Top VPN services for anonymous browsing & torrenting

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In an earlier article, we have featured some of the popular proxy services that allow users to browse the web anonymously and to unlock geo-restricted web content from across the world. But proxy services usually have some limitations. They can offer only limited security and access to limited web content (usually text and images). Websites implementing Flash, JavaScript, etc., usually do not render properly over proxy servers. Additionally, proxy servers don’t have global set up options; they have to be configured individually for each program. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can address these drawbacks of proxy servers. In this article, we’ll explore some of the popular VPN services.

A VPN service allows users to access the Internet by remotely joining them to a private network. Each user is then considered as an individual node in the network. All the traffic within a VPN is encrypted with a minimum of 128-bit AES encryption, so user activity is not visible to the outside world. Thus, users can anonymously send requests to a host server, which can only trace back the requestor’s IP address back to the VPN as a whole, and not to the individual user within the network.

Thus, if users connect to a US or UK based VPN service, they will be able to access US/UK-restricted websites even from countries other than the UK or US. VPN services are required to be configured individually for each device. But once set up, the settings work across all applications, and the entire network traffic is tunneled through the VPN. If traffic is high within the VPN, users may sometimes experience slow connections. These services vary in price, performance, reliability and availability.

Popular VPN services

These are some of the most popular VPN services based on the features they offer:

Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access is one of the most popular VPN services that protect the user’s privacy and security by creating an encrypted tunnel for you to access the web. Using techniques such as IP cloaking, encryption, firewall, etc., Private Internet Access provides a safe, secure and anonymous way to access websites and unlock geo-restricted content from anywhere in the world. With more than 2092 servers installed across 13 countries, Private Internet Access has a global network of servers that cover most of the popular regions where geo-restricted Internet services are found. The VPN service does not log any user data to maintain privacy. It is compatible with multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android) and supports simultaneous connection of up to 5 devices. Internet browsing speed is high and can smoothly access most media streaming sites. Subscription prices are also affordable, ranging from $6.95/month to $39.95/year.

TorGuard

TorGuard’s VPN service is fine-tuned to provide its users a high degree of anonymity and enhanced security. It is one of the few VPN services that allow you to download torrents anonymously. TorGuard encrypts the entire network traffic with 256 bit AES encryption, to prevent outsiders from snooping in or tracking your online activities. It doesn’t log any user information to help maintain privacy. Additionally, TorGuard features a Stealth mode, which uses special servers that are guaranteed to bypass Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), and provide anonymous access to websites without being blocked by corporate or government firewalls. TorGuard’s VPN software is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS, as well as popular VPN routers. It offers unlimited speed and bandwidth to its users and allows simultaneous connections on up to 5 devices. The VPN servers are torrent-friendly offering more than 1000 unique IPs spread across 41 countries. The use of OpenVPN lets you to easily connect to the VPN service from home or office. They also have a quality customer service. As for pricing, TorGuard has quite reasonable plans for its VPN users, starting at  $9.99 per month to $59.99 per year.

IPVanish

IPVanish is the only tier-one VPN service, offering its users the best VPN speeds, one of the highest levels of security, with affordable pricing options. The service is most popular for their fast and contention-free network connections, allowing you to browse the web, stream video content and unlock geographical restrictions imposed by online services. Like other popular VPN services, IPVanish also encrypts the entire network and masks your IP with their own, thus preventing external spoofing and protecting your privacy. With IPVanish, users can choose among 14000+ unique IP addresses from 140+ VPN servers situated across 60+ different countries. They provide VPN clients for almost any platform, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Chromebooks, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and more. Additionally, they are compatible with many of the popular routers, so that you can set up the VPN in your home or office network. For using IPVanish VPN service, you can choose among monthly, quarterly and yearly subscription plans, ranging from $8.50 per month to $66.29 per year.

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN provides all the features you’d expect in a typical paid VPN service, including encryption, anonymity, video streaming support, high speeds, support for torrent downloads, etc., but it does have a free ad-supported plan which includes all these features. CyberGhost VPN has 418 servers located across 29 different countries. If you want to use a VPN service in your home and unlock geo-restricted web content, without having to invest money on it, CyberGhost is the ideal VPN service. The free service offers AES 256 Bit encryption without any bandwidth cap. It also hides your original IP address to protect your privacy and let you unlock several geo-restricted websites around the world. Although, CyberGhost also has a paid service that provides higher speeds, greater security and support for up to 5 devices. CyberGhost VPN has apps for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and iOS.

Hotspot Shield VPN

Hotspot Shield is another free VPN service that protects your online privacy by encrypting network traffic, and allows users to  hide their IP addresses, bypass internet censorship, browse the web anonymously and unlock geo-restricted online content from anywhere in the world. Hotspot Shield is freely available for download, and supports Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. There is also a paid Elite version that offers ad-free web browsing experience, dedicated customer support, cloud based malware protection, and allows users to access VPN servers located in the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Canada and Germany. Hotspot Shield Elite offers multiple device support and has client apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Kindle.

UnoVPN

UnoTelly, the company behind UnoDNS, also offers their own VPN service called UnoVPN, for customers of their Gold Plan. UnoVPN provides VPN servers located across 5 different locations (US, UK, Canada, Netherlands and Germany), hence unlocking access to most of the popular geo-restricted services available on the Internet. UnoVPN provides customers with unlimited access to fast, reliable servers, so that they can use the VPN service at any time. Also, users can directly configure UnoVPN on a wide range of devices (including routers), without the requirement of any additional software installation. UnoVPN keeps minimal logs to “satisfy the jurisdictional requirements” of their VPN servers, which includes login, logout times and the amount of bandwidth used. Also, UnoTelly does not log individual user activity.

NordVPN

NordVPN boasts itself as “the world’s most advanced VPN” service. NordVPN tunnels the users’ traffic through super fast VPN servers, protected with 2048-bit SSL encryption to provide maximum security. The service offers unrestricted access to geo-blocked channels like Hulu, Netflix, BBC, ITV, SKY and more. It also supports P2P file sharing services (for example, torrent downloads). In addition, NordVPN encrypts network traffic twice with military-grade AES-256-CDC encryption (Double Data Encryption). It supports Windows, iOS and Android devices and it’s also configurable on routers.

Pros and cons

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using VPN services:

Advantages:

  • User requests are tunneled through the VPN network; hence individual IP address is hidden from the target server, and the user can anonymously browse websites.
  • Once set up on a device, the VPN settings work across all applications.
  • End-to-end encryption (ranging from 128-bit to 2048-bit) protects user activity within the network.
  • Can usually access and unlock a variety of geo-restricted web content.

Disadvantages:

  • Software-based or manual configuration is required for setting up VPN service.
  • Network speed may be slow when traffic is high depending on the infrastructure of VPN service.
  • End-to-end encryption protects network activity against snooping from the outside, but the VPN service may log user data.

Free v/s Paid VPN services

After going through our list of best VPN services, you might be wondering, why opt for a paid VPN service when free ones are also available. This is because paid services usually invest your money in the maintenance of their infrastructure, which is a key requirement for running a scalable  VPN service. As the number of users increase, these services need to upgrade their hardware so that the servers can withstand the additional load.

If a VPN service is a paid one, it is usually more reliable compared to a free service that may not be able to provide sufficient resources required to handle a growing user base. Due to improper maintenance and unavailability of sufficient funds to upgrade the infrastructure, such a service may be abruptly shut down at any time. So, if you want to use a dedicated VPN or Smart DNS service which is reliable, it is recommended that you go for a paid solution rather than a free one.

Thus, if you are willing to spend money on a service dedicated to let you browse the web anonymously and unlock geo-restricted web content, a paid VPN service is usually more preferable.

But since the entire network traffic is tunneled through VPN, users may experience latency in accessing websites due to several factors like encryption/decryption, high network traffic, etc. If media streaming is your priority and you want to access geo-restricted audio and video streaming services from anywhere in the world, SmartDNS would be more suitable for you.

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