Not all VPNs are comparable when it comes to keeping your information secure and private. I reveal my list of the best VPNs for privacy.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your traffic and tunnels it through a secondary server. One of the main reasons to use a VPN is to keep your information secure and private. But not all VPNs are up to the task.
Many lack protection against the leak of personally identifiable information. Some even log and store information that can be used to identify you, which it may hand over to third parties such as advertisers or government agencies.
I’ve examined the most reputable VPNs to see how they perform from a privacy and security standpoint. If you don’t have time to read the full list, here’s a quick look at the best VPNs for privacy:
Best VPNs for privacy
- ExpressVPN: My top pick for a private VPN. ExpressVPN offers the whole package with excellent privacy features to back best-in-class performance. Plus it comes with a 30-day, risk-free money-back guarantee.
- NordVPN: A great budget choice for privacy-conscious users. NordVPN is low-cost but offers all you need in a reliable, private VPN.
- CyberGhost: This no-logs, user-friendly service is great for streaming and downloading.
- Surfshark: A newcomer making waves with its unblocking abilities and suite of additional security features.
- SaferVPN: An easy-to-use VPN with a focus on privacy and security.
While most VPNs claim to offer privacy, it’s delivered at varying levels. VPNs perform differently in other areas as well, such as speed, server network, and customer support. My picks for the best VPNs for privacy are based on the following criteria:
- A strict no-logging policy
- Strong encryption
- Leak protection and a kill switch
- Fast speeds
- Ability to bypass geo-restrictions
- Solid customer support
Best VPNs for privacy
Here’s my list for the best VPNs for privacy:
ExpressVPN is my top pick for maintaining privacy. It’s based in the British Virgin Islands and has a strict policy of not logging any information that can identify individual users. This provider uses 256-bit AES encryption over the OpenVPN protocol by default, alongside HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy.
Desktop apps come with a “network lock,” which is ExpressVPN terminology for a kill switch. When enabled, this will kill the internet connection in case you lose your VPN connection for some reason. This ensures that you’re never browsing unprotected so your information can’t be leaked outside of the encrypted tunnel. The privacy of your data is further secured by built-in protection against DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks.
ExpressVPN uses its own DNS servers, which means your requests can’t be viewed by third parties. It has an onion site for access through the Tor browser and users can pay with bitcoin for extra anonymity. The company allows torrenting on all servers. Some metadata logs are maintained, including a date stamp and server location, but nothing that can tie activity to a user.
To ensure no data is accidentally stored, ExpressVPN employs its “TrustedServer” mechanism. This feature means that servers run on RAM instead of writing to the hard drive, so all data is completely wiped with every reboot.
Just because you want privacy doesn’t mean you’re willing to sacrifice on speed. Thankfully, ExpressVPN offers blazing fast speeds, ideal for streaming and downloading large files. It’s also great at unblocking geo-restricted sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. You can even use it in China to access the free web.
Desktop apps are available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS, along with mobile apps for iOS and Android. Want to protect every internet-connected device in your home? ExpressVPN is compatible with some routers and even has its own easy-to-use custom firmware. Customer support is available 24/7 via live chat.
- Doesn’t log user-identifying data
- Strong encryption and leak protection
- Extremely fast speeds
- Allows torrenting
- Works in China
- A little more expensive than some rivals
BEST VPN FOR PRIVACY: ExpressVPN is my top pick for a private VPN. It provides a secure, private connection, ideal for streaming, browsing, or downloading. Includes a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
NordVPN, based in Panama, is a close second to ExpressVPN in terms of privacy and security. This budget provider has been independently audited to prove that it keeps no logs whatsoever. It boasts a suite of security features including 256-bit AES encryption over the OpenVPN protocol, SHA384 authentication, and perfect forward secrecy. There’s a kill switch in all apps except the Android version and protection against DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks.
The above are considered standard features for top-rated VPN providers, but NordVPN has even more to offer. For example, you can choose servers for special applications. There’s double VPN (where your traffic flows through two VPN servers) and obfuscated servers (for evading restrictions on VPN traffic, for example, in China). Another security feature is automatic wifi protection to ensure you’re always protected when connecting to unsecured wifi networks while on the go.
With more than 5,600 servers in 60 countries, you have no shortage of choice for a secure and private connection. NordVPN has decent speeds for streaming and can unblock most popular streaming sites, including Netflix UK and US (and other libraries), Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu. P2P is allowed on select servers and the service works fairly reliably in China.
NordVPN apps are available for Windows, Linux, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The VPN can be configured to select home routers. Live-chat support is available at any time of day.
- Maintains no logs at all
- Lots of extra security features
- Some servers optimized for P2P
- Large global server network
- Works in China
- Some servers can be slow
BUDGET PRIVATE VPN: NordVPN is my top budget pick for a private VPN. It offers a ton of security and privacy features and includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
CyberGhost, based in Romania, is another provider with a strong focus on privacy. It keeps no traffic or connection logs and secures your data with 256-bit AES encryption over the OpenVPN protocol. This is in conjunction with SHA256 authentication and perfect forward secrecy. A kill switch is available on all platforms and there’s built-in protection against DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks. You can also set up automatic wifi protection on familiar networks.
This provider gives you the option to pay with bitcoin for an added layer of anonymity. CyberGhost allows torrenting but encourages users to select its P2P-optimized servers, which are clearly labeled in the apps. The company produces regular transparency reports which reveal statistics on legal requests such as DMCA complaints and malicious activity flags, among other data.
Aside from keeping your information secure, CyberGhost offers an excellent user experience. Apps are intuitive and designed to help you easily locate the best server for your application, be it torrenting, browsing, or streaming from a specific platform. The service unblocks plenty of streaming sites, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu.
Apps are available for MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android, and the VPN can be configured with Linux and some routers. CyberGhost has a generous connection limit of up to seven devices at a time. It provides support via live chat 24/7.
- Privacy-focused VPN
- Boasts fast speeds
- Allows torrenting on P2P-optimized servers
- Easy to use
- Lacks some advanced configuration features
PRIVATE STREAMING: CyberGhost’s beginner-friendly apps and excellent unblocking abilities make it a great choice for those looking for a secure, private connection for streaming and other activities. Includes a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Surfshark is a relative newcomer to the VPN scene but it seems set on making its mark as a highly-secure and high-performing VPN. Like ExpressVPN, it’s based in the british Virgin Islands. This provider keeps your information safe with 256-bit AES encryption, SHA512 authentication, perfect forward secrecy, a kill switch on all apps, and protection against DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks.
Additional features include a split tunneling option called Whitelister and an adblocker dubbed CleanWeb.
While its server network doesn’t compare to those of the VPNs listed above, it’s not too shabby with more than 800 servers in over 50 countries. Notably, users seem to have luck using the service in China. Surfshark is great at unblocking streaming platforms and I’ve used it to access multiple Netflix libraries (including US and UK), Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer.
Desktop apps can be downloaded for Windows and MacOS, and mobile apps are available for Android and iOS. You can connect an unlimited number of devices under one plan. If you run into issues, live-chat customer support is always available.
- Offers a ton of security features
- Works in China
- Unlimited number of simultaneous connections
- Has fewer servers than many rivals
- Some servers can be slow
STRONG NEWCOMER: Surfshark may be new but you wouldn’t know it. It has a broad selection of security and privacy options and is great for unblocking restricted sites. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
SaferVPN is based in Israel and provides a secure, stable connection. It uses the OpenVPN protocol and 256-bit encryption by default, alongside perfect forward secrecy and SHA256 authentication. DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection are built in and all apps include a kill switch.
SaferVPN advertises its automatic wifi protection feature which is available on all apps and automatically connects you to the VPN whenever you connect to an unsecured wifi network. Bitcoin is accepted as a form of payment.
SaferVPN is a strong choice for streaming and can unblock numerous streaming sites, including Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. It has over 700 servers in 34 countries and pegs some very fast speeds.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android and there’s support for Linux and select routers. Each plan allows for up to five simultaneous connections. Customer representatives are available 24/7 via live chat.
- Utilizes military-grade encryption
- Kill switch in all apps
- Automatic wifi protection
- Maintains some metadata logs, including timestamps
- Doesn’t work in China
SECURE YOUR DATA: SaferVPN offers strong security and fast speeds, and can bypass geo-restriction measures on lots of sites. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Do free VPNs offer privacy?
In a word, no. In fact, many free VPNs offer the exact opposite and base their revenue model on collecting user data. Some keep track of which sites you visit, storing the data in the form of a user profile that can be sold to third parties, often advertisers. Others use their knowledge of your online activity to target you with their own ads.
What’s more, many free VPNs don’t offer you a secure connection, using weak encryption, or none at all. This exposes you to tracking by your internet service provider, network administrators, and government agencies, and can leave you vulnerable to hacking attempts.
As if the privacy and security flaws aren’t enough, unfortunately, there are more downsides to free VPNs, relating to the overall user experience. Most have a small number of servers (in even fewer locations) with lots of users trying to connect. This leads to wait times and slow, unreliable connections.
As you can see, no matter what you need a VPN for, it’s worth paying a few dollars per month for it.
Important VPN privacy features explained
In the mini-reviews above, I’ve highlighted the main privacy features to be concerned with when choosing a VPN, some of which you may not be entirely familiar with. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important things to look for in a private VPN.
One of the most crucial components of a private VPN is a true no-logs policy. In reality, most providers (even the really good ones) collect some form of logs. However, what these logs include is what’s important.
First and foremost, we definitely don’t want to see a VPN keeping traffic logs. These refer to logs of actual user activity such what websites they visit and files they download. Many VPNs that claim “zero-logs,” “log-free,” or “logless” are only referring to traffic logs.
Then we have connection logs, which pertain to records of metadata associated with user connections to the VPN. The connection logs you should be concerned about are those that could potentially be used to trace activity back to a user. For example, an IP address could be used to identify an individual user. Timestamps have also been used in the past, in conjunction with other information, to tie activity to a user.
On the other hand, some metadata logs are considered harmless. For example, total bandwidth used or date of connection is generally considered to be fine.
I mentioned user IP addresses above and indeed, this is something you definitely want to protect if you’re looking for privacy.
Although VPNs employ strong security features, there is a chance your IP address and other information can leak outside of the encrypted tunnel. The best VPNs actively protect against these leaks so that your personal information is never exposed.
Bear in mind that some VPNs will claim to protect against these leaks but they still leak your data. To test if your VPN is leaking your IP address, you can use a tool such as those available on browserleaks.net. I always run thorough leak tests on VPNs before recommending them.
A kill switch adds another layer of protection to help ensure your personal information isn’t inadvertently exposed. While VPN connections are generally reliable, especially those of the providers in the list above, it would be unreasonable to expect 100% uptime.
For a number of reasons, the VPN connection could drop unexpectedly at any time. If it does, and you remain connected to the internet, your online activity will be exposed.
Enter a kill switch. When this is enabled, if your VPN connection drops for whatever reason, your internet connection will be stopped too. This means you never have to browse unprotected.