A VPN is essentially a way of encrypting all your data traffic so that no one can see it. But, as I will discuss, just having a VPN does not mean your safe. There are many things to consider.
VPN's can help ensure that emails or sensitive data is sent to someone without anyone else knowing. It allows people to use torrent clients without fear or ISP repercussions. And it can easily circumvent GeoIP restrictions that certain countries impose on their people.
Keeping all this in mind, let us move forward.
Most of my experience with setting up a VPN was using it to circumvent GeoIP restrictions. Certain countries will just not allow specific content to be seen, even if you might consider it harmless. I would setup a free VPN, or use the Tor browser--forcing it to use a country of my choosing--and get around most obstacles in a breeze. The speeds were horrendous, which in part was due to the speeds I was able to achieve without using a VPN. I should also note that the Tor browser is not a VPN, yet, in a way, acts somewhat like a VPN.
But now I do have fears of digital invasions of my privacy. Whenever possible, I try to avoid saving payment information on my phone or PC. While I do not avoid banking or making payments online (as it is by far the easiest way for so many things), I find not allowing your information to be stored gives you better chances of not having some sort of identity theft occur.
However, this is not the safest way to go about things. People can sniff out my traffic and discover all types of things about me if they truly wanted to. And who is to know when such a situation is to come up? I recently read about how someone was working on their laptop at a coffee shop, and within a matter of hours their credit and work was destroyed, along with thousands of dollars drained from their account. All this because they decided to use the free WiFi service at the coffee shop without protection.
Whenever I hear "free" I simultaneously am happy and cautious. Anything free always has some sort of reciprocation or drawback. And in the case of free VPN's, this is also true.
Free VPN's are next to worthless, unless you just need them for circumventing GeoIP restrictions (think of watching Netflix in a foreign country). In these cases, a proxy is likely a better route to go if there is no real fear of being served a notice by your ISP.
Those free VPN's that are good usually have some sort of bandwidth restriction, meaning they will stop your VPN service once you have streamed, downloaded, or surfed the net for so long. Others enforce a time limit, which can be just as bad.
Probably the worst thing about free VPN's is that their security of data is often poor or weak, which is contrary to the purpose of using a VPN. And even if they are adequate, they may keep logs which can also be construed as the opposite of why a person would use a VPN.
Encryption, Authentication & Authorization
This is important as it may matter in terms of what VPN you want to use. I will explain it with an example as even I can get easily confused on what each part does. We will use the example of someone trying to purchase a plane ticket.
Encryption would be used when you pay for the ticket. The credit/debit card you use to pay for it online is encrypted so that no one else can try to grab that information and use it.
Authentication would be used when you go to the airport and pick up your ticket. You show your passport and the airline service person now knows you are meant to get your ticket.
Authorization would be used when trying to board the flight. The airline ticket will tell the attendant if you are meant to be on this flight or a different one.
This is a simplified version, but maybe some people will recognize the characters of each moreso than just the words. Because of this, I will just give a quick example of what you might find when searching about VPN's:
For data encryption you might find Blowfish, which 128-bit. This is the cipher algorithm that encrypts and decrypts your data traffic. Authentication may be at SHA256, which is used to ensure no Man-In-The-Middle attacks will happen. Meaning no one steps in between you and the VPN server and attempts to modify/inject data to get what they want from you. And authorization, or the handshake, might be a standard of RSA2048.
What does this all mean, it means varying degrees of protection can be used, from nothing to (presently) impossible to crack. And, possibly the most important, the lower these settings are the faster your connection will be; which also means the less secure and safe your data becomes...
This is not everything about these items, as I am only scratching the surface. However, if you know at least this, you should be knowledgeable enough to choose a good VPN.
UDP vs. TCP
These are two connection protocols. Basically, you would use UDP for speed, and TCP for stability. Most people use UDP because it is faster, but can experience problems with lost packets, which might be bad in situations like online gaming. TCP will prevent the packet loss, but again, at the cost of impacting speed. There are more differences, but mainly remember it is about speed versus stability.
A lot of companies will keep connection, bandwidth, and activity logs for their servers. But VPN's may use one or none of these logs.
The best companies keep no logs (some even go so far as "losing" your payment information completely once a certain period has passed). This is what you want most so that even if they must comply with a court order, they have nothing to hand over, and so no consequences can be brought against its clients.
Some VPN's may keep connection logs. While not a desired feature of a VPN, a connection log is just that. It only logs who connected and when. If a company had to hand over these logs there is a possibility of still getting in trouble, but without having further information, there is not much government agencies or businesses can deduce other than you connected to a VPN server.
Others may keep bandwidth logs. These will likely accompany connection logs and can infer that a user has been doing illegal things if their bandwidth usage is high without explanation. This could get you in trouble if you have no reasonable excuse as to why you use so much bandwidth.
And finally some companies keep activity logs. More than likely a company that keeps activity logs will also have connection logs. This is by far the most detrimental to users. With this information someone can see what they were doing while they were connected to a VPN, which truly defeats the purpose of using a VPN.
Again, the best companies keep no logs so that nothing can happen. The exception to this rule is a company that is based in a country where they are not legally bound to hand over such logs, even if requested.
PPTP vs. L2TP vs. SSL-VPN vs. OpenVPN
The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is the worst of the VPN bunch. It is weak and can be broken as demonstrated numerous times in the past. The reason most people believe it is still around is because of how easy it is to setup, especially in Windows computers. If you are looking for security, look elsewhere.
L2TP is arguably the fastest of the bunch due to less overhead requirements. L2TP is only tunneling, and often combined with IPSec for encryption purposes. While it can be secure, it has been proven that it can be cracked as well, depending on its configuration. If you plan to use L2TP/IPSec, be sure that PEAP authentication is used in conjunction. This has not yet been cracked. The unfortunate thing is that most VPN services may offer L2TP, but without PEAP.
SSL-VPN is often regarded as on par with security to OpenVPN. However, SSL-VPN is not open-source, so constant evaluations of it are not required. It uses SSL v3.0, which is still considered strong, and OpenVPN can use this as well. While not the fastest, there are many debates that consider SSL-VPN to be faster than using OpenVPN. The downside is that it has been proven to have vulnerabilities and should be only used for private WLAN or LAN connections to make it harder to crack.
OpenVPN is considered to be the best. Not the fastest, but the safest. (It can be plenty fast, but is not always regarded as the fastest.) Because it is open-source, it is regulated. It can use TLS v1.2, successor to SSL v3.0, better, and safer. TLS v1.1 & v1.0 were backwards compatible to allow SSL v3.0 to be used if necessary, but TLS v1.2 disallows this to ensure better security. It is unlikely to be cracked any time soon, and should be considered the safest measure you can take.
What To Look For In A VPN
I have a list of what to look for when finding a VPN service. Here is what I use:
- What type of encryption (and authentication and authorization) can be used?
- What are the locations of the VPN servers?
- What is the amount of servers they provide?
- What is the reported speeds people are getting with these VPN servers?
- What kind of support does the VPN service provide?
- What is the price of the VPN service?
- What is the VPN service's policy on logs?
- What are the extra features available?
I will elaborate on all of these questions as best I can.
The first question is just about what can I use to secure my data while using the VPN. Do they have everything available, do they force only a certain amount of security?
The next question is related to speed. While using a (specific) foreign VPN server would be safest, you might find that the speeds given by a foreign server to be paltry compared to closer servers. I try to find VPN services that have servers in the same region, as they should be the fastest available (but this is not always true).
The amount of servers is somewhat of a followup to the last question. Having a small amount of servers does not necessarily mean that service is bad, but having a lot of servers to choose from can always be more useful given everything else they have is good.
The speed amounts from a VPN service is better found through their forums or forums where people are discussing that service. Some people will be able to sustain the same speeds they get without a VPN server. Yet, this is not something you should expect. Getting a census of what many people seem to achieve is best in determining if they have fast VPN servers available.
The support is something you should be concerned with as you could run into problems fast and need help getting issues dealt with. I would say all VPN services praise themselves, but this means nothing. Reading external reviews is what will help the most in this regard. A greatly secure, fast VPN service is nothing if you run into a problem and cannot get help for it.
The price should also be of great concern. While most competition will have similar ranges, some will be quite high compared to others. If the cost is justified, then paying more may be what you need to do. However, paying less for great service is what I aim for.
The logs they keep is maybe the most significant point of any VPN service. As stated above, a company that keeps no logs will always be best for security purposes. Anything less (or actually more) can be taking away from your security. Not all VPN services will come out and say they do not keep logs, and those are the ones you want to check thoroughly.
Extra features can be great, and may be for free. Other services may have extra features, but at an additional cost. Maybe they offer port forwarding, or proxies, on top of the VPN service. This is great if it comes for nothing extra. It may be beneficial to have these features depending on what you plan to do (i.e. torrents, GeoIP restrictions, etc.).
Private Internet Access (PIA)
When I first began researching for the best VPN, PIA came up a lot. People praised it with great service and fantastic speeds. Initially my choice was between PIA and AirVPN. The only reason I went with them (first) was because they were cheaper and allegedly offered better support.
PIA is cheap for an annual service fee of ~$40 USD. They have a 7-day money back guarantee (that is not easily seen from their website), and payments can be made through credit/debit card, Paypal, bitcoins, and even gift cards for better anonymity! They give you every possible security option in terms of encryption, authorization, and handshakes. They have numerous servers (1000+), and many sites claim they also have the best customer service, which can also be used through online chat. And they keep no logs. In addition to their VPN service, they have port forwarding, a (single location) proxy, L2TP, and the ability to use their (OpenVPN) VPN service on routers with DD-WRT firmware. And best of all you can use up to 5 devices with their service!
Just a quick note on DD-WRT firmware. This firmware turns your router into an "enterprise-class" router. Which really just means it unlocks its full potential to do things that your router could not normally do. For example, maybe you need a repeater to strengthen your WiFi signal. DD-WRT potentially could allow your router to perform this function. It is probably the most well-known (free) router alternative firmware available, and has lists of routers that it supports. Think of your router like an Android or iPhone. There are many things it can do, but many things it cannot. Rooting or jailbreaking your smartphone will allow it to access and do things it could not do usually.
I chose PIA primarily because of price and support. They had a server in my region that should help get the best speeds possible. And I did want to try using a gift card to see if I could get service without having to use a payment method that would be traced back to me. This was not too important since no one could see what I did with the VPN anyways, but it just seemed neat!
First I went and used their online chat. I got someone fairly quickly and asked if I put the same amount noted on their website ($39.95) for an annual membership on a gift card, would that be enough for me to get a year's worth of VPN service from them. I was told yes. Following up, I asked if there were any taxes or fees I would need to add to the gift card since it was a gift card being used and not a credit/debit card. I was again told yes. (I would rather just use a credit/debit card if it was cheaper...)
Happy that I could use a gift card, I checked their list of gift cards that they would accept. I ended up choosing a movie theater gift card because if something went wrong, I could still use it. The card would also be mailed digitally so I would not have to wait to get one. Quickly, I bought one for $39.95, and went back to PIA once I had the gift card number.
I inserted the number into PIA's gift card amount checker, and it stated that I had $39.95, but it would only give me 281 days of their VPN service... Immediately, I went back on their online chat and talked to someone explaining my situation. It took about 10-15 minutes before I was given a copy-paste excuse. Remembering the name of the person I first talked to, I told them to check the chat transcripts, and asked how I could trust their service if I was already lied to before even being a part of their service.
The person took another 5-10 minutes and wrote back that they were sorry for the confusion and would make it up to me by giving me a year of service. In my mind, I thought that I would have to use the gift card first, then give them my information, so that they could add the remaining amount of days to make up a full year. This was not the case. They gave me a full year of free service!
Suffice to say, I was extremely pleased. Not only did I get a free year of service, but I got to keep and use my gift card. It was a good thing I bought one I would use if need be. So, this was already a confirmation of how good their customer support is.
I then began setting up the VPN. I had already read several how-to guides, so there was little I needed to prep for except in downloading their software. Their software took little time to download and install. Their installer essentially does everything for you, including installing a TAP-adapter to get things working. Uninstalling worked well, but was not as obvious. You would have to go through Windows' proprietary removal of programs, and PIA has a TAP-adapter uninstaller hidden away in the Program Files area (which I always did first). Even doing all that would still leave behind their folder in Program Files with some residual files that would need to be manually deleted.
The PIA app is fairly user-friendly and sits in your tray if on Windows. You right-click to connect to a VPN server, disconnect, and change settings. The settings are simplified and you can choose a default VPN server (which changes if you ever connect to a different server), the security types you want to use, the connection type, what ports you want to use (which is set to "auto" by default) and has additional features like port forwarding, a VPN kill switch, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and (on newer client versions) a small packets option:
- Port forwarding is commonly used for torrenting (on a VPN), and should help increase speeds.
- A VPN kill switch can be quite handy. It kills your network connection on your PC if the VPN were to ever go down for some reason.
- DNS leak protection is important because if people can see your true DNS, then you are not truly protected.
- The same goes for IPv6, if they can see this, they can figure out who you are.
- Small packets is meant to help fix network problems, if any are present.
Once I had installed, I connected to my closest server (via WiFi) and tested the speeds against my speeds without the use of a VPN. They were horrible! I could get anywhere between 20-50+Mbps without a VPN, depending on the time of day. But all I could get from PIA was about 5+Mbps, less on every other server they had. Even less when testing legal torrents like Ubuntu.
I tried their online chat for support, but it seems like they can only answer basic questions, so I was directed to use their email support. I found their email support slow if during the day (I might get one email if it was day time). At night, they usually answered within 30-60 minutes.
I explained the situation in full, including that I had already done an uninstall and reinstall, tried several servers, and tried all the varying VPN security options (remember that less security should mean faster speeds). They first had me run a MTR test that showed how fast my ping was when trying Google. My first test was horrible, so they kept trying to tell me to contact my ISP and tell them my results. There were two problems with this: 1) During this time I had already signed up for TorGuard and found much faster speeds with them, so it seemed unlikely that it was because of my ISP. 2) Contacting the ISP may mean they would need to setup a date and come out to figure out the issue (if there was one). I did not want to waste time waiting for them.
PIA's support did oblige me by having me try a few things, nothing of which worked or pinpointed the problem. It was a bit irritating since--if I was lucky--I would have someone helping through two or three emails, then have someone step in asking me the same questions. Apparently, they do not read through the emails even if it is for the same ticket number.
Before anything else, they had me try (a last ditch effort) L2TP. After properly setting it up, as the IP address they originally provided did not work, I thought I had achieved much better speeds. But this was untrue since I had forgot to change a couple vital pieces of the configuration. With those changed my speeds were almost the same.
Eventually, they just tried to point to the MTR tests again as an indicator that it must be my ISP. Even though by this time I was signed up for both TorGuard and AirVPN, and both were performing much faster than PIA without issues. In turn, I told them I would perform another MTR test to prove that it was not my ISP.
I connected my laptop directly to my modem through Ethernet. This time the tests were great, so there was no room to accuse the ISP any further. I also tested the VPN speeds while directly connected and I did achieve much higher speeds, around 20-25Mbps. Sending the results back to PIA support, I finally got someone who had a feasible idea.
They had me check my MTU size, which I highly doubt most people are even aware of doing. MTU size is the amount of packets allowed through a connection, and if using an incorrect number, can result in defragmented packets, which you do not want. The default MTU size on Windows is 1500 for Etherner (576 if dial-up). A VPN will not be able to send all packets without fragmentation at this size. I was told to input specific numbers, but they seemed random. So with a little research I discovered how to obtain the best MTU size while using a VPN. If you have a good service and connection, you should be able to use 1472, 28 less from 1500 because of encryption overhead. Mine ended up being much lower. Through their client I had around 1440, and with L2TP I had about 1360. I would later that these numbers seem to constantly change throughout the day (at least for L2TP).
This did end up boosting my speeds to around 10-11Mbps on L2TP, and 9+Mbps on their app. Not great, but manageable. Knowing that a direct connection was better, I did not feel like hassling them further. My problem is that my laptop needs to be in a certain place, making a wired connection impossible. I did ask one more time if there was anything else they could do, and was pretty much told that was it.
I did try to use port forwarding, but it seemed to have little effect on the torrent client. It was very easy to get though, as you would just check off the box in their app, and when connected to a server that supported it, it would appear in the tooltip of the tray icon (which always shows the IP address you are using as well).
And a final point of interest is WebRTC leaks. While not explicitly stated anywhere (I found out about it from one of their forum threads), they have had problems in the past where WebRTC leaks would occur revealing the user's true IP address. Their solution was to install extensions to Firefox or Chrome browsers to prevent this. And they do work. I do feel that this should be sent out in their information emails after signup, but I guess they do not feel it is of grave importance...
Overall, PIA provided some good customer support. Their online chat is lacking, but their email support is far better. My circumstances had us do some back-and-forth over a period of 4-5 days. The only major drawback I saw was lack of information on the situation, and replies during daylight.
Their VPN is good and can provide fast speeds, depending on connection, which also depends on device placement. I found their options for security impressive, and their extra features great. If everything was setup properly, all seemed quite secure.
The VPN kill switch did not work for me, so I installed VPNCheck (Free). It provides a kill switch for the network, and individual apps. While the kill switch for the network did not work for me either, the apps I chose did get turned off if my VPN was disconnected. I also found that despite tutorials stating that you needed to enter your VPN login information, I could use it without doing so. It just knew when a VPN was on or not. There is also VPNetMon, which is free but does not have a kill switch for apps, and does not seem as user-friendly.
I did try the small packets feature during my troubles, and at first it did seem to work. Later it seemed like it did not, so I am unsure if this had any real impact on my speeds through the VPN server.
While I was disappointed with my speeds, PIA did seem to be a good choice. I got great customer support and a free year of service.
TorGuard was the second VPN service I tried. While trying to figure out my PIA woes, I decided to sign up for TorGuard's service to ensure that my problem was not based on my laptop or ISP.
TorGuard charges ~$60 for a year of VPN service with a 7-day money back guarantee. They have several options, but once you select a year you are only saving 1 cent compared to 4 months, and nothing at all if you go with their 2-year service. Payments can be made with Paypal, Bitcoins (as well as Litecoin and Dogecoin), and debit/credit cards. They have numerous VPN servers (in the mid-to-high 100's), and they have online chat support, as well as email, in which I found reviews and people commenting for and against their worth. TorGuard also offers L2TP as well as SSL-VPN service. Some people also swear they have the fastest speeds around. The only downsides are security options and features. They do not provide the highest security options, but do provide enough choices to be secure. And if you want a proxy or secured email, those are separate purchasable products. Although port forwarding is included with the VPN service, and they have a bundled option for getting both a proxy and VPN service. I should state that they do offer WebRTC, IPv6, and DNS leak protection all from within their app, the use of a specialized version of Viscosity (which is not as feature-rich as their own app), a kill switch for apps, and stealth servers which I will write about in more detail below. TorGuard's VPN service also has the ability to use DD-WRT, or be placed on routers with VPN support. And they offer up to 5 devices to be used simultaneously per account!
Another quick interesting item is that TorGuard openly encourages the use of torrent clients, so some people may wish to use them over others.
I did my due diligence before deciding to purchase TorGuard's VPN service. When I finally went to their website I had a discount code to get half-off any subscription. I debated on what package to buy, and landed on their bundled offer. Originally I assumed this included email, but I was wrong. And when I first attempted to get the service, I could not get the option to get the bundle annually.
Their online chat was my first stop, and someone tried to help me. Essentially, I was trying to get the 2-year service (since it would only cost one year), but that option would only allow me to get the VPN service. The support person did not seem to not understand what I was attempting to do and directed me to their email support. I emailed support and they were very curt with their answers, "simply" telling me to click the options and it should appear. What they were not explaining was that I had to first click the bundled option, select a month for the proxy service, and then get to a page for the VPN service, where I needed to also select a month. I had to figure that part out on my own, and that is not how I wanted to setup my service plan.
During this time I went back to online chat support and got someone else who did understand what I was attempting to do. But before doing so, I had already purchased the 2-year plan with my discount code for the VPN service, since that is what I really wanted anyways. The online person seemed to suddenly change into pitch-mode, and told me it was my lucky day. They gave me the same code I already used, and instructed me to buy the VPN service. On top of that, they would throw in the proxy service for free!
I told them I had already ordered and they had me take a screenshot of our discussion to send by email as proof that I was to receive the proxy service for free. True to their word, I got the proxy service probably within 10 minutes after sending the email. In essence, I had not only got the bundled deal at half-off, but for a couple dollars cheaper!
This was my first indication that while their support could be deemed poor, it could also be seen as quite good.
The setup was almost as easy as PIA. Download the installer and let it run. However, when I first ran the VPN it would not connect. After a quick Google search, I realized that they had a separate download to install their TAP-adapter. Luckily I had already downloaded that, so after having it install, everything worked.
I found their speeds impressive, consistently getting 15Mbps and up. This may be because they use lesser security than PIA. They also had a server within my region (actually in the same city as PIA).
The use of stealth servers is quite enticing. Despite being on a VPN, an ISP can detect if you are using a torrent client and throttle your speeds because of it. TorGuard's stealth servers are available to prevent that. Their stealth servers--that are only available from certain servers--encrypt data in such a way that it looks like it is HTTP traffic to an ISP. This tricks the ISP into thinking it is just regular browsing at high bandwidth usage, and deters them from throttling your speeds. They make stealth servers easy to spot as they have a small circle icon indicating so.
A word of warning, this is only a feature of the app and cannot be manually inserted for something like L2TP. I went through two online chat sessions to discover that this was no possible, and was given the response that this feature was more for users in China and India to take advantage of.
I liked that I did not have to go further than opening the app settings in order to enable leak protection, unlike PIA. Within their settings I could also choose apps to kill if the VPN was ever disconnected. Although, I never got this working, but did not worry about it since I already had VPNCheck for that. Just as easily, I could change the security settings, although you only have the option of changing the cipher algorithm.
Port forwarding is a bit harder to get than in PIA as you have to log in to your account on a web browser and request it. It then takes about an hour before you get an emailed response with the port forwarding address and the configuration needed to use it.
While I did not use their proxy much, the upside of TorGuard is they have many proxies in differing locations, unlike PIA. This can be helpful for better speeds depending on where you are, and in case you are in the place with the proxy to be used, you have a choice of a different proxy for a better chance of not being found out.
I ended up keeping TorGuard because it was cheap with the half-off discount, which supposedly used for TorGuard's "lifetime", and because I could get much better speeds on their servers. They have made comments in their forums that they will making their app more customizable with options for better security. This makes me happy as while the security they do provide is SHA1 or SHA256 (there is no clear writing of this) for data authentication, RSA2048 for handshake, with options to change data encryption from nothing to Blowfish or up to AES256; I might be able to get equivalent security and faster speeds at a cheaper price than PIA in the future. These options are considered standard for unbreakable security.
TorGuard does provide a page list of all their servers as does PIA, but includes what those servers support, like torrent downloading, L2TP, etc.
One extra thing TorGuard has that PIA does not is SSL-VPN (SSTP). I tried the service out and at first it did not work. The problem was that their tutorial used the wrong address (.tg instead of .org). Changing that made it work instantly. Unfortunately the speeds were pathetic! I changed my MTU size to what it supported, which made very little difference. In this scenario, SSL-VPN was far behind what OpenVPN through the client was able to accomplish. I contacted online chat support about the matter, and they recommended me to submit a ticket.
I also tried L2TP (using the server within my region) and this was a HUGE improvement. I was able to get between 25-30Mbps, compared to the less than 15Mbps of PIA. It seemed to work quite well. The only downside I saw was the upload speeds were about 1/2 of that PIA would give. Although, this is not something I am personally concerned with.
One final thing I did try was using their OpenVPN service on an ASUS router with Merlin firmware installed. They had an article and a YouTube video explaining what to do. The YouTube video was far more useful, but I ended up having to use pieces of information from both in order to get it working properly. Once it did, it worked perfectly! This is a great benefit to those who do not want to install software on every device they have to use the VPN. Instead, they just connect to the router with the VPN and they will be secure without any extra work.
TorGuard provided great speeds, decent service, and a good deal. They were definitely worth a shot, and I can see why people do like them. Hopefully they will provide more security options in the future.
I was on the fence about AirVPN when I was deciding between them and PIA. I wanted to use them for their speeds, but the price seemed too high. I liked them because their background is a group of activists a two layers (who worked pro bono) created AirVPN for ultimate security purposes. They are all about security and ensuring that nothing of their clients is given out to anyone, even if they were legally bound to. Sounds like a company you want for a VPN service!
AirVPN costs about ~$60 for a year of service. Along with Paypal and debit/credit cards, they accept a huge list of different cryptocurrencies. They ONLY give the highest amount of security available, and are often considered to have the fastest speeds of any VPN service. They offer port forwarding, and extensive lists of the servers with what bandwidth usage each one currently has. They may not have nearly as many servers as someone like PIA, but they do have more than enough for anyone's needs. Unfortunately, they do not offer proxies, L2TP or SSL-VPN, and state they never will (it is all about security with them). Their support is said to be good, but a bit slow. They do not have online chat support as they are a small company, but do try to respond to emails in a timely manner.
This was my third VPN to try while deducing my issues with PIA. They offer a 3-day trial for a small amount, but if you actually contact them, they will give you a 3-day free trial. They do not have a money-back guarantee.
I went ahead and emailed them and they responded in just about a day's worth of time. I setup their app, which I had no problem with. It was nice that I did not have to setup the security, as I wanted the best I could use anyways. But it would be nice to have options if I wanted something lesser and quicker.
I did not have a server in my region as I did with PIA or TorGuard, so I chose the closest one, which was still fairly far away. Even so, my testing revealed a steady 11+Mbps! This is amazing considering that this was matching my PIA speeds while be in a completely different area. This indicates to me that they may certainly have the fastest servers of any VPN service.
I was not able to test much more than that as I was dealing with PIA and TorGuard at this time. But I decided not to continue with their service for a few reasons:
- There was no flexibility in security options.
- There was no options in what type of VPN I would like to try or use.
- While their customer support seemed okay from what little interaction we had, I expect much faster replies, and may very well need support in a timely manner in the future.
- Lastly, while a similar price to TorGuard, there is no discounts, deals, or packages that would give me a better deal.
That being noted, AirVPN was quite good for what it was. Great security, easily setup, and fast speeds just as I had read. If they could only give me a bit more in other areas, it would have been hard for me not to want to use them over anyone else. But if the best security and speed is all you are looking for, they are likely your best bet.
I did do several tests on uTorrent (with legal torrents) using each service. I use uTorrent because I know it, and can configure it to avoid all the advertisements it normally comes with. The only other client I have used is qBittorrent, which is good, but does not always match my needs.
Each site has a tutorial on how to setup port forwarding or a proxy to use with uTorrent (or the client you wish to setup). AirVPN does not provide a proxy, so they do not have a respective tutorial. Nor was I actually able to find a port forwarding tutorial for AirVPN just from doing Google searches. There were a lot of AirVPN posts about how to set up the proxy, one that had a link to how to setup AirVPN for only torrenting, but not how to setup a torrent client.. Reading through their latter post was like trying to read a manual on operating an airplane without prior experience. It is very user-unfriendly, and cumbersome.
The users of the PIA and TorGuard forums also made some good suggestions on items that should be turned off to ensure the best security.
I essentially did not try port forwarding as it seems to be the least secure of the options available. People can still find out who you are with just that. Proxies are somewhat safer, but traffic is not encrypted.
To begin, I tested PIA with their Netherlands proxy and uTorrent. My speeds were fairly good. I think they got a bit faster after some time, but no incredible leaps. I then tried TorGuard with a proxy closer to my region, and speeds were still very good.
The interesting thing is that on forums for both PIA and TorGuard, people claimed that using the proxy in conjunction with the VPN service would make torrenting speeds much faster. It seems illogical since a proxy should already have a speed decrease from just being used, and a VPN on top of that should further decrease your speed. Being hopeful, I decided to test with both a proxy and a VPN service running.
I first tried the proxies mentioned with the VPN apps PIA and TorGuard provided. The speeds essentially were just as bad or worse. However, I also decided to try the proxies with L2TP from PIA and TorGuard. After a bit of waiting, the speeds soared to much higher rates! Depending on what was downloading, I could achieve speeds that were impossible to sustain (and would dip after a second or so). For whatever reason, this truly did work. I was now glad that I had got the free proxy service with TorGuard, otherwise my only test would have been with PIA.
Knowing this I have tried tests with this method to see what kind of stability it maintained. I would say PIA seems to jump up to faster speeds more often, but fluctuates quite frequently, going high then dropping low, then repeating the process. TorGuard seems usually more stable. Speeds do not seem to go above what is possible, but stay within a range without huge drops.
This is by far the better way to go if you want fast torrenting and protection. While using OpenVPN through the clients would be the better way to go for security, your speed is severely compromised. Using L2TP and the proxies still ensure a great deal of protection, and give you acceptable speeds. While not as secure, it is far more secure than just using a proxy or port forwarding to torrent. A search on people getting notices from their ISP reveals that a lot of people still get caught if just using one of these two methods.
I want to add that after a week of using both a proxy and L2TP, uTorrent abruptly stopped working. In order to get it working again I had to disable the proxy and just use L2TP...
Who was the fastest of the two? I would have to say they were fairly equal in terms of speeds for the most part. Originally I thought PIA was faster, but after doing some more testing, they seemed to be about the same.
Mind you, all of this is dependent on many factors. Such as, the connection speeds of the person uploading a torrent, if a person uploading throttles or limits their upload speeds, how fast your speeds are, how many seeds/peers the torrent you are downloading has, how much of a torrent a peer or peers have, if the time of day has an affects your Internet speeds, your torrent client configuration, and whatever other variables that could affect speeds.
The last thing I will say on this is that I went to both PIA's and TorGuard's online chat support and asked if I would be safe just using their proxies for torrents. PIA told me that it "should" be safe. While TorGuard gave me a huge written explanation on why using the VPN is safer, and included a link for further information. In this regard, PIA really just did a bad job with their reply. A proxy will never be safer than a VPN. Only your IP address is masked, not your traffic. The VPN will ensure nothing is seen.
After all this, I decided to go ahead and get an Wireless AC setup. I ended up with two AC WLAN adapters, and two AC routers.
The first adapter was low-profile, and complete junk. The second adapter was a full adapter and gave better speeds on Wireless N than my laptop's internal adapter. So, I ended up using that for my AC tests.
I initially got a very good deal on a Linksys EA6300 v1, which is actually a disguised EA6400 router. I believe this jumped my speeds by about 10Mbps on both L2TP and the VPN apps of both PIA and TorGuard while using AC speeds. An incredible leap, and I would have been very content with that.
But now knowing that it seems the router was part of the issue in my speeds, I got another router. I got the ASUS RT-AC3200. A very expensive router, and is near the top of the crop. With this router I was able to achieve 80Mbps without a VPN! Through PIA's L2TP I was able to get around 45Mbps, and 55Mbps on TorGuard's L2TP! A huge bump. Still not the 10-15% drop I had been told by PIA's online chat support at one time (for their VPN app), but vastly improved from what they were.
The moral of the story is to have a good Internet setup to get the best VPN speeds.
So, Who's The Best?
That is a tough answer! I would say each has their pros and cons, and because of that it will depend on what you want:
I would guess that AirVPN is probably the best. Only testing on the closest server--which was still far away from me--gave impressive speeds. Not the best, but I could imagine if I were next to one of their servers, speeds would probably be on par or better than TorGuard. TorGuard is my current choice because it did give the best speeds (albeit with lower security settings) and I had a server close to me. However, AirVPN is still a better choice if you want better security and fast speeds. AirVPN also gave the fastest upload speeds (maxing out what my ISP gives), while TorGuard was about half of that. PIA's upload speeds were very close to what AirVPN provided.
PIA has the best price unless you can get a deal on TorGuard. I ended up getting PIA for free, and TorGuard at a 50% (reoccurring) discount. This means even when my PIA service ends, I will have TorGuard, and at a cheaper yearly price than what I will get for PIA. The only problem is that TorGuard does not have as good encryption as PIA, but that might change over the next two years.
I would say that it is a tie between PIA and AirVPN. They both offer the highest available security possible. The problem here is that AirVPN gives no choice in the matter, while PIA does. However, if AirVPN had a server closer to me, then their speeds might have been the best with the highest level of security. Because of this I will have to give them equal footing.
In my mind PIA is still a bit better than TorGuard. PIA gave me free service for a year, and communicated with me extensively during my speed problems using their service. TorGuard was almost as good as they offered me the discount code I had already found and gave me the proxy service for free. If only speaking about online chat support, I would say PIA tried to be helpful, while TorGuard was more helpful, if you got the right person. Email support goes to PIA (if done during late night), although I did not use TorGuard much in that respect.
PIA has the most servers. I found they had a great selection of servers around the world, great for any traveler. TorGuard was next, and they do have quite an extensive selection as well. AirVPN was last.
PIA and TorGuard seemed to be best for torrents once knowing to setup both their proxy and a VPN together for best speeds (L2TP in my case). They got about the same speeds, so really if I had to choose I would go with TorGuard, because I had better VPN speeds when not torrenting.
PIA and TorGuard also had the most extra features. They offered a lot of the same features, while PIA offered a network kill switch, and TorGuard has a kill switch for apps. I could get neither working, so that point is moot. TorGuard offers their proxy as a separate service, so you do have to pay more to get it. Making up for that, TorGuard does offer SSTP. Yet, when I tried it the experience was awful.
So let's tally up the scores. PIA: 5 TorGuard: 2 AirVPN: 1
Going off of that, PIA is the clear winner here. I would essentially put it this way though, if you want the fastest speeds, try AirVPN. If you want fast speeds for streaming, browsing, and torrents, try TorGuard. If you want the best customer service, a lot of server locations, and great torrenting speeds, try PIA. PIA is a good in-betweener, giving you the most of everything overall. And if using an Ethernet connection, PIA is probably the way to go regardless.
My main concerns were primarily price, speed, and protection. Once I actually got VPN services the main issue was really speed. PIA seemed to fall apart in that area fairly quickly. While I was able to raise them, I have done better with TorGuard continuously.
TorGuard has less protection available, but enough to be secure. And I find their speeds to be the best, always. Most of the time I use their L2TP service or their app over PIA's. In fact, I no longer PIA's app at all, and normally use TorGuard's L2TP when possible.
In terms of actual concerns, sometimes a L2TP will go down. This happens on either service. What I do like about them though is that they can be configured to redial up to 99 times before they stop trying.
The MTU size constantly changes throughout the day for L2TP, so I find myself constantly reconfiguring it to get the best speeds. It does not hurt it to be at a higher max than it should be, but it does help prevent your best speeds. On the apps, this does not seem to be as much of an issue. TorGuard usually maintains 1472, but PIA is well below that on average.
If anything, the concern should really be about encryption and logs. If you get past price and speed, those are what really matter.
That is what I have discovered while traversing the VPN frontier. There are plenty more options, but I doubt you will find one greatly better than those. In the future, I would hope that all would be comparable in price, speed, and encryption, but that is likely a pipe dream. Price will be dependent upon the company, speed will depend on their technology and servers, and encryption is again at the discretion of the company.
Your best bet on a good VPN is to do research and check for yourself, if you can. Following the questions I have outlined above should help you in making a good decision.
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