Jim Markus | 23 Jan, 2024

Best VPN for 2024: Full Rankings

This guide covers the best VPN, by category, for 2024. We evaluated all the most popular options, compared their strengths, noted their weaknesses, and delivered our rankings below.

Ready to see which ranks highest? Read on for a category-by-category ranking of the best VPN.

Our Recommendations: The Best VPNs 2024

We regularly discuss cybersecurity, and one of the fundamentals of this area is how to stay anonymous when you're browsing online. Below, we'll evaluate a few different categories for the best VPN. Our rankings consider speed, cost, security features, simultaneous connections, and server locations.

We specifically considered different use cases for private internet access. Our rankings show the best VPN services for streaming videos, travel, and security. We also break down the details for each service.

Note that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also has advice on VPNs. We used that information, too. Ready to see the results? Here are the best VPNs of the year.

Best for Streamers: CyberGhost VPN

Just about any modern VPN service should withstand streaming media, but CyberGhost ranks best for a few reasons. It developed streaming-optimized servers specifically to help its users access services like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video.

Like our other recommendations, CyberGhost VPN also offers a low relative cost. That, along with a streaming-focused VPN connection, makes this a top choice for streamers.

Best for Mobile Users: Atlas VPN

Our evaluation revealed many options for a VPN connection via mobile app. The best-in-class for this year? That's Atlas VPN. This service offers apps on Android and iOS, but it also covers Android and Amazon Fire TVs.

This widespread access and low overall cost deliver strong value. That's why Atlas ranks as our top VPN service for mobile usage.

Best for Security Junkies: PrivateVPN

Remember, it's important to secure your wireless devices. The National Security Agency provides tips, including "dos" and "don'ts", for protecting your data in the real world.

The battle for top-ranking private internet access made this choice especially tough. Several VPN services provide military-grade encryption, but PrivateVPN ranks #1 for the best VPN services for security.

This ranking comes from its dedication to Swedish security laws, which ensures no data logging, a strong money-back offer, unlimited bandwidth, and (of course) 2048-bit Encryption With AES-256.

Best Multihop VPN: Surfshark VPN

Surfshark VPN makes it pretty simple to set up a double VPN. While several VPN providers offer similar services, we like the low cost and easy access offered here.

Surfershark also gives you the option to set up your own duos. That makes it a completely customizable VPN connection. Use it on Mac, Windows, iOS, or Linux.

Best International VPN: NordVPN

The Hackr.io audience extends around the world and, while we love our US audience, we understand the need for private internet access around the world. That's why we wanted to evaluate international options.

Our top choice in this category should come as no surprise. Our team uses it for their own private internet access, and we're delighted by its performance with streaming services. It also offers best-in-class security features, and servers in more than 60 countries.

NordVPN also has a money-back guarantee, up to six simultaneous connections, and a simple mobile app for use on your phone or tablet.

Honorable Mention: Pure VPN

While Purve VPN didn't make our top spot in the above categories, it's still a popular alternative. We evaluated this service and were impressed with the 4.7 rating on Trustpilot. Pure VPN has more than 6,500 servers in more than 70 countries. That made it a contendor for best international VPN service.

Honorable Mention: Opera Browser

Both Opera and Brave offer built-in VPNs, but that's not their primary feature. These are both browsers. That's the only reason neither made it into our list of the best VPNs of the year. As browsers, Opera and Brave both stand out as obvious choices for internet security. Our team uses private browsers like these regularly, and that's no accident. Opera has AI chat (a popular AI tool), messaging, private browsing, and an ad blocker.

Honorable Mention: Google One VPN

There's a new challenger in the world of mobile virtual private networks, and you'll recognize its provider as one of the largest tech companies in the world. We can't yet recommend over its well-established competitors yet though. According to their how-it-works section, he VPN by Google One focuses primarily on privacy and security. It's not made to help you change your apparent location, which eliminates it from competition for anyone who wants to use the most popular location benefits of a VPN.

Google's foray into this world isn't for naught. It's still a valuable service to anyone with a Google One subscription. Just understand that it's primarily used for privacy on your mobile device.

How We Evaluated the Best VPN Providers

Let's talk about how we evaluated our options and chose the best VPN. It comes down to a few factors, namely speed and value.

Speed of the VPN Connection

Do the best VPN providers slow your internet browsing? Not much. Not really. This was the case at the dawn of the internet, but nowadays VPN services connect pretty quickly. Unless you're using something like Tor, your VPN provider could easily disappear into the background of your thoughts while browsing online.

Ok, but what about simultaneous connections or if you use distant server locations?

Yes, in those cases, even the best VPN service could slow down.

In cases where you're not sure about a premium VPN service, check for a 30-day money-back guarantee (or really any kind of satisfaction guarantee). That should allow you to test a service with your specific setup and verify it has enough speed to merit your investment.

Price and Value: The Cost of Free VPNs

The concept of free VPNs has emerged as a point of significant discussion in the cybersecurity realm. While they appear to be a cost-effective solution for those seeking enhanced digital privacy, a rigorous evaluation of their features and potential pitfalls is essential.

Herein lies a systematic breakdown of free VPNs.

Advantages of Free VPNs:

  • No Monetary Commitment: At the forefront is the absence of any financial investment, making it an accessible option for many users.
  • User-Friendly Interfaces: The majority of free VPNs have been engineered with simplicity in mind, offering intuitive platforms for novice users.
  • Elementary Privacy Enhancement: For users seeking a rudimentary level of digital obscurity or a basic mechanism to circumvent geo-restrictions, free VPNs can suffice.
  • Suitable for Intermittent Usage: For individuals who require VPN services sporadically, free versions might be deemed adequate.

Drawbacks of Free VPNs:

  • Less-than-Optimial Security Infrastructure: The security algorithms and protocols in many free VPNs are often not of the highest caliber, leading to potential vulnerabilities.
  • Bandwidth and Speed Restrictions: Users may encounter subpar connection speeds and stringent limitations on data utilization.
  • Invasive Advertisements: The absence of subscription fees often translates to revenue generation through pervasive advertising, which can be both disruptive and, at times, compromising.
  • Limited Server Availability: The diversity of server locations in free VPNs is typically constrained, impacting both connection quality and geo-unblocking capabilities.
  • Privacy Compromises: There have been instances where providers of free VPNs have been implicated in the unethical collection and sale of user data to third-party entities.
  • Absence of Contractual Obligations: Without a financial stake, free VPN providers have very little motivation to guarantee consistent uptime, optimal speeds, or dedicated customer assistance.
  • Restricted Advanced Features: Premium functionalities, such as Kill Switch mechanisms, multi-hop connections, or specialized servers, are habitually exclusive to paid services.

In conclusion, while free VPNs might present an enticing proposition for casual users, a meticulous appraisal reveals significant limitations. For those serious about their digital privacy and online security, judicious investment in a premium VPN service is strongly advised.

Versatility

While speed and cost played the largest role in our evaluation, we also considered the simplest question. What can it do? If the VPN only provides IP masking, and it doesn't allow users to choose their server location, that's a strike against it. That's not to say a mobile VPN like the one provided by Google One isn't valuable. It just affects the rankings on this list.

The ABC of VPNs: What and Why?

We've already discussed what is a VPN. But here's the super-quick version:

A VPN connection hides your IP address from people who want to see it. That might be your internet service provider, or it might be some dude who set up a "public" Wi-Fi at the airport where you're trying to check your bank balance.

Note that there are different types of VPN services. Let's discuss that next.

Different Flavors of VPN Service: Not All Cloaks Are Equal

We evaluated a bunch of services to determine the best VPN. What kinds did we consider? We'll talk about that below. Basically, we looked for a few different types of systems when evaluating the best VPN service.

Traditional VPNs: The Old-School Bouncer of the Digital Club

Alright, let's journey back in time, not to the era of disco and flared pants, but to the good ol' days when internet privacy started becoming the talk of the town.

Enter the traditional VPN service.

Think of it as that old-school bouncer at a swanky club, always dressed in sharp suits, checking guest lists, and letting only the right folks in. A traditional VPN sets up a secret (and super secure) tunnel between your device and the internet.

And what about all your private data? That's traveling in a stretch limo, tinted windows and all, ensuring nosy onlookers can’t peep in. While it might not have all the shiny bells and whistles of the newer VPN services, this classic has been keeping cyber snoops at bay for years. And hey, sometimes, vintage is just the vibe you need to earn status as the best VPN!

SSL VPNs: The Trusty Sidekick in the Cyber Jungle

So, imagine you're at this uber-chic party, and instead of a secret knock, you've got this super cool, special handshake to get in. That's SSL VPN for the digital party that is the internet. No more diving into complicated setup rabbit holes or fussing with configurations that sound like alien talk.

The SSL VPN is your friendly neighborhood gatekeeper ensuring you’re safe, secure, and swanky as you access all those web apps and resources. Perfect for the modern wanderer who doesn’t want to be bogged down with tech jargon but still craves that VIP security pass.

Mobile VPNs: A Digital Accessory for Travel

Not all of the best VPN services are completely distinct in these categories. Said a different way, there are a bunch of overlapping categories here. The big thing: Each provides private internet access of some sort. They all rely on a VPN server to protect your data.

But we didn't want to skip this. Mobile VPN services deserve a bit of consideration. What are they?

Imagine, if you will, your data as this ultra-glam celeb darting through the paparazzi. A Mobile VPN is that bodyguard making sure they get to the limo without a single unwanted snapshot. Designed for those on the go, it handles network switcheroos like a champ – from Wi-Fi to 4G, 5G, and beyond without breaking a sweat or, importantly, your connection.

Note that we also found NordPass, a password manager, made by Nord Security. Sound familiar? It should! That's the same team that made NordVPN. When you want to protect your digital identity, a password manager helps build and maintain a strong portfolio of passwords.

So, next time you're on the move and fancy keeping your online deeds all hush-hush, remember that mobile VPN services have got your back... or should we say, your data!

Hardware-Based VPNs: Corporate Must-Haves

If you're looking to set up your own virtual private network (and why wouldn't you?), you'll want to know about hardware-based options. These are the best VPNs when you want total control over every part of the process.

Unlike a free VPN, which can collect and sell your data, a private VPN server stays in your control. . . so long as you're the one controlling it.

Ready for a visual?

Imagine, for a moment, a majestic digital castle complete with towering walls, a drawbridge, and maybe even a moat filled with... well, firewalls. That's your Hardware-based VPN. Instead of just being software you install, it's a tangible piece of tech equipment (like a router, but with superpowers) that stands guard at the gateway of your network.

This bad boy isn’t for your casual TikTok-scrolling evening. It's more for businesses or serious tech enthusiasts who want an added layer of protection. It’s like comparing a home security system to hiring a full-time, round-the-clock, sunglass-wearing security guard for your front door.

In the realm of digital defense, if software VPNs are the agile ninjas, Hardware-based VPNs are the armored knights. When your castle (aka data) needs the royal treatment, you now know who to call!

Need more information about corporate cybersecurity? We found several popular ethical hacking courses.

Personal VPN Services: For Use on Your Couch

The best VPN services for individuals aren't the same thing as the best options for a big company.

You're cozied up in your PJs, snacks within arm's reach, ready to launch into a streaming spree of your new favorite show. But – plot twist – it's geo-blocked in your region. Enter stage left, your savior in the digital age: the Personal VPN Service.

The best VPN for this situation is one that's made just for you.

Think of it like a seasoned traveler, whisking you away to digital destinations you never thought you could reach. With a click, you're virtually traveling across borders, tasting global content delicacies without leaving your couch.

And it's not just about entertainment – it's your protector, too. It hides your online footprints from curious trackers and data-hungry giants.

For many of us, the web is a treasure trove of info, social connections, and yes, cat memes. But sometimes, it feels like there are invisible barriers everywhere. Personal VPN Services are the nifty key to breaking these barriers. They're like that universal travel adapter for globe-trotters: an essential tool to navigate, connect, and explore without limits.

Multihop VPNs: Private Internet Access with Multiple Server Locations

Picture these as a series of guarded, fortified castles for your personal data. When you send anything out into the world, it hops from one castle to the next, each time with the guards (VPN servers) ensuring no enemies (hackers, trackers) are lurking.

It's a controlled, deliberate path, often designed to boost security and make tracking trickier.

You might be thinking: How is a multihop VPN service different from Tor?

Here's how they differ. Tor, also known as the Onion router, is named for its onion-like layers of encryption.

It's less like a series of castles and more like a dense, unpredictable forest. Data gets sent on a wild, random journey through volunteer-run nodes (imagine them as underground hideouts). Each node peels off a layer of encryption, ensuring no single node knows the entire route.

The major difference between a multihop VPN provider and Tor? Speed.

Multihops usually bounce between a lower number of servers, sending you fewer places, than Tor would. You can also access the Onion router for free. Multihop VPNs also cost money.

Wrap-Up and Final Tips:

Great, you're now armed with some VPN wisdom, but like any good buffet, there's always room for a little more. Before you dive headfirst into the world of Virtual Private Networks, here are some savory morsels to consider:

  • Server Locations: More isn’t always merrier, but a wide variety of server locations gives you flexibility, especially if you're keen on bypassing geo-restrictions.
  • No-Logs Policy: A VPN that doesn’t keep logs of your activity is like a friend who never remembers the embarrassing stories you wish everyone would forget. Always look for a strict no-logs policy.
  • Speed and Bandwidth: Not all VPNs are built equal in the speed department. Make sure your chosen VPN doesn't turn your superfast broadband into a digital snail race.
  • Security Protocols: Beyond the common SSL, delve a tad deeper. Protocols like OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and IKEv2/IPsec can make a difference in both speed and security.
  • Device Compatibility: Have an array of gadgets? Ensure your VPN plays nicely across all of them – be it smartphones, PCs, tablets, or even smart TVs.
  • Price: Free VPNs might be tempting, but remember the adage: if you're not paying for the product, you probably are the product. Paid VPNs often offer better security and performance.
  • Kill Switch: This nifty feature automatically cuts off your internet connection if the VPN drops, ensuring your data isn't accidentally exposed.
  • Customer Support: Like any service, having reliable customer support can save the day, especially if you're not a tech wizard.
  • Jurisdiction and Data Laws: Where a VPN company is based can affect its reliability. Some countries have strict data retention laws, while others are part of international surveillance alliances.
  • Trial Periods and Money-Back Guarantees: Test driving is key. Many VPNs offer trial periods or satisfaction promises, allowing you to take their service for a spin. For example, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

In the end, choosing and using a VPN is about more than just encrypting your data or accessing another country's Netflix library (though, hey, that's a sweet perk!). It's about reclaiming your digital autonomy, one encrypted packet at a time.

Looking to learn more about cybersecurity? We recommend the community's best cybersecurity courses.

Conclusion: The Best VPN to Use This Year

So, here we are, having discussed the best VPN for any situation.

We wandered the winding alleys of Multihop VPNs to the bustling squares of personal VPN services, and it's clear there's a VPN flavor for every digital palate. But let's boil it all down, shall we?

For all its marvels and mysteries, the online realm can sometimes feel like the Wild West. From pesky geo-blocks to even peskier prying eyes, the challenges seem endless. Yet, as with any great quest, having the right armor makes all the difference. The best VPNs, in all their varied glory, offer that armor – a sheen of protection and a dash of liberty.

Whether you're chasing streaming nirvana, safeguarding your digital diary, or merely wandering the web woods with a tad more invisibility, a VPN is waiting to be your trusty sidekick.

As you embark (or continue) on your online adventures, remember that the best VPN service isn't just a tool; it's a passport, a shield, and sometimes, an expert traveler that helps guide you across the digital landscape. Choose wisely, treat it well, and the vast horizons of the internet may unfurl before you.

Happy surfing, Hackr reader, and may your connections always be private and your streams buffer-free!

By Jim Markus

Jim Markus manages Hackr.io and a portfolio of sites at VentureKite. He hosted Frugal Living, a popular finance podcast, and co-created The Ink & Blood Dueling Society, a theatrical writing event that appeared at conventions across the United States. He is also an award-winning game designer.

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