The Best VPN for Online Privacy

Introduction

Online privacy is a hot topic these days, and we’re not surprised either. Considering that tech giants like Facebook, Google, and others are ubiquitously mining data from the billions of internet users, it’s no wonder that many web users are looking for a way to shelter their activity from the invasive eyes of big tech’s online “surveillance economy”.

VPNs allow you to encrypt your online traffic, not allowing your ISP or others to see what you’re doing online. All they can see is the connection between you and the other VPN computer, which just looks like encrypted mumbo-jumbo. Beyond encryption and privacy, VPNs offer a convenient way to access gated content that might otherwise be geo-restricted.

For example, maybe you want to watch something that’s only available to IP address in the USA, no problem, just use your VPN.

Moreover, many people are working remotely these days putting increased pressure on security and privacy for those remote workers who handle sensitive data.

Although VPNs can be useful tools, they aren’t all equal in terms of quality and security. We’ll have a more detailed section on the common pitfalls with VPNs and what their limitations are.

Top 3 VPNs

There are loads of things to consider when choosing a VPN service such as: speed, server locations, price, security, whether or not the company logs user activity, and much more. For now we’ve picked the best VPNs based on price, features, and security. Overall, we look at VPNs that are secure, fast, and put the privacy of it’s users first.

Express VPN

With 3,000+ servers in over 90 countries and a choice of 160 VPN locations, it’s easy to see why Express VPN is a top candidate. Besides the plethora of servers and connection options, ExpressVPN is notoriously fast as well.

Beyond the speed, Express VPN is extremely focused on user privacy. They keep no logs of users and are one of the first VPNs to use what’s called “TrustedServer”. What’s that you say? It’s a server that does not use a traditional hard drive, but rather only uses RAM, meaning no data is actually being stored, and is wiped after the server restarts.

A partial list of the avalible serves on the Express VPN interface

Speed

Express VPN is considered one of the fastest VPN services available, and although using any type of VPN service will reduce your internet speeds, from our experience using Express VPN the speeds are so good that you really won’t notice a difference whether it’s on or off.

During 2019 ExpressVPN held the title of fastest VPN only slowing connections by a few percentage points. At the the time of writing this article (December 2020), that’s no longer the case, as according to the data, other VPNS are slightly faster.

Nevertheless, we put this down to a rise in popularity with ExpressVPN which in-turn has increased the number of users on it’s servers. We believe that it won’t take long for them to expand their infrastructure to handle the influx of new users and regain their title of fastest VPN.

Security

Express VPN is top notch when it comes to security, using a AES-256 bit type encryption and their own custom build protocol. As of 2020 they’ve released a new custom protocol called “LightWay”; which makes their VPN faster, more reliable, and more secure.

They also give you the option to use standard VPN protocols such as SSTP, PPTP, OpenVPN, and many other common protocols.

Moreover, ExpressVPN is one of the few VPN services that has actually been audited by a third party.

The audit was conducted by PrincewaterhouseCoopers(PWC), a leading cyber-secutiy firm. The firm thoroughly checked their servers, back-end code, and other important aspects of the VPN service. The auditing company has confirmed that Express VPNs claims about it’s service are true (no log policy, and keeping of customer information, security protocols, etc).

Privacy

Express VPN is open, transparent, and serious about putting their users privacy first. They claim to keep no activity or connection logs, which is verified by independent testers, users, and auditors.

Beyond the no log keeping policy they have built their entire application and VPN service around user privacy. Their application is set up to never collect or store sensitive information such as:

  • IP addresses (source or VPN)
  • Browsing history
  • Traffic destination or metadata
  • DNS queries

Express VPN is also a key player in the fight for digital rights. Part of their ethos is that privacy, especially online privacy is a human right and they support several non-profit organizations such as Access Now, The Internet Defense League, OpenMedia, and many others.

The App

The app is really well designed, and easy to use. It automatically blocks internet traffic when you disconnect from the VPN server, or if your internet drops out, making sure your connection is always secure.

App Notification

you can install or configure ExpressVPN on as many devices as you like (i.e., computers, mobile devices, streaming media consoles, and wireless routers). But you’ll only be able to connect up to 5 devices simultaneously.

Desktop App

Opinion

Although the price of Express VPN is a bit on the higher side when compared with some of the competition, we believe the higher prices are justified by the fact that Express VPN is a top notch product offering great features and therefore delivering awesome value. The speed, emphasis on privacy, and wide range of server locations are just a few of the reasons why the price is justified.

Beyond that Express VPN offers a 30 day money back guarantee , amazing 24/7 customer support, and is overall well rated on TrustPilot with reports of customers and user being very satisfied.


Nord VPN

Boasting a massive network of 5466 severs in 59 countries, Nord VPN is the main alternative to ExpressVPN and is overall a great product. The essence of the product is the same; offering a way to change your IP, encrypt your internet traffic, and increase your online security and privacy.

Although the product is similar, NordVPN has a few unique selling points. You can connect up to 6 devices, they offer a dedicated IP, double VPN/IP options, connect to the TOR network through the VPN application, and a saftey feature which blocks access to know malicious websites.

Speed

The speed is excellent on NordVPN. As with all VPNs you will have some reduction in speed, but most users won’t really won’t notice this. If you don’t care about the specific server location. NordVPN offers a “Quick Connect” feature, which will connect you to the closest and highest resource server, ensuring the best possible connection speed.

Security

Boasting the AES-256 bit encryption keys, NordVPN offers extremely strong encryption on their VPN platform. Furthermore, NordVPN has been independently audited by PWC, further bolstering it’s claims about privacy and security.

Privacy

Nord VPN does not collect any personal or any type of information which would be able to identify you or your computer. Even better, their no log policy has been verified by a third party auditor.

Moreover, back in 2018 one of NordVPNs data centers(servers) was breached. This may sound bad, but the company took a lot of proactive measures to learn from the incident and further beef up their security with bug bounty programs and investing in more secure server infrastructure.

Furthermore, the data breach contained no user identifying information, which proves their claim that no logs or user sensitive information is kept on their servers.

Price

As of Jan 2021

One great thing about NordVPN is they offer a 2 year plan, which can save you a bit of money. If you go for the 2 year plan you’ll only be paying about $89 dollars, which in our view is great value for money.

NordVPN also offers a password manager and a secure place to store files. We do like the option for secure storage, but 10GB for nearly $5/month seems way to expensive for us to even consider it. Nevertheless if you want it they have it on offer.

The App

The app is simple, intuitive, and easy to use. Moreover, tech geeks need not be put off as there are a host of great advanced features, settings, and configurations right at your finger tips. You can essentially run NordVPN on nearly every platform/software imaginable:

  • Windows
  • Mac OS
  • iPhone/iPad/Apple products
  • Android
  • Android TV
  • Linux
  • Chrome
  • Firefox

Kill Switch”

If for any reason your connection to the VPN drops the NordVPN will automatically block your network traffic until it can re-establish a safe connection to the VPN server. This helps protect you in many ways; preventing data leaks, revealing your IP address, and much more.

Screen Shots

A look at the desktop App

Opinion

Overall NordVPN checks all the boxes when it comes to what you want in a VPN. It’s fast (although not as fast as ExpressVPN), secure, and privacy oriented. If you’re looking for more privacy options, NordVPN might be your best candidate as they offer extra features like being able to run your connection through 2 VPNs for enhanced anonymity, encryption, and overall protection. They have a no-log policy, so no personal information or data about your traffic is stored anywhere on their servers. If you’re main focus isn’t the best speed, but rather privacy oriented features then NordVPN is a top choice.

Company LocationIndependent AuditNumber of ConnectionsNumber of Servers
British Virgin IslandsYes65466+

Proton VPN

ProtonVPN

You might recognize the name from the similar sounding ProtonMail, which is a great free and secure e-mail service. In fact, we use Proton mail here at GuruShop for many of our personal e-mail accounts. ProtonVPN is the sister VPN service provided by the Swiss company “Proton Technologies AG”. Overall, ProtonVPN is an excellent VPN option with over 1076 servers in 54 different countries with a strong commitment on user privacy, it’s hard to go wrong with Proton VPN.

Speed

The speed is excellent on Proton VPN, with less than 10% speed loss shown during testing. This places ProtonVPN just slightly behind ExpressVPN in the speed department. Although, they may not have the largest fleet of servers, the speed still is blazing fast.

Price

ProtonVPN is fairly expensive compared with the likes of SurfShark, and is similar price to ExpressVPN. Although it may be expensive the price is somewhat justified by the high quality application, transparency, third party audit, and overall emphasis on delivering an awesome customer-centric product.

Two Year Subscription Plans and Prices

These prices are for a 2 year subscription
1 Year Sub PlanPriceYearly Total
Basic$4/mo$48/year
Plus$8/mo$96/year
Visionary$25/mo$300/year

The free VPN in our opinion is the BEST free VPN option you’ll find, hands down, and is a great option if you’re looking to just encrypt your internet traffic without having to pay anything.

In our opinion the only plan worth considering is the PLUS plan or greater, so starting at $6.63/mo for a 2 year contract is actually a pretty good deal in our opinion, as ExpresVPN only offers a 1 year contract which costs about $99/year. Nevertheless, if you compare yearly plans- the yearly fee of $8/mo from ProtonVPN is on par with Express VPN. We’d be much more enticed by ProtonVPN if the deal was just slightly sweeter. In the end, you can sweeten the deal if you do opt for the 2 year contract- you’ll save some money and be getting a great product.

Security

ProtonVPN employs the industry standard AES-256 bit type encryption, ensuring that the data transmitted is virtually impossible to be decrypted. They also employ the safest protocols IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN. These are the strongest and most secure protocols currently in use.

Furthermore, the company is extremely transparent. All of it’s applications are completely open source and routinely audited by third parties.

Privacy

ProtonVPN has a strict no-log policy, which has been verified by their regular audits. They use a technique called “security core” which routes your network traffic through several special servers before it reaches it’s destination. This helps ensure that discovering your true IP is virtually impossible. These special servers are stored hundred of meters down in the earth in old military fallout shelters, cool!

Moreover, ProtonVPN is located in Switzerland which has very strict and consumer oriented privacy laws. Beyond the location of the company ProtonVPN uses a few techniques such as “Forward Secrecy” which helps ensure captured encrypted data can never be deciphered. Essentially, each session you create with the VPN it will generate a unique encryption key, ensuring encryption keys can never be re-used to unlock data.

Beyond the location, secure protocols, and cystal clear transparency, ProtonVPN is very serious about their servers. They hand deliver their servers to the intended locations, ensuring no one has tampered with them along the way. Their servers in Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland, and other countries are kept deep in the earth in old military grade bunkers.

The App

We’re really impressed with the VPN application, it’s packed with great features and is readily available for the most common platforms such as Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

The application has great features like a kill switch to ensure you’re always connected to a VPN server. In the event of your connection dropping from the VPN network, the application will block internet access until it can safely re-established a connection with a VPN server.

The application also has a feature to connect to TOR network via the VPN. This allows you to safely and securely access Onion network websites.

The application itself looks amazing. Really modern looking, and straightforward controls which allow you to easily manage your VPN settings. We really like the maps which show you how your internet traffic is being routed.

Connection Settings
Desktop App Connection Preview
Desktop App

Mobile Apps

Opinion

ProtonVPN really delivers great value offering awesome features, a high quality product, and transparency which isn’t always found amongst VPN providers. Their frequent audits, and option to use “Secure Core” servers are really strong selling points. Moreover their top notch speed coupled with a strong focus on privacy and security makes ProtonVPN a top choice for almost any application. They don’t offer 24/7 customer support, but in reality it’s probably not needed anyways. Since the product is so rock solid, you’ll likely never wind up contacting the support anyways. If you’re a proponent of open source software and transparency then ProtonVPN is the one for you.

Honorable Mentions


Surf Shark VPN- Best Budget Option

SurfShark

Surf Shark is an excellent option for people who want to have a fast and secure VPN but are looking for a more budget friendly option. With over 3200 servers in 65 different countries, Surf Shark really delivers when it comes to value. Offering things like unlimited connected devices, kill switch, and strong AES-256 bit encryption. Many users may like the fact that it’s simple and easy to use, without confusing configuration options found on many other VPNs apps.

Speed

Technically speaking, at the time of writing this article (December 2020), SurfShark has the title of fastest VPN. In the past(2019) Express VPN held the title of fastest VPN only slowing the connection by a mere 2%, but as of more recently that isn’t the case. By the numbers SurfShark is slightly faster than ExpressVPN, but this is likely because express VPN is more popular and has a larger user base, and has yet to expand it’s servers to cope with it’s rising popularity. Nevertheless, for the moment Surf Shark holds the heavy weight speed title.

Security

SurfShark employees a top notch AES-256 bit type encryption, meaning it’s basically impossible to break the encryption keys. They also employ top notch protocols such as IKEv2, OpenVPN, and Shadowsocks. Overall, they do very well in the security department

Prices

If you opt for the two-year plan you’ll about $59 dollars, which is hard to beat. Although the price is great we think opting for Express, Nord, or Proton VPN are better value for money because of their higher quality product.

Privacy

Surf Shark has a strict no-logs policy. Meaning they don’t keep records of

  • Browsing history
  • IP addresses
  • Session information
  • Connection Timestamp

This is essentially a must for any VPN user. Furthermore, they have RAM only based servers, which means no data is ever written to a hard-drive. After the servers are reset any information will be wiped clean. They also employ ad & tracker blocking, plus obfuscation. Whats obfuscation? It’s a protocol that hides the fact that you’re using a VPN, even your ISP won’t be able to tell you’re on a VPN

NOTE about their Audit with Cure53

First of all, their main VPN application has not been audited, only their Chrome and Firefox browser extension have been put to the test, if you could even call it that.

SurfShark claims that their browser extensions have been audited by Cure53, a German cybersecurity firm. Cure53 is a highly respected cybersecurity firm and overall has an outstanding reputation. SurfShark claimed that the audit found no security issues. So what’s the catch?

Well, the audit wasn’t really an a true audit. It was more of a “superficial” audit (a publicity stunt), rather than anything with serious sustenance. According to a cybersecurity consultant:

Surfshark did not allow the auditors infrastructure or backend access, so although the browser extensions are believed to be ‘safe’, this accreditation only extends to the code that runs locally on your machine. It doesn’t, and this is extremely important, validate the security and encryption of your connection, the best practices used by Surfshark or how secure their infrastructure is.

What does that mean? It means that there is no way to verify the security or validity of the SurfShark VPN. There is essentially no way to know how secure SurfShark actually is because the audit didn’t have access to important back-end code(server side) and functionality. Without such an audit of the backend, it’s impossible to know if the code is trustworthy.

Lastly, because of the limited scope of the “audit” it’s impossible to know if SurfShark is keeping their word about their no-log policy.

Opinion

If you’re looking for a cheap and fast VPN for streaming videos, torrenting, accessing Netflix, having access to different geo-locations IPs, or hunting for deals online, then Surf Shark is a good choice. If you’re looking for a VPN for definitive security, privacy, and identity protection then consider ExpressVPN or NordVPN. We say this because SurfShark VPN has not had a full audit, and therefore it’s impossible to comment on the security of the actually application. For this reason we only recommend using SurfShark for streaming and other “casual” type VPN uses.

Pure VPN

A mega VPN service with over 6500 servers in 140+ different countries, PureVPN has a huge selection of choices when it comes to connection locations. Offering thing like no-log policies, 31-day money back guarantee and 24/7 customer support it’s easy to see why PureVPN is a popular choice. So are they any good? let’s have a look.

Speed

Overall the speeds are decent, but nothing to brag about. PureVPN may not compare to the speeds you might get with the likes of ExpressVPN but it’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to speed. Tests show above average speed for PureVPN, which means for stream and web browsing you’re unlikely to notice that the VPN is effecting the bandwith speeds.

Price

Jan 2021 (prices may vary in the future)

Overall the prices are quite fair with a one year subscription coming in around $50 dollars. Keep in mind these are promo prices and the next contract will renew at $20 more per year.

Security

PureVPN employs the AES 256 bit type encryption, which is virtually impossible to crack.

Privacy

Like most VPNs these days they claim to have a no-log policy. Meaning that your use of their product is essentially “anonymous”.

PureVPN has some issues in the privacy department. First of all their company is registered in HongKong, which used to be considered a privacy haven. With the recent political events that have taken place, this is no longer the case. PureVPN is in the process of trying to relocate their business to a more privacy friendly location.

Note about no log policy-

Unfortunately, in the past pureVPN was asked by the FBI to help identify a user of pureVPNs services; which in essence showed that pureVPN had been keeping user identifying logs even though they claimed not to.

More recently, in the past three years, the company has undergone two separate audits which shows they truly do have a no-long policy and keep no records which identify users of it’s service. Whether or not this is enough to overcome it’s previously tarnished reputation is still up for debate.

The App

The app is great! Super easy to use, and a really nice interface. Offering support for almost any software/hardware you’ll be on.

  • Mac
  • Windows
  • iOS
  • Android
  • FireFox/Chrome extensions

The application comes with all the standard bells and whistles including things like a “kill switch” to ensure if your connection drops from the VPN your internet connection will be temporarily blocked.

One unique features is it allows you to create a VPN hotspot, allowing you to broadcast your internet connection to other uses with the VPN enabled.

Opinon

Overall the application is easy to use, and provides all the features that VPN users are generally looking for. Their recent steps to get audited by a third party are also notable. Nevertheless, there are some serious issues still at hand here. The applications can be buggy, DNS leaks were detected during testing, and their current headquarters no longer being a privacy safe haven are some serious concerns. Hopefully, if PureVPN can rectify these problems then we’d consider recommending them, but at the moment we’ll give them a pass.

More About VPNs- FAQ

Many people think that by downloading a VPN and using it you’ll be totally anonymous online and the VPN will protect you from all threats possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the case.

In essence a VPN moves your network traffic from your ISP to the VPNs servers. For this reason it means using a VPN doesn’t exactly make you “anonymous” per-say, and heres why. First of all, a VPN simply shifts your traffic away from your ISP onto the VPNs servers, allowing the VPN provider to see your traffic. That’s why it’s extremely imperative to find a VPN provider that does not keep logs, is located in an area with strong privacy laws, and won’t be forced to succumb to court orders.

Essentially, if someone were to gain control of a VPNs server, that “hacker” would be able to monitor your traffic. This is why the code and security a VPN provider implements is also extremely important.

Key Points:

  • Location matters for VPN providers, choose a location with strong privacy laws, or locations that are not under the jurisdiction of the USA
    • Any location/country that participates in the 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes surveillance agreement is essentially a no go for any VPN service.
    • Any country or jurisdiction controlled by (14 eyes surveillance agreement participants)
      • USA
      • Canada
      • UK
      • New Zealand
      • Australia
      • Denmark
      • Israel, Singapore, and Japan also cooperate
      • France
      • Netherlands
      • Norway
      • Sweden
      • Belgium
      • Germany
      • Italy
      • Spain
  • The code and security measures of a VPN application are paramount. Services that have not been audited could easily be hacked, and render the VPN little more than a way to change your IP address and geo-location

VPN uses

  • Encrypt your data
    • The main function of a VPN is to encrypt your internet traffic and mask your IP address allowing you to securely access banking information, crypto wallets, and other common sensitive online activities.
  • Gaming
    • Hide your IP, access games while traveling, protect your identity.
  • Unblock geo-restricted content
    • Access streaming services like Netflix from anywhere in the world
  • Stream and Torrent
    • Shield your activity from your ISP, torrent without worry
  • Check Prices
    • Get the best prices on airline tickets and more by checking from multiple locations around the world.
  • Journalism/ Activists
    • Those who are working with sensitive information may benefit form using a VPN, allowing sensitive information to be encrypted and transmitted more anonymously, especially with features like TOR network access via a VPN.

Wrap Up

With the online surveillance economy of big tech and mass surveillance programs of governments using a VPN should almost be standard practice these days. With their ease of use, relatively low cost, and plethora of features most people should find them readily accessible and beneficial for their online endeavors. VPNs can help in a lot a of ways; they can encrypt your traffic, hide your IP address, change your geo-location, and much more. Nevertheless, they aren’t exactly a silver bullet against malicious actors. If someone were to gain access to a VPNs providers servers, they would be able to monitor traffic from that viewpoint. For that reason it’s extremely important to pick a high quality VPN. We recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and ProtonVPN because they’ve demonstrated to be of the highest standards when it comes to both privacy and security.