ByFahmida Y. Rashid, Max Eddy
When people think of digital security, they probably think of antivirus software. While that kind of security software protects against dangerous apps and so on, it won’t keep your data safe while browsing the Web.
For that, you’ll need a virtual private network, or VPN, such as Golden Frog’s VyprVPN. With VyprVPN, you can rest assured that your data is secure online, but that assurance comes with a hefty price tag. Look to Editors’ Choice winners Private Internet Access and NordVPN for a more affordable secure connection.
What Is VPN?Most people are probably familiar with a VPN as “that thing my company makes me use when I work from home.” But it’s more than just another corporate hoop; VPNs are an excellent way to ensure that your Internet connections are secure and that no one can spy on your traffic.
When the VPN service is active, all the packets travel through a protected tunnel between your computer and the VPN’s servers.
The servers handle all communications with the destination site, and responses are sent back to your computer through the same encrypted tunnel. Sites that try to identify you by your IP address see one of the VPN service’s IP addresses instead.
With a VPN, you can be sure that using the public, unsecured Wi-Fi at the coffee shop won’t lead to your identity being stolen.
VPNs can also be used to circumvent online censorship, and are used by activists and journalists operating in countries with repressive Internet controls. On the lighter side, a VPN can spoof your location and make region-locked streaming content available.
Pricing PlansVyprVPN comes in four flavors: Free, Basic, Pro, and Premier.
Annual billing at a reduced rate is available for all account levels, though we only list the monthly rates here.
The Free version is capped at 500MB a month and only allows for one connection. With this plan, you can use the 128-bit encrypted PPT protocol, or the 256-bit OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSEC, or Golden Frog’s proprietary Chameleon protocol. Note that OpenVPN can also operate at 160-bit encryption.
Free accounts also include the Network Address Translation (NAT) Firewall, which blocks unrequested inbound traffic, such as bots scanning for open ports to exploit. Finding a service that offers a free version is pretty rare in the world of VPNs, and though limited, this one is surprisingly capable.
Almost all routers use NAT to share the single Internet connection across all connected devices.
The devices themselves receive local-only IP addresses that aren’t visible from outside the network.
It’s a nice feature, but probably not robust enough if you’re looking for full-featured firewall software.
Golden Frog also provides its own DNS servers to protect users, under the name VyprDNS. Secure DNS is something that’s only available in only a handful of services (HideIPVPN is one of them), so it’s nice to see Golden Frog continually updating its offerings.
Basic VyprVPN, at $9.99 per month, can be used for only one device.
It uses the PPTP protocol standard 128-bit encryption for its VPN connections, and no other protocols are available to Basic users.
As with the Free account, the Basic account is limited to one connection, but it does include unlimited data usage.
The NAT firewall is not included at the Basic tier.
The Pro account costs $14.99 per month, and includes all of the Basic’s perks plus additional simultaneous connections for a grand total of two.
The NAT Firewall is introduced at this tier. Users who want to use the VPN service on their iOS and Android devices must sign up for this account.
The highest tier is called Premier, and it’s among the most expensive VPN services we’ve reviewed.
Even F-Secure Freedome, which doesn’t even offer a monthly rate, is cheaper.
It also provides very few licenses for the price.
The base edition of TorGuard and Spotflux Premium let you install on five devices, and NordVPN offers six installs. We’d like to see VyprVPN loosen its grip on licenses in future versions.
VyprVPN is available for Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android. Windows Phone is noticeably absent from the list, but Windows power users are no doubt used to this by now.
Interestingly, VyprVPN is also available for set-top boxes such as the Apple TV and select routers. Unfortunately, you have to install this software yourself, so it won’t be of any use to novices.
That’s too bad, because running VPN software on a router can protect all the devices connected to the wired or Wi-Fi network.
TorGuard also makes its software available for streaming devices and routers, but instead sells the hardware with the VPN software preinstalled.
It’s expensive, but we prefer this to VyprVPN’s solution.
Entering the Vypr’s NestIn our testing, we installed VyprVPN on a Dell Latitude E7250 laptop running Windows 7.
The installation process was remarkably fast and easy, and we were up and running within minutes.
Once installed, VyprVPN presents a small window showing your connection status, your current IP address, the time you’ve been connected, which protocol is being used to encrypt your connection (OpenVPN in my testing, though it uses PPTP by default), and your firewall status.
A handy graph shows your network performance, and the large Connect button doubles as the button for selecting your server.
It’s a largely clean interface, but we were surprised to see some roughness around the edges of some elements. Spotflux has a much more polished and minimalist design. Hotspot Shield Elite has many of the same elements as VyprVPN, but also offers a more elegant interface.
VyprVPN has over 50 server locations across North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia, and over 700 individual servers. We are impressed with this robust listing. We’re less impressed that in order to select a VPN server, we had to open a separate window.
The same was true for changing settings in the app.
Every other VPN service we’ve tested thus far managed to fit their entire interface into a single, simple window.
In addition to the network security tools, VyprVPN also includes a Kill Switch feature that can be configured to halt all Web traffic should your VPN connection become disconnected.
In our testing, we found the VyprVPN Kill Switch to function as expected.
If you’re keen on this feature, it can also be found in NordVPN and TorGuard.
Despite the annoying multi-window design, we had no trouble finding advanced features—such as changing encryption protocols—and understanding what features were available. Other apps, such as TorGuard, are more compact, but also frequently bewildering. We also appreciate that, even when we tested using the free account, nothing in the VyprVPN app attempted to upsell us.
Though VyprVPN brings many security features to bear, other services go further. NordVPN has specialty servers that offer double encryption and even access to the Tor network.
F-Secure Freedome and Spotflux boast malware and phishing protection, keeping these dangerous sites and software far away from your computer.
Speed and PerformanceWhen a VPN is spun up, your Internet speeds go down.
There’s nothing to be done about it.
To measure the impact of a VPN on browsing performance, we average the results from speed test tools at Ookla’s speedtest.net (which is also owned by PCMag’s owner Ziff Davis) and from Speedof.me while the VPN is running.
Then we compare those scores to the average test results while the VPN is turned off.
Because network conditions can (and do) change at the drop of a hat, we perform these tests back to back.
For this test, we select a VPN server in Australia.
During the Ookla trials, we use one of the company’s servers located in Fairbanks, Alaska, while the VPN is turned on and while it is off. Speedof.me does not allow us to select specific servers, and it therefore defaults to the nearest available test server.
That is a New York-based server during the baseline test and a Sydney-based server for the VPN test.
According to Ookla’s results, VyprVPN increased latency by 220.5 percent.
That sounds like a lot, but it’s actually one of the better results we observed. Hotspot Shield Elite increased latency by 127.1 percent and TorGuard VPN increased it by 297.4 percent. Ookla’s results also showed that VyprVPN reduced the download rate by 24.3 percent and upload rate by 41.3 percent.
F-Secure Freedome, by comparison, lowered download rates by only 7.7 percent, and upload rates by 31.6 percent.
Speedof.me showed a 687 percent increase in latency, which is nothing compared with F-Secure Freedome’s 1,519.8 percent increase in latency in this test.
The Speedof.me tests also showed a 10.1 percent decrease in download rate, and a 25.3 percent decrease in upload speeds.TorGuard only lowered download rates by 8.3 percent, and upload rates by 11.8 percent, according our tests.
Though these numbers look terrifying, it’s important to remember that latency is measured in milliseconds.
Though VPNs do noticeably slow Internet performance, it’s not like going back to a dial-up modem.
In our testing, we found that media elements and media-heavy pages took noticeably longer to load, but pages that are primarily text loaded were mostly not noticeably affected.
We did notice that VyprVPN had trouble handling streaming video. Streaming Inception on Netflix started well, but scrubbing the video reduced the quality significantly and it never recovered.
Videos did not default to HD on YouTube, but played back smoothly after a delay when switched to HD.
A YouTube 4K video of honeybees took a long time to load with the VPN active, and it only played in fits and starts.
TorGuard, interestingly, did quite well on this test, as did NordVPN.
Viped Out?Golden Frog VyprVPN brings some quality security tools to the table, with a flexible approach to encryption protocols, easy installation, and a firewall to keep you extra secure. We really appreciate that this service also offers a free VPN version, which is extremely unusual.
In our testing, we were happy to see that the Kill Switch feature worked as advertised.
And while VPNs will always reduce your Internet speeds, VyprVPN did quite well in our speed tests and didn’t dramatically impede browser performance.
That said, VyprVPN is among the most expensive VPN services on the market today, and it offers support for only a few devices.
In this increasingly crowded market, there are plenty of services that control their own infrastructure, offer more features, and do it all for less.
Editors’ Choice winners Private Internet Access and NordVPN offer many more advanced features and give users the most amount of flexibility in deciding how to surf safely online, and they do it for less money.