Virtual private networks, also known as VPNs, are safe to use – provided you choose a reliable one. A VPN changes your IP address to effectively mask your computer's identity and disguise your browsing location.
Considering the fact that VPNs are illegal in some parts of the world and have a reputation for being used during cybercrime operations, it's understandable why you might think they're unsafe. But in reality, there's no risk to your device in using a VPN, and you're not using some back-channel version of the internet – it's the same web, just accessed over a different server.
Top VPN services offer a great way to protect your identity online and open up areas of the internet that could be blocked off to you because of your location. This guide explains what to look out for with a VPN, the benefits of paying for one over a free alternative (far less safe), plus everything you need to know about the safest VPNs currently on the market.
A decent VPN can be had for a few dollars a month, and most take your online security seriously, without logging your activities or storing your data.
Other free VPNs are simply too limited to offer true security. The Opera Browser, for example, offers a built-in VPN. This is great for giving you a degree more privacy while browsing online. However, it won't cover all of your online activities – only what you're doing in the browser. The rest of your connection to the web is happening as usual, with all the privacy concerns that may raise.
Why businesses should use a VPN
Now that you know that VPNs are safe for businesses, it's important to understand just how important it is for your company to utilize one to improve security. For one, security breaches are a real threat in 2023, and doing everything you can to protect your company data is vital.
In fact, with remote work becoming such a common occurrence at businesses during – and likely after – the pandemic, security gaffs have risen substantially.
This is where a VPN really shines. If you're working at home or even in a coffee shop, a business VPN will completely encrypt your online activity, protecting you from anyone trying to access the network. Particularly with a business account run by your IT department, you'll have the peace of mind that comes with your entire staff behind securely protected, no matter where they are.
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Excellent privacy features for the security-minded
All of the above providers are safe VPNs maintained by reputable brands that take your security seriously. From our extensive testing, we identified three that stand out from the crowd.
NordVPN, IPVanish, and PureVPN combine great features with dependable speeds and easy-to-navigate user interfaces. Below, we give a little more detail on our top-choice VPN services:
You may worry that in order to get a safe VPN, you'll need to spend more. Surfshark proves this isn't the case – this is one of the cheapest VPNs around, but also, reassuringly, one of the most secure.
Low cost, high safety
Surfshark shames the competition when it comes to value. For just $2.49 per month, you can use Surfshark across an unlimited number of devices, and it works on Macs, PCs, iPhones, Android devices and even FireTV sticks. Even better, they're currently offering up to 86% off + up to 5 months free!
In terms of safety and security features, Surfshark gives you everything you'd want in an easy-to-use package. It offers a choice of 3,200 global servers to choose from. There's an all-important killswitch function to make sure your data isn't exposed should the VPN ever pause. And, reassuringly, Surfshark holds firm to a “zero data logging” policy, keeping customers' privacy at the forefront.
Recently, Surfshark released Surfshark One, an all-in-one cybersecurity package that includes not only a VPN and an antivirus subscription but also a safe search tool (a search engine that won't track your searches) and a data breach alert function (which will notify you if your personal information appears in a breached database). The threat of being hacked or scammed is greater now than it has ever been before, so signing up to a provider prepared to cover all bases for just $3.49/month (just $1.19 more than a regular Surfshark subscription) is a shrewd move.
- Been around a lot less time than its competitors
- No fully free tier
- Competitors like NordVPN are quicker
- 'Fastest Server' isn't always fastest server
NordVPN takes your security very seriously. To begin with, it uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption to protect your information, a great bonus if you're looking to use public WiFi networks without concern.
Additional VPN security features
As well as built-in malware blocking, NordVPN also features a Kill Switch option.
This will stop your browsing dead should your connection to the VPN fail, instead of continuing your activity on your ISP.
- Risk-free money-back guarantee
- Excellent mobile app for iOS
- Lightning-quick connection speeds
- Packed with useful security features
- Excellent value for money
- Couldn't unblock some streaming services
- Roughly half of the server network is located in US
Unlike some other VPNs, IPVanish has a policy of not logging your data. This means that records of your online searches and the websites you have visited won't be kept. Overall, it's a very safe VPN.
Secure but technical VPN
IPVanish has over 1,000 servers in 60 countries, and owns them all outright, rather than leasing them from third-party data centres. This means that your data is passing purely through IPVanish's systems, rather than a faceless third party.
It's a powerful VPN to choose, though arguably a little technical if you've never used one before. However, the privacy conscious will love the ability to deep-dive into the settings and features.
- Controls a proportion of its server network
- Solid privacy and security features
- Decent speeds
- Slightly intimidating user interface
- Hasn't made the switch to RAM servers
- Priced above some rivals
PureVPN is not only a capable and safe VPN in its own right, but also boasts an impressive suite of additional security features. One of these is Ozone, a tool that gives you content filtering tools, and has intrusion-detection features that alert you if someone is trying to hack into your PC.
Then there's a tool called Gravity. This is an ad-blocker that stops ads appearing during your browsing.
Simple but secure VPN
For VPN first-timers, PureVPN is also brilliantly simple to use. You don't have to delve into complex settings to get up and running, and there's support on hand, too. Best of all? You don't have to spend much – it's a great-value VPN.
- Effective privacy and security features
- Smart Mode-based approach
- Clear notifications
- Excellent value
- Not quite as fast as billed
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix unless you use the browser extension
Are VPNs safe and worth the money?
VPNs are legal in the vast majority of countries, but a VPN will only really be safe to use if you can be sure you're not going to get a knock on the door from the police simply for using one in the first place, regardless of your activity.
On a related note, while there are many safe VPNs out there, we'd advise staying away from free VPNs in general, which often don't have the resources or desire to keep their users safe. This is a no-brainer when you consider that paid subscriptions are just a few dollars a month – and it's better to be safe than sorry.
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