When it comes to online privacy, the less visible you are the better. Services like virtual private networks encrypt your internet activity to make it unreadable to prying eyes, then strip it of local IP addresses for added anonymity. The end result is a packet of information that only you and your VPN can decipher, leaving hackers and invasive ISPs completely in the dark.
There’s a catch to the whole VPN setup, however: you have to trust them with your data. It’s a huge pill to swallow, especially since VPN users tend to be more privacy conscious than your average internet citizen. Most paid VPN services go to great lengths to prove their reliability, including disclosing all logging policies right up front.
Because logs are one of the most fundamental aspects of online privacy, you’ll want to make sure your VPN has a strict zero-logging policy across the board. Read on for more info about logs, how they work, and learn about some no-log VPNs you can trust with your data.
Why are VPN Logs a Bad Thing?
There’s nothing wrong with logs themselves. They help collect data and can be used by VPN services to improve their network and run things more efficiently. Problems arise when those logs are kept long term, opening up a world of possibilities for data theft, seizure, or even buying and selling user information.
The dangers in VPN logging all come down to one thing: accountability. Let’s say you log into your VPN and browse a couple of websites. No big deal, right? Later, it turns out that website was illegal in your country and everyone who visited it will be subject to fines. If you didn’t use a VPN, all the government has to do is contact your internet service provider, look at their DNS request and traffic logs to see which IP addresses visited that site, compare those addresses to account holders, then come knocking on your door.
Even though VPNs encrypt traffic and make everything unreadable, if they keep detailed logs it’s still possible to trace activity back to a single IP address, then figure out which individual person accessed the content in question. The nature and structure of a VPN’s business makes it more difficult than an ISP, even with logs in place, but the more data that’s stored the easier it is for third parties to track your activity. If there aren’t any logs, it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to locate evidence and track a single user down.
Best No-Log VPNs: Evaluation
Hundreds of VPN services flood the marketplace, each promising incredible privacy, strong encryption, fast speeds, and the best custom software. Choosing the right one is largely a matter of personal preference, but there are some features that can make some stand out more than others. We used the criteria below to find the best no-log VPNs to keep you safe online.
Logging policy – The cornerstone of online privacy. All of our recommended VPNs have a sturdy no-log policy that keeps your most sensitive information out of third party hands.
Jurisdiction – Closely tied to the logging policy issue, if a VPN is registered in a country with strict data retention logs, they might be forced to store information and share it with authorities. Privacy friendly countries do exist, so make sure your VPN operates under their jurisdiction.
Speed – Encryption overhead can make a VPN sluggish. Lag can also be introduced if you’re connected to a server across the world. Top quality VPNs work around these issues to provide excellent speeds without sacrificing encryption strength or privacy.
DNS leak protection and kill switches – An often overlooked feature of custom VPN software. DNS leak protection locks down your internet connection to make sure your real IP address is never shared. Automatic kill switches perform a similar function and immediately stop traffic if you lose your connection to the VPN. Both are necessary for complete online privacy. All it takes is a few moments to announce your location to the world.
ExpressVPN’s number one feature is its incredible speeds. The service operates 145 servers in 94 different countries, most of which have consistently high scores on speed tests to cities and users around the world. You can even check the latency and download speeds yourself using built-in speed tests in several versions of its software. ExpressVPN sweetens the deal with unlimited bandwidth, unlimited server switching, no restrictions on torrent or P2P network traffic, and custom apps for every modern operating system and mobile device.
ExpressVPN specifically states it does not keep traffic logs, DNS request logs, or IP address logs. This gives users an incredible amount of privacy to surf the web, download files, and stream movies at their leisure
More features from ExpressVPN:
- Strong 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, and automatic kill switch features.
- Reliable access to both the browser version of Netflix and its many apps.
- Perfect for private connections in censorship heavy countries like China.
- Extremely easy to use.
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If you want to stay hidden on the internet, IPVanish is the way to go. The service is ideal for privacy conscious users who want a fast and anonymous connection to the internet. IPVanish runs a network of 850 servers in 60 different countries, one of the largest in the VPN marketplace. This gives you plenty of options for new IP addresses and lag-free connections no matter where you live. IPVanish backs this up with unlimited bandwidth, absolutely no speed caps, and unmonitored access to P2P and torrent traffic. It’s your internet, and IPVanish helps you take full advantage of it!
IPVanish states up front that it doesn’t store traffic logs of any type. This keeps your most sensitive information safe and prevents leaks via major data breaches.
IPVanish also includes the following features:
- DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch to help keep your connection private.
- Easy to use custom software and apps for all major operating systems and devices.
- Fast and secure servers allow for incredible video streams through Kodi.
- Download torrents with full privacy and anonymity.
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NordVPN has an incredible reputation for strong privacy practices and all-around excellent service. The company has been in business for years, providing lightning fast connection speeds through an enormous network of over 1,000 servers in 56 different countries, quite possibly the largest in the VPN marketplace. Unlimited bandwidth and no restrictions on torrent or P2P traffic make it an even smoother experience, and features like DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch protect you even if something goes wrong.
NordVPN has always been forthcoming about its logging practices, simply because it has none. No traffic logs, time stamp logs, bandwidth logs, or IP address logs, end of story. This is one of the more all-encompassing logging policies in the VPN world, which makes NordVPN a great choice for a privacy conscious individuals.
More of NordVPN’s best features:
- Specialized servers that deliver double encryption, onion routing, and anti-DDoS.
- Reliable, open, and private access to the internet even in countries like China.
- Company jurisdiction in the privacy-friendly country of Panama.
- One of the few VPNs that maintains reliable access to Netflix.
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VyprVPN has some of the most unique privacy features in the entire VPN ecosystem. The company owns and operates its entire network of servers, over 700 in 70 different countries. This allows them to perform all maintenance and upgrade tasks themselves, keeping third parties out of the picture entirely. VyprVPN’s unique Chameleon technology gives it the ability to defeat throttling and VPN blocking efforts in the most extreme of situations, including within the borders of censorship heavy countries like China.
When it comes to logging practices, VyprVPN is surprisingly straightforward. The company has a strict ban against both traffic and DNS logs, the two pieces of data most often used to track users.
VyprVPN also includes the following features:
- Support for a wide variety of operating systems, including desktops, Android, and iOS smartphones.
- Incredible privacy features for the best VPN access in China and the Middle East.
- Unlimited bandwidth and no restriction on P2P traffic or torrent downloads.
Sign up with VyprVPN today and save an incredible 50% off your first month of service. You can also take advantage of the free three day trial to test the VPN out before signing up!
PureVPN hits all the right points for a fast, friendly, privacy aware VPN service everyone can enjoy. The company runs a network of over 750 servers in 141 countries, casting a wide net around the world to help ensure everyone can find a lag-free connection no matter where they live or travel. Strong 256-bit encryption helps keep prying eyes out of your personal information, and you’ll even be able to use VoIP and instant messengers with complete privacy.
PureVPN states right up front that they don’t keep any kind of activity logs on their users, plain and simple. This ensures your traffic can never fall into the wrong hands.
PureVPN’s features at a glance:
- Excellent compatibility with custom apps for all modern operating systems, smartphones, and more.
- Advanced features include anti-virus protection, ad-blocking, and anti-phishing measures.
- Self-owned network of servers for enhanced privacy and security.
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StrongVPN is aptly named. The service keeps a relatively small network of several hundred servers in 45 different cities, allowing them to focus on unbeatable privacy features that lock down and secure your online presence like no other VPN. The standout feature is up to 2048 bit encryption, which is exponentially higher than similar services. You’ll also have access to a variety of security protocols (L2TP, PPTP, OpenVPN) as well as router software for faster, easier to use VPN service for all of your devices.
StrongVPN clearly states it does not keep any kind of user activity logs. Records of your traffic will never be stored, which keeps them safe from third parties.
More StrongVPN features:
- Free lightweight software for multiple devices, including desktop operating systems and smartphones.
- Easily mask your IP address and prevent online surveillance.
- No bandwidth limitations, speed caps, or throttling.
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What are the Different Types of Logs?
Logging or “zero logs” is often used as a catch-all term when it comes to VPNs. In reality, there are several different types of data a VPN can archive, some of which are more likely to harm your privacy than others. Below is a quick overview of the main types of logs and how they might affect your online privacy.
Traffic logs – The most frightening type of log is also the most frequently banned in the VPN marketplace. Traffic logs keep track of things like the type of downloads you engage in, such as torrents or P2P networks, and even specific websites that you visit.
DNS request logs – Every time you type a URL into your browser, a DNS service looks up the name, compares it to a list of numbered domains, then redirects you accordingly. VPNs run their own DNS servers and it’s possible they can keep tabs on which site names you access.
Time stamp logs – Commonly kept by many VPNs, time stamp logs simply show which users logged in, when they logged out, and at what time of day each event occurred.
Bandwidth logs – How much traffic is each user consuming? Bandwidth logs answer that question and help VPNs scale their network accordingly. They’re another commonly kept type of log.
IP address logs – A simple log that contains users’ physical IP addresses at the moment of VPN connection.
Free VPN Providers Usually Keep Logs
No-cost VPN services can be found all across the internet in app stores, browser extension marketplaces, and more. They make the same claims as standard VPN providers, only they promise to deliver without charging anyone. This seems like a fast and simple solution to the problem of online privacy, but in reality it often makes the situation much worse.
The vast majority of no-cost VPN services freely admit they keep logs of user activity, everything from traffic to DNS requests and IP addresses. Some have been discovered selling that information to third parties. Even if the service doesn’t admit to storing logs it’s highly likely they do, as free VPNs need to bring in some sort of income to keep their network online. If that income doesn’t come from paying customers, it has to come from somewhere.
Part of the appeal of paid VPN services is these companies are in the business of protecting their users. VPNs have every incentive to keep your data safe and private, even if government agencies demand access. After all, if they fail they won’t stay in business very long. It’s always better to invest in a reliable, low-cost VPN provider instead of using a free service. Your privacy just isn’t worth the risk.
What Are The Benefits of Using a VPN
In addition to added online privacy, running a VPN on your connected devices offers a number of extra features. Think of them as a useful byproduct of securing your data. After a few days or weeks of using a VPN, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
Watch videos from other regions – Services like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube often restrict which videos are available to stream in different countries. If you like in the UK you’ll have one set of TV shows available, but if you travel to the U.S., you won’t be able to watch them anymore. Most streaming services use simple IP address grids to determine a user’s location. With a VPN you can quickly and easily change your IP address to fool them into thinking you’ve moved across the world. All you have to do is click, connect, and start streaming.
Secure voice and text communications – If you use Skype, Discord, MSN Messenger, or any other VoIP program, chances are your data is being recorded and logged by an ISP. Conversations you have with friends and family are sitting on a server somewhere, ready to be sold to a third party. By activating a VPN you’ll encrypt this data and keep it invisible from prying eyes.
Protect cloud storage services – Services like Dropbox and Google Drive are useful for saving videos, files, and other pieces of sensitive data. Using cloud storage sends unsecured data across an open connection, however, which puts your information at risk. Always use a VPN to ensure nothing leaves your computer without first being encrypted.
Access censored websites – Government level censorship is a growing problem in the world, especially if you live in or visit countries like Syria, China, Iran, UAE, and Russia. To keep your access to the internet open and free, simply run a virtual private network on all of your devices. You’ll be able to access blocked content as if the censorship filter didn’t even exist.
Stay safe while traveling – Traveling carries its own set of risks, especially if you access public Wi-Fi or rely on hotel internet connections. These networks are frequently monitored by hackers and surveillance teams, and the ISP you’re utilizing most likely stores every piece of data you send. Staying safe while traveling means using a good VPN on your laptop, tablet, and smartphone at all times. Encrypted data keeps your information safe no matter which network you connect to. To up your security even further, be sure to encrypt your iPhone and encrypt your Android devices to ensure privacy even when you’re not online.