of $8.00.
In laymen terms, 364K global search volume means that many people around the world are searching for the term best VPN on different search engines.
Ahrefs “Best VPN” Results
Likewise, CPC is an internet-advertising model to drive traffic to websites, in which advertisers pay affiliate publishers and website owners when the ad is clicked.
Suppose a VPN provider is marketing its products. Any affiliate website redirecting traffic/sales to its website could potentially be earning thousands of dollars (note: we are also an affiliate website and earn affiliate commission).
This presents quite the earning opportunity for websites in the niche or even those that have nothing to do with the industry.
However, $8.00 CPC translate into a highly competitive and expensive keyword to target. The average CPC across multiple industries is approximately $2.00, so you have an idea how the VPN industry and its keyword “Best VPN” is gaining popularity.
And if you look at the top-ranking websites and their traffic share, you will see a much clearer picture.
I analyzed the above (and over 100 other domains); only to uncover that ONLY FEW websites had a rating criterion for their recommendations!
Even if other domains did have a criterion, they relied on conventional methodologies running from the 2000s: Price, Server Count, Protocols, Encryption, and Number of Features available…
How We Picked the Best VPNs – Testing Criteria!
Unlike other VPN websites, BestVPN.co takes on an approach based on hard facts and research with proper testing.
While yes, the factors above assessed by these domains are vital. There is a lot to analyze when it comes to VPN services, and this is exactly what I am focusing on: providing users with accurate knowledge.
Everywhere you go, be it a review website, community, forums – you will notice a pseudo-ID or someone claiming to be a security professional, sharing their experience about a provider.
Nine times out 10, none of these experts bother discussing the offsets, drawbacks, or disadvantages of a particular VPN service. Therefore, to put an end to this problem, my review process involved signing up with 180+ providers, and assessing every one of them based on:
Countries part of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes Alliance indulge in the sharing of intelligence, gathered by imposing mandatory data retention (for telecom, internet, and VPN providers) and mass surveillance laws.
VPNs present in these unsafe internet jurisdictions can’t be trusted one bit. At any time, they can be issued a subpoena with a gag order to cooperate with the government.
So VPN location can prove detrimental to those, who want to keep their identity hidden online. This is why I created an entire guide on “Internet Enemies”, highlighting providers present in such unsafe locations.
Make sure the VPN you sign up with is not based in countries that don’t respect the common man’s right to privacy. If they are, only go for ones with a verified no logging policy, which includes:
- NordVPN – Based in Panama, NordVPN resides in an Internet Friendly jurisdiction. The country respects netizens right to privacy and supports freedom of speech and press. It also does not follow the invasive laws of EU and US jurisdictions, outside the direct influence of GCHQ and NSA.
- CyberGhost – Headquartered in Romania, CyberGhost exists as a safe option, as its location does not have any stringent data retention or mass surveillance laws. The country is not part of the 5, 9, or 14 eyes alliances. Hence it does not indulge in the sharing of intelligence collected from private user data.
- ExpressVPN – Located in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), ExpressVPN protects user privacy. Its location is completely independent in managing its internal affairs, despite coming under the purview of the British Monarch. BVI jurisdiction also guarantees that they store no session/connection logs.
All VPN providers do indulge in some recording/storing of information. There have only been a few rare instances, where providers were put to test, verifying their LOGLESS claims.
Until an incident occurs concerning a subpoena from the Government, you can’t really tell whether or not a particular VPN is safe. This does not mean you stop using them altogether though.
Some VPNs are transparent about the logging information they record, while others blatantly lie and get caught later. Regardless, you need to be wary in either cases.
Hence, I took out the time to analyze the logging policies of over a 100+ providers. Among them 35 keep dangerous logs, 48 don’t store vital data/info, and only 15 prove to be logless!
Top 3 include:
- NordVPN – The provider “guarantees a strict no-logs policy,” which is verified by a major accounting firm. A security audit was completed on November 2018, during which the “Big 4” account firm had access to everything Nord. The results uncover no storing of any session/connection logs.
- ExpressVPN – The VPN is among the VERY FEW in the marketplace with a verified “No Logging” policy. Their servers were seized during an investigation involving the assassination of the Russian Ambassador of Turkey. Authorities found no information whatsoever for the server in question.
- Surfshark – Based in the British Virgin Islands, which is an autonomous nation, Surfshark tends to be a highly secure option. The provider does not impose limits of multi-logins, furthering proving that no logs = no restrictions. They also have not been caught revealing any data to intelligence agencies!
When assessing the reliability of a VPN, you need to conduct a proper leak test. The last thing you need is your WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaking, revealing your identity.
IP/DNS leak protection is very important for individuals who indulge in p2p/torrenting or downloading of copyright material. A simple leak can end up costing you thousands in DMCA fines.
While most VPNs that leak are usually “free” there are plenty of paid counterparts that suffer from leakages too, and it’s important to avoid using them. Otherwise, you’re risking your privacy.
I conducted an in-depth leak test on over 105 providers in the marketplace. I’ve created separate listings for VPNs that are dangerous (no leak protection) and secure (leak-free). Top 3 include:
- NordVPN – For testing the Panamanian-provider, I reached out to a representative based in the United Kingdom to connect to one of their US servers. The results show that NordVPN successfully masked your true location, cloaking your IP address, WebRTC, and DNS address.
- ExpressVPN – I tested the provider on several servers, including France, Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany. The provider did not leak our IPv4 address, WebRTC, or DNS. Although the Germany servers did display quite a few different DNS addresses, ExpressVPN still did not reveal our true location.
- Surfshark – I conducted tests on several locations, and have shown users the results on their Netherlands server. My IPv4 address is safe, WebRTC is undetectable, and DNS address is secure – indicating Surfshark offers strong privacy.
VPNs allow your internet connection to pass through a secure and encrypted tunnel. They also hide your location by giving you a new IP address based on the server you select.
Recently though, there has been a massive increase in websites, VoDs, and countries with tough internet laws like China, Iran, Egypt, Russia, UAE, etc. that indulge in blocking VPNs.
They use Deep Packet Inspect (DPI) for blocking targeted apps/protocols, which mandates that providers use Obfuscation. This feature cloaks VPN traffic as HTTPs traffic, making it impossible to block.
For your convenience, I’ve listed some of the best providers that offer Stealth VPN, obfuscation mode, or selected obfuscation servers in different countries. Top names include:
- NordVPN – The Panamanian-based provider offers obfuscated servers that are only available on Windows and Android devices, which offer unmatched capabilities for bypassing VPN blocks!
- VPNArea – The provider offers obfuscation via X-Stunnel servers, meaning they don’t use the XOR Obfuscation or Obfsproxy method for transforming VPN traffic into HTTPS.
- VyprVPN – The Switzerland-based provider utilizes an advanced obfuscation method in a self-developed protocol known as the “Chameleon Protocol.”
Next parameter on which I tested VPNs was performance. ISPs may impose throttling of your original IP address. Without a VPN, you will notice that the speeds you receive are not equal to your subscription PLAN.
Therefore, upon connecting a VPN, the endpoint shifts, as you gain access to a separate IP address and DNS, which bypasses any bandwidth caps and removes ISP throttling.
However, not all VPNs can maintain good performance, while offering exceptional encryption to keep your identity hidden. So I conducted a thorough performance test.
In the Speed Test guide, you can find a detailed analysis of the fastest VPN providers in the marketplace currently. Some of the top names currently include:
- ExpressVPN – For analyzing the performance of the VPN, I connected to five different servers: UK, Australia Germany, France, and the US. The results uncover that ExpressVPN delivered an average download speed of 82.45Mbps and upload of 64.13Mbps on our 100Mbps connection.
- NordVPN – I adopted the same strategy for testing NordVPN; connecting to different locations and assessing the average speeds. Based on the results, the Panamanian-provider delivered an average download speed of 80.00Mbps and upload speed 56.68Mbps.
- Surfshark – Surfshark may be new, but it’s also one of the fastest in the marketplace currently. Testing the service on our 100Mbps connection through different servers revealed that Surfshark has an average download speed of 76.22Mbps and upload speed of 66.18Mbps.
Despite the usage of VPNs increasing worldwide, a lot of users claim that they don’t continue using these services because of the lack of transparency from providers.
Netizens sometimes have little to no idea about the headquarters, owners, investors, the board of directors, warrant canaries/transparency reports, and auditing processes (if any) of VPNs.
This lack of transparency from providers urged me to contact them privately on email and learn more about different VPN services by asking THEM invasive questions.
The process involved emailing around 180+ providers, from which I’ve received responses from 15. Among these only three providers were completely transparent:
- Perfect Privacy – The Switzerland-based provider provided complete details regarding their release of warrant canaries, company address, the owners behind the project, investors, and board of directors. I loved how they added a human element to all their responses.
- Hide Me – The Malaysian-based provider that follows a freemium model offering both: free and paid versions gave us all the background info needed for helping users place their trust in the service. You can find all the information about them in our detailed transparency guide.
- CyberGhost – The Romanian-based provider gave comprehensive replies to all our queries will redirecting us to the relevant sources for information about their product, owners, investors, and board of directors, increasing their reliability in the marketplace.
Some VPN services may not be transparent about the kind of servers they offer. Providers may state that they offer physical servers in varied locations, while most of them are VIRTUAL.
What this means is that upon connection to a server in one country, you will receive an IP address from another country. For instance, a server in Dubai could be in the US.
You do get a Dubai IP address, but the traceroute indicates the connection routing from a server in the US. Only a few providers are honest about using virtual locations.
With so much uncertainty regarding physical and virtual servers, it’s only wise that users conduct a proper test for determining the TRUTH. I did the same, and the results were fascinating!
Some of the providers that use virtual servers include:
For smartphone users, selecting a VPN is an even tougher task because not many are aware of the complexities concerning these tools and the app “permissions” they require.
Permissions typically fall into two categories: normal and dangerous. The former doesn’t have any risks attached to them, while the latter could be risking your privacy and digital identity.
I conducted a comparative analysis on the 80+ providers, based on the permissions that they request. The goal is to give you a better idea about “Safe” choices.
VPN Comparison 2019 – Over 180 Providers Tested!
BestVPN.co might be a relatively new VPN review site. However, the team behind it has an experience of over a decade serving in this industry. My team and I were there before such privacy protection tools started gaining fame in the marketplace.
During this time, we have successfully directed a whopping 1 million+ users towards relevant VPNs for unblocking streaming sites, P2P/torrenting, receiving maximum privacy online, or bypassing firewalls and even VPN blocks.
To give users a better idea about different services, my team and I also performed an analysis of over 180 providers in the marketplace. The results we scaled from this ginormous analysis have been highlighted in the table presented below.
Our Recommended Best VPN Providers
As you can see, BestVPN.co doesn’t rely on the same old rating methodologies ranked websites use. I make sure our team invests time into testing providers, before recommending them for anything!
Based on the analysis conducted, I’ve compiled a list of the best VPN providers in the marketplace currently. I’ve also labeled what each VPN service will work best for:
Recommended #1 ExpressVPN
A Universal Service for Streaming Netflix, Torrenting and Privacy
Founded in 2011 and headquartered in the British Virgin Islands (a safe jurisdiction), I invested 48 hours into reviewing ExpressVPN, which is an all-rounder service for streaming, torrenting, and privacy.
Ranked as the best logless VPN with a verified no logging policy that even the Turkish Authorities could not bypass, the provider offers 3,000+ servers in 160 locations over 94 countries.
I could also access Netflix US, UK, and Japan via 13 “working” Netflix Servers in amazing speeds. With kill switch in place, I could torrent anonymously, safe from DMCA notices.
ExpressVPN users get access to multiple protocols like PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP) and receive encryption via two different ciphers: AES-256-CBC and AES-256-GCM.
The provider offers Network Lock also known as Kill Switch, Split Tunneling, and Obfuscation, which comes in handy for leveraging anonymity in countries like China, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Turkey, etc.
In terms of apps compatibility, you can get ExpressVPN on Windows, iOS (in all 17-languages), Mac, Android, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and even on your router for home-wide VPN access.
All apps are incredibly user-friendly, boasting neat and clean layouts for ease-of-use. The best part of all: a single subscription works simultaneously on 5 devices.
The provider is safe from all WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaks, utilizes both physical/virtual locations, and offers average speeds of 82.45Mbps and upload of 64.13Mbps on my 100Mbps connection.
A commitment of 15-months will bring down the costs from $12.95 to $6.67/mo., backed by a 30-day money back guarantee. Downsides? None that I can think of.
or receive more insights into the provider by reading this ExpressVPN review
Recommended #2 NordVPN
A Versatile yet Robust Service for All Your VPN Needs
Established in 2012 and located in Panama, reviewing NordVPN took me a good 36-hours, which is a reliable service for unblocking VoDs, bypassing VPN bans, and leveraging anonymity.
Ranked as the most trusted VPN in the marketplace, thanks to its secure location, verified no logs policy, and third-party audit, the provider offers 5,480+ servers in 60 countries worldwide.
Almost all servers I tested worked for unblocking Netflix, excluding suggestions from the support team. P2P/torrenting was also quick and secure as hell, thanks to the kill switch feature by Nord.
NordVPN has discontinued its support for PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. Its Windows and Android apps utilize OpenVPN (TCP or UDP), and iOS and Mac apps utilize IKEv2/IPSec (which can be changed).
For encryption, the provider uses AES-256-CBC ciphers with HMAC SHA256 hash authentication, and features include DoubleVPN, CyberSec, Obfuscated servers, and Onion over VPN.
In terms of apps compatibility, you can get NordVPN on Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. There is no app for routers (albeit you do have preconfigured options).
All apps are intuitive and boast a simple user interface for maximum convenience during usage. You can use a single subscription on at least five devices simultaneously.
The provider is safe from all WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaks, utilizes ONLY physical servers, and offers average speeds of 80.00Mbps and upload speed 56.68Mbps on my 100Mbps connection.
A subscription of 3-years will drop the monthly costs from $11.95 to $2.99/mo., backed by a 30-day refund. Downsides? Sluggish DoubleVPN performance (which honestly is to be expected).
or check this NordVPN review out for a more detailed analysis
Recommended #3 Surfshark VPN
A Pocket-Friendly, Multifaceted Newcomer Service
Launched in 2018 and based in BVI, reviewing the newcomer “Surfshark” took me 20 hours, which is the best inexpensive VPN in my opinion, offering good support for unblocking, torrenting, and anonymity.
It provides users with an expansive network of 800+ servers in 53+ countries worldwide, among which the 8 out of 12 servers I tested worked smoothly in unblocking Netflix UK and US.
In terms of p2p/torrenting, I was able to download files anonymously and even stream directly through the new uTorrent web app, after changing the protocol from IKEv2 to OpenVPN first.
There is no support available for other protocols like L2TP/IPSec or PPTP, but you do receive strong military-grade encryption via two different ciphers: AES-256-CBC and AES-256-GCM.
Advanced features offered by the provider, include CleanWeb (ad/tracker blocker), MultiHop, WhiteListerTM and unlimited simultaneous logins (one of the USPs of the low cost VPN).
For device compatibility, users have access to apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, browser extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and a client for Amazon Fire TV too!
All apps share a similar appearance and design, offering a smooth and intuitive experience overall, but the Android version does get a little unstable at times, crashing unexpectedly.
The provider is safe from all WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaks, utilizes only two VIRTUAL servers, and offers average speeds of 76.22Mbps and upload speed of 66.18Mbps on my 100Mbps connection.
A commitment of 12-months will bring down the costs from $11.95 to $5.99/mo., backed by a 30-day money back guarantee. Downsides? Not many apart from the bugs in the Android app.
or receive more insights into the provider by reading this Surfshark review
Recommended #4 PureVPN
A Feature-Packed VPN Service for Online Browsing
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Hong Kong, I invested 30 hours into reviewing PureVPN, which is a feature-rich provider that offers excellent compatibility for bypassing geo-restrictions.
It provides its clientele access to an expansive network of 2,000 servers in 180 locations over 140+ countries worldwide, which sometimes work/may not work for unblocking Netflix.
Mostly, the service offers good support for torrent users, delivering stable speeds for downloading while keeping your identity safe – thanks to the addition of a SOCKS5 proxy.
PureVPN users get access to multiple security protocols (PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, OpenVPN & the revolutionary Stealth protocol and receive encryption via AES-256 and 2,048-bit RSA keys.
Advanced features available include NAT Firewall, Split Tunneling, Ad/Tracker blocking, IPv6 Leak Protection, Port Forwarding, Kill Switch, DDoS Protection, and dedicated IPs.
For device compatibility, PureVPN offers the most versatility, making apps available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Mozilla, Android TVs, Firestick, and even an add-on for Kodi.
Desktop apps offer the best performance, extensions work smoothly too, but the TV apps do still need some working to resolve “bugs”, which cause the client to crash sometimes.
The provider is safe from all WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaks, utilizes a mixture of physical and virtual locations, and offers average speeds of 72.35Mbps and upload speed of 64.71Mbps.
A subscription of 1-year will drop the monthly costs from $10.95 to $3.33/mo., backed by a 31-day money back guarantee. Downsides? Inconsistent Netflix performance and sluggish TV apps.
or check this PureVPN review out for a more detailed analysis
Recommended #5 CyberGhost VPN
A Powerful VPN for All Your Unblocking Needs
Established in 2011 and based in Romania, reviewing CyberGhost took me 28 hours, which is a reliable VPN in terms of unblocking VoDs and allowing users to bypass geo-restrictions smoothly.
It gives users access to a listing of over 4,815 servers in 61 countries worldwide, among which 9 out of 12 tested worked in unblocking Netflix UK and US and their content libraries.
I also received good p2p/torrenting support with specialty servers available for the very purpose. Users can access them by entering “p2p” in the search bar present in CyberGhost apps.
Native protocols supported by the service include PPTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN (TCP or UDP) and encryption is provided via AES-256 cipher, RSA-4096 key encryption and SHA384 hash authentication.
In terms of apps compatibility, CyberGhost is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Amazon Firestick, Android TVs, and even on routers.
Each app utilizes the same beautiful yellow design that blends with the different screen sizes of varied platforms. A single subscription works on seven devices simultaneously.
The provider is free from all WebRTC/DNS/IP address leaks, utilizes a mixture of physical and virtual locations, and offers average speeds of 70.22Mbps and upload speed of 59.29Mbps.
A commitment of 3-years will bring down the costs from $12.99 to $2.75/mo., backed by a huge 45-day refund. Downsides? 1-day free trial is to short!
or receive more insights into the provider by reading this CyberGhost VPN review
FAQs from VPN Users
When it comes to finding the best VPN, you may have some questions that need answers. To make the process easier for you, we have compiled a list of the most common questions below:
Is it a safe decision to use a VPN?
Yes, VPNs are completely safe to use and operate, whether it be unblocking websites/streaming services or engaging in P2P/Torrenting activities for downloading pirated stuff.
However, it’s imperative that you choose the right one, as to protect your identity online. You would not want to compromise on online safety.
Therefore, always go for a VPN based in a safe jurisdiction, free from WebRTC/DNS/IP address leakages, does not record logs, and offers a large listing of servers!
Which free VPN is the best in the marketplace?
I always tell my viewers to be wary of signing up with free VPN services, as they are the bane to your digital privacy. You know why? Because they can’t be trusted.
These “free VPN swindles” use shady practices for coming up with the costs of managing their service: app development/updates, bug releases, technical support, server expansion, etc.
If you still want to go for a free service though, some less risky options from our analysis of 180+ providers include: Hide.Me and Speedify.
Is having a VPN legal?
VPNs are completely legal, generally. However, different countries around the world may have exclusive laws, which may place restrictions on using VPN service.
For instance, those located in China, Russia, and Iran, Oman, can only use government-approved VPN services (that definitely can’t be considered safe).
In the UAE, anyone caught using a fraudulent IP address could face imprisonment or fines up to $400,000. Other countries were VPNs are completely banned include Turkey, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Belarus, and North Korea!
Which is the best VPN service in the market?
Declaring a Winner in the VPN category is an incredibly hard task as different VPNs have varied strengths and weaknesses. Where some may offer better compatibility for streaming/unblocking, others may be better for P2P/Torrenting or leveraging maximum anonymity online.
When discussing VPNs, “BEST” is subjective. It’s rather more suitable to group the top services in each category and then offer them to users to choose on their own.
Shun Misleading Websites and Increase VPN Knowledge!
It’s time you stop trusting ranked-websites for recommendations about VPNs. Instead, work on improving your knowledge about digital privacy and VPN tools in the marketplace.
If you’re uncertain today, it shouldn’t mean you stay this way forever. Selecting a VPN isn’t rocket science and it isn’t a piece of cake either, which is why you need to take this seriously.
Don’t let your doubts, fears, or limiting beliefs hold you back. VPNs are valuable tools, and you can leverage utmost privacy if you work on improving your knowledge.
With this, I’ll end this guide. Do let me know what you found most useful and which of these top five recommended providers will you try and why? You can email us at webmaster (at) bestvpn (dot) co.