The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. Why trust us?

The most secure VPN 2024: Privacy and security reviewed

Verified by Amy Reeves

A virtual private network (VPN) offers a defence shield and a private passageway in an ever-expanding sea of digital traffic, protecting your data from third parties

In this comprehensive guide, we help you navigate the sea of VPNs and highlight the best options for ultimate security. Our team has meticulously tested and analysed an extensive selection of VPNs, examining their security measures, privacy policies and more to ensure we bring you the most secure choices.

With data breaches and leaks a concern for many, we understand your digital safety is paramount, and we’re fully committed to providing you with the resources you need to stay safe online. We go beyond surface-level analysis; every VPN that makes it to our list is stress-tested under various circumstances to ensure it meets the stringent standards of today’s cybersecurity landscape.

Our guide will delve into comprehensive reviews of the most secure VPNs, breaking down their security protocols, ease of use, speed, reliability and pricing. Whether you’re safeguarding your browsing, fortifying a business network or seeking a secure way to stream content, we have recommendations tailored for you.

Our top three VPNs for security

The most secure VPNs compared

When considering the most secure VPN, several factors should be top of mind. Advance Encryption Standard with 256 bits (AES-256) is the gold standard for securing data, as it creates a cryptographic key that is incredibly difficult to crack, hence offering superior data protection. The range of protocols available is also important, as different protocols offer varying levels of security, speed, and reliability; having more options allows you to find a balance that suits your specific needs. An audited no-log policy is another crucial factor because it ensures that the VPN provider is not storing any of your online activities that could potentially be accessed by third parties. Finally, examining past security breaches is important in assessing a VPN’s resilience and response to security threats. A company with a history of breaches may not be as secure as one with a clean record, while a VPN provider that transparently handles breaches, quickly implements fixes, and takes steps to prevent future incidents can illustrate a strong commitment to user security.

NordVPN ExpressVPN Surfshark PureVPN Proton VPN
Lowest price £2.79 £5.36 £1.80 £1.81 £4.27
AES-256 encryption Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Protocols OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, WireGuard (NordLynx) Lightway, L2TP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2, WireGuard​ OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), IKEv2, WireGuard
Audited no-log policy Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Past security breaches Yes No No Yes No

How we rate and research VPNs

150+
hours performance testing
600+
customer reviews read
250+
hours comparing products
30
providers compared
3
VPN experts consulted

Our reviewers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying a VPN for torrenting. We will only recommend a VPN after hours of testing, head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer feedback and reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

Our review scores are determined the following categories:

Privacy and performance (30 per cent)
Features and functionality (30 per cent)
Reputation and credibility (25 per cent)
Plans and pricing/value (10 per cent
Customer experience (5 per cent)
We research and test a total of 25 elements within these categories including:

Number and location of servers
Streaming service accessibility
Security features such as AES-256
Performance (upload, download, latency)
Value for money, guarantees, and customer service
Independent server-site security audits
All of our VPN articles are verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

NordVPN: Best for encryptions

  • Lowest price: £2.79 per month ​
  • Free version: No
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 6
  • Number of servers: 5,731 servers in 60 countries
  • Encryption: AES-256 in Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) 
  • VPN protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and WireGuard (NordLynx). NordLynx is its proprietary protocol and is used by default in most of NordVPN’s apps
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: NordVPN has been audited several times by PricewaterhouseCoopers and VerSprite
  • Headquarters: NordVPN is based in and operates under the jurisdiction of Panama. It also has offices in Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Comprehensive privacy and security features Torrenting only supported on some servers
Audited numerous times OpenVPN configuration isn’t user-friendly
NordVPN suffered a data breach in 2018

Renowned as one of the VPN market leaders, NordVPN delivers an extensive array of privacy tools engineered to bolster your digital security. With its vast network of servers, it stands out among VPN services. Leveraging robust encryption standards, NordVPN ensures your personal data and internet activity remain shielded from prying eyes and various online threats.

Cost

NordVPN provides its users with three distinct service tiers: Standard, Plus and Complete packages. Each plan comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and can be purchased monthly, yearly or biennially. The overall monthly cost is reduced if you opt for an extended subscription.

The Complete package comes bundled with 1TB of encrypted cloud storage, NordVPN’s Data Breach Scanner, next-generation file encryption and a universal password manager. The Plus package omits cloud storage and file encryption, while the Standard package also excludes the Data Breach Scanner and the password manager.

Subscription term Standard plan Plus plan Complete plan
Monthly £10.39/month £11.19/month £11.99/month
12 months £3.99/month (£47.88 up front) £4.79/month (57.48 up front) £5.59/month (67.08 up front)
24 months £2.79/month (66.96 up front) £3.59/month (86.16 up front) £4.39/month (105.36 up front)

Security

NordVPN is fortified with data protection features, such as top-tier encryption, Double VPN, an automatic kill switch, doubled encryption of data and private Domain Name System (DNS) services. Upholding a stringent no-logs policy, NordVPN does not gather or retain any user data. Additionally, NordVPN actively seeks third-party auditors to verify its adherence and assess its security measures; the company has successfully passed all such inspections to date.

The kill switch functionality is included in the Linux, iOS and MacOS versions of the NordVPN application. A similar feature can also be activated on devices operating on Android 7 or later. The kill switch continually monitors your connection to ’NordVPN’s server. In the event of a disconnection, it will instantly prevent your device or specified apps from accessing the internet until the connection is re-established.

NordVPN uses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec and WireGuard (NordLynx) protocols. OpenVPN is a versatile protocol that can be used on both Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) ports while supporting many encryption algorithms. 

TCP is a connection-oriented protocol, meaning that it establishes a direct link between the source and destination before data is sent. This allows for guaranteed delivery of data packets and maintains data integrity by ensuring that packets arrive in the same order in which they were sent.

UDP, unlike TCP, is connectionless, meaning it doesn’t establish a dedicated end-to-end connection before sending data. Packets of data (called “datagrams”) are sent individually and are checked for integrity only if they arrive. Packets might arrive out of order, be lost, or duplicated along the way.

NordVPN also uses next-generation encryption on its IKEv2/IPSec, providing increased security. Phase 1 keys are generated using AES-256-GCM for encryption, SHA2-384 for integrity and PFS using 3072-bit DH keys. AES-256-GCM is an encryption standard that is generally considered “superior” in most practical applications: it’s faster, it provides authentication and it doesn’t need padding. However, its implementation requires more care, especially about nonce management. Therefore, which to use will depend on the specific requirements of the system in which the encryption is being used. NordVPN also uses AES-256 (referring to AES-256-CBC, or Cipher Block Chaining).

All this technical jargon essentially means that its IKEv2/IPSec protocol ensures a more secure tunnel between the client and server.

NordVPN recommends customers use its proprietary WireGuard protocol, NordLynx. It claims its cryptography is superior to OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec, while being faster and having leaner code, meaning it’s easier for NordVPN to deploy, audit and fix when things go wrong. NordLynx is the default protocol on NordVPN’s apps.

However, despite its strict security, NordVPN confirmed a security breach in 2018. One of its data centres in Finland was accessed without authorisation. The attacker gained access to the server by exploiting an insecure remote management system left by the data centre provider. NordVPN stated that the server did not contain any user activity logs and it was impossible to intercept usernames and passwords. NordVPN also noted that accessing other VPN servers or user databases from a compromised VPN server was impossible. This incident led to some concern about NordVPN’s overall network security, despite its assurances.

User experience

NordVPN’s app includes an interactive map for choosing server countries to connect to. (NordVPN)

Along with its robust security features, NordVPN stands out for its excellent user experience. Upon loading the app, you’re greeted with a large, easily accessible button, allowing you to establish a secure connection in just a moment. This feature connects you swiftly to a server in your current region, such as the UK, but you can easily navigate between servers in other global locations by scrolling down the interface or using the search bar located below the “Quick Connect” button.

The main display houses everything you need, including NordVPN’s traffic-routing Meshnet feature and speciality servers. Meshnet effectively allows you to create your own personal NordVPN server. This means any connected devices, no matter where they are in the world, will be able to form a connection and share an IP address. The app’s user-friendly design ensures that even those who might find technology challenging will find it straightforward and easy to enable different security features All your enhanced security options are found along the left side menu and can be enabled by clicking a simple toggle. NordVPN has also handily provided quick summaries of what each option does.

Nord VPN has been awarded our Best overall VPN, Best VPN for iPhone, and Best VPN for Android, so you can be assured that your infomation is safe on your mobile device.

Performance

NordVPN delivered some of the most consistently fast download speeds of all the VPNs in this group test. However, upload speeds struggled once our team connected to servers beyond the UK. With US and Australian servers at less than 5 per cent of the baseline upload speed without a VPN, users would find it difficult to share files. We also had difficulty connecting to NordVPN’s US servers. It failed to connect us to its default New York server, and we then tried – and failed – to connect to the Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Miami servers. Eventually, we were able to connect to New York. It was a similar story on the Australian servers regarding upload speeds. However, download speeds from the Australian servers were among the fastest in the group of VPNs in the test.

Speed test results

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency
No VPN 450.1Mbps 295.9Mbps 12ms
UK to UK 291.9Mbps 65% 185.1Mbps 63% 10ms
UK to US 160.8Mbps 36% 5.84Mbps 2% 1ms
UK to Aus 131.7Mbps 29% 7.61Mbps 3% 0ms

Customer service

NordVPN enjoys positive feedback on Trustpilot, receiving a 4.4 out of five star rating. In particular, users praise NordVPN’s comprehensive security measures. However, a notable drawback reported by some users is that NordVPN’s customer service isn’t very responsive and some users complain about the auto-renew method of billing.

However, we found NordVPN’s customer service among the best we’ve encountered among the various VPN services we’ve tested. NordVPN boasts a vibrant customer support page teeming with valuable tutorials for utilising and troubleshooting its offerings.

If you prefer a more personal interaction, you can converse with the support team via live chat and email or connect with support communities on social media platforms. In the first instance, the live chat is with an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, but it will forward you to a human team member if it can’t answer your question. 

“Using NordVPN since 2018 and very happy with it. I like that I can order two-year plans for a cheaper price (longer commitment), so I get uninterrupted services and can share my access between five other devices (Google Pixel, iPad, Macbook, my wife’s iPhone, my mother’s TV). Great product and quick service, thanks guys!”

Verdict

NordVPN provides robust privacy and security features, an easy-to-use interface and comprehensive customer support, though some users report slower speeds than other VPNs.

It features some of the most enhanced encryption in this group test to ensure superior online security. By employing robust 256-bit AES and AES-256-GCM encryption, it’s incredibly difficult for cybercriminals to decipher your data.

Score: ★★★★½

Read our full NordVPN review.

ExpressVPN: Best for choice of protocols

  • Lowest price: £6.82 per month
  • Free version: No
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 5
  • Number of servers: More than 3,000 servers in 94 countries
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: Lightway, Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP), OpenVPN, IKEv2
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: Yes, by PricewaterhouseCoopers 
  • Headquarters: British Virgin Islands

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Robust security measures, including AES-256 encryption and multiple VPN protocols No WireGuard support
Audited no-log policy Limited simultaneous connections

ExpressVPN caters to many users, including casual internet surfers and business professionals. As a respected brand, it stands tall among the most recognised names in the VPN industry and provides extensive 24/7 customer support to address any queries or unique demands.

ExpressVPN delivers an extensive array of features characteristic of top-tier VPNs, encompassing unlimited bandwidth, 256-bit AES encryption, split tunnelling, DNS leak protection, support for multiple VPN protocols, an automatic kill switch for connection disruptions, SmartDNS, ad-blocking capabilities and the widely sought-after no-log policy.

Cost

ExpressVPN sits on the higher end of the pricing spectrum for VPN services. 

Every plan from ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, ensuring customer satisfaction. Each subscription offers identical features and device support regardless of the plan’s duration.

Subscription term Price
Monthly £10.61/month
Six months £8.09/month (£48.52 upfront, then £56.62 every 6 months)
12 months £6.73/month (£80.90 upfront for the first year, then £94.66 annually)

Security

ExpressVPN provides an array of security and privacy measures, such as robust AES-256 encryption, DNS leak prevention and a commitment to a no-logs policy. A kill switch is also included, which will sever your internet connection instantly if your VPN connection drops, ensuring continuous privacy.

ExpressVPN’s mission statement emphasises its commitment to protecting user privacy. In the spirit of transparency, the company welcomes third-party auditors to scrutinise its privacy policy and validate its technology.

ExpressVPN also uses several different VPN protocols:

Lightway: This protocol was built by ExpressVPN and is designed to provide a smooth, secure experience. It establishes a VPN connection quickly and is built to stay connected even when the device switches networks. 

L2TP: L2TP delivers better security than older protocols, such as Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) and Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), but at the cost of reduced speed. L2TP is often paired with IPSec to deliver AES-256 encryption, referred to as L2TP/IPSec. However, L2TP/IPSec is more suited for anonymisation than security, with other protocols, such as OpenVPN, offering even more robust levels of security.

OpenVPN: This highly configurable open-source protocol is widely adopted among consumer VPN services. OpenVPN can be configured to mask itself as ordinary internet traffic, helping it evade detection by filters and firewalls. Users can toggle between UDP or TCP within the ExpressVPN app settings.

IKEv2: IKEv2 is one of the newest protocols and is known for its speed. It’s well-suited for mobile devices across all platforms. However, its lack of configurability can be a drawback, and it’s difficult to audit due to its strict licensing. ExpressVPN uses an open-source implementation of IKEv2 to ensure the integrity of the protocol. ExpressVPN apps sometimes use IKEv2 when automatic protocol selection is set.

User experience

Our reviewer found ExpressVPN to have an easy-to-use interface. (ExpressVPN)

ExpressVPN’s desktop application boasts a user-friendly interface featuring a compact, vertically oriented window reminiscent of a smartphone screen.

Navigating the app is very straightforward. You can access the server locations from the main screen via the “Menu” button, where servers are conveniently categorised by continent. A unique feature offered by ExpressVPN, which sets it apart from many other VPN services, is the ability to conduct a speed test on your selected server before connecting. This feature, found under the “Speed Test” option in the menu, allows you to assess the server’s performance before connecting, which can be immensely beneficial if you plan on streaming or downloading sizable files. 

While perhaps not as obvious as some of the other VPN apps, ExpressVPN does make it easy enough to change your security settings. In the hamburger menu in the top left of the app you can change your protocol, activate the Threat Manager to block trackers and enable the Network Lock, which stops all internet traffic if the VPN disconnects unexpectedly.

Express VPN was rated the Independent Advisor’s Best VPN for Mac and Best VPN for Chrome.

Performance

ExpressVPN delivered some of the quickest connections and fastest download and upload speeds of this group test. The app instantly connected us to our desired servers, even those on the other side of the world. Connecting to servers in the UK, our download speeds were about two-thirds of the speed we recorded with no VPN – one of the best performers in this test. The farther away our server, though, the slower the speeds. At a third of our download speed with no VPN, the US connection was slower than some other VPNs tested. However, its upload speeds were among the fastest in all regions. Speeds were slowest across the board with the Australian servers, but this is common among most VPNs, and the speeds we recorded with ExpressVPN were some of the fastest in this group. 

Speed test results

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency
No VPN 512.4Mbps 239.6Mbps 6ms
UK to UK 319.9Mbps 62% 212.4Mbps 89% 10ms
UK to US 165.9Mbps 32% 161.7Mbps 67% 0ms
UK to Aus 74Mbps 14% 76Mbps 32% 1ms

Customer service

ExpressVPN receives mixed reviews on platforms like Trustpilot, where users frequently highlight the seamless setup process and dependable connections and give it an overall score of 2.3 out of five stars. Many reviewers, who reside in countries governed by restrictive regimes, note that ExpressVPN’s reliable service has empowered them to publish and interact with others who share their viewpoints. This speaks volumes about ExpressVPN’s dedication to privacy and security.

Moreover, ExpressVPN’s customer support team is notably proactive on these review platforms, providing responses and helpful advice on nearly every post.

“Living in Japan, Express VPN has let me do my job, my school work, and continue to enjoy the same streaming services I used in the States. It also makes me feel more secure when I am on public networks and when staying at hotels. Being able to install it on so many different platforms has been amazing as well.”

Verdict

ExpressVPN is a reliable and high-performing VPN provider, offering robust security features and comprehensive privacy policies, albeit at a premium price point. ExpressVPN stands out as an ideal service due to its extensive range of VPN protocol options, enabling users to switch between protocols such as Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and more, which optimises connection stability, speed, and security according to the specific requirements of each user’s internet activity.

Score: ★★★★½

Read our full ExpressVPN review

Surfshark: Best for families and organisations

  • Lowest price: £1.89 per month with the two-year plan​
  • Free version: No
  • Maximum number of connected devices: Unlimited​
  • Number of servers: More than 3,200 servers in over 100 countries​
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN and WireGuard 
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: Yes, by Deloitte 
  • Headquarters: The Netherlands​

Pros and cons

Subscription term Price
Monthly £10.41/month
Six months £8.03/month (£48.20 upfront)
12 months £5.36/month (£80.35 upfront)

Like NordVPN and ExpressVPN, Surfshark stands out as one of the market leaders in VPNs owing to its comprehensive blend of functionality, user-friendliness, robust security and reliable customer service. Users love Surfshark for its steadfast commitment to online security while facilitating smooth web browsing – and the company delivers an array of features to achieve this.

The service is designed to cater to a broad spectrum of users. Given that it allows for unlimited connected devices, it’s a particularly great service for families, businesses and organisations that need to keep their private data from unwanted scrutiny. Surfshark’s key features include unbreakable AES-256 encryption, a strict no-log policy, a multihop VPN feature, for additional anonymity, an automatic kill switch, unlimited simultaneous device connections and an expansive network of more than 3,200 servers distributed across 100 countries. 

Surfshark backs its service with a 30-day money-back guarantee and round-the-clock customer support, positioning it as a trustworthy VPN provider for those wanting online security and peace of mind.

Cost

Surfshark provides a variety of pricing structures to accommodate various budgetary needs and came out on top when we compared the best value VPNs that didn’t compromise security and privacy. The two-year plan offers the most value, costing only £1.89 monthly. This is billed at £47.25 upfront and then annually after the first 25 months, offering a savings of more than 80 per cent compared to the monthly plan. 

Moreover, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee with all subscription plans for added assurance.

Subscription term Price
Monthly £10.15/month
12 months £3.13/month (£37.53 upfront)
24 months £1.80/month (£46.85 upfront)

Security

Surfshark provides several measures to ensure your data remains protected and secure. One of these is its Dynamic MultiHop feature, which functions as a dual VPN browsing mode, further encrypting your connection for superior security. Dynamic MultiHop lets you create server pairs, which makes it harder for your activity to be tracked. This is ideal for those who are using the internet in countries with very restrictive rules about what can be accessed, and for activists and journalists.

In addition, Surfshark utilises AES-256 encryption, enforces a no-log policy, and includes a kill switch that secures your data if your connection is unexpectedly lost. It also supports various protocols, including OpenVPN, IKEv2 and WireGuard, and offers users the flexibility to choose split tunnelling protocols. Split tunnelling allows you to choose which apps, services or devices send their traffic through the VPN. For example, many online banking apps won’t work with a VPN, so split tunnelling means you can route them through your usual connection. Split tunnelling also reduces the load on your network and can help with connection speeds.

In January 2023, Surfshark successfully underwent its first independent audit, with Deloitte confirming its adherence to a no-log policy. Additionally, its server infrastructure is regularly evaluated independently for reassurance of its robustness.

User experience

Surfshark’s app is intuitive and simple to use. (Surfshark)

Navigating Surfshark is a very straightforward process. Begin by installing the application on your device, logging in, selecting your preferred country and establishing a server connection. Once the connection is in place, you can explore the internet securely and without revealing your identity. 

Surfshark’s compatibility extends to various platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android operating systems and Chrome and Firefox web browsers. The service is also accessible on gaming consoles, such as the newest Xbox and PlayStation consoles, and streaming devices, including Amazon Fire TV Stick and Apple TV.

The app itself is very intuitive. Upon launching the app, you’ll be greeted by the primary “Quick Connect” button on the home screen, which links you to the closest server. If you prefer a different server, navigate to another tab in the footer menu to find a comprehensive list of locations. To find your preferred country, you can scroll through the list or use the search bar. Annoyingly, popular locations such as the US and Australia aren’t grouped at the top, which would save one from having to scroll.

The interface has a few other questionable quirks. For example, disconnecting isn’t as straightforward as it could be. When you try to disconnect, the app prompts you to pause instead. After selecting disconnect, the app questions your choice again, presenting options to pause for varying durations.

On a positive note, the “My Account” tab provides a good range of controls. It lets you activate features such as its CleanWeb ad-blocker, auto connect and the kill switch.

Finally, Surfshark can also be installed directly on your router for those who prefer not to use the app. This enables any device connected to your wifi network to utilise the VPN for anonymous browsing or streaming. Given Surfshark’s support for unlimited devices, there are no restrictions on the number of simultaneous users.

Performance

We’ve tested Surfshark several times and it consistently delivers some of the fastest connection speeds of any VPN service. Again, the service does not disappoint in this test. Latency was minimal in all of our tests, barely registering at all. While a 44 per cent decline in download speed when connecting to a local UK server might seem steep, the upload speed was robust, and these speeds held up when connecting farther to a server in Denver, Colorado. 

Even connecting to servers on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia, our download speed was nearly 30 per cent of our baseline value with no VPN – much faster than most of the competition in this test. The only peculiarity was the very slow upload speed recorded on the Australian server, which differed from the other locations we tested. Multiple tests kept delivering a minuscule upload speed of under 5Mbps. 

Speed test results

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency
No VPN 430.7Mbps 247.5Mbps 5ms
UK to UK 239.9Mbps 56% 252.1Mbps 101% 8ms
UK to US 233.4Mbps 54% 206.1Mbps 83% 0ms
UK to Aus 122.2Mbps 28% 2.81Mbps 1% 1ms

Customer service

Surfshark sets a high standard in customer service. The company provides a wealth of instructional guides and troubleshooting resources and maintains an accessible live chat function (with actual humans, not AI chatbots) for immediate assistance. Direct email contact with its team is also an option for more complex queries.

Surfshark’s Trustpilot reviews reflect customer satisfaction with its service, with praise for its readily available, patient and helpful team; it is rated at 4.5 out of five stars. When refunds are necessary, it’s known to process them promptly. As a testament to its excellent customer service, 85 per cent of Surfshark’s reviews are rated four stars or above, with 72 per cent receiving a perfect five-star rating.

“Great company. Great product, great customer service. Worked with John today. Attentive, instantly responded, helped me with my issue in under five minutes. Continually amazed with the support I receive from this team. One comment – I’d buy a longer subscription if Surfshark offered it. They don’t disappoint.”

Verdict

Surfshark is a cost-effective, highly secure VPN service with an impressive global server presence and a user-friendly interface. Surfshark stands out as one of the best VPNs for families and organisations within this group, thanks to its unlimited number of connected devices. This allows every member or employee to protect their individual device without needing additional subscriptions, ensuring comprehensive online security, privacy and unrestricted internet access across the board.

Score: ★★★★½

Read our full Surfshark VPN review.

PureVPN: Best for public wifi connections

  • Lowest price: £1.80 (when you commit to the Standard plan for two years)
  • Free version: No
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 10​
  • Number of servers: more than 6,500 servers​
  • Encryption: AES-256 plus quantum-resistant encryption keys added to its OpenVPN protocol​. All stored data is secured with strong cryptographic algorithms wherever required​
  • VPN protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2 and WireGuard​
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited: Yes, by Altius IT and KPMG 
  • Headquarters: British Virgin Islands​

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Very strong encryption and regular audits Confusing privacy policy with conflicting claims about the company storing identifying data
Support for a wide range of devices and many simultaneous connections, useful for users with multiple devices or families​ Unclear pricing structure

PureVPN can be used by anyone seeking to safeguard their online activities and ensure their digital privacy. It’s perhaps best used by families with diverse devices and online activities within one network. It also benefits those frequently connecting to public wifi networks or requiring access to geo-restricted content. 

The key features of PureVPN include a broad network of more than 6,500 servers in more than 140 countries, which helps ensure fast and reliable connections. It offers end-to-end encryption for secure data transmission and supports multiple protocols to meet diverse needs. PureVPN also provides a kill switch function, which cuts off your internet connection if your VPN connection drops, preventing data leaks. 

It boasts a split tunnelling feature that allows users to choose which traffic is sent through the VPN and which uses a regular internet connection. Moreover, PureVPN is compatible with various devices and platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and Linux, making it a versatile choice for diverse users.

Cost

PureVPN offers three different pricing plans, each with different features. The Max plan includes all features of the VPN service, a secure password manager, end-to-end file encryption and a personal privacy manager called PurePrivacy. 

The features included in the Pus plan are similar to the Max plan but without the personal privacy manager, PurePrivacy. The Standard plan includes the full-featured high-speed VPN but not the secure password manager, end-to-end file encryption or PurePrivacy.

It’s also worth noting that PureVPN offers a 31-day money-back guarantee. If you’re unhappy with the service within the first 31 days, you can request a full refund.

Standard plan Price
Monthly £10.95/month
12 months £3.74/month (£35.27 upfront)
24 months £2.29/month (£43.12 upfront)
Plus plan Price
Monthly £15.95/month
12 months £5.82/month (£55.32 upfront)
24 months £3.33/month (£63.23 upfront)
Max plan Price
Monthly £19.95/month
12 months £7.49/month (£89.95 upfront)
24 months £4..99/month (£158.12 upfront)

Security

PureVPN stands out as a feature-rich service when it comes to security, with several security features designed to protect users’ privacy and data. PureVPN employs some of the world’s strongest protocols, including OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2 and WireGuard, to ensure the integrity and security of your data. In addition, the company follows a strict no-log policy, meaning your online activity remains private, and it’s held accountable through surprise audits by Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler to ensure this policy is maintained.

PureVPN takes data protection seriously and has relocated its headquarters to the British Virgin Islands, a region known for its strong data protection legislation. This move, it says, underpins its commitment to privacy and security. Furthermore, any data it stores is safeguarded with strong cryptographic algorithms to maximise security.

In a leap towards future-proofing its service, PureVPN partnered with Quantinuum in April 2022 to add quantum-resistant features to its OpenVPN protocol. This cutting-edge technology enhances the security of the VPN service, making it resistant to the potential threats of quantum computing.

PureVPN also offers a solution called PurePrivacy. Once connected, PurePrivacy will examine all of your social media accounts’ settings and recommend updates to these settings that enhance your privacy. 

With all that said, PureVPN did suffer a serious hack in 2013, which exposed many of its clients’ details. However, the company has beefed up its security since then and has had no further data breaches. Further, PureVPN’s privacy policy can be confusing. While its no-logs policy says no data is kept on users, its privacy policy does suggest that information on user activity is stored. 

User experience

The PureVPN app isn’t the easiest to use, but includes some good features. (PureVPN)

PureVPN supports a wide range of devices and operating systems. Specifically, it has apps for macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, Huawei, Chromebook and Linux and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Brave. The service is also compatible with Samsung Smart TVs, many popular gaming consoles, routers, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Apple TV, NVIDIA, Chromecast and other streaming devices. This broad compatibility makes it a versatile choice for families and users with diverse device ecosystems.

The PureVPN client isn’t the most intuitive that we’ve used. While there are some very user-friendly perks, such as stating your desired online activity and getting server recommendations, there are also some oddities. For instance, when you click on a country in the “Locations” menu, it will automatically connect you to a server in that location. To choose your own server, you must click on the arrow on the far right. And when connected, it’s not altogether clear how to disconnect. The instinct is to click the pulsating purple logo in the centre – which is correct – but it’s not marked as such, and in our tests, we had to click it twice. 

Nevertheless, the PureVPN app isn’t difficult to use. Once you get a lay of the land, you’ll navigate its menus in no time. One nice touch is that all the support options, including live chat, are available in the app.

Performance

PureVPN brands itself as the “fastest VPN service”, and it does provide respectable speeds, but in our tests, we found it average in terms of performance. Our testing team started with a download speed of 428Mbps with no VPN connection. But, when connecting to a local server, that speed nearly halved, as did upload speeds. Connection speeds continued to fall by about a third the farther away our servers were, culminating in a download speed in Australia that was just a mere 15 per cent of our performance with no VPN. Nevertheless, we could easily unlock geo-blocked content, stream movies and download in all territories. 

Speed test results

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency
No VPN 428.3Mbps 306.6Mbps 5ms
UK to UK 232.5Mbps 54% 169.6Mbps 55% 17ms
UK to US 159Mbps 37% 167.2Mbps 54% 97ms
UK to Aus 65.1Mbps 15% 70.7Mbps 23% 275ms

Customer service

PureVPN offers several customer support options, and its services are available 24/7. Crucially, you can approach PureVPN’s customer support team through live chat on its website. It also provides a contact form where you can submit your name, email address and message, with response times being a few minutes to confirm receipt of your query and a few hours to get an actual response. Direct email is another option, and it has a Support Centre that hosts a wealth of information on setup guides, troubleshooting, account and billing information, VPN use cases and other frequently asked questions. A support ticket can be generated by logging into the PureVPN Member Area with your credentials, and a support agent will look into your query and resolve the issue accordingly.

On Trustpilot, PureVPN has a solid rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, with 86 per cent of the reviews being excellent. However, when looking at individual reviews, there are some mixed opinions. Praises for the service include its effectiveness for online security, easy setup, user-friendly software and prompt customer support. Positive reviewers also appreciated the fast and reliable servers, claiming that PureVPN is a great way to protect online privacy and personal information.

On the other hand, some common complaints include a decline in quality over time, particularly after the company moved to the British Virgin Islands in 2021. Some customers felt that the VPN didn’t work as it used to and were unsatisfied with the customer service. Other issues raised were slow connection speeds, unreliable billing practices and concerns about user activity logging. 

“The client app is easy to use on the computer and the phone, and there’s an optional killswitch that kicks in if your connection drops for any reason (and if you know what that is then you’ll know why that’s essential). There are lots of connectable cities worldwide and a good number of servers in each location, too, so if one isn’t working well today then it only takes a couple of seconds to skip to an alternative one in the same area.”

Verdict

PureVPN offers a comprehensive VPN service with robust security features, a vast server network and support for numerous devices; however, its privacy policy and pricing structure are slightly confusing. That said, PureVPN stands out as a great option for those who often use public wifi connections, owing to the sheer number of devices and browsers it supports, as well as its strong AES-256 encryption and the ability automatically activate a VPN when connecting to an untrusted network, thereby safeguarding your data from potential cyber threats common in public hotspots.

Score: ★★★★½

Read our full PureVPN review.

Proton VPN: Best for secure file sharing

  • Lowest price: £4.30 per month
  • Free version: Yes
  • Maximum number of connected devices: 10 
  • Number of servers: 3,024
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • VPN protocols: OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), IKEv2 and WireGuard
  • No-log policy: Yes
  • Audited no-log policy: Yes, by Securitum 
  • Headquarters: Switzerland

Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Strong security with AES-256 encryption and support for OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), IKEv2 and WireGuard protocols Free version offers limited servers and slower speeds
Strict no-log policy that has been audited One of the more expensive options unless you commit to a two-year plan

Proton VPN prides itself on safeguarding your online privacy and security, delivering an encrypted connection that ensures third parties cannot intercept or read your data. As an all-rounder, it’s suitable for anyone who wants to keep their internet browsing private and secure and journalists and activists working in regions where freedom of the press is limited. 

High security standards are one of Proton VPN’s self-professed strengths and the service backs this up with AES-256 encryption, the highest level of encryption standard available. In addition, it supports PFS, or Perfect Forward Secrecy. In the context of a VPN, using PFS means that each time you connect to the VPN, a new session key is generated. Even if an attacker manages to compromise the key for one session, they won’t be able to use that key to decrypt the data from any other session. This adds an extra layer of security to the VPN connection.

Proton VPN upholds a strict no-log policy, ensuring it does not store any user connection logs, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or browsing activity, which has been audited independently. In addition, the service has 99 Secure Core servers that route traffic through multiple servers before leaving the Proton VPN network. This adds an extra layer of security, as an attacker would need to compromise the Secure Core servers in Switzerland, Iceland or Sweden, in addition to the exit server.

Other noteworthy features of Proton VPN include its integration with the Tor network, allowing users to easily route their traffic through the Tor network and access Onion sites. It also has a kill switch and always-on VPN, which prevent data leakage by blocking all network connections if the VPN connection is lost and automatically re-establishing a VPN connection when you connect to the internet. 

Proton VPN also employs its own DNS servers to handle your DNS requests, which prevents DNS leaks. Moreover, it supports peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, allowing users to share files over the internet securely. 

Cost

Proton VPN offers a variety of paid plans to cater to different user needs, including a highly-rated free VPN. Regardless of the chosen plan, users can access a wide array of features. These include access to more than 3,000 servers across more than 68 countries, protection for up to 10 devices at a time, an ad-blocker and malware protection. Additionally, paid users can enjoy fast P2P/BitTorrent downloads, the highest VPN speed offered by Proton VPN, high-speed streaming and multihop. The paid plans also provide priority support and live chat, ensuring help is available when needed.

Standard plan Price
Monthly £8.57/month
12 months £5.14/month (£61.70 upfront)
24 months £4.28/month (£102.79 upfront)
Unlimited plan Price
Monthly £10.30/month
12 months £8.58/month (£102.94 upfront)
24 months £6.86/month (£164.66 upfront)

Security

Proton VPN is very privacy-focused and makes its base in Switzerland, a country known for its strong privacy laws and absence of mass surveillance alliances. Proton VPN ensures your online privacy by masking your real IP address, making it difficult for websites to track your online activity. The service also maintains a strict no-log policy, meaning it doesn’t keep any records that can compromise your privacy. Moreover, due to the strict privacy laws in Switzerland, it’s not obligated to start logging user data.

Proton VPN incorporates several security features to protect your data and enhance your online experience. NetShield, a DNS filtering feature, blocks ads, trackers and malicious scripts, thus preventing connections to unwanted domains. Proton VPN also provides DNS leak protection, which ensures your browsing history is never leaked to your internet service provider (ISP).

Moreover, Proton VPN supports Tor over VPN, which allows users to connect to the Tor anonymity network and visit “.onion” sites using a regular browser. This feature is especially useful for those who value their online anonymity.

Proton VPN also stands out for its Secure Core architecture. This feature defends against network-based attacks by routing traffic through multiple servers before leaving the network. This MultiHop approach makes it more challenging to discover your true IP address or associate your browsing activity with your IP.

Proton VPN’s suite of speed and connectivity features includes VPN Accelerator and the Proton Stealth protocol. VPN Accelerator is a set of technologies unique to Proton VPN that can significantly increase your VPN speeds, while the Stealth protocol allows you to bypass most firewalls and VPN-blocking methods, making your VPN traffic appear like regular traffic.

In terms of encryption and protocols, Proton VPN uses high-strength encryption to protect your internet connection. All network traffic is encrypted with AES-256, key exchange is done with the 4096-bit Rivest–Shamir–Adleman cypher and the hash-based message authentication code with SHA-384 is used for message authentication. The service also supports PFS, meaning your encrypted traffic cannot be captured and decrypted later, even if the encryption key from a subsequent session gets compromised. A new encryption key is generated with each connection, further enhancing your online security. Proton VPN uses secure VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, IKEv2 and WireGuard and does not support less secure protocols such as PPTP and L2TP/IPSec.

All of Proton VPN’s apps are open source and audited, underlining the company’s commitment to transparency and security. 

User experience

The app for Proton VPN include a map and allows customisation. (Proton VPN)

Proton VPN is compatible with devices across many different platforms, with apps available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. The user interface is one of the most intuitive and easy to use of those tested, with a built-in server map that simplifies connecting to servers in different countries. You can take control of your security options within the app, choosing from different VPN protocols, including OpenVPN, IKEv2 and WireGuard. You can also enable features such as IP masking and ad blocking and a handy VPN Accelerator to increase your VPN speed significantly. Another useful option is the ability to create custom profiles for different types of online activities.

Performance

In this test, Proton VPN delivered faster download and upload speeds from its remote servers than any other VPN. Its US and Australian download and upload speeds posted some of the best marks. Oddly, the UK server connection was the most disappointing, delivering download speeds at less than half the baseline value with no VPN. Yet upload speeds with the UK server ran at a blazing 90 per cent of the baseline. While connection speeds farther afield were relatively fast, latency was an issue. Nevertheless, our team had no issues streaming video content or downloading files while connected to any of the servers. 

Speed test results

Download speed Degradation (% of base value) Upload speed Degradation (% of base value) Latency
No VPN 140.4Mbps 63.5Mbps 6ms
UK to UK 67.9Mbps 48% 57.4Mbps 90% 6ms
UK to US 78.5Mbps 56% 49.9Mbps 76% 111ms
UK to Aus 40.5Mbps 29% 31.3Mbps 49% 288ms

Customer service

Proton VPN offers multiple forms of customer service. Users can contact its support team through a support form on the official website, and it promises to get back to users as soon as possible. In our tests, the team got back within an impressive 18 hours. Proton VPN offers real-time assistance through a live chat feature for subscribers of the paid VPN service. Additionally, the company provides a secure email address where users can send encrypted messages, although it notes that responses via this method may take longer.

Reviews from users of Proton VPN are generally very positive on many review platforms. However, the rating on Trustpilot drops to just 2.4 out of 5 stars, with 51 per cent of its reviews giving just one star. Many of these negative reviews focus on the refund process upon cancellation, which users say comes in the form of credits rather than money back. 

In contrast, the positive reviews often praise the service’s robust privacy policy and unlimited data on the free plan. Many users also appreciate Proton VPN for being based in Switzerland, a country known for its strong privacy laws, and for being run by the same team behind ProtonMail. One user pointed out that Proton VPN has much to lose if it were to lie about its no-log policies, indicating a high level of trust in the company.

“Out of all the VPN services I used in the past, this one is by far the most stable and reliable. The connections are extremely stable and very fast, and all their features just work. It’s fool-proof. The public WLAN at my university is actively blocking VPN connections, and Proton was the only one that managed to establish a stable connection so far, thanks to their stealth protocol. In regards to privacy I would definitely rank them in the top five of all VPNs available.”

Verdict

Proton VPN provides a very secure VPN service with a strict no-log policy and high-level encryption, catering to anyone who values online privacy and security and with features to support any online activity. In particular, ProtonVPN excels as a VPN option for secure file sharing due to its strong focus on privacy and security, including features like Secure Core that routes traffic through multiple servers, and P2P support for safe file sharing, ensuring your data remains private and shielded even during transfer activities.

Score: ★★★★

Read our full Proton VPN review.

Why do you need a secure VPN?

A secure VPN is essential for maintaining online privacy and securing a digital life. Its core functionality involves establishing encrypted connections between your device and a remote server, making your internet activities private and hard to track. Here are some of the key reasons why you need a secure VPN:

  • Enhanced privacy: A secure VPN conceals your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic. This masks your online activities from your ISP, government agencies and any third-party snoops. It ensures that what you do online remains known to you alone, safeguarding your browsing history from prying eyes.
  • Data security: VPNs use robust encryption protocols to secure your data, making it unreadable to anyone who might intercept it. This is incredibly important when using public wifi networks, which are often unsecured and can expose your data to cybercriminals. A secure VPN is necessary to protect sensitive information such as banking details, passwords and personal emails.
  • Preventing bandwidth throttling: ISPs sometimes throttle your internet speed when they detect heavy data usage such as streaming or gaming. Using a VPN prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online, eliminating the chances of throttling based on your activity.
  • Protecting multiple devices: Most VPN services offer the ability to secure multiple devices with one account. This means you can protect your laptop, phone, tablet and even your smart TV, ensuring every device you use to connect to the internet has the same level of protection.
  • Safe file sharing: If you often use P2P file sharing or torrenting, a VPN is crucial to keep your activity private and your data secure. It encrypts the files you download and upload, preventing anyone from seeing what you share or download.
  • Enhanced online anonymity: Beyond just concealing your IP address, a secure VPN makes it difficult to trace digital footprints back to you. This is particularly important for those dealing with sensitive information or activists, journalists and others working in restrictive environments

What is AES-256?

The AES-256 encryption method is a symmetric key encryption technique and one of the most secure encryption methods. It was established by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology and is used globally for securing sensitive data. 

The “symmetric” part of the definition means that the same key used to encrypt the data is also used to decrypt it. The “256” refers to the size of the key: the longer the key, the more possible combinations there are, making it harder to “crack.” In the case of AES-256, the number of potential combinations an attacker would need to go through to decrypt the data is astronomical – around 1.1 × 10^77 combinations, to be exact. This number is so large that, even with today’s fastest computers, it would take billions of years to try every possible combination.

The AES-256 encryption process involves several rounds of transformations to encrypt plain text, including substitution, permutation, mixing and key adding. Each round uses different portions of the encryption key, ensuring that the resulting ciphertext is extremely difficult to reverse-engineer without knowing the secret key.

This high level of security provided by AES-256 encryption is why it is widely used in various industries and applications, including government communications, banking and finance and secure personal communication services. It’s also the standard the US government chooses for encrypting classified information, underscoring the trust placed in its robustness. However, it’s crucial to remember that while AES-256 encryption is virtually unbreakable through brute-force attacks, it doesn’t protect against other attack methods, such as keylogging or social engineering. Therefore, a comprehensive security approach should always be applied.

What are OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec and other security protocols?

Understanding the nuance between the different VPN protocols can be tricky, even if you’ve been using VPNs for some time. Below is a short explanation of how each one is different.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol known for its flexibility and strong security. It can operate on any port and bypass most firewalls, making it quite reliable. OpenVPN uses the OpenSSL library and supports various encryption algorithms, including AES-256, providing a high level of security. It’s commonly used in commercial VPN services due to its versatility and security features.

IKEv2/IPSec

The IKEv2 protocol establishes and handles the security associations in an IPSec connection by providing a secure key exchange session. It becomes a very secure VPN protocol when used with IPSec for encryption. It’s particularly useful for mobile VPNs, as it can effectively handle network changes (for example, moving from a wifi network to mobile data).

WireGuard

WireGuard is a newer open-source VPN protocol that provides simpler and faster VPN connections. It uses state-of-the-art cryptography and is designed to be easier to implement and deploy, more efficient and more secure than existing VPN protocols. While not as widely supported as OpenVPN or IKEv2, it’s increasingly becoming popular due to its streamlined design.

SSTP

The SSTP is a VPN protocol developed by Microsoft that encapsulates Point-to-Point Protocol traffic over Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security. It provides a secure connection and can bypass most firewalls and proxy servers. Because it’s integrated into Windows, it’s easier to set up on Microsoft’s operating system, but it might be harder to implement on other platforms.

L2TP/IPSec

L2TP/IPSec is a combination of the L2TP and IPSec protocols. Because L2TP doesn’t offer any encryption, it’s often paired with IPSec for security. This combination provides a balanced level of security and performance. However, it’s known to have slower speeds than other protocols due to double data encapsulation.

PPTP

One of the oldest VPN protocols, PPTP was developed by a consortium formed by Microsoft, Ascend Communications (now part of Nokia), 3Com and others. While PPTP is very fast and easy to set up, it is also the least secure of modern VPN protocols. Therefore, using other, more secure protocols is generally recommended if possible.

Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.77 /Month
£6.77 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.27 /Month
£4.27 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.53 /Month
£4.53 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £3.58 /Month
£3.58 /Month
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5

NordVPN is great at protecting your data and information with unparalleled encryption. Using both AES-256-GCM and AES-256-CBC, generally considered to be superior to AES-256 in most instances, as well as a double VPN, NordVPN ensures security is a the heart of their product. With good speeds when connected and great user experience, NordVPN is an ideal choice for security-conscious users.

ExpressVPN: Best for protocols
Overall Score: 4.5/5
ExpressVPN: Best for protocols
Overall Score: 4.5/5

ExpressVPN offers fantastic support for various protocols, including Lightway, L2TP, OPenVPN and IKEv2 and features an array of privacy measure, such as AES-256 encryption and a strict no-logs policy, which has been independently audited. This VPN proved the fastest in our download and upload speed tests, providing a good balance between security and performance.

Surfshark: Best for families
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Surfshark: Best for families
Overall Score: 4.5/5

Surfshark’s robust and reliable VPN is available on an unlimited number of connected devices, making it an ideal choice for families or organisations. Their wide variety of features means that there is a broad spectrum of users who enjoy their AES-256 encryption, multitude of protocols and multihop VPN feature.

Jeff Meyer

Writer

Jeff is a highly experienced editor and journalist with extensive experience in the tech industry, as well as for the automotive and DIY sectors, writing for both B2C and B2B brands.

Jeff has tested all manner of tech, from cameras to phones to EVs and home appliances. In his 23 years as a writer and editor, Jeff has written for global tech titles like TechRadar and Digital Camera World, as well as brands such as eBay, Canon, Panasonic, Eero, and many more.

His expertise extends to topics such as solar panels and VPN, a topic where he is a regular contributor.

In addition to editorial, Jeff also has many years experience producing video and podcasts. He is also passionate about renewable energy and green living, and explaining this technology to new audiences.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.