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Anonymous surfing with VPN: The best VPN providers compared

A VPN connection is a popular solution for surfing anonymously, sending data encrypted over the Internet or bypassing geo-blocking. We present a selection of the best VPN providers 2021.

All prices include USA VAT (19%). VPN providers and other VPN comparisons often only mention net instead of actual purchase prices, which is why their price information may differ from ours.

Do you know what personal data you transfer when you browse the Internet? In fact, very few Internet users will be able to answer this question with certainty. Let everyone else know: They probably leave more traces than you assume. And who reads this data and how it is processed is even less transparent. However, the results of this processing are sometimes measurable: Depending on the location, previously visited websites or the operating system used, for example, content is hidden, changed or censored, prices of online offers are adjusted or advertising is tailored to your own personality profile. You don’t get to see a” neutral ” Internet. If you use a wireless Internet connection, the data traffic can also be read more easily. To regain a bit of Internet autonomy and adequate data protection, let’s introduce some VPN providers that will help disguise and encrypt online activity in 2021.

What is a VPN?

The abbreviation VPN stands for “virtual private network”. Virtual Private Network). This is a self-contained network used for encrypted communication over the Internet. With a VPN connection, your own PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet becomes a VPN client that connects to a VPN server of the respective provider using VPN software. In this way, the own IP address, via which each terminal device or each user can be identified, is replaced by the IP of the VPN server compared to others. This makes you surf unrecognized. If the VPN service operates servers in different countries, country blocks or geo-blocking can also be avoided. However, you should make sure that all services you want to use are supported (e.g. streaming sites).

VPN providers 2021 in comparison-services, prices, features

Not every VPN service on the market is recommended for anonymous surfing. Especially important for privacy-conscious users: The VPN provider should follow a no-log policy, i.e. do not create connection logs through which visited websites or other transmitted data can be traced. In our VPN provider comparison, we therefore only consider VPN services that promise a strict no-log policy.

Our Recommendation

  • If you want to surf regularly without restrictions via VPN, access a provider like CyberGhost. There are the most servers, the largest selection of countries, good speed and the cheapest price. Streaming and peer-to-peer services are also supported. Alternatively, NordVPN (a bit faster, but more expensive) or Surfshark (unlimited devices, but less country or server selection) are worth it.
  • If anonymity is the top priority and you can do without streaming, you create an anonymous profile at Mullvad – which you pay cash at best.

CyberGhost: Largest server selection from 2,26 $ / month

With CyberGhost VPN, you get unlimited data with a 45-day money-back guarantee. The service provides 256-bit AES encryption, WireGuard protocol support for fast data transfer, automatic protection when changing networks, and a built-in ad blocker. Among other things, CyberGhost operates VPN servers in Austria, the USA and data protection in Iceland and Switzerland-with over 6,600 servers in 89 countries, the service offers the largest server and country selection in this VPN comparison.

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as an app for Android and iOS, with up to seven devices connecting simultaneously. Founded by German Robert Knapp, the company is based in Romania and is now part of Kape Technologies – a UK-based company whose data protection has been criticised in the past. However, CyberGhost assures us to continue to operate independently and not to create any log files or connection protocols. Accordingly, no surfing data can be issued to institutions, authorities or other parties. The company provides information on incoming data requests and how to deal with them in regular transparency reports.

Conclusion: CyberGhost offers the largest server selection and the lowest monthly price. On surfing day, the service impresses with practical functions that enable the use of all common Internet services – from streaming to peer-to-peer applications.

Get 84% discount* CyberGhost from 2,26 $ / month

Savings tip: Until 24.08.2021, CyberGhost is 84% cheaper in a 2-year subscription with an additional two free months. This corresponds to $ 2.26 / month or a total of $ 58.79 for 26 months. (As of: 13.08.2021)

NordVPN: Verified anonymity from 3.14 euros / month

One of the most famous VPN services is NordVPN . With NordVPN, up to six devices can surf the Internet at the same time, encrypted, securely and with a hidden IP address. NordVPN promises not to create any connection logs, which was confirmed by an independent audit by a Swiss auditor in 2020.

NordVPN

Over 5,500 servers in 59 countries enable anonymous surfing as well as streaming videos that are not available at the current location. The speed is not throttled after a certain volume of data has been used. The integrated WireGuard protocol improves the speed and reliability of the encrypted connection. At NordVPN, too, you save the most if you commit to the service for longer. The 2-year version plus three extra months costs € 84.73 exclusively for Heise users. This corresponds to a monthly price of € 3.14 and thus a discount of 72%.

Conclusion: With NordVPN, all common Internet services can be used quickly and easily – this is due to the uncomplicated software and the good speed of the network. The independent security audit from 2020 is intended to convey an additional feeling of security to all those who do not want to believe the provider’s promises on their own.

➤ To the provider *
NordVPN from 3.14 euros / month


Surfshark: Unlimited devices from 2.51 euros / month

Also Surf Shark hides its own IP address against data sniffers and thus bypasses the geoblocking videos. In contrast to other VPN providers, the service can be used on an unlimited number of devices. Surfshark says it does not store surfing data, and the service also blocks advertising, malware, phishing and trackers.

Surfshark

Similar to other VPNs, Surfshark also has whitelisting or split tunneling. This enables certain apps and websites to bypass the VPN connection. If you are not satisfied with the service in the first 30 days, you can take advantage of the manufacturer’s money-back guarantee. Surfshark offers heise readers an exclusive monthly price of € 2.51 for a period of two years, so that they pay € 60.23 for two years.

Conclusion : As the only VPN service in this comparison, Surfshark can be used on an unlimited number of devices. The number of VPN servers with a total of 3,200 in 65 countries is decent, but lags behind Cyberghost and NordVPN. In return, Surfshark is one of the cheapest providers in the VPN comparison with a monthly price of just 2.51 euros.

➤ To the provider *
Surfshark from 2.51 euros / month


Mullvad: No streaming, but high anonymity for 5 euros / month

Mullvad is the only featured service that can be used without specifying an email address. The classic user account is replaced by a randomly created character string with which one can identify and log in from now on. If you want, you can even send cash anonymously by letter in order to load credit onto your own ID – in this way you cannot be identified via the payment service provider.

Mullvad VPN

The kill switch, also known from other VPN services, blocks data traffic as long as there is no VPN connection. Split tunneling – i.e. a selection of which traffic runs through the VPN and which bypasses it – is, however, more fiddly than with the competition and can only be used with the OpenVPN protocol. It should be noted that not all Internet services can be used with Mullvad. For example, streaming is not supported. With 781 servers in 37 countries, the server selection is also rather modest.

Incidentally, the Mullvad VPN is also sold by Mozilla under the name Mozilla VPN. However, the Mozilla subscription does not offer any advantages over a subscription with Mullvad. The technology used is the same in both cases, but the price at Mozilla is one euro per month more expensive and anonymous cash payments are not possible.

Conclusion: With Mullvad you accept compromises in comfort, suitability for everyday use, price and server selection. The lack of streaming support in particular limits versatility. However, the service offers most of the features for anonymous surfing.

➤ To the provider
Mullvad for 5.00 euros / month


Our recommendation: the best VPN for your needs

Would you like to use a VPN regularly and use all internet services without restrictions? Then you are in principle well advised with a cheap subscription provider such as CyberGhost *. There you will find the most servers, the largest selection of countries, very good speed and the cheapest price in this comparison. The client software is easy to use and set up, even for beginners. You practically do not experience any restrictions when surfing, regardless of whether you are streaming videos, surfing the web or using peer-to-peer services. Alternatively, NordVPN * (a bit faster, but more expensive) or Surfshark * (unlimited devices, but fewer countries or servers) are worthwhile .

Are you ready to forego convenience functions and streaming for additional security? Mullvad (alternatively also IVPN ) offers additional measures for more anonymity . However, these providers charge higher monthly prices and do not support all Internet services – Mullvad and IVPN are not recommended as VPN for streaming websites. If security is the top priority, for example because a journalist carries out explosive research in a politically unstable country, these two VPN providers are still the first choice.

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The VPN services at a glance

The client software of the provider CyberGhost * offers a navigation on the left side of the window that leads quickly to the desired area. The appropriate information and functions can be found in the middle of the window, as here for the favorites, with the preferred server locations for streams and general surfing. CyberGhost also shows the current connection status and states the server location currently being used to which there is an encrypted 256-bit AES connection – including the connection time.

Background: Anonymous surfing with VPN

A VPN helps you navigate the Internet more anonymously and thus protect your privacy. All data sent and received via a VPN is encrypted and passed through a proxy server so that the sender and recipient are not in direct contact. This ultimately ensures the anonymity of the VPN user – the remote station does not see its own device, only the VPN server. If you then follow a few basic rules for anonymous surfing (see extra box), you will not be (re) recognized by a website you are visiting. The only conclusions that a VPN connection theoretically allows to third parties relate to the number, frequency and size of the data packets sent. These parameters can be used to draw conclusions about the type of data,

💡 Tips for anonymous surfing
VPN protects the data traffic from other readers, disguises your own location and allows geo-blocking measures to be circumvented. In addition, however, the following rules must be heeded if you want to remain anonymous:
 

  • Delete cookies: websites use cookies to recognize their visitors. Only those who delete the cookies before or after surfing can remain anonymous – this also applies when surfing via VPN.
  • Avoid log-ins: Anyone who logs into an online service with a user name and password, for example, identifies themselves very clearly – and this service also recognizes them behind a VPN.
  • Search anonymously: A search engine like DuckDuckGo does not collect any personal data – unlike Google, for example.
  • Deactivate unnecessary browser plug-ins: Java and Flash were previously necessary to display interactive content in the browser. Nowadays you can safely deactivate the plug-ins and their security gaps.
  • Check browser settings: The browser also logs surfing behavior. It is therefore worth taking a look at the privacy settings. Ideally, the browser only shows a blank page with no recommendations after starting.
  • Activate surf protection : Protection against fraudulent content and dangerous scripts must also be activated in the browser settings.
  • Choose the right VPN server: If possible, choose a VPN server in Iceland or Switzerland for surfing – the strictest data protection laws in the world apply there.

This is how visiting a website with VPN works

If you call up a website with an existing VPN connection, this request is first sent to the VPN server via an encrypted connection (“tunnel”). Data transmitted in this tunnel cannot be viewed from the outside – this increases security, especially with wireless connections. The VPN server then forwards the request to the actual destination, i.e. the web server with the website. Only the VPN server is visible to the website server, the actual website visitor or their device remains hidden from the website. Accordingly, the web server only sends the requested website to the VPN server, which forwards the encrypted data to its own device. There the VPN software decrypts the received data for the web browser,

VPN streaming: videos and music without geoblocking

In addition, you can bypass geoblocking with the help of a VPN. Geoblocking is a technique with which content on the Internet is regionally blocked. This applies above all to media content such as films and music. Although EU-wide streaming has now been decided by an EU regulation, there will still be numerous countries in 2021 from which one does not have access to content from Netflix, Spotify, Sky or iTunes. Such blocks can be bypassed by changing your location with a VPN.

Change location via VPN

If you use a VPN service to call up a streaming site, you can simply tell the streaming provider with the IP address of the VPN server that you are not in Germany (content blocked), for example, but in Austria ( Content shared). For example, as an Austrian on vacation in Germany, you can watch the Austrian live stream from Servus-TV instead of just watching the station’s German program. To do this, you simply select a server in the desired country in the VPN provider’s software to convey to the visited website that you are currently there. In this way, as a subscriber to paid services, you can also access content in those countries in which it is otherwise completely blocked by geoblocking. But you should first look at the small print of the services, that you want to use via VPN. Some providers, especially subscription services from the streaming area, prohibit use with VPN servers and reserve the right to block the account in the event of an infringement. If you want to use a VPN for streams, you should also make sure that the VPN speed is not too low, that the VPN service generally supports streaming and offers servers in the relevant countries.

Access the intranet via VPN

Another area of ​​application for VPNs are companies, authorities or universities that want to enable their employees or students to access an internal network from outside via the Internet. You can access company applications from your home office or access the intranet of your own university from a public WLAN. Such VPN networks are, however, set up by the organizations, schools, authorities and companies concerned and are only intended for internal use – they in no way replace a VPN with which one would like to surf privately without being recognized.


VPN alternatives

To use a disguised and encrypted connection, you do not necessarily have to resort to the software of a VPN provider. But the alternatives often have disadvantages. This is how you move around in the Tor browserin a closed network that is similar in principle to a VPN. When you enter the Tor network, a list of all available Tor servers is downloaded. This list is then used to determine a random route across the Tor servers, each spanning three servers. The connection route is also changed every ten minutes, this should ensure the greatest possible anonymity and security. A disadvantage of the connection via Tor is that cookies, Java and Javascript are deactivated by default. In comparison, the surfing experience appears partly bland, partly simply incomplete, since dynamic content is not visible. In addition, you are noticeably slower on the Internet via the Tor network – a no-go for everyone who

Unfortunately slow: with the TOR browser you surf anonymously, but only at low speed.

Opera does not provide adequate protection

The Opera browser also offers a switchable VPN connection to the Internet . However, you only have the choice of a few server locations. That can be enough if you want to use your German Netflix subscription without geoblocking in other EU countries. There were also no major losses in speed in the test. A disadvantage of the Opera solution that should not be underestimated, however, is that you can only surf within this one browser via VPN. Other internet-enabled programs, games, clients and browsers continue to surf here without any protection. In the worst case, you surf with the assumption that you are anonymous and protected in all online activities, if this actually only applies to part of the data traffic.

Router with VPN function

Access to the private network at home while on the move is possible, for example, using a Fritz! Box and Fritz! Remote access. The AVM client software can be installed on the notebook. After the configuration, mobile access to the home network is possible via your own Fritz! Box. In this way, however, you always emulate your home location when you visit a website, which – unlike the VPN providers presented here – cannot be changed worldwide.


Conclusion: how anonymously do you surf with a VPN?

A VPN primarily shifts the line of trust: instead of with the Internet provider, your own data traffic is bundled on the servers of the VPN service used. The important difference to Internet providers lies in the promise of some VPN providers not to log any connection data and thus not be able to pass them on to third parties. The second big advantage of a VPN connection is the encryption, which prevents third parties from reading the data in WLAN, for example. It can make sense to use a VPN service if you want to keep your surfing behavior private. A 100% guarantee of anonymity and data protection cannot be achieved with VPN providers, even in 2021: With the right know-how and the associated technology, at least vague conclusions can be drawn about the type of data transmitted – even if they are encrypted. Whether a VPN provider keeps its word and actually does not log any data can also not be checked from the outside.

Alternatives to paid VPN are a double-edged sword. The free VPN integrated in the Opera browser can create a false sense of security, especially for occasional users, because you surf outside of the browser without a VPN connection – the mail traffic in an e-mail program, for example, bypasses the Opera VPN. Users of other browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, also look into the tube. The Tor network, on the other hand, can be used free of charge and ensures secure anonymity, but it will remain excruciatingly slow in 2021 – streaming, for example, is out of the question with Tor. Our recommendation is therefore to use one of the paid VPN services. The protection of your data should be worth the comparatively low monthly amount.


FAQ – Questions and answers about VPN

In the following we answer some questions that are asked particularly frequently about VPN.

Is VPN Legal?

VPN services can be used completely legally in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The same is true of most other countries in the world. The exceptions include China and Russia, which only allow state-regulated VPN services. Turkey is also restricting VPN use more and more. Important: even where VPN can be used legally, you remain responsible for your own actions. A criminal offense remains a criminal offense even if it happens behind a VPN connection.

Is VPN Safe?

A VPN connection encrypts the data traffic that is received and sent on the end device (e.g. PC or smartphone). It is therefore not possible for third parties to read this data in plain text. Since the data can only be encrypted and not “hidden”, it is theoretically possible for third parties, at least in the WLAN, to measure when and how much data is sent. Under certain circumstances, it is possible to draw conclusions about the type of data – but without being able to see the content from outside. Thus, a VPN is the best possible security for data traffic on the Internet, especially in WLAN.

Which is the cheapest VPN provider?

The cheapest VPN provider always depends on the desired subscription period. Typically, the longer you subscribe to a service, the less you pay per month. However, different VPN services can offer the lowest price for different terms. The currently cheapest VPN per subscription period is shown in the following list (status: 9.2.2021):

  • The cheapest 1-month subscription is offered by Kaspersky * at a price of € 4.95 / month for up to five devices. Since Kaspersky apparently creates log files, we cannot currently recommend the service for anonymous surfing.
  • The cheapest 6-month subscription is offered by the VPN provider Surfshark * for the equivalent of € 6.54 / month . Surfshark does not create any log files and thus enables anonymous surfing.
  • The cheapest 1-year subscription is available from Kaspersky * for the equivalent of € 2.50 / month . Since Kaspersky apparently creates log files, we cannot currently recommend the service for anonymous surfing.
  • The 2-year subscription is the cheapest at Surfshark * at the equivalent of € 2.51 / month . Surfshark does not create any log files and is therefore suitable for anonymous surfing.
  • In general, the cheapest way to get away is with a 3-year subscription to Atlas VPN *. This costs the equivalent of € 1.18 / month. This provider also works with a no-logs policy.

Have you already had any experience with Mozilla VPN?

Firefox developer Mozilla is increasingly promoting its own Mozilla VPN service , which was launched in Germany at the end of April 2021. Mozilla VPN is not a VPN service operated by Mozilla itself, but uses the network of the Swedish VPN provider Mullvad (see list: VPN providers in comparison ). It has a very good reputation, delivers solid speeds and good connection stability.

However, the number of available VPN servers is 781 (as of July 2021) compared to other providers. Whether and how the network can cope with an influx of additional Mozilla users remains to be seen after the service has started. Users from the USA, where the service has been available for a long time, report slow speeds and connection problems. It remains to be seen whether Mullvad might react by expanding its capacities or whether these experiences are just isolated cases.

According to the provider, the Mullvad servers are not suitable for streaming. So if you want to use local streaming offers on vacation, you should be happier with other providers.

It is criticized in data protection forums that the USA (Mozilla) and Sweden (Mullvad) are part of the 14-Eyes agreement for the exchange of surveillance data. But: Both Mozilla and Mullvad state that they do not record any surfing activities by users. On the positive side, Mullvad has to emphasize that you can register without an email address and even pay in cash. However, this option does not exist for the Mozilla VPN.

There are other differences between Mozilla and Mullvad in terms of prices: If you subscribe directly to Mullvad, you pay a fixed amount of 5 euros per month – regardless of the duration. With Mozilla you pay between 5 and 10 euros per month, depending on the term. This surcharge serves to promote Mozilla and its ideals.

Can you trace a VPN connection?

Only the respective VPN provider could trace the user of a VPN connection – and only if he records the connection data of his users. Most providers promise, however, not to create any log files for the connections. So that you cannot be spied on by third parties in your private online activities even afterwards, you should therefore choose a trustworthy provider.

Do VPN providers really not store any of my data at all?

Yes, as a rule, yes! Typically, this includes an email address or the duration of the subscription. If a provider does not create log files about the data traffic, this data cannot be associated with a surfing history. In the course of an investigation, for example, an agency could perhaps find out that someone has subscribed to a VPN service – but not how it was used.

Can you surf the internet faster with VPN?

The maximum speed of your own Internet connection depends on the Internet provider and the tariff selected there. Even a VPN service does not change that. Some speed tests on the Internet still show faster transfer rates with an active VPN connection. In this case, the entire transmission path to your own computer is probably not measured, but only to the VPN servers – which leads to incorrect results.

Does the Internet get slower with a VPN connection?

A good VPN provider usually makes good use of the full bandwidth of its own Internet connection – so it does not noticeably slow down the speed. Typically, this works best with VPN servers close to your own location. The further away the server location is, the more likely it is to cause delays.

Does a no-lag VPN bring advantages when gaming?

Some players hope for a better ping or lower latency when they play online via VPN. In fact, a VPN cannot speed up your own network connection (see Can you surf the Internet faster with VPN? ). However, if you gamble competitively or play with great commitment, you can protect your connection from manipulation with a VPN. In some multiplayer games it is also possible to connect to more distant multiplayer servers that would not be available without a VPN. But you usually pay for that with a loss of performance.

A no-lag VPN such as that offered by the NoLagVPN service for the Call of Duty: Warzone game only promises to keep these performance losses as low as possible. The service wants to achieve this by only routing game data through the VPN server and the rest of the data traffic bypassing it. In principle, NoLagVPN offers no other functions than the classic providers presented here: There you can typically also use a split tunneling function to set that only certain applications (not) use the VPN and to connect to servers in the desired region. In addition, many of the classic providers are cheaper than NoLagVPN.

What are the disadvantages of VPN services?

With an active VPN connection, data is routed through more servers than would be the case without a VPN. This can lead to a lower data transmission speed. However, the chargeable services usually solve this problem with fast server networks. In addition, a VPN provider can in principle read its own Internet traffic. So that your own surfing behavior is still incomprehensible, you should choose a provider that does not create log files or does not save your own surfing history. Users of VPN services should also be careful not to violate applicable rules – this includes not only laws, but also the terms and conditions of streaming services or other websites. Because not everything that a VPN service technically enables is also allowed.

How can I increase the speed of my VPN connection?

If the surfing speed with an active VPN connection is noticeably lower than when surfing without a VPN, then you should first check which server in the VPN network is used to connect you to the Internet. If the selected server is far away from the actual location, this can have a negative effect on the surfing speed. Moving to a closer server usually solves this problem. The popular VPN providers allow you to switch servers easily with just a few clicks.

NordVPN refuses the service in the Windows 11 preview. What can I do?

According to a Reddit user, NordVPN support recommends changing the connection protocol to TCP. To do this, select the settings menu in the NordVPN client, click on “Connection” and deactivate the automatic protocol selection. Then select “OpenVPN (TCP)” as the new protocol. If that doesn’t help, you should connect to one of the P2P servers offered.

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