These VPNs Can Help Improve Your Online Privacy (2024)

Internet speed

VPNs somewhat lower your internet speed because you're routing your traffic through an encrypted server before communicating with apps, websites and other internet services. The fastest VPNs feature an average download speed loss of 20% or less. Generally, even folks with slower connections -- like satellite internet -- won't notice a marginal 20% dip. For bandwidth-intensive applications like gaming, 4K video streaming or uploading large files, you'll want a virtual private network with minimal speed loss. Casual users with faster internet speeds should be fine with more than 20% speed loss, but we look for VPNs that keep speed loss below 50%.


VPNs bolster your privacy by masking your IP address, which, like your physical address, indicates identifying information about your geographical location. At a minimum, we recommend a VPN with 256-bit encryption, a strict no-logging policy and DNS leak protection. Because logging is tough to verify, look for regular third-party audits. (You can and should be skeptical of your VPN provider's zero-log claims.) Additionally, transparency reports offer peace of mind. We also suggest sticking with a VPN that includes a kill switch. More privacy-concerned users like investigative journalists or political activists will appreciate advanced features such as obfuscation (which makes it harder for ISPs to determine that you're using a VPN), Tor over VPN (for additional encryption using the Tor network) and a double VPN (which relies on a second VPN server connection to enhance encryption). Folks with critical privacy needs should consider a VPN provider with jurisdiction outside of the Five, Nine or 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing communities for even stronger peace of mind.

Server network

When considering VPN server networks, look at the overall number of servers as well as the individual country locations. For instance, one virtual private network company may have twice the total number of servers as a competitor but half the different country locations, meaning you've got fewer international choices. At the high end, the most comprehensive VPNs for travel offer 90-plus individual countries, but anywhere over 60 countries will work for many folks.

Outside of country locations, some VPNs allow file sharing across all servers, whereas others feature dedicated P2P (peer-to-peer) options. For purposes like torrenting, check whether your desired provider permits file sharing on all servers or select ones.

Additionally, you'll sometimes find specialty servers, like Tor (The Onion Router) over TPN, Double VPN or obfuscated servers. Onion over VPN and Double VPN servers provide extra privacy by bolstering your encryption even further when compared to a standard VPN connection, with Tor using the Onion network while a double VPN relies on a second VPN tunnel. On the other hand, obfuscated servers make it more difficult for apps, websites or internet service providers (ISPs) to determine that you're using a VPN.

Device support

Think about your devices and what you'd like to run a VPN on. Most VPN companies offer apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS and web browsers. Apple TV apps are increasingly common, with ExpressVPN, NordVPN and IPVanish featuring TVOS applications. A graphical user interface (GUI) application may be easier for Linux users than a command line interface (CLI) option. Surfshark, Proton and PIA boast Linux GUI apps, making them compelling choices for Linux VPNs. You can typically install a VPN on your router for whole-home coverage and use it on devices that don't support native VPN apps, like Xbox consoles, although this will typically void the warranty on the router.

While most VPN companies let you install an app on as many gadgets as you wish, you're sometimes limited to simultaneous devices. ExpressVPN allows eight while NordVPN and Proton give you 10. Surfshark, PIA and IPVanish are unlimited. Even with a provider like Express, Proton or Nord, you can still install a VPN on as many devices as you wish, but you'll only be able to have a handful of active sessions at once. Most folks should be fine even with eight to 10 simultaneous connections, but families or hardcore power users may feel constrained.

Streaming capabilities

While VPNs can be great for privacy, they're also helpful for unblocking region-restricted entertainment content. You can use a VPN to watch streaming services like Max or Hulu from your home country when traveling abroad. On the flip side, VPNs unlock access to foreign Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video libraries.


You can sign up for a monthly, bi-annual, annual or multi-year VPN subscription. Although multi-year deals typically net you the most savings, we usually recommend sticking with an annual plan for the best savings with the lowest risk. The virtual private network you sign up for may initially be fast, private and great for geo-unblocking, but may become slower, suffer a data breach or stop allowing access to foreign Netflix libraries over a year.

On the high end, VPNs such as Express set you back $100 per year, with value-packed providers like Surfshark and PIA offering year-long prices from $40 to $60. Some companies include price hikes: NordVPN normally charges $60 annually for your first year, then your plan renews at $100 per 12 months. Similarly, Surfshark goes for $48 a year upfront, then renews at $60 annually. Make a budget, then find a VPN provider that fits the bill while being mindful of price hikes. Notably, you often can renew while avoiding raised renewal rates by taking advantage of seasonal discounts like Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals.

These VPNs Can Help Improve Your Online Privacy (2024)


How does a VPN improve privacy? ›

A VPN works by establishing encrypted connections between devices. (VPNs often use the IPsec or SSL/TLS encryption protocols.) All devices that connect to the VPN set up encryption keys, and these keys are used to encode and decode all information sent between them.

How can a VPN protect you when you're online your answer? ›

A VPN connection establishes a secure connection between you and the internet. Via the VPN, all your data traffic is routed through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This disguises your IP address when you use the internet, making its location invisible to everyone. A VPN connection is also secure against external attacks.

Is VPN enough for privacy? ›

While a VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic, it does not hide the type of device you are using. Websites can still gather device-specific information (including operating system, screen resolution and browser type) through methods like browser fingerprinting.

What is VPN online privacy? ›

VPN stands for virtual private network—it's technology that encrypts your data when you use the internet, scrambling it so that strangers on the same network can't read it.

What is the benefit of a VPN? ›

A VPN hides your IP address, routing your connection through one of its many servers. Doing so ensures that your online adventures remain (pretty much) untraceable. Plus, as an extra bonus, the most secure VPNs offer strict no-logs policies that prevent your sensitive data from being stored by your provider.

What is the safest VPN? ›

Surfshark is our top pick for overall digital security. It's a feature-rich VPN by itself, but it stands out taller as part of a Surfshark One bundle. Surfshark One is a toolset that includes Surfshark's other digital security products.

What does a VPN not hide? ›

It won't hide you from viruses.

While some VPNs like Surfshark offer features (CleanWeb) that can save you from malware or phishing on some infected sites, a VPN won't save you from accessing every virus-ridden website on the internet or downloading a malicious app. Always be aware when surfing the web!

Can VPN be tracked by police? ›

Whether police can track VPN traffic is a common concern among users seeking online privacy. The truth is: the police can't monitor encrypted VPN traffic. However, they can ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to provide connection or usage logs through a court order, which can lead them to your VPN provider.

Who can see my browsing history with VPN? ›

A VPN hides your search history from your ISP, governmental entities, and cybercriminals. Once it encrypts your internet traffic, your online data going through the VPN server turns into indecipherable codes. It's practically impossible for anyone to crack the code and figure out what you're doing online.

Is it risky to use VPN? ›

A VPN may boast strong protocols and military-grade encryption, but that doesn't mean it's infallible. It can't prevent cookie tracking, viruses, or malware, and it can't protect against phishing scams. Data leaks could occur. But most pivotally, a VPN is only as secure as the company that runs it.

Are free VPNs safe? ›

When it comes to exposure to malware, using a free VPN is also riskier than having no VPN at all. That's because some free VPNs may contain malware or adware, infecting your device and compromising your security. Of course, it's important to note that not all free VPN providers sell your data or expose you to malware.

Do you really need VPN? ›

Do I need a VPN? Yes, you need a VPN to protect your online activity, hide your IP addresses, and keep your data safe. A VPN should be the cornerstone of your online privacy and security at home, work, or public places.

Does a VPN cost money? ›

On average, VPNs cost around $10 per month. However, they are cheaper if you sign up for a longer term contract; on average, annual contracts cost $8.41 when broken down monthly, while two-year contracts cost $3.40 on average monthly. Is a VPN worth the money? Not all VPNs are worth the money.

How much privacy does a VPN give you? ›

The VPN software encrypts your online connections. That makes it impossible for anyone to see what you do. The ISP can tell you're using a different IP address from the one it assigned you and figure out you're using a VPN. It can't monitor what you're up to online, though.

Does a VPN hide the websites you visit? ›

Though using a VPN hides your search history from your ISP and third parties, it doesn't hide it from the websites you visit. Search engines like Google or Bing can still see, track, and log your search queries if you're logged in — even if you're using a VPN.

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