Do you know what’s one of the hardest things about leveraging digital anonymity?
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!
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:
- VPN Jurisdiction
- Logging Policy
- Leak Test
- Server Testing
- App Permissions
So let’s start…
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, the provider 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 auditwas 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, it 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.
- 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:
Surfshark – Get the Best Value for Your Money
Looking for a budget-friendly VPN in the marketplace?
Giving a tough competition to other budget-friendly providers, Surfshark has made an impressive entry into the market. I took around 20 hours to review the service properly.
I was quite impressed. The provider is based in the British Virgin Islands (a VPN-friendly jurisdiction), free of all sorts of data retention laws.
With regards to pricing, Surfshark tends to be incredibly cost-effective and wallet-friendly. The monthly plan starts with incredibly high pricing at $11.95 and it’s a bit of a bummer.
However, the plans with longer subscription durations are priced much more reasonably. For instance, the 6-months plan, gives you a 65% discount, reducing the pricing to $8.99 per month.
If you go for the yearly plan, you only pay $5.99 per month, which totals to $71.88 every 12-months. The best part of all: you have a 30-day refund guarantee available.
Surfshark even offers a lot of useful features for customers. For instance, CleanWebTM adds ad-blocking, tracker-blocking and malware protection to your VPN connections.
It even offers an immensely useful MultiHop feature, which allows you to bypass your internet service through two different servers around the world to keep your identity hidden.
Add this to Surfshark’s diamond-strong protection and users can feel assured to stay safe online at all times
Protocols & Encryption
The provider offers two strong encryption ciphers: AES-256-CBC and AES-256-GCM. Almost every VPN in the marketplace uses the former, which makes Surfshark the only service to offer the latter.
The difference between the two is of something called “chosen ciphertext attacks.” AES-256-CBC uses a secure Message Authentication Code (MAC), along with the AES algorithm.
Conversely, AES-256-GCM has built-in authentication codes, which makes the process a whole lot faster!
If you want to learn more about Surfshark, check this in-depth Surfshark VPN review!
NordVPN – An All-Rounder VPN Service
Searching for that an all-in-one VPN service?
NordVPN is a Panamanian-based provider of internet security and privacy services, offering some of the most advanced technologies and features.
Reviewing NordVPN took quite a few hours off, and I almost finished all my coffee and smokes. I concluded that the provider is quite an all-rounder!
Safe and Secure Location
Since it’s based in Panama, you can also feel relieved it offers you maximum anonymity. The government protects user data under the law!
Its VPN jurisdiction further helps the provider in implementing a no-logs policy. The provider itself has zero histories of revealing information to government authorities.
It also does not follow the invasive laws of EU and US jurisdictions, outside the direct influence of GCHQ and NSA, ensuring you stay safe always!
Pricing and Server Details
The pricing starts at $11.23 monthly, but there is a package billed $79 after every two years! It reduces the monthly pricing down to $3.29 by giving you an amazing 72% discount!
The best part of all: you have a 30-day refund guarantee available, which means if you don’t feel comfortable using the VPN, you can always request for your money back.
Once you subscribe to NordVPN though, you gain access to a huge list of 4452 servers in 62 countries worldwide. They come in handy for unblocking VoDs or engaging in P2P.
Protocols and Encryption
Things don’t just end here; you also receive multiple protocol support, which includes PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, and IKEv2. Moreover, you have native apps for all platforms/devices.
NordVPN also offers manual setup guides for the tech-geeks. Not to mention, they offer built-in VPN routers which come in handy for configuring a secure connection around your house.
Features you gain access to include DNS Leak Protection, Automatic Kill Switch, and Onion Over VPN. For advanced technologies, you have DoubleVPN.
DoubleVPN feature passes all internet/network traffic through two servers located in different countries. Likewise, CyberSec blocks cyber threats, harmful websites, and malware from spreading on your devices.
Then you have SmartPlay that allows for instant and seamless streaming on popular VoD websites like US Netflix, BBC iPlayer UK, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Sling TV, and many more!
Gain complete insight into the offerings of NordVPN in this NordVPN review.
ExpressVPN – Leveraging Maximum Privacy/Anonymity
Looking for a VPN service that keeps you anonymous at all times?
Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is a top-rated provider in terms of privacy and security, providing maximum anonymity to its customers, keeping their identity hidden at all times.
With a highly responsive 24/7 support team, 30-day refund guarantee, multi-platform apps, and unblocking capabilities, you can leverage access to an unfiltered and uncensored internet.
Privacy and Security
ExpressVPN was even involved in a Turkish investigation that saw the assassination of Russian Ambassador Turkey. Andrei Karlov was shot, by an off-duty police official, Mevlüt Mert Altıntas.
Upon digging into the matter, the authorities found that the police officer’s Facebook and Gmail were deleted. That too, right after the assassination of the Ambassador.
Digital traces revealed the action was done over a private connection, operated by ExpressVPN. Turkish authorities seized the server in question and conducted a thorough inspection.
However, the provider denied having any and reiterated its NO LOGS policy. They even received an official testimonial, which further confirms that the event was true.
The monthly pricing starts at $12.95, which in my opinion is quite costly. However, I don’t think that should be a factor that limits you from spending on the service.
You do have other subscriptions available to get better discounts. For instance, the 6 monthly plan will cost you $9.99/month ($59.95 billed once).
ExpressVPN is even offering a special 12 + 3 months plan at just $6.67/month! The total cost of this plan is $99.95 billed once, allowing you to save a whopping 49%!
Servers and Features
Once you sign up with ExpressVPN, you gain access to 2000+ servers in over 90 countries. Having such an enormous server presence provides you with unblocking capabilities for geo-restricted websites like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.
You even receive 256-bit AES encryption, and dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. ExpressVPN also offers custom VPN routers for maximum security and a dedicated app for Firestick.
The VPN also supports devices like the Android TV box, PlayStation, Smart TVs, and Apple TVs. All plans are backed with a 30-day refund guarantee.
Other features you receive include 24/7 live chat support, ad/tracker blocking, zero-knowledge DNS for unblocking, and an automatic kill switch to protect your identity upon VPN disconnection.
Check this ExpressVPN review out for more detailed analysis!
CyberGhost – Unblock Websites Seamlessly!
Tired of encountering geo-limitations and content restrictions?
The testing/analyzing process for CyberGhost VPN took us a good one and a half days, and this made us realize the provider is a great choice for unblocking websites and VoD services.
Based in Romania, CyberGhost has been a reputable name in the industry for some time now. It uses an interactive interface, which is quite easy to understand and configure.
The monthly pricing starts at $11.99, which is quite expensive. However, as I said before, there shouldn’t be any compromising when it comes to keeping your identity hidden.
For the budget-conscious buyers though, there is a 2-year plan available. It gives you a massive 71% discount and drops the monthly pricing to $3.50, meaning you only pay $84 every 2 years!
If you plan on subscribing to any of the plans from CyberGhost VPN, you will be pleased to hear that the provider accepts a good selection of payment methods.
Payment Methods and Encryption
You can pay through credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. Direct payment methods like PayPal and for maximum anonymity “Bitcoin” are also available.
Once you sign up for the service, you get access to 2850+ VPN servers in 60 countries worldwide. In addition, you’re protected with 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys, and MD5 HMAC authentication.
You have a 30-day refund guarantee available for test driving the service. The apps, in general, will grab your attention. For instance, the desktop client offers users specific modes for using the VPN.
You can choose to surf anonymously, unblock streaming, secure Wi-Fi hotspot, torrent anonymously, and unblock basic websites. Other features you receive include Split Tunneling, NAT Firewall, and multi-logins on five devices!
Read more about the provider in this CyberGhost Review!
PureVPN – Bypass Throttling and Geo-Restrictions
After investing around 48 hours into testing PureVPN, we learned the provider is a great cost-effective option for bypassing throttling and geo-restrictions.
Operated by GZ Systems and based in Hong Kong, PureVPN can unblock any website/service around the world.
The provider is exceptionally budget-friendly, with its monthly pricing starting at just $10.95. Of course, you can leverage amazing discounts with subscriptions of longer durations.
For instance, if you want to receive the best value for your money, consider subscribing to their 1-year plan (70% Off). It is typically dropping the per month costs to $3.33 only!
The total cost for this plan is just $39.96. The best part of all: all plans are backed up by a 31-day refund guarantee, allowing you to test-drive the service and its capabilities.
Acceptable payment methods are quite diverse and include options like PayPal, AliPay, Payment Wall, Bitcoin, and even Gift Cards. Once you start using the service, you get to leverage fast vpn speeds and strong unblocking, Wifi VPN security features.
Connectivity and Protocols
Users gain access to a huge list of 2000+ servers in 140+ countries and 180 locations worldwide, multiple security protocols (PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, OpenVPN & the revolutionary Stealth protocol).
You can even enjoy simultaneous connections on more than five devices at the same time. In addition to this, PureVPN even goes the extra mile in securing user data by offering IPV6 and DNS Leakage protection.
For complete anonymity, you even have 80,000+ static IPs with the choice of purchasing dedicated IP VPN for a $5 additional charge. Security is available through 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys, and MD5 HMAC authentication.
However, things don’t just end here, as the quality VPN even offers plenty of advanced features. These include a NAT Firewall for preventing malicious attempts on your network. Split Tunneling and SOCKS5 proxy for improved performance to download torrents and stream content online. Ad/Tracker blocking features to hide away those irritating adverts when browsing the internet.
Security/No Logs Third Party Audit Progress
A representative from the VPN Company informed that they are already under review. They have gone through negotiations with three different independent audit companies.
We received no exact dates for the audit being available to the public. However, the process can take anywhere from a few weeks to two months. During our conversation the representative also revealed details about releasing “Transparency Reports” for their service.
For more information about the provider, check this PureVPN Review out!
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 using a VPN a safe decision?
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? Comment below.