VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, used to conjure up images of sophisticated VPN router hardware and dedicated console screens not so long ago. Times have changes, however, as anonymous VPNs have now become consumer friendly, easy-to-use applications that can run on almost any internet enabled device today.
The biggest driving force behind the proliferation of secure VPN services among the masses is the increasing awareness of internet privacy rights and the lack of protection thereof by governments across the globe. Perhaps the most notorious in this regard is none other than our own federal government – what with the PATRIOT Act, the NSA snooping (recently made public by Edward Snowden), and numerous other accounts of government sanctioned takedowns of citizens based on their online activities.
With the online anonymity of the average US citizen under such dire threat, online VPNs have become the first line of defense against an invasive government for many. Many also use them to access geo-restricted content from other countries, and to secure themselves against hacker activity when conducting sensitive transactions/communications over unsecured wireless networks.
VPNs range from completely free to corporate-grade expensive, depending on what you require – but for the average user, mainstream affordable VPNs provide adequate protection. Read on to find out more about free VPN services as well as cheap paid options.
VPN Service Free vs Paid
Here are a free vs paid VPN comparison to help you decide which one is for you:
|You don’t have to supply any payment info||Payment information (e.g. credit card details) have to be provided up-front|
|You don’t have to search for any money back guarantee||Normally provide a money back guarantee|
|Do not allow multiple parallel connections||All several parallel connections|
|Restricted bandwidth||Unlimited bandwidth|
|Usually, do not support torrenting||Usually fully (or partially) support torrenting|
|Usage may be time or data bound||No usage restrictions|
|Weaker tunneling standards e.g. L2TP, SSTP, PPTP||Strong tunneling standards e.g. OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec|
|May sell your contact information to third parties||Strong privacy rules, and no motivation for selling consumer information third parties|
Going by these contrasting qualities, you should appreciate by now that free VPNs are useful for casual internet users who only surf mostly text and image based websites. Some may even support low-quality video playback, but that would be the extent of it. They are also a good choice for individuals who want to try out the concept of a VPN before they sign up for a fully-fledged paid option.
Those who are conducting serious business online, and want to avoid third party eavesdropping (both government and hackers), should buy a VPN that’s paid. Users who want to access a geo-restricted content streaming service such as BBC iPlayer will require a fast VPN that can handle HD quality video playback – and such a VPN won’t come for free. The fastest VPN services, utilized by individuals who indulge in file sharing (especially over the P2P protocol) are all paid and may be slightly more expensive than the market average.
The bottom line is that even a cheap VPN with a monthly subscription fee will be a vast improvement over a free VPN, and objectively speaking, all the top VPN services are paid.
CyberGhost VPN Review: A decent free option
While it’s not a match for a paid high-speed VPN service, signing up for a free VPN account with CyberGhost is perhaps the best route for those looking for a free VPN service to use on their desktop.
With its clean and straightforward client layout devoid of ads (rare for a free service, I know), the software lets you access restricted websites, anonymize your activity and even stream low-quality videos. There’s even a basic FAQ available to instruct newcomers on setting up a VPN for the first time – not that you need to follow complicated steps – just go to the CyberGhost website, download VPN, install from the setup file and run the application.
Given that this is a free service, you’ll be restricted in terms of the server locations you can access. Furthermore, CyberGhost will also automatically disconnect after a few hours of use, requiring you to connect again manually. Despite these nuisances, this VPN service is the closest you can get to a free VPN that does its job well, and is our pick for the best free VPN software out there.
Better paid options
If you don’t want your online experience to be held back by the limitations described above, you could consider one of the following three inexpensive VPN services:
Known for its thorough privacy rules, reliable and swift connectivity, and excellent user support, Express VPN is the best cheap VPN in the market right now. Subscription starts at 12.95 USD per month, but if you go for the annual payment option, you can reduce the cost to around USD 8.32 a month. A free trial VPN option is available on the Android and iOS platforms – but this doesn’t extend to the desktop application.
With server end points in 136 unique locations around the world, you’ve got plenty of choices to spoof your online address. The client uses both OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec, and backs this up with AES-256 encryption – ECDH key exchange encrypts the data channels to achieve Perfect Forward Secrecy.
Torrenting is fully supported by Express VPN, and combined with the unlimited bandwidth and fast download speeds, it works great for both heavy internet users and digital content streamers. You can make 3 parallel connections with Express VPN.
Headquartered in Panama, and offering server locations in 50 plus countries, NordVPN is another good choice for those in need of a quality VPN service. It utilizes L2TP/IPSec and PPTP tunneling standards, with strong AES-256 ciphering, and supports up to six simultaneous connections with the same subscription.
If you’re willing to put up with slightly sluggish connection speeds (as a result of additional encryption), you can enjoy a fully-fledged VPN at a cheaper $11.95 a month, which can be reduced to $5.75 if you go for the annual package.
The software comes with a 3 day free VPN trial, in addition to a month long money back guarantee.
This service is US-based, so those who are primarily concerned with government sanctioned privacy intrusions (or worse) may want to pass it over. If you aren’t part of that segment, signing up for this service (at a low monthly cost of $10 a month, which can be reduced to $6.50 with an annual subscription) gives you access to a server network with over 40,000 IPs spread over 500 plus servers in sixty or so countries.
With such an extensive network, you can count on excellent streaming and P2P performance. The services use OpenVPN for tunneling, alongside OpenSSL, RFC 4835 and MPPE for ciphering.
Having weighed the pros and cons of both paid and free VPNs, and covered some of the leading inexpensive options for securing your online privacy, we’ll reiterate that, in the end, it all comes down to careful evaluation of your personal requirements.
For a complete experience, though, our choice would have to be ExpressVPN.