vincentliuThey decided to make the world safer for surfers – the online variety, that is. The class was Computers and Society (COMP 189), offered during a cold (aren’t they all?) winter semester at McGill University in Montreal. Kun Chen was a senior political science major who chose a seat in the back row to minimize interaction with the instructor. He was only in the class to pick up three final credits before graduation and cared little for how computers and society worked together. As long as his laptop fired up in the evening and Candy Crush performed properly, all was well in his world.

Until it wasn’t.

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One Wednesday morning, Kun Chen awoke late as always – it was close to noon – when his bank called and told him he was late with his mortgage payment. That got his attention because he had never taken out a mortgage and had no intention of doing so. That wasn’t the sort of thing poverty-stricken college students do on a lark. But the bank loan officer was insistent, so Kun Chen relented and went in to talk to the guy.

“Someone stole my identity!” he raved before class that afternoon to Mu Liu and Huan Cheong, students who sat on either side of him and were also Chinese exchange students. “They bought a whole house and billed it to me.”

“Don’t pay for it,” Miu Liu suggested.

“It’s not that easy,” Kun Chen said, “My credit will be ruined.”

“I have an idea for a project,” Huan Cheng said. “Maybe you guys could help.”

It turned out that the project suggestion created a fire in Kun Chen’s belly. Huan’s idea was to create a website devoted to improving online internet safety and security in Canada. While it wasn’t their homeland, they had all grown fond of the place. With a surprising amount of financial support from the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, the three members of the newly formed partnership threw themselves into the fray, and a student project known as PrivacyCanada was born.

Why You Should Care About PrivacyCanada

One of the first things the three agreed on was that the idea of promoting the inherently higher level of online safety when using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). For those who might not be familiar with this techy-sounding term, here’s the thumbnail version. A VPN is a service that creates a virtual tunnel of encrypted data flowing between the user (that’s you) and the server (that’s the internet). The bottom line is that it boosts your anonymity whilst browsing from from spies, hackers, snoops, and anyone else who might want to steal and monetize your information. This part REALLY appealed to Kun Chen who was still trying to convince the bank he wasn’t the one who signed the promissory note.

The bottom line is that Liu, Cheong, and Chen realized that the single best tool for protecting the average internet user during online sessions was also probably one of the least understood. The world needed an education and they would be the teachers. The first step was to test all the leading VPN services and be able to make real world-tested and data-backed conclusions about which were the best.

Since a VPN’s sole reason for existence is to protect data, the PrivacyCanada students knew they needed to devise a testing protocol that would evaluate how well each VPN performed this duty. While Kun Chen would be the first to admit he wouldn’t be able to tell whether he was looking at a computer or a microwave oven from the inside, he was an excellent cheerleader who prodded the technological brains of the outfit, Liu and Cheong, to deconstruct the leading VPN services and put them back together. He hated the idea that anyone else would have to go through his “fake” mortgage fiasco.

Liu and Cheong decided that the basic performance factors to evaluate with a VPN would be:

1. Does it leak data at any point?

2. Is it fast?

Testing Leakage

There are three tests the PrivacyCanada crew applied to come up with their top three VPN recommendations: a DNS leak test, an IP address leak test, and a WebRTC leak test. Without going into the nuts and bolts of exactly how these tests are performed (because you’ve probably got better things to do), suffice it to say that each test is designed to measure whether or not your personal data is escaping from the VPN and therefore visible and vulnerable to the bad guys/gals who might want to exploit it. It’s that simple. A quality VPN is an impervious tunnel of encryption. Nothing should escape.

Testing Speed

With apologies for a blatant pop culture reference, when questioned as to whether his ship was fast, Han Solo boasted to Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker that it was the ship that made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. “She’s fast enough for you, old man,” the pilot concluded. While it would be hard to say our favorite VPNs could beat the Millenium Falcon in a straight up foot race, the three finalists at PrivacyCanada will darn sure be fast enough for you too.

You ARE a Target

Before the big reveal, there are a few points that should be made. The first is that you’re crazy if you don’t use a VPN. Too many people in this world still access the internet through a plain, old provider. Here’s why this is a bad idea. Today’s hackers are a sophisticated lot. Penetrating your online devices is child’s play for them unless you use encryption. While the common perception might be that they tend to focus their energy at governments and corporations, that’s a dangerous assumption to make. Personal information of ANY sort is valuable currency on the Dark Web. Anyone, anywhere, at any time is fair game. Just ask Kun Chen if he’ll stop cursing that unfortunate mortgage long enough to answer.

You WILL Be Censored

Before the big reveal, there are a few points that should be made. The first is that you’re crazy if you don’t use a VPN. Too many people in this world still access the internet through a plain, old provider. Here’s why this is a bad idea. Today’s hackers are a sophisticated lot. Penetrating your online devices is child’s play for them unless you use encryption. While the common perception might be that they tend to focus their energy at governments and corporations, that’s a dangerous assumption to make. Personal information of ANY sort is valuable currency on the Dark Web. Anyone, anywhere, at any time is fair game. Just ask Kun Chen if he’ll stop cursing that unfortunate mortgage long enough to answer.

And the Finalists Are…

Without further ado, here are the top three VPN services available for your consideration.

#1. Express VPN

Express VPN
  • 700+ LOCATIONS
Express VPN comes out on top of the heap when it comes to the two primary factors the PrivacyCanada team evaluated for. While the Rolling Stones like to remind us that we can’t always get what we want, when it comes to a VPN, we want total and complete privacy for our browsing habits and personal data and we want it fast. In other words, streaming videos with endless, maddening buffering is not going to cut it.

For both factors, there was no disagreement amongst the team when it came to placing Express VPN first. After months of testing, this service never disappointed. The 256-bit encryption was as secure as you’re going to find, and this virtual network ain’t no slouch when it comes to getting where you want to go in a hurry.

Some VPNs provide a great service, but you’re out of luck unless you live in a select few locations. With Express VPN coverage in 94 countries, you’re going to have to wander far, FAR off the beaten path before you run into access issues. Chances are, if you venture to some place not covered by Express VPN, there won’t be internet access at all so creating a VPN will be the least of your worries.

Even if you’re pretty sharp with this technology stuff, rock-solid customer support is a big deal when it comes to a VPN. Hands down, Express VPN provided the best live chat of any service tested. With real-time chat rapidly replacing telephone as the go-to communication method for problem resolution, there’s no hesitation about this glowing recommendation in the area of support. The hardest part about this test is figuring out something to pretend is a problem in order to evaluate the response. You’ll feel like you’re talking to a live human being (which presumably you are) and actually receiving attention rather than cut-and-paste replies from some service manual.

How much does it cost? Little enough that you should run, not walk, to get yourself signed up. A 30-day money back guarantee comes with any plan you choose. The basic options are to pay either by the month, every six months, or annually. As you might expect, choosing yearly billing is cheaper, reducing your monthly average to less than $9, while going with a monthly bill runs about $13. This is small potatoes when you consider it could be your financial life that hangs in the balance. Yes, that might be Kun Chen you hear screeching in the background.

There are a final few tidbits which helped push Express VPN into the top recommendation spot. One is that the dashboard offers a speed test front-and center for you to see how fast the service is anytime you like. Not every company is secure enough in their equipment to do that. Secondly, unlike many other similar services, this one absolutely does not log anything you do. That’s ultimate privacy or at least as good as you’re going to find. With more than 10 million people around the world using Express VPN, there’s no reason you shouldn’t either.

#2. VyPr VPN

Vypr vpn
  • 700+ LOCATIONS
Sometimes coming in second isn’t so much a result of something you did wrong but rather having the bad luck to be in the presence of someone else doing everything very right. That’s the situation VyPr VPN finds itself in. Though this company finds itself coming in at a lower score, the actual differences between these two services is slim indeed. If you can’t tell, we’re holding our thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart. While VyPr VPN offers its service in 70 countries (as compared to the Express VPN total of 94), this number ain’t nothing to poke fun at. It’s still impressive global coverage. One interesting factoid that came to light during testing and research is that the company’s entire network is self-owned. Not many other VPN services could make the same claim. It might not seem like a big deal to the average internet use, but it is. What it means is that you don’t have to worry about a third-party that owns a fractional piece of the network snooping on your browsing. It simply won’t happen because, not only does VyPr VPN own it all (as mentioned), but they’re obsessive about privacy. In case you were wondering, that’s a good thing. We’re talking total security and the peace of mind that accompanies knowing your personal data will never be compromised. Some other good stuff about VyPr VPN:

  • Like Express VPN, you get a 30-day refund guarantee if you decide you don’t like the service. The only reason you would do that is if you caught a puck in the head at last night’s Montreal Canadians game and aren’t thinking clearly.
  • Use it on up to three devices at the same price. That’s sort of nice.
  • The Chameleon protocol in the annual plan applies a serious level of encryption to keep your online activities safe and secure.
  • Unlimited means unlimited – no caps or restrictions of any sort on data flow.

VyPr VPN pricing is similar to Express, and actually may come in a little cheaper depending upon whether or not you catch them running a sale, which they do frequently. If you find yourself sitting on the fence, keep in mind there’s a free 3-day trial you can take advantage of if you want to take it for a real world test drive.

#3. Pure VPN

pure vpn
  • 700+ LOCATIONS
Testing revealed this VPN service had lower scores than the first two in all categories except one (speed, security, IP locations, pricing). The latter is where Pure VPN rises to the top if you are in a serious pickle when it comes to having enough money to afford one of the first two. While the PrivacyCanada team is of the unanimous opinion that you really can’t afford to be without VPN protection when going online, lack of finances can be a real issue. If this is a big concern, rest assured that Pure VPN is still a quality choice, though without some of the premiere features of the other two recommendations.

The bottom line is you’ll get everything you need for safer surfing and at a cheaper price. It’s a perfectly reputable service that no one should be ashamed to say they use. Some VPNs, even those that cost more, don’t provide the kind of all-inclusive security suite you’ll find in Pure VPN. We’re talking intrusion detection and prevention, app filtering, anti-virus, anti-malware, ad-blocking, and URL filtering. No matter how the bad guys are trying to get you, Pure VPN is ready waiting to head them off at the pass and send them slinking back home, tail between their legs, an abject failure.

Points in favor include a user-friendly interface – perhaps even more so than the first two recommendations – and a firm policy that prevents session logging. This is a big deal no matter which service you eventually go with. The reality here is you’ll get robust online protection and security at one of the lowest prices around.

Why We Don’t Do Free and Neither Should You

One of the first things you’ll be faced with when you launch your search for a VPN service is the proliferation of free options. You’ll be tempted, perhaps mightily, but please don’t fall for that sucker bait. Unless you’re a non-profit or government agency, no business can exist without income. Free VPNs don’t charge anything to use their service, but you can bet they are collecting your browsing demographics and selling it to third party advertisers who will then proceed to drive you crazy with ads. And that’s not even the worst news. Any VPN has the capability of harvesting your personal and financial data and selling it on the Dark Web. You can bet that becomes more of a temptation (or maybe even a goal) to a company that makes nothing providing a service. The best advice. Don’t go the free route. You might come to wholeheartedly regret it later.

Now you know the top three VPNs in the world (in our humble opinion), which should make it ever-so-easy to select your provider, but we couldn’t leave without suggesting you avoid an outfit called Hide My Ass. Our experience with this joke of a VPN service was underwhelming, to be polite about it. Spotty service, random website blocking, and no refund if you change your mind are the good parts. After that it gets worse. Unfortunately, a certain number of newbies fall prey to these kind of operators every day and get a bad first impression about VPNs. Don’t believe the lies! Hope this helps. Good luck out there.