Top VPN Providers 2020 – Security In Time Of Uncertainty

Last Updated on December 21, 2020 by Alex

 

Calling For a Good VPN…

Working from home for the past several months, connecting to the office from my work PC over a VPN, got me thinking about beefing up security for the home network as well as my mobile devices.

So with that objective in mind I set out to look into top VPN providers since it has been awhile the last time I researched this market and much would have changed in that time period.

It’s not that I haven’t relied on a VPN connection in the past for various reasons, but this time I wanted my approach to be more systematic and well-defined.

Primary Considerations

There are multiple use cases in selecting a VPN, so each of us would need to tailor the various vendor offerings to meet a specific need ranging from online privacy, securing data traveling over a public network or even having to deal with a special threat scenario.

In this review of top VPN services, I am mainly addressing the characteristics listed below that are important to me personally, so your ultimate choice of a VPN service may depend on a totally different use case. To provide a complete picture, I am including all the various features being offered by each VPN provider for comparison.

Evaluating the features below I would consider to be the bare minimum in order for me to be able to make an intelligent choice when it comes to picking a quality VPN service.

  • Security and privacy
  • Speed
  • Devices supported (e.g. Windows, MacOS, Android, etc.)
  • Cost

No Free Lunch!

Before getting into the specifics of the above list and individual VPN products, I wanted to mention that this review does not cover any free VPN services, although many vendors provide free trials before buying.

A free VPN service might (and I stress the word “might”) be OK for occasional light use, but the caveats and restrictions that normally come with a free VPN require too much compromise when it comes to security and overall usability.

Security and Privacy

This may seem too obvious to even mention, but evaluating the security of a VPN service has got to be at the top of the list when it comes to selecting a VPN provider. If one of your reasons for needing a VPN concerns increasing online privacy, then this will also contribute heavily to selecting a more versus less secure VPN provider.

More specifically, this has to do with whether or not a VPN service is keeping any logs of their users’ activities while connected to the VPN. Then, depending on your particular security needs, it may be important to verify if any of the provider’s servers are located in the US (if you reside in the USA) or a jurisdiction that has an intelligence sharing agreement in place with the government of your own country.

Top VPN Providers 2020 - 5 Eyes

You can read more about the three major intelligence alliances to gain a better understanding of the security implications here. It is therefore a definite plus for a VPN provider if they are not keeping any logs and/or are not located in a jurisdiction covered by an intelligence sharing agreement.

Speed

By definition, your online activities will need to pass through additional servers when using a VPN provider. These extra hops will add some overhead to the traffic coming from your PC or mobile device, potentially creating a noticeable slowdown.

This will be most apparent if you are using a VPN with a streaming service like Netflix or downloading torrents. If you start seeing visibly slow loading times when just browsing the Internet, then that would count against using that particular VPN service.

Devices supported

Chances are most people reading this post have access to more than one device for consuming online content and services such as a laptop, tablet or a mobile phone.

So if your goal is to be able to protect all or as many of your devices as possible, a VPN provider whose service is available across multiple platforms would obviously make it to your short list.

Most, if not all, VPN providers listed here cover major platforms such as Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS and Linux as well as other device types.

It is also not uncommon for a VPN service to be configurable on additional network devices such as routers, allowing any device on the network behind the router to be protected by the same VPN connection without needing to install and configure the VPN on each device.

Cost

Since there are many VPN providers to choose from who are offering the same or very similar features and meeting the above criteria, your final selection might come down to the service price.

As you will see below, many providers are offering discounts or promotions depending on the length of service. Another good opportunity to see some savings comes around every year in the form of Black Friday deals.

A well-known and dependable industry leader

Overall Score
9.6/10
  • Extra protection against ads and malware
  • NordLynx protocol for faster speeds
  •  6 simultaneous connections
  • 30-day money-back guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android TV, Linux, Chrome, Firefox

PROS

  • Consistently fast speeds
  • No loggging
  • Double encryption
  • Extensive knowledge base
  • Good support
  • Outside of 14 eyes surveilance

CONS

  • User experience could be better

If you have looked at any VPN providers at all, there is no way you would not have come across NordVPN. It is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to reliable, secure and competitive VPN services out there.

When it came to testing speeds, NordVPN was consistently fast having over 5500 servers in 59 countries as part of its huge network. This is due to their proprietary NordLynx protocol based on the widely-used WireGuard® protocol.

So if you are planning to use the service for streaming content such as Netflix or torrenting, you should have no issues with performance.

Just like VyprVPN below, NordVPN is a no-logs provider, so it does not keep records of your online activities, providing an extra layer of security and anonymity. And, also similar to Vypr, they have been independently audited to back up their claim of keeping zero logs on their users.

Related to that the company is based in Panama, which places it outside the global surveillance alliance. Definitely a big plus for anyone concerned with privacy.

Additionally, further security is provided by way of a special feature called Double VPN which encrypts your data not once but twice, routing traffic through two VPN servers and changing your IP address twice.

This makes for a compelling use case for anyone sharing sensitive information or trying to avoid censorship and tracking in those countries that have them.

NordVPN is also competitively priced, which is not to say that it’s cheap, but all of the features mentioned above and its ability to get around various blocks like Netflix, Hulu, etc. as well being available on several platforms, makes it hard to beat.

Did I mention that they also have an extensive knowledge base and good support?

You can run NordVPN on up to six devices simultaneously and the service comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. This time of year, there are usually specials available like the ones we all try to take advantage of such as Black Friday.

Inexpensive, unlimited devices VPN

Overall Score
9.6/10
  • Unlimited Simultaneous Connections
  • Ad Blocking
  • 30-day Money Back Guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Amazon Fire Stick

PROS

  • No Logging
  • RAM-Only Servers
  • Price

CONS

  • Last audit done in 2018

Surfshark is another VPN provider based in the BVI (British Virgin Isles) that offers not only a good set of features for a VPN service, but also sports a very competitive price that’s hard to beat. It can be as low as $2.21 per month over 24 months. But don’t let the low prices fool you as Surfshark allows you to connect an unlimited number of devices to take advantage of its 3,200 server network spread over 65 countries.

The expected VPN security features are all there in addition to Surfshark’s bonus options like its CleanWeb ad and malware blocking functionality. There is also the flexibility to allow certain apps or websites to bypass the VPN when needed. This would apply primarily to mobile devices running banking applications that may not work with a VPN.

Similar to the ExpressVPN, Surfshark utilizes RAM-only servers with sensitive data wiped on every reboot. Additionally, the company uses obfuscated servers to disguise its traffic from ISPs and other snoops to make it look like regular browsing. This feature also comes in handy in bypassing VPN blockers and is referred to by Surfshark as its NoBorders mode.

Being already located in a jurisdiction that provides good legal protection from data grabs, Surfshark also adheres to a no-logging policy. There is an independent audit to back up the claim, although the link I found on the website is for a browser extension audit. Not a huge concern though given the security and privacy features listed above.

So if you are looking for a reliable, unlimited device VPN service that is also highly affordable, Surfshark should definitely be on you short list.

Zero-logs VPN that’s great for privacy and getting around censorship

Overall Score
9.3/10
  • Chameleon™ protocol to get around blocks
  • Wholly-owned DNS servers
  • 5 simultaneous connections
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android TV, Linux, Routers

PROS

  • No logging
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Easy to configure apps

CONS

  • Inconsistent server speeds outside US

I have been using VyprVPN for quite some time now and have been impressed with how easy it was to set up and configure. I have it running on multiple devices such as Windows and Android, achieving the same consistent results.

VyprVPN is one of a few VPN providers which can rightfully claim not keeping any logs of their users activities and have an independent audit to back it up.

VyprVPN is located in Switzerland and is protected by Swiss strict privacy laws. When you sign up for the service, you get access to over 70 locations around the world, offering 200,000 IP addresses.

To distinguish itself from other VPN providers, Vypr includes additional perks such as their proprietary Chameleon™ protocol which helps get around blocks and censorship in such restrictive countries as China, Russia or Iran. This feature is included at no extra cost.

It goes hand in hand with VyprDNS™ technology which relies on Vypr’s parent company’s wholly-owned DNS servers, only available to VyprVPN users. These servers also adhere to a strict no-log policy, enhancing your online privacy as well as your overall security by preventing “man-in-the-middle” DNS attacks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I found VyprVPN servers quite speedy, having picked from several worldwide locations for testing. Also, the apps provided by Vypr for various devices make it very easy to select any server, sorting them by speed. They can also be sorted by country or region.

So overall, VyprVPN provides a very strong and solid service backed by a company that has been around for quite some time.

It’s definitely not a cut-rate product, so your best deals on this one will most likely come from longer-term discounts or other specials (see below). The service is backed by a 30-day money back guarantee and offers unlimited bandwidth.

For a more detailed review take a look at How Good Is VyprVPN – Enough To Get You Secure?

A solid VPN service backed by physical security

Overall Score
9.5/10
  • Tor over VPN
  • 10 simultaneous connections
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android TV, Linux, Routers

PROS

  • No Logging
  • Based in Switzerland
  • Servers physically secured
  • Security track record

CONS

  • Does not work in China

ProtonVPN is another Swiss-based provider who some of you may know from their email product, ProtonMail which is a companion security product from the same company.

So just like VyprVPN above, the same strong privacy laws apply where the ProtonVPN is not obligated to provide any of their customers’ information to third parties. The company lists a strict no logging policy as one of the VPN service’s features, but I could not locate any information on their website whether this has been independently audited.

Similar to the other VPN providers, ProtonVPN has servers all over the world. At the time of this writing that coverage extends to 54 countries and close to 1,200 servers.

I also like the fact that ProtonVPN employs physical security for their infrastructure in Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. The company’s servers in those locations are housed in former military facilities underground. That’s a great extra security layer to have.

In investigating this particular VPN provider, I was curious how they were managing to run around blocks in severely restricted countries. In China, specifically, ProtonVPN is being blocked by the “Great Firewall”.

So if you ever find yourself needing to use the service there or another blocked jurisdiction, you will have to jump through some hoops and get set up with a Tor connection.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do not recommend the use of free VPN services. ProtonVPN, like the other VPN providers reviewed here, offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The distinction here is that they also have a free VPN offering that I would only recommend as a “trial” version. There are no data caps or ads, but of course there is a limited feature set, server availability and overall speed.

ProtonVPN offers apps for multiple platforms which I found easy to set up and use. There is also good support and detailed guides available should you need the step-by-step instructions for setting up the VPN.

Overall, ProtonVPN is a trustworthy company that has been around and is well-known not only for its VPN service, but also for its other security products and their commitment to protecting Internet privacy. So definitely worth a look as their pricing is also competitive for the features being offered.

A full-featured VPN with a ton of servers

Overall Score
8/10
  • Malware and ad blocking
  • 10 simultaneous connections
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, routers

PROS

  • A ton of servers
  • Easy to use
  • Price

CONS

  • Based in the US
  • No security audit
  • Limited security features

If you are looking for a more streamlined VPN service with a good feature set and attractively priced, Private Internet Access VPN has been rising in popularity recently. This is in no small way due to the company’s huge server count (over 18,000!) in 77 countries.

While PIA does not boast as many security features as the other VPN providers, it does distinguish itself from the crowd by offering an anti-malware, anti-tracking and ad-blocking capability. It works very well when tested on heavily ad-infested sites or shall I say some “questionable” content in various corners of the web.

One area of concern for me is that this VPN provider is based in the United States, which as mentioned earlier is part of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. PIA does address this issue on their website by referencing its no logging policy as their defense against legal requests for information.

They do not have an independent audit of this claim but instead point to a court case where their customers’ data was demanded but not provided due to no logs being kept. Anyway, something to consider if this is an important factor for you in choosing a VPN provider.

Private Internet Access uses military-grade encryption and the speeds observed were definitely good enough for streaming content and/or gaming with little to no lag. So if you don’t require an extensive security feature set, PIA is quite affordable and will keep you protected on up to ten devices.

A reasonably-priced VPN that keeps improving

Overall Score
7.5/10
  • Malware and ad blocking
  • 10 simultaneous connections
  • 31-day money back guarantee

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, routers, Amazon FireStick, Roku, Kodi, Android TV

PROS

  • Lots of Servers
  • Dedicated Device Support
  • Price

CONS

  • Uncertainty about company jurisdiction
  • Still offering insecure PPTP protocol

As part of my investigation of various VPN providers, I came across PureVPN which I was not familiar with even though the company has been in operation since 2007. Since they are headquartered in Hong Kong and are therefore outside the 14 Eyes Intelligence Alliance, I thought the service was worth checking out.

PureVPN also looked attractive due to a large fleet of servers (6,500+) spread over 140 countries and its no logging policy backed up by two independent audits. I also liked that there was a ton of apps supporting major platforms as well as apps specifically designed to run on dedicated devices such as Amazon FireStick, Roku and others.

With all of the above, reasonable pricing and some extra features such as dedicated add-ons, the company has not been without its share of controversy. That in no way disqualifies them as a legit VPN service provider, but I felt this history should be disclosed to help you make an informed decision since there would be issues of security to consider.

Some time back PureVPN was involved in a legal case where a user’s information had been disclosed to authorities. The company came under fire as a result and to their credit has revamped their privacy and no logging policies to address any troubling issues. Furthermore, they had commissioned two independent audits to verify their no logging claims.

So with those concerns having been addressed, my only reservations at this point have to do with the following. Since the company’s founding Hong Kong had a new law introduced which makes the country an unsafe jurisdiction. There were plans to relocate the company to a more privacy friendly country, but I could not determine what came of that.

My other concern has to do with one of the encryption protocols being offered by PureVPN. I am referring to the PPTP protocol which is known to be unsafe. While the service automatically selects the “optimal” protocol for your connection, it is also possible to manually select a protocol on your own. I would recommend going with OpenVPN which is secured by AES-256.

So overall, PureVPN is worthy of consideration with its multitude of servers, tons of apps and its ability to operate in places like China and unblock Netflix. It generously allows connecting up to 10 devices from a single account, and the service is backed by a 31-day money-back guarantee. Best pricing can be obtained by signing up for a year or longer, locking in the greatest discounts.

A user-friendly and straightforward VPN service

Overall Score
8/10
  • 5 Simultaneous Connections
  • Free VPN option (500MB)

Works with:
Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera

PROS

  • No Logging
  • Easy to use
  • Price

CONS

  • Based in Canada
  • Subjective refund policy

You may have seen TunnelBear’s advertising featuring a cute bear accompanied by some bear humor. All kidding aside, the company provides a very easy to set up and use VPN service that tends to cater to the less technically-inclined. So if you are looking for more in-depth tweaks or features, you should check out the other providers reviewed here.

TunnelBear is another VPN provider that has a strict no logging policy, but unlike the others, it conducts annual independent audits to provide a greater transparency. Some of the findings were considered critical issues, which were promptly fixed by the company. Also, its privacy policy is one of the most detailed I have come across even listing the types of cookies they collect.

While the extra privacy and regular audits go a long way, be aware that TunnelBear is domiciled in Canada which is subject to an intelligence sharing agreement with the 5 eyes countries such as the US. Since the data the company collects does not allow it to identify or connect you to your online activity, this may not be a huge concern.

TunnelBear does not boast a huge server network and provides servers in over 23 countries that supply speedy connections using apps covering the major platforms. You can add up to 5 devices per account and there is a free (severely limited 500MB option) to try out the service since TunnelBear’s refund policy is rather limited as described in their help section – the company “may offer refunds on a case-by-case basis”. Still the