Best VPN 2017: 12 free and paid VPNs reviewed for speed and privacy

Best VPN Reviews 2017: What’s the best VPN for Netflix streaming, file sharing and privacy? We take a look at the best VPNs in our group test, and rank our top five.

You might think VPNs are just for accessing your favourite shows on Netflix when you’re away from home, but Virtual Private Networks are so much more than that. In these days of increasingly invasive data laws and everyone from ISPs and governments to unscrupulous online advertising trackers wanting to know more about you, VPNs are about the best way to hide behind a layer or two of privacy.

Related: What is a VPN?

In this group test, we’ve put twelve VPNs under the microscope. We’ve tested them for performance, usability and evaluated their price and feature-set. The one thing we can’t do in our tests is look at their back-end and see how much data they’re storing. Many will claim they store no data on users, but without physically going to have a peek at their systems, we can’t ever say for sure.

We also can’t ever say for sure that your VPN provider isn’t just collecting information about you and selling it onto advertisers. We’d suggest paid-for solutions are less likely to do so, but we can’t guarantee this.

Don’t want to read through all our reviews? Here are our top five picks based on our most recent round of testing in September 2017.

Trusted Reviews Top 5 VPNs 2017:

  1. Private Internet Access
  2. VyprVPN
  3. NordVPN
  4. FREE: Opera
  5. ExpressVPN

Now read our full reviews below, and take a look at our testing data at the very bottom of the page.

Related software reviews:

Figures and features correct as of September 2017.

Private Internet Access

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Key features:

  • $6.95 per month (£4.83)
  • $41.70 (£28.95) per six months, on offer at $35.95 (£24.96)
  • $83.40 per year (£57.90), on offer at $39.95 (£27.74)
  • Connect up to five devices
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

Based in the USA, Private Internet Access places particular emphasis on privacy and security features, even by the standards of the VPN industry. PIA has a clear and explicit no-logging policy, and the USA doesn’t currently have any mandatory data retention laws in place.

An FBI warrant last year revealed that, when ordered to hand over logs, PIA really didn’t have anything to hand over, making it one of the few VPN providers whose no-logging claim is known to have been tested. If you don’t want your name associated with your subscription, you can pay using bitcoin or a gift card, but only from major US retailers.

PIA’s privacy-orientated features include a VPN kill switch that disables your connection to the internet if your VPN is disconnected, IPv6 leak protection that temporarily disables IPv6 to prevent unwanted identifying data from being accidentally transmitted, and DNS leak protection that directs all DNS requests through a non-logging DNS service.

Unusually, PIA also provides a port-forwarding service, which gives you a randomly allocated incoming port on one of a handful of PIA servers that support the feature; you can then configure any local application that needs to be able to accept incoming connections to use.

PIA gave us the fastest transfer speeds from a UK endpoint of any in our test and its US speeds were also excellent, although performance from its Dutch endpoints was a little disappointing at the time of testing. In general, its throughput was consistently good or excellent across all the endpoints we tested, even taking into account the innate viability of test conditions.

PIA provides personalised installers to download for Windows and macOS, so there’s no need to manually enter your username and password. While this is convenient, we found that we had to skip past Windows 10 Creators Edition’s complaints flagging the installer as a potential threat as it didn’t recognise the file. Detailed instructions for setting up connections on other operating systems and devices.

Apart from a few configuration settings, you’ll primarily interact with a notification area icon that lets you quickly connect to a server from PIA’s pool in the country and city of your choice.

Thanks to some excellent special offer prices, Private Internet Access has gone from being one the most expensive VPNs in our test to one of the cheapest. Paired with its wide range of endpoint countries and security features, PIA is our favourite VPN for general privacy and value.

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Key features:

  • VyprVPN (3 devices): £49.00 per year/£6.95 per month;
  • VyprVPN Premium (5 devices, Chameleon protocol, cloud VPN server you can deploy): £70.00 per year/£10.50 per month
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

Advertised as the ‘world’s fastest VPN’, Golden Frog’s VyprVPN has a clean and simple client that will connect you to the fastest available server by default, and which shows a traffic and speed graph so you can get an idea of how your connection is performing at a glance. You can also connect to your choice of geographical endpoint location and save favourite endpoints.

There are plenty of options available to help you tweak the VPN to your precise needs, including automatic connection on startup, automatic reconnection, and a kill switch to prevent any traffic from being sent over an unsecured internet connection. Other settings include your choice of connection protocol and – for Premium users – an obfuscated Chameleon mode that endeavours to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. This is tailored for use in countries with restrictive national internet connections such as China.

It also has endpoints in a range of countries, and its £70 per year Premium subscription includes a cloud VPN server that you can deploy to hosted servers on platforms including AWS and DigitalOcean.

VyprVPN provides dedicated apps for a huge range of platforms, from Windows, macOS and Linux desktop PCs to smartphones, routers and NAS devices. Golden Frog also provides extensive documentation for correctly using its VPN service in a variety of scenarios.

The company doesn’t support any anonymous payment methods and it carries out some logging in order to optimise its speed and performance. However, it’s clear on its position regarding logging and security, owns all its own hardware at all endpoints, and is located in Switzerland – which has strong data protection and privacy laws.

VyprVPN is one of the most expensive VPN services around, but if you value fast and stable connections that can handle transferring even large amounts of data quickly, it’s ideal. It was the only VPN we tested that managed to improve transfer speeds compared to a direct connection from London to New York.

If speed is of the essence, and transparent security is important, then Golden Frog’s VyprVPN is an excellent choice.

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Key features:

  • $11.95/£9.31 per month
  • $71.70/£55.83 per 6 months (currently $42/£32.70)
  • $143/£111.31 year (currently $69/£53.87)
  • Connect up to six devices
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, Socks5, HTTP
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

At the time of writing, NordVPN – owned by Panama-based TelFinCom – has 982 active servers in 48 countries. These include the UK, USA and most of the EU, to less commonplace endpoints in Egypt, Vietnam, Taiwan, New Zealand and Russia.

Panama has no data retention legislation in force and NordVPN itself has a no-logging policy. NordVPN says that it runs services in restrictive countries such as Russia by fully configuring the servers it rents from local ISPs itself.

NordVPN’s client lets you choose your preferred geographical endpoint from either a map or a list. The list also provides shortcuts to endpoints with specific extra security features, including double VPN, DDoS protection, Onion routing via the Tor network, or support for peer-to-peer torrenting.

Advance settings allow you to configure the client to automatically connect to a VPN when Windows launches and a customisable list of applications to which you can apply a kill switch. This means that, if your VPN connection drops, the applications won’t send or receive any data via your standard internet connection, helping to keep you secure.

Dedicated desktop and mobile applications are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. NordVPN also provides detailed instructions for getting its service working properly on everything from Linux PCs to routers and NAS devices. NordVPN’s own application uses OpenVPN as standard, but the service supports a range of different protocols. Your subscription allows you to simultaneously connect up to six devices at once.

NordVPN was the second-best overall performer in our speed tests, with the fastest results in our Dutch endpoint test. However, if you’re specifically looking for a fast connection to the USA, VyprVPN is a better option – although NordVPN remains quick compared to most of its rivals.

NordVPN’s price has gone up significantly since we last reviewed it, but it’s currently running some excellent discounted offers for its six-month and annual subscriptions, which keep it competitive – although it’s still the most expensive VPN provider in this group.

Despite this, consistently good performance in our speed tests, its wide range of endpoints, and a clear no-logging policy in a country with legislation that’s protective of individual privacy make it one of the best VPN services around – if you can afford it.

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Key features:

  • Free VPN
  • Built into Opera browser for Windows, Linux and macOS
  • Mobile app for Android and iOS

Opera’s integrated free VPN exists purely to provide an extra layer of security when browsing, so you can’t use it for FTP transfers or torrenting, for example. You also get only a limited number of endpoint countries from which to choose: Canada, the USA, Germany, Netherlands and Singapore. There’s also a recommended ‘optimal connection’ option that will use whichever endpoint will give you the best performance at the time.

It’s technically a proxy service, routed via HTTPS and Opera’s proprietary API – rather than a true VPN – and it only forwards your browser traffic through Opera’s endpoints; it doesn’t support FTP connections via the browser. Although you can’t route external applications via the VPN, Opera now also integrates popular chat clients WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

You have to enable the VPN in Opera’s settings, and after that you’ll be able to easily turn it on and off – and change your endpoint location as needed – using the VPN icon that will appear in your URL bar.

It’s handy for accessing region-locked content, or even for quickly providing a bit of extra security and anonymity when browsing unsecured or restricted Wi-Fi networks – such as those found in cafes or hotels, assuming you’re not carrying out any security-critical tasks.

Despite its limitations, the service’s performance proved to be excellent. When using the recommended optimal connection, we saw consistent download speeds of over 10MB/sec. This performance was matched by the US and Dutch endpoint servers, making Opera one the fastest providers in our tests.

While Opera itself is registered in Norway, the VPN part of its business is provided by its Canadian SurfEasy subsidiary. Opera’s position is that the desktop VPN service is a no log network.

While it’s by no means a comprehensive VPN solution, we’d recommend Opera and its VPN to everyone, particularly people who rarely have need of a VPN service. It’s fast, free and easy to use.

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Key features:

  • $12.95 (£10) per month
  • $59.95 (£46.31) per 6 months
  • $99.95 (£77.19) per year
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux (command line), Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive services around, with even its discounted annual subscription working out at £6.42 per month. It’s based in the British Virgin Islands which, although a British Overseas Territory, doesn’t share the UK’s strict data retention laws.

ExpressVPN has a particularly simple interface, with a cheery-looking button that, when pressed, will automatically connect you to either an optimised endpoint or the last one you selected.

You can switch between these modes using the smart location button, which automatically “picks the best VPN location for you… using anonymous metrics such as download speed, latency, and distance”. This is a handy option if you just want a bit of instant privacy when using a public Wi-Fi network such as at a pub or cafe.

If you opt to choose an endpoint location, you can select from lists of recommended or favourite endpoints, or search the full list by country or city name. A menu button opens up extra features, including a speed test on all available endpoints and a diagnostics output that lets you see your log files – a welcome feature for those who want to know exactly what’s going on in the background when they connect.

An options menu allows you to choose whether ExpressVPN starts and connects on Windows startup, enable and internet kill switch that stops all internet traffic if you lose your VPN connection, and switch from automatic protocol selection to your choice of OpenVPN and other protocols.

Extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari allow you to start the VPN directly from your browser, block potential data leaks from the WebRTC protocol and automatically connect to the last used location when you open your browser.

We were pleased with ExpressVPN’s overall performance in our throughput tests, which was well above average for endpoints in both the UK and the Netherlands, exceeding 8MB/s in both cases. US download speeds were also pretty decent at 2.77MB/s.

However, although it performs well and has some useful features, its price makes it less appealing than many rivals – VyprVPN is a fast and capable alternative that costs significantly less.

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Key features:

  • Unlimited data free account available
  • Premium (1 device): £44.99 annually (currently £19.35) or £3.99 billed monthly
  • Premium Plus (5 devices): £69.99 annually (currently £30.10) or £6.99 billed monthly
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

CyberGhost is unusual among mainstream VPN providers in that it has a free tier alongside its paid-for subscriptions. A free account allows you to use the CyberGhost client and servers without a registered account, but you aren’t given access to the company’s fastest servers, BitTorrent ports are blocked, you’re shown ads every two hours, and have to reconnect every three. There are no data limits, though, making CyberGhost’s free tier one of the most useful, particularly if you have only modest needs for a VPN.

However, if you need a faster and more reliable connection for transferring larger amounts of data, a range of monthly and annual subscription options are available.

CyberGhost’s desktop clients use OpenVPN, our preferred protocol, and the company’s website provides clear instructions on generating login credentials that you can use with any compatible VPN client on any operating system, whether that’s a Linux PC or a router.

The latest version of CyberGhost’s Windows client is designed to make it easy to carry out the most common tasks you’re likely to want a VPN for. The Windows 10 Modern UI-style interface includes shortcuts to popular websites that are either region-locked – such as video streaming services – or frequently censored under authoritarian regimes, such as Wikipedia and Twitter.

You can also configure extra privacy settings, which by default block adverts and trackers, add exceptions that will automatically be connected to via your normal connection, rather than over the VPN – handy if you use a service that’s locked to your IP address for authentication and configure CyberGhost to automatically kick in when you connect to an unknown Wi-Fi network.

You can also choose to connect via a specific country and sort endpoints by features, including speed and the number of people using them.

CyberGhost itself is headquartered in Romania, where EU data retention laws have been declared unconstitutional, and it does not log or store identifying data such as your IP address. If you’re in need of an extra layer of anonymity, you can pay for your CyberGhost subscription in bitcoins or track down a boxed edition – these are can be found in the UK, but most appear to be intended for sale in Germany.

While we got excellent sustained transfer speeds from CyberGhost’s European endpoints, its US endpoints regularly failed, to the point where we were unable to complete our FTP transfer tests, making them only suitable for light browsing at most.

Despite this, and although CyberGhost’s paid-for service doesn’t particularly stand out from the crowd, it’s our favourite free provider for both features and performance. If you’re looking for a paid-for VPN service, less expensive and faster rivals are available.

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HideMyAss Pro

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Key features:

  • £7.99 per month (currently £6.99)
  • £47.94 per 6 months (currently £29.94)
  • £95.88 per year (currently £47.88)
  • Connect up to two devices
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

HideMyAss is one of the few VPN services to be headquartered in the UK, even though it’s owned by Czech anti-malware firm AVG. The UK has strict mandatory data retention laws in place, and HMA notes that. However, it doesn’t log any of your activity while connected – such as which websites or IP addresses you connect to or what data was transferred – but it does log your IP address, connection and disconnection times, duration and bandwidth usage ‘to prevent abuse and for diagnostic purposes’.

While this makes it less appealing to the torrenters and privacy purists who make up a certain percentage of VPN customers, HideMyAss nonetheless provides an excellent range of privacy-orientated features and the most comprehensive selection of international servers anywhere, with endpoints in more than 190 countries.

Since we last reviewed it, HideMyAss Pro has received an updated client that makes it easy to quickly connect in a range of ways. Instant mode simply connects to whichever of HMA’s endpoints will get you the best performance, without regard for location.

The Location Mode tab lets you choose which of HMA’s vast list of endpoint countries you want to virtually ‘be’ in, while Freedom Mode lets you ‘access the web via the closest free-speech country’. HMA explains that this option is specifically designed to protect people living and working under restrictive regimes that attempt to censor internet access. Additional settings allow you to configure HMA to connect as soon as Windows launches.

HMA also supports Socks5 proxies and has a Secure IP Bond feature. The latter allows you to specify applications that you want to allow online, only when the encrypted VPN connection is up and running, as a means of ensuring privacy.

HideMyAss provides OpenVPN-based clients for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, as well as instructions for using its service with Linux or with a router. It supports only two simultaneous connections from the same account, however – far fewer than most of its rivals.

HideMyAss’s long-term special offer prices are reasonable, if not outstanding. It achieved stable connections to all our tests servers, but its performance in our tests using specific geographic endpoints was rather variable.

Its US endpoints were consistently slow, and its UK endpoints more than halved the speed of our reference connection without a VPN. However, we were impressed at the connection speeds produced by its Dutch endpoints, which were among the fastest we’ve seen.

If you need the widest possible range of geographic endpoints, HMA is the best VPN provider for the job. Otherwise, VyprVPN has a wide range of endpoints, performs better and is headquartered in a country with less invasive monitoring laws.

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Private Tunnel

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Key features:

  • $6/£4.68 per month or $35/£27.32 annually
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients
  • Supports OpenVPN

US-based Private Tunnel has radically restructured its pricing policy since we last reviewed it. Sadly, this means that you can no longer buy non-expiring blocks of data that you can use whenever you need. However, the company’s new subscription-based model is more in line with the rest of the industry and is one of the cheapest around.

The service’s clean and simple interface is unchanged since we reviewed it last year. The client’s main screen makes it easy to select your endpoint location from a dropdown list and, when connected, shows your IP address, connection status and geographical endpoint location.

Further settings let you configure the VPN to connect automatically when Windows starts and change the timeout limit before Private Tunnel attempts reconnection. Unlike some rivals, there isn’t an option to completely block all internet traffic if you lose your VPN connection.

The USA doesn’t currently have any mandatory data retention laws, although US law enforcement is able to request any records kept by service providers. Private Tunnel says that ‘log files stored on our servers are only used for monitoring server performance, identifying software bugs, identifying any potential security breaches, and for the purpose of identifying abusive users’.

We were generally pleased with the speeds and performance we saw from Private Tunnel’s servers, and it’s certainly good value if you get an annual subscription, which works out at just £2.27 per month. However, it has only a limited range of endpoint countries available compared to rivals such as Private Internet Access.

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Key features:

  • $10.95 (£8.46) per month
  • $53.70 (£41.47) per 6 months
  • $78.00(£60.24) per two years
  • Supports OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP, IKEv2
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients
  • Torrenting supported by some endpoints

PureVPN’s popular service is based in Hong Kong, where legacy laws dating from the end of the British colonial period mean that it’s possible for companies to operate without mandatory logging. PureVPN has historically been a popular choice for neighbouring Chinese users seeking to evade the Great Firewall and has a particularly large and varied selection of endpoint locations.

When you first install its client, PureVPN has you choose what mode you’d like to operate in, which determines what default settings it uses and which endpoint servers and locations it’ll make available to you.

These modes are: stream – for accessing region-locked video content; internet freedom, which provides full security anonymity and privacy at medium speed; security/privacy, which operates on similar settings; file-sharing, with similar settings to streaming but with a server list that focusses on torrenting support and dedicated IP, which goes along with PureVPN’s $1.99 monthly fee for a fixed IP address in the country of your choice.

For speed testing purposes, we opted for streaming mode, although we also tested other modes. Unfortunately, our standard FTP file transfer tests didn’t function properly, with FTP connections almost invariably failing around a minute and a half in. When we switched to a comparable HTTP throughput test, we got decent speeds from UK endpoints, a slightly above-average performance in the USA and disappointing speeds from the Netherlands.

PureVPN provides more control over your settings than many of its rivals. As well as the usual options of launching or connecting on system start-up and an internet kill switch that cuts off all internet access from your PC. Less commonplace, but definitely useful, are secure DNS settings, IPv6 leak protection, manual port configuration, split tunnelling that means only specified apps will use the VPN while the rest of your traffic will emerge from your own IP address, and options to select your connection protocol of choice.

Within the client, as well as opting for its Automatic VPN connection protocol – PureVPN recommends IkEv2 for Windows users – you can manually select your preferred protocol IkEv2, PPTP, TCP, UDP, L2TP, SSTP and StealthVPN, which uses traffic shaping to attempt to disguise the fact that you’re using a VPN.

While PureVPN’s monthly price of $10.95 is rather expensive, its $78 two-year deal is among the best value VPN services around right now. It has a great range of features, but we were disappointed to find that it struggled with simple, standard FTP transfers. This won’t be a problem if your primary interest is in HTTP content, such as region-switching for TV streams, but could present an issue for users whose priority is privacy for all their online activities.

Private Internet Access costs only slightly more, but we found it to be faster and more stable on average.

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Avast Secureline VPN

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Key features:

  • $59.99 (£46.83) per year (1 Windows PC)
  • Connect one device per licence
  • Windows client supports OpenVPN
  • Requires separate subscriptions for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS clients
  • Torrenting supported by some endpoints

Since our last review, the official list price of Avast SecureLine has dropped significantly. However, unlike other VPN providers, you’ll need a separate subscription for every platform you want to use it on – rather than having a single cross-platform subscription

This it less convenient and potentially more expensive if you want to use your VPN across different platforms, although discounted versions of the mobile apps are available to buy along with your Windows or macOS licence.

The interface feels a little clunky at times, but is simple to use, with a pull-down menu that  lets you select the country and city you want your connection to come out in. While SecureLine doesn’t have the largest selection available, and its US endpoints proved to be rather slow during testing, we were generally happy with its performance, particularly on its European endpoints.

There are only a handful of extra settings. Most notable among these is the option to have the VPN automatically connect when it detects an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, thus helping to keep you secure.

SecureLine still has a Russian endpoint – many VPN providers are pulling out of the country in the wake of new mandatory data storage laws. Despite this, Avast – headquartered in the Czech Republic – promises a no-logging policy across its VPN service.

The company explicitly states that, although SecureLine monitors general network performance, it ‘does not log bandwidth, URLs, or packet data, and we do not gather any personally identifiable information’.

Although Avast SecureLine’s performance is adequate for most VPN users, its restricted single-device licence and relatively high cost make it a poor choice when more capable rivals such as Private Internet Access cost less.

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Steganos Online Shield

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Key features:

  • SOS: $49.95 (£38.92) per year – 5 devices
  • OkayFreedom: $29.95 (£23.38) per year – 1 device, Windows only
  • Boxed copies available for physical purchase
  • Supports OpenVPN

Steganos Online Shield is a no-frills VPN with a limited – but useful – selection of endpoints and a simple interface. By default, it opts for the fastest connection, but you can also select your endpoint country of choice via a pull-down menu.

Other options on the main client screen enable ad and tracker blocking, the ability to anonymise your browser ID string and automatically erase cookies. There aren’t many extra settings, but you can configure it to automatically connect to a VPN endpoint when Windows launches, enable an extra layer of protection to prevent your real IP address from potentially leaking via the WebRTC API, and add VPN exceptions for your outgoing email server in case your email provider isn’t VPN-friendly.

SOS is one of the few VPN products you can buy in a boxed edition, as well as online, and it doesn’t require you to create an account in order to use it – you just download the application and plug in your registration key. This means that you don’t have to associate a bank or even an email address and account name with the product, which could appeal to the privacy-minded.

Unlike most VPN services, Steganos doesn’t provide you with a list of server addresses and login data that you can use to create manual VPN connections using your preferred operating system and method, although it is possible to extract this data. Instead, it provides a desktop client for Windows, as well as mobile clients for Android and iOS.

Steganos is based in Germany, which requires ISPs – but not VPN providers – to retain traffic metadata for 10 weeks. Steganos itself has a no-logging policy and actively works to avoid linking personal data with your presence on the VPN. The firm says this no-logging policy also applies to its Russian endpoints, despite recent changes to Russian law that mandate record-keeping by ISPs.

Sadly, in our throughput tests we found that Steganos’ performance was poorer than last year, although it’s worth bearing in mind that data transfer speeds on a VPN endpoint can vary from day to day. Although our connection remained stable during all our tests, Steganos provided the slowest transfer speeds from all three of our targets.

Steganos also operates a single-device VPN service, OkayFreedom, which has a 500MB per month free mode for Windows PCs only. Its unlimited paid version is excellent value, working out at just 1.95 per month, based on a £23.38 annual subscription. OkayFreedom and Steganos Online Shield both operate on the same back-end infrastructure, and both will be upgraded over the course of 2017, starting with OkayFreedom.

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Key features:

  • 500MB per month free account available
  • Giant (billed monthly): $9.99 (£7.78) per month
  • Grizzly (billed annually):  $119.88 (£93.39) per year (currently $59.88/£46.75)
  • Connect up to 5 devices
  • Supports OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Opera, Chrome
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

TunnelBear provides both free and paid-for VPN services across a wide variety of platforms, with clients for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, browser plugins for Opera and Chrome, and instructions available on configuring the OpenVPN client for Linux to work with the service.

Since we last reviewed TunnelBear, its Windows client has seen a welcome update. The new, larger client window opens on a world map that you can use to select an endpoint in the country of your choice, while a pull-down menu at the top of the window lets you select an endpoint location from a list if you prefer; a button lets you quickly connect and disconnect from your VPN.

A Settings tab lets you configure the client’s behaviour, with options for users who want extra security including ‘VigilantBear’, which temporarily halts all your internet traffic if you become disconnected from the VPN, and ‘GhostBear’, an experimental feature that attempts to hide the fact that you’re using an encrypted VPN connection at all. You can also configure TunnelBear to activate automatically on any Wi-Fi networks that aren’t on a trusted list.

Free users get access to all the same features and servers as paid users, but have a 500MB per month bandwidth limit. However, TunnelBear’s connection quality was among the most erratic we encountered, with considerable variation in performance between different connection attempts to the same country. We struggled to complete our FTP throughput tests, as we ran into repeated connection failures on the VPN side.

TunnelBear has an explicit no-logging policy, which will reassure the privacy-conscious. It’s also worth noting that it blocks standard BitTorrent ports, citing ‘a high volume of complaints from content providers’ so that it wasn’t put in the position of having to log user activity. That means that no matter how legitimate your torrent activity, you can’t use TunnelBear for it.

TunnelBear as a whole is clearly geared towards privacy, and we were pleased with the range of settings and features built with this in mind, but its performance was generally slow. We were only able to complete our FTP transfer tests on a US endpoints, with Dutch and British servers unable to sustain the connect.

While its free tier is inviting, its performance can’t match similarly priced paid-for services, and CyberGhost’s free tier is both unlimited and often faster.

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How we test Performance

VPN performance is affected by such a wide range of factors that it isn’t possible to produce conclusive test results. The speed of your own internet connection and user load on your selected VPN endpoint server, as well as the server you’re connecting to beyond that, at the time are both significant here. Due to the sheer number of frequently rotated servers provided by most VPN services, comprehensive testing isn’t possible in this instance.

However, we ran comparative tests on each service from a London-based connection that typically sees speeds of over 10MB/sec. We tested multiple servers from each provider in three locations: the UK, the Netherlands and the USA. Our table shows the best results we were able to obtain during a large-file download via FTP, but these figures are only a snapshot of performance at a single point in time, rather than being fully representative.

We were surprised by how universally slow connection speeds to the USA tended to be, with most VPNs clocking transfer speeds of less than 3MB/sec. The notable exception in our tests was VyprVPN, which is optimised for speed.

Testing data: Correct from September 2017

Provider UK (MB/s) NL (MB/s) USA (MB/s)
Tunnelbear 1.4
Steganos 3.1 5 1
Hide My Ass! Pro VPN 3.7 7.6 1.7
Opera Free VPN HTTP 10.8 3
Avast Secureline 4.9 9.6 1.3
CyberGhost 8.8 7.6 FAIL
Private Tunnel 5.2 9.5 2.4
Private Internet Access 9.1 4.5 3.5
NordVPN 8.5 10.5 2.9
VyprVPN 8 7.8 7
PureVPN 0.795
PureVPN HTTP 8.09 1.33 3.13
ExpressVPN 8.32 8.09 2.77