Looking to improve the security of your web browser? VPNs, or virtual private networks, are the single most useful cybersecurity tool for unblocking websites, keeping snoopers out of your business, and downloading and messaging with full privacy. Today, we present our guide on the best VPNs for your web browser.
Between data leaks like the HeartBleed bug, which was disclosed in 2014, and an increase in socially engineered security attacks (like phishing, vishing, and smishing) internet users are having to become more and more aware of the potential dangers of lax security when it comes to web browsing. Practically everyone needs to use the internet, whether it’s for work or for social activities. Unfortunately, this convenience has opened up a range of vulnerabilities to identity theft, credit card theft, and more which the average user is just starting to understand.
In addition to the concerns about being a target of cyber criminals, users are becoming more vocal in their opposition to government surveillance of online activities. Most people would agree that law enforcement may need to surveil targets who are suspected of committing or planning serious crimes, however, widespread mass monitoring of email and chat communications, social media use and browsing history even for innocent people is much harder to accept. You can see the increase in electronic surveillance through the enacting of laws like the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act 2016 which legalises a whole range of tools for government snooping.
One way of improving both your privacy and security when browsing the internet is to use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. This small piece of software is used to encrypt your web traffic to make it harder for outside observers to track what you are looking at online. Today we’ll talk about what a VPN can do for you, then walk you through our choices for the best VPNs to use for your web browser.
Why Should You Use a VPN?
So, a VPN can help keep you safe and secure when browsing the web – but what exactly does that mean? How does a VPN work and what can you use it for? Here are the main advantages:
Stop your ISP, malicious hackers, or the government from tracking your internet use
Normally, when you are using a web browser, here’s how it works: you connect to the internet by paying for a contract with your ISP or Internet Service Provider. When you open your browser and type in a URL, the request for that web page is sent across your internet connection which is powered by your ISP, then the page is retrieved and it is sent back to be displayed in your browser.
This means that every site you visit is easily trackable by your ISP, as they know the location of every page that you load. It is also easy for governments to pressure ISPs to hand over the internet history data of any person whom they choose to investigate, without the target of the surveillance even knowing.
- How a VPN helps: When you use a VPN, however, you add an extra step into this web accessing process. When you start up your VPN before loading a web page, the request for the site will be encrypted before it is sent over the internet, so all your ISP will see is a stream of encrypted data which is difficult or impossible for them to crack. This encrypted data is sent to a server run by your VPN provider, where it is decrypted and sent on its way to its original destination, and the web page is returned to you as usual.This means that you’ll be able to access the internet just as you did before, but it is much harder for your ISP to track your usage. Even if the government forces your ISP to hand over their data on you, it will only show encrypted packets and not the location of sites that you have been visiting.
Access content from different regions
A common frustration among internet users is the region locks employed by some sites. For example, sites like the Comedy Central website let you stream episodes of their popular shows like The Daily Show for free, meaning that you can always catch up on an old episode if you miss it when it’s on TV.
However, these streams are only available to users within the US. If you try to watch a stream when you are located outside of the US, you’ll get an error message. This is because the website checks the location of the browser you’re using to access the site and servers content accordingly.
- How a VPN helps: If you want to be able to use websites like Comedy Central from outside the US, then you’ll need a VPN. Because a VPN encrypts your web traffic, it needs to be decrypted before it can be sent on to websites. This is why you connect to a VPN server: it’s where the decryption happens. Because of this, the data appears to websites to originate from wherever the server is located. This means that even if you’re located somewhere like China, Europe, or Canada, you can connect to a server in the US and then use websites like Comedy Central to stream video with no problems. You can use the same method to watch BBC iPlayer by connecting to a server in the UK, or to access regional versions of Netflix by connecting to a server in the respective country.
How We Select a VPN for Recommendation
You can see that there a plenty of good reasons to use a VPN for your web browsing. But if you’ve looked into getting a VPN, you’ll know that there are hundreds of VPN providers out there: some good, some bad, and some downright untrustworthy. So how should you pick a VPN provider? We’ve looked into the VPN services which are available and in order to make a strong recommendation for you, we have considered the following key factors:
- Servers in many different countries. Having plenty of servers provided by your VPN means that you’ll have lots of choices to find a server which is fast and reliable for your needs. Having servers in different countries means that you can spoof your location so it appears that you are browsing from any of those countries, which is useful for getting around region locks as we described above.
- Fast connections. Whenever you use a VPN, it will inevitably slow down your internet connection a little bit as the traffic has to be encrypted and then routed through an additional server. But a good, fast VPN will have such a small degree of slowdown that you won’t even notice it, which is what we like to see. A poor VPN can be so slow as to make your internet frustrating or even impossible to use.
- Strong encryption. When your data is encrypted, you want to know that it will be secure and that the encryption can’t be easily cracked. 256-bit encryption is the industry standard that we look for, since it would take the most sophisticated super computer centuries to crack.
- No-logging policy. Some VPN providers keep records of the data which passes through their servers. This is unfortunate as it means that governments can pressure the VPN provider to turn over data about their customers’ internet use, undermining the security and privacy of those customers. We look for VPN providers who have a policy of keeping no logs of their customers’ internet use.
Best VPN Providers for Web Browsers
Having taken all of these issues into consideration, here are the VPNs which we recommend for your browser:
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs for power users, and for good reasons. It is known for being super-fast, hence the “Express” name, and having a huge network of over 3,000 servers in 94 different countries. It uses strong 256-bit encryption and has a no-logging policy.
You have two options for using ExpressVPN with your browser. Firstly, you can install the software onto a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, and Android. When you want to use your VPN, you simply open up the software and pick a server to connect to. Now all of the traffic from your device, including your web browsing traffic as well as other types of traffic like P2P downloads or chat communications, will be encrypted and kept safe.
The second option for using ExpressVPN is through the extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. These add-ons can be downloaded for free and are an easy way to use a VPN. You’ll see a symbol in your web browser that indicates whether you are connected to the VPN, and you can click on the symbol to select a server to connect to. If you want a simple, non-technical way to use a VPN while you browse, this is ideal.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
- Works with US Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and other services
- Fast serves with minimal speed loss
- OpenVPN, IPSec & IKEv2 Encryption
- Keeps no logs of personal data
- Live Chat Support.
- Priced slightly higher.
Another popular VPN option for web browsing is NordVPN. This company has a major focus on security, with extra security features like double encryption which hides metadata as well as standard 256-bit encryption and a great no-logging policy. The connection speeds are solid, and the stupendously large server network offers more than 5,700 nodes in 60 different countries.
You can get the NordVPN software for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, and Windows Phone. And they recently released a Chrome browser extension which you can use to easily monitor your VPN connection and to connect to a new server of your choosing. Alternatively, there’s also a web proxy service included within the NordVPN bundle which you can also use to get around region locks, so you have plenty of options for all kinds of devices and needs with this service.
Read our full NordVPN review.
- Highly affordable plans
- Fast and stable connections
- Up to 6 simultaneous connections
- Extra-secure Double VPN for data encryption
- 24/7 Chat Support.
- Refund processing can take up to 30 days.
IPVanish offers the best of all worlds: security, ease of use, and value. It has lightning-fast connections which makes it smooth and unobtrusive to use, and the server network on offer covers 1,300+ servers in over 75 different locations worldwide. You’ll find software supports for plenty of platforms, including Windows 7, 8, and 10, plus Mac OS, Linux, and Android, but no browser extensions. Still, you can use the software to protect all of your device’s traffic as well as your web browsing.
The service has the good security you’d hope for, with 256-bit encryption to protect your privacy and a strict no-logging policy which means that your data will stay private.
Read our full IPVanish review.
If your concern is being snooped on by government or law enforcement agencies and you’re looking for ultimate security, then VyprVPN is the choice for you. As well as the essential 256-bit encryption, this company uses a special double encryption protocol called Chameleon which protects your metadata such as the origin and destination of your encrypted data packets through an extra layer of encryption. This is especially useful if you need to use the internet in very restricted regions like China, or if you need to get around VPN blocking software which is sometimes used to prevent access from a VPN. The Chameleon protocol lets you use a VPN even on these blocked networks.
The software is available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, and the network has more than 700 servers in 70 different countries and a no logging policy.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
Beware of Free Browser Extension VPNs
You might be tempted to look around to save money on a VPN, and you’ll find many options for free VPN services on the Chrome or Firefox add-on stores. However, you should be wary of such services. If VPN providers do not make money from customer subscriptions, they must be making money in other ways, and some of these methods of monetisation are extremely unethical.
Hola, for example, was one of the most popular options for free browser VPNs. But it came to light that the company was selling data about their users to other companies, undermining the needs of users for privacy. And worst of all, the user network took advantage of users’ devices for malicious ends like performing DDoS attacks. Other free VPNs have been found to not be encrypting data at all, giving users the incorrect illusion of privacy.
You can find more reputable paid browser VPNs, such as TunnelBear. This service works well, however, it is more expensive that the VPNs which we listed above, despite having fewer features. We have found that it is cheaper and more useful to have a full-bodied VPN which can cover all of your devices including your browser rather than paying more for a less flexible browser-only service.
Getting a VPN is a good idea for any internet user, for the sake of both privacy and security and for getting around region locks. We’ve shared with you our top recommendations for VPNs that you can use with your web browser for the best experience.
Do you have a favourite VPN service to use with your browser? Then let us know about it in the comments below.
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. ExpressVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.