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The best VPNs for remaining anonymous online

It's time to go under cover.
The best VPNs for remaining anonymous online

Best premium VPN for iPhone
Pros & Cons
The Good
Solid privacy practices, including bug bounty program Long-term plans are a decent value 30-day money-back guarantee 24/7 support via email and live chat Huge, widespread server network Unblocked regional content in testing Pause option Auto-connect feature Kill switch enabled automatically Includes specialty servers (multi-hop, Tor, P2P) Supports Meshnet Comes with a Dark Web Monitor
The Bad
Expensive monthly plan Can be very slow to make initial connection No split tunneling on iOS Some lingering transparency concerns
The Bottomline
Best For Server Network
Hunting around for a secure server is never fun, so Private Internet Access's massive network really simplifies things.
Pros & Cons
The Good
Large and geographically diverse server network 10 simultaneous connections Improved interface
The Bad
No free version
The Bottomline
A robust VPN with advanced network and privacy tools for porn.
Best For Beginners
PureVPN is a solid service that gives users both advanced and easy-to-use features.
Pros & Cons
The Good
Ad blocking Easy-to-use interface Seven-day free trial
The Bad
Cannot purchase additional simultaneous connections
The Bottomline
PureVPN is a solid VPN that offers users both advanced and easy-to-use features.
Best free VPN
Pros & Cons
The Good
Transparent, easily understandable privacy policy Annual security audits Simple, adorable interface is very beginner-friendly Kill switch ("VigilantBear") Split tunneling ("SplitBear") No credit card required
The Bad
No on-demand support No multi-hop connections Kill switch needs to be manually enabled Small server network compared to its competition Couldn't unblock regional content in testing
The Bottomline

This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for the UK audience.

If you're totally unfamiliar with virtual private networks, or VPNs, this is probably a good time to get to know the increasingly popular cybersecurity services.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a VPN, including but not limited to masking all of your internet traffic or accessing services that may be blocked in a particular location.?If you want to get the most out of the internet these days, a VPN is absolutely essential.

What is a VPN?

VPNs provide protection for your data and identity when you're online. They offer this online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network that hides your real IP address, meaning that all of your activity is untraceable and secure.

VPNs act like encrypted tunnels through which all of your online traffic passes through. Nobody can see into the tunnel, and everything inside the tunnel is protected against online threats like viruses, hackers, and malware.

Should you use free VPNs?

There are plenty of free versions of popular VPNs, plus free trials of VPNs with full access to everything you get with a premium plan. However, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for with VPNs.

There tends to always be a catch with free versions, and it's normally in the form of limited data usage. If you're just an occasional user, these plans will work fine. But if you're going to be streaming or downloading, this isn't going to work. Free trials are a little bit different: they come with everything you get in a paid plan, but obviously they don't tend to last very long. Trials are great for testing out a service before committing, but this isn't a long-term solution.

The best option for streaming securely and accessing the online world without restrictions is with a paid subscription to a VPN. To gain access to advanced security features without limitations on usage, you need to pay up.

What is the best VPN for privacy and anonymity?

Deciding that you need a VPN is the easy part, but which VPN should you pick, and which ones can you trust? Search for a VPN online and dozens of results appear, so choosing the best service can be tricky. It requires a lot of research, and you should absolutely do your homework before committing to anything.

The good news is that we have done a lot of the hard work to help you in your search for a VPN, and tracked down examples of great services that secure your data, hide your activity, and bypass online restrictions. You can pick from leading services like PureVPN, NordVPN, TunnelBear, and more.

These are the best VPNs for online privacy in 2023.

NordVPN

Best premium VPN for iPhone

The good
Solid privacy practices, including bug bounty program Long-term plans are a decent value 30-day money-back guarantee 24/7 support via email and live chat Huge, widespread server network Unblocked regional content in testing Pause option Auto-connect feature Kill switch enabled automatically Includes specialty servers (multi-hop, Tor, P2P) Supports Meshnet Comes with a Dark Web Monitor
The Bad
Expensive monthly plan Can be very slow to make initial connection No split tunneling on iOS Some lingering transparency concerns
The Bottomline
Specs
  • NordVPN Plus: $13.99/month, $82.35/year, or $107.73/2 years
  • NordVPN Standard: $12.99/month, $68.85/year, or $83.43/2 years
  • NordVPN Ultimate: $15.99/month, $112.35/year, or $161.73/2 years

Read Mashable's full review of NordVPN.

Who it's for:

NordVPN is for power users who want a customizable iPhone VPN with advanced security settings, especially those in it for the long haul: It's pricey month-to-month, but its yearly plans come in under $5 per month. It also now has the biggest, most globally diverse server network out of all the VPN's we've tried, making it handy for bypassing geo-restrictions on regional content and for traveling. It requires iOS 14.2 or later.

Why we picked this:

NordVPN was often slow to make an initial connection on iOS in my testing — slightly ironic, considering the app opens with a boastful message about it being "the fastest VPN on the planet." But once the VPN is running, it rewards your patience with a suite of useful security tools and a robust network. (Fortunately, its efficiency improves, too.) From the jump, NordVPN is also admirably transparent about the data it does and doesn't collect (just login and usage info). You'll encounter a link to its full privacy policy and a digestible summary of it before you even sign in.

The NordVPN dashboard on iOS revolves around its server network in two forms: There's a sleek, minimalist map with dots representing different server locations (just tap on one to connect), plus a regular country-by-country list. Not only is said network massive, spanning over 6,200 servers across 111 countries as of May 2024, but it also includes specialty servers for multi-hop connections ("Double VPN"), Tor connections ("Onion Over VPN"), and P2P connections. While NordVPN was pokey at the start of my sessions, it didn't slow me down once I was finally connected. I was also able to successfully skirt ITVX's geo-restrictions by hopping on one of its UK servers.

There are a few other tabs on NordVPN's iPhone app. One of them is dedicated to Meshnet, a feature that lets you route your traffic through your other devices running its app. It's like having your own little private network. (This isn't part of the VPN itself, but it's neat — and newly free.) The others are hubs for your VPN usage statistics and your account profile. That last one is where you'll find the NordVPN app's built

Private Internet Access

Best For Server Network

The good
Large and geographically diverse server network 10 simultaneous connections Improved interface
The Bad
No free version
The Bottomline
A robust VPN with advanced network and privacy tools for porn.
Specs
  • Monthly: ?10.99/month
  • Six-month plan: ?5.39/month
  • Two-year plan: ?1.69/month

Private Internet Access is an impressive service that offers powerful levels of encryption and a massive server network. Both of these things are pretty crucial when navigating popular porn sites.

Users can connect 10 devices simultaneous with the same account, meaning it's a great option for large households or anyone who streams porn on multiple devices. Users also get a dedicated IP address feature and plenty of customisation options, making Private Internet Access one of the most versatile options for secure streaming of porn.

All of the above is packaged in an easy-to-use and intuitive interface, which will be appealing to complete VPN beginners.

PureVPN

Best For Beginners

The good
Ad blocking Easy-to-use interface Seven-day free trial
The Bad
Cannot purchase additional simultaneous connections
The Bottomline
PureVPN is a solid VPN that offers users both advanced and easy-to-use features.
Specs
  • Monthly: ?8.37/month
  • One-year plan: ?2.86/month
  • Two-year plan: ?1.75/month

Read our full review of PureVPN.?

PureVPN users get apps for every operating system, enterprise-grade security, 10-multi logins, and access to over 6,000 secure servers in 140 countries. PureVPN also has a strong record for good customer support.

TunnelBear

Best free VPN

The good
Transparent, easily understandable privacy policy Annual security audits Simple, adorable interface is very beginner-friendly Kill switch ("VigilantBear") Split tunneling ("SplitBear") No credit card required
The Bad
No on-demand support No multi-hop connections Kill switch needs to be manually enabled Small server network compared to its competition Couldn't unblock regional content in testing
The Bottomline
Specs
  • Data limit: Up to 2GB per month (does not roll over)

Read Mashable's full review of TunnelBear.

Who it's for:

TunnelBear is a charming and uncomplicated VPN with good privacy practices and a free tier geared at casual users who only need a VPN for occasional private browsing (i.e., you don't have it running 24/7). It's decidedly not for those who need a VPN to access geo-restricted content; it couldn't unblock regional streaming libraries in my testing.

Why we picked this:

TunnelBear eschews intricate settings and intimidating jargon for cute and simple apps. Its lack of multi-hop connections and small server network won't impress power users, but VPN newbies will find it refreshingly approachable. Tunnelbear conducts regular annual security audits and occasional transparency reports, and its privacy policy lays out the kind of data it does (and doesn't) collect in plain language.

I asked TunnelBear about their business model over email, and a company rep (under the alias "CubCake Bear") told me flat-out that the company doesn't make money off its free users, nor does it track or sell their data. "Our business is driven solely by our paid subscribers, who help off-set the cost to maintain our servers and operate our infrastructure," they explained, adding that TunnelBear's free tier "serves as a method to try before you buy, or if your need is minimal on a monthly basis." Good stuff.

The free version of TunnelBear caps you at 2GB of data per month, which does not roll over and resets on the monthly anniversary of when you created your account. It includes support for one simultaneous connection for use on Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS. Users can pick from servers in different countries in a list or on a cartoon-y map. (Unlimited simultaneous connections and city-level server options are reserved for paid subscribers.) There's a kill switch called "VigilantBear," which you'll have to enable automatically, and a split tunneling tool called "SplitBear," which varies from platform to platform: You can exempt websites and apps on Windows. but only apps on Android and websites on Mac and iOS.

Finally, and crucially, you don't have to enter any

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