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 my top VPN recommendations.
I found these to be the best VPNs for privacy:
- NordVPN: My top pick VPN for privacy. An excellent option for privacy-conscious users, NordVPN is low-cost but offers all you need in a reliable, private VPN. Plus it comes with a 30-day, risk-free money-back guarantee.
- Surfshark: A great budget choice. Surfshark is making waves with its unblocking abilities and suite of additional security features.
- ExpressVPN: Offers the whole package with excellent privacy features to back great performance.
- CyberGhost: This no-logs, user-friendly service is great for streaming and downloading.
- PrivateVPN: This provider goes the extra mile to protect your privacy, with some great security features.
- IPVanish: This is an excellent choice for streamers. The provider also stores no logs and is secure.
- Private Internet Access (PIA): A privacy-focused provider that provides access to several streaming services.
- Atlas VPN: This is a secure platform. It’s smaller than some of its competitors but still has fast servers.
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
If you’d like to know about the criteria I used when creating my list of VPNs in greater detail, you can find out more in the methodology testing section later in this article.
Best VPNs for privacy
Having used the above criteria to narrow down my VPN search, here’s my final list of the best VPNs for privacy:
NordVPN is my top choice for a privacy VPN. It’s based in Panama where there are no data retention laws and has been independently audited to prove that it keeps no logs whatsoever. NordVPN 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. When enabled, this will kill the internet connection in case you lose your VPN connection. You also get 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. There’s even a custom protocol (named NordLynx) that’s based on WireGuard in case you’d like faster speeds than OpenVPN can provide.
With more than 5,500 servers in approximately 59 countries, you have no shortage of choice for a secure and private connection. NordVPN has excellent 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
- Extremely fast speeds
- Large global server network
- Works in China
- Suffered a data breach in 2019
BEST PRIVATE VPN:NordVPN is my top pick for a private VPN. It offers a ton of security and privacy features and includes a 30-day money-back guarantee for a risk-free deal.
Surfshark is my top budget choice. It’s newer than others on this list but has made its mark as a highly-secure and high-performing VPN. It’s based in the British Virgin Islands and maintains no logs whatsoever. 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.
Surfshark operates a growing network of more than 3,200 servers in roughly 90 countries. Notably, users seem to have luck using the service in China. Surfshark is great for secure streaming; 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, Linux, and macOS. Meanwhile, 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
- No logs at all
- Unlimited number of simultaneous connections
- Support isn’t always as good as some rivals
BEST BUDGET CHOICE:Surfshark is a fast, reliable VPN. It has a broad selection of security and privacy options and is great for accessing your favorite sites. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
ExpressVPN is also 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. 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 also has a custom protocol named Lightway that has seen the service’s speeds increase dramatically. There’s 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.
ExpressVPN is ideal for streaming and downloading large files. It’s also great at unblocking geo-restricted sites like Disney+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. You can even use it to browse the internet without restriction in China.
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
- Fast speeds
- Works in China
- A little more expensive than some rivals
SOLID PRIVACY VPN:ExpressVPN is another great option for a private VPN. It provides a secure connection, ideal for streaming, browsing, or downloading. 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 (though WireGuard support is included too). 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 works with plenty of streaming sites, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu.
Apps are available for macOS, Linux, Windows, iOS, and Android, and the VPN can be configured with 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
- Doesn’t work in China
PRIVATE STREAMING:CyberGhost’s beginner-friendly apps and excellent streaming 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.
PrivateVPN is a smaller VPN provider that has just over 200 servers. Its network is spread across more than 60 countries despite its small server count. This means that if you are a streamer, you will have access to streaming services from many different countries. It is also a strong performer when it comes to security.
PrivateVPN’s security features include 256-bit AES encryption, protection against IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leaks, and it also stores no logs. This provider also gives users the option of paying with cryptocurrency. This is an excellent option for further protecting one’s privacy. With cryptocurrency payments, your name isn’t shared like it is with a regular credit card payment.
There are IPVanish apps available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Linux devices and routers can be manually configured to work with this service. While this is an overall strong VPN provider, you should note that its customer service team is only available during regular business hours. The quality of customer service offered is high but the lack of around-the-clock customer support could be inconvenient for some users.
- This service is effective at unblocking major streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video and HBO Now
- Fast connection speeds are on offer
- No logs are stored
- PrivateVPN works in China
- Smaller server network
- Customer support team is not available 24/7
STRONG SECURITY AND PRIVACY MEASURES:PrivateVPN has strong security and privacy measures in place, such as strong encryption and support for cryptocurrency payments. This ensures that your connection is kept as private as possible.
IPVanish is a strong contender due to its sturdy and effective security measures in place. It is also a great option for streaming. For this reason, it has been trusted by Kodi streamers for several years as their VPN of choice. This provider has just under 2,000 servers in roughly 75 locations worldwide. It also provides fast connection speeds.
The security measures in place include 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and protection against IPv6 leaks. There is also a traffic scrambling option in place that disguises your VPN traffic. This is necessary in some cases where VPNs may be blocked. This VPN provider stores no logs.
There are apps available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire Stick, and Amazon Fire TV. It can also be manually set up on some routers and on Linux. It supports an unlimited number of simultaneous connections too and live chat support is available 24/7.
- Fast connection speeds
- Unlimited number of connections supported
- This provider stores no logs
- Great option for Kodi users, streamers, and torrenters
- Some servers don’t work with Netflix
- Apps don’t work in China
GREAT OPTION FOR STREAMING:IPVanish offers the connection speeds necessary for streaming using services such as Kodi. It also has strong security measures in place. IPVanish comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Private Internet Access (PIA) has a network of over 3,300 servers in over 80 countries. This is a privacy-focused provider that doesn’t skimp on other features such as fast servers for streaming. It is also a very lightweight and nimble solution that doesn’t require too many system resources.
The security measures offered by PIA include AES 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and split tunneling functionality. A dedicated IP address option is also offered if this is desired.
This provider supports 10 simultaneous connections and apps are available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
- Strong security is in place
- No logs are stored
- WireGuard VPN protocol is supported
- Doesn’t work reliably in China
- Has trouble with some streaming platforms
LIGHTWEIGHT OPTION:PIA is a privacy-focused option that doesn’t use a lot of system resources. It offers strong security such as 256-bit AES encryption and a kill switch to keep you protected while online. This service offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Atlas VPN has just over 750 servers in approximately 43 locations. Its server network is fast and can accommodate the streaming of services like Netflix without any lag or buffering. It is a smaller provider but its quality is high and it’s also a very secure platform.
The security features offered by Atlas VPN include 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and protection against DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leaks. No logs are stored by this service and it also has what is known as MultiHop servers, which encrypt your data twice for added protection.
Atlas VPN has apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It supports an unlimited number of connections too, which makes it a great option for families or users who have a lot of different devices.
- Can unblock many different streaming services
- Offers fast connection speeds
- MultiHop servers encrypt data twice
- No identifying logs are stored
- Doesn’t work in China
- Customer service could be better
STRONG SECURITY MEASURES:Atlas VPN may have a smaller number of servers, but it’s fast enough to work with major providers like Amazon Prime Video. It is also secure and offers MultiHop servers for added protection. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Testing methodology: finding the best VPNs for privacy
There are a wide variety of VPN solutions available on the market. However, not all of them perform equally. For this reason, I examined many different options to ensure that I found the best providers for privacy and anonymity. Here are some of the factors that I considered when I went about testing to find the best VPNs for privacy and anonymity:
- Servers: Without a reliable network of servers, it’s difficult to maintain reliable connections. Unreliable connections translate to dropped VPN connections and the possibility of your identity being leaked unless your VPN client is equipped with a kill switch.
- Strong security and privacy measures: The VPNs that I selected have strong security and privacy measures in place. Measures such as 256-bit AES encryption ensure that users are protected while online. In addition, supporting cryptocurrency payments ensures that users are able to keep their names private while making payments.
- Speed: While security and privacy are very important, being inconvenienced by a slow internet connection due to being connected to a VPN is unacceptable. VPNs should have the ability to provide users to carry on with their regular internet activities, such as streaming without taking a big hit in the levels of speed provided.
- Ability to unblock services: In many cases, a need for elevated privacy is accompanied by a need for a VPN that can reliably unblock services that are accessible in other locations. For example, restrictive countries such as Saudi Arabia don’t afford citizens the same level of internet freedom as other countries do. This means that many websites that facilitate political expression are banned. To access these websites, a quality VPN is needed.
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 as 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.com. I always run thorough leak tests on VPNs before recommending them.
A kill switch adds another layer of privacy 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.
Best VPNs for privacy FAQs
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. If you're on a tight budget, then why not have a look at my cheap VPN recommendations.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
Yes, it is legal to use a VPN in most countries. While exact laws around Virtual Private Networks vary from place to place, most nations have not outlawed the technology entirely.
In general, using a VPN is legal so long as you’re not using it to commit an illegal act such as viewing or downloading copyrighted material or violating local laws by accessing censored websites or other content. Furthermore, many employers and universities also allow their employees and students to use VPNs for increased connectivity and security when away from the workplace or university network.
The question of legality does become more complicated if you travel internationally with your VPN enabled. Depending on the local regulatory environment where you are traveling, certain types of data may be restricted within that country’s borders.
How do I know if my VPN is trustworthy?
The first step to determining if your VPN is trustworthy is to research the company behind it and make sure they have a good reputation. We have done the hard part for you, and our list of VPN providers will not let you down. All the VPN providers we recommend perform well in real-life scenarios, we have tested them.
Secondly, consider what kind of security protocols that the VPN uses for encryption, authentication and data protection. Make sure that it uses up-to-date industry standards such as OpenVPN or IPSec/IKEv2 for maximum security reliability.
Thirdly, investigate any additional features offered by the VPN to further protect your online activities from snooping or tracking (e.g., zero-logging policies, kill switches etc.).
Fourthly, look into whether they offer DNS leak protection so websites you visit won’t be able to identify your actual IP address even when using a public WiFi connection like at a hotel or cafe.
Lastly, ensure their payment methods are secure—preferably with Bitcoin support—so hackers can’t get access to any personal information associated with payment details.
- Best VPNs for privacy
- 1. NordVPN
- 2. Surfshark
- 3. ExpressVPN
- 4. CyberGhost
- 5. PrivateVPN
- 6. IPVanish
- 7. Private Internet Access
- 8. Atlas VPN
- Testing methodology: finding the best VPNs for privacy
- Important VPN privacy features explained
- Best VPNs for privacy FAQs
- Do free VPNs offer privacy?
- Is it legal to use a VPN?
- How do I know if my VPN is trustworthy?