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Are VPNs Safe? How to Know Which VPNs Are Secure in 2022

Most VPNs advertise with promises of maximum security, impenetrable encryption, and keeping your data private online. However, you’d be surprised that some may risk your safety and privacy to make more profit.

Certain free VPNs can even infect you with malware; others track your online activity to sell it to the highest bidder for malvertising purposes. Also, many have security flaws and can’t even keep your sensitive information private. Choosing the right one can be tricky, especially when you don’t know whose claims are trustworthy.

I’ve tested 50+ VPNs to find the ones that can truly secure your connection and keep you private while browsing. My #1 choice is ExpressVPN because of its military-grade encryption and privacy features that can reliably protect you against online threats. It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free

Short on Time? Here Are the Safest VPNs in 2022

  1. ExpressVPN — A first-rate VPN with RAM-based servers, state-of-the-art security features, and super-fast speeds. If you’re not 100% satisfied, you have 30 days to claim a full refund.
  2. CyberGhost — Automatic WiFi protection, excellent security features, self-operated NoSpy servers, but an expensive monthly plan.
  3. Private Internet Access — Highly customizable security options, strong DNS and IP leak protection, but its ad-blocker isn’t the most reliable.

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How Does a VPN Keep Me Safe Online?

In a nutshell, a VPN keeps you safe by encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through one of its secure servers. That way, nobody else can read or intercept your data, which makes it hard to steal your sensitive information.

Here are some examples of real-life scenarios where a VPN can keep you safe online:

  • Security while surfing on public WiFi

Connecting to an unsecured WiFi hotspot in a cafe or an airport can be more dangerous than you think. Hackers and other malicious actors can infiltrate these networks and collect your banking details, passwords, and social security number while you’re unsuspectingly surfing. Reliable VPNs use ultra-secure 256-bit encryption, making your traffic virtually impenetrable.

  • Keeping your shared company data secure

A VPN can help employees keep sensitive files confidential while sharing them across the network. Organizations that employ remote workers often use it to ensure secure communication between a worker’s remote network and a business network, for example.

  • Information privacy from the apps and services you use

Most don’t read the mice print when agreeing to install apps, but they often collect or forward your information for advertising purposes. Some are upfront about it, some less so. A VPN also ensures no one can collect or share your personal information, not even the apps and services you use.

  • Keeping your data private from your ISP and third-parties

Your ISP knows the websites you’re visiting and apps you’re using. The bots monitor and record your search history. Based on your browsing history, your ISP makes a personal profile that third-parties can use to target you with ads, for example. Not only that but it can also be shared with the government, if necessary.

With a VPN, the data is still there, but it is unreadable thanks to encryption, so it can’t be used against you. Also, reputable providers don't keep logs of your internet activity — your browsing history, which sites you visit, for how long, etc. They are audited regularly by independent companies or have their no-logs claims verified in court. This can be especially useful in high-censorship countries like China, Russia, Qatar, and UAE.

  • Safe access to your apps and streaming services while traveling

Some streaming platforms and apps are unavailable if you’re abroad due to licensing issues. A good VPN can help you stay on the safe side and access those services, so you’re not tempted to visit sketchy websites that can infect you with viruses and malware.

  • Secure torrenting

Torrenting with a VPN is highly recommended because it prevents exposing your real IP address. Top-tier security features like high-end encryption and the kill switch are especially important in this case. If the VPN connection drops unexpectedly, a kill switch cuts your internet connection until the app is back on, so your identity is safe at all times. However, please make sure to follow the regulations of your country when torrenting. Neither my team nor I condone using a VPN for anything illegal.

Try ExpressVPN Today

Are VPNs Legal to Use?

VPNs are legal in almost every country, depending on your actions. However, their usage is currently in a legally gray area in some countries like Iran and UAE, where the government heavily regulates them. Similarly, Russia and China have banned unapproved VPNs to prevent access to the content they deem “unlawful.”

Certain activities that you can engage in using it can be illegal. This includes torrenting copyrighted material, for example. Also, many online services block VPNs. That doesn’t make it a crime to use them, but it may go against the ToS you agreed to when you signed up.

Essentially, in most cases, you’re not breaking the law by using a VPN itself, but you should make sure what you’re using it for is legal.

However, bear in mind that this article does not offer legal advice. Though we have done careful research, the legality of VPNs and other encryption software is constantly changing. We recommend you consult a lawyer or other expert if you need specific legal support, depending on the country you’re currently in.

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Dangers of Free VPNs

Free VPNs often come with a lot of hidden costs. VPNs use complex technology, which costs money to maintain. Since you’re not paying for the service, free VPNs try to earn in other ways.

Here are some of the common dangers of using a free VPN:

  • False claims and compromised security. According to a CSIRO study, despite their claims, about 18% of VPNs don’t encrypt your traffic. The others use substandard encryption protocols and have IPv6 and DNS leaks, which means your online activities and data are no longer confidential.
  • Malware. More than a third of free Android VPN apps contain malware. That means some of the most popular ones in your Google search may be unsafe. Reputable VPNs, on the other hand, are safe to download and install, and some even have built-in ad- and malware blockers.
  • Data collecting and sharing with third-parties. Many free VPNs use embedded tracking to sell your data to advertisers for a profit. Some even give third-parties access to your data without informing you or giving you the option of opting out. For example, they can forward your email to companies that can spam your inbox. According to the same CSIRO study, 75% of free VPNs contain third-party tracking libraries.

Your best bet is to try a reputable VPN out risk-free since they’re backed by a money-back guarantee. This way, you can be sure that you're getting a safe and reliable service.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free

Premium VPNs vs. Free VPNs

Besides security concerns discussed above, free VPNs usually have poor performances. Here’s why you should consider opting for a paid subscription to a trustworthy VPN:

  • No data caps. Free VPNs often limit the amount of data you can use, mostly 500 MB. To put this into perspective, you wouldn’t be able to finish watching a single episode. By doing this, free VPNs want to make users upgrade to a paid plan.
  • Fewer annoying ads. Ad revenue and selling your data to advertisers bring them profit. Meanwhile, most premium VPNs come with built-in ad trackers and blockers to eliminate ads and pop-ups.
  • Faster speed. Even with top-tier VPNs, some loss is expected (up to 20%) due to all the extra steps needed to secure your connection. But most free VPNs slow down your connection by more than 20% because their servers are often overcrowded. They may also decrease your speeds on purpose, so you’d upgrade your plan.
  • No bandwidth selling. Certain free providers even let their paying customers use your unused bandwidth for profit. That is potentially dangerous because someone can use this to intercept your traffic and see your sensitive information.
  • Access to popular streaming services. Free VPNs rarely have enough IP addresses at their disposal, so they assign the same one to many users. When a streaming platform notices a large amount of traffic from a single IP, they know they are dealing with a VPN. They blacklist them so they no longer can access their content. Premium VPNs constantly add new addresses, making you much more likely to access the platforms.

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Best VPNs to Stay Safe in August 2022

1. ExpressVPN — TrustedServer Technology to Safeguard Your Data

  • RAM-only servers to keep your data safe from anyone
  • AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data and prevent hackers from snooping
  • Different protocols to adjust your security levels, including its proprietary Lightway
  • Can unblock: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Go, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, and more
  • Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Apple TV, many routers (e.g., D-Link, Netgear, Netduma), and more
ExpressVPN Offer August 2022: For a limited time only, you can get an ExpressVPN subscription for up to 49% off! Don't miss out!

I was really impressed with ExpressVPN’s unique TrustedServer Technology. This prevents intruders from stealing your data by eliminating write access to the hard drive. Its servers run on RAM only, meaning traces of your information and activities are erased after each reboot. Most VPNs store the information on hard drives, which means it stays there until someone manually deletes it, which can pose a threat to your personal information. Using this kind of memory ensures ExpressVPN doesn’t store any sensitive information that could jeopardize your privacy.

One of ExpressVPN’s security features I use the most is the kill switch, which stops your internet if the VPN drops for some reason. It makes sure you never use the internet without a VPN, so you always remain protected. If you’re using ExpressVPN on a Mac, Windows, or Linux device, the kill switch is automatically enabled, so you don’t have to configure anything. I checked this out on my MacBook, and it was on by default. I tested its Network Lock (the kill switch) by force-stopping the app, and it cut my internet each time.

ExpressVPN passed all of my DNS, WebRTC, and IP leak tests. Since it runs its own DNS servers, you eliminate the middleman whenever you request to visit a site, for example. This lowers your leak incidents because all your traffic goes through one of its private servers, so nobody can intercept or monitor your online activities. I tested 10 of its servers, and my personal information always remained confidential. While I was testing its Romanian servers, the ipleak.net detected only the Romanian IP, meaning that my actual address wasn’t revealed.

A screenshot of ExpressVPN's server in Romania passing the IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak test

My IP address stayed private with ExpressVPN while connected to its server in Romania

One issue I have with ExpressVPN is its price tag, which starts from $6.67/month. However, if you opt for one of its long-term plans, you can save up to 49% on subscription costs. With my offer, I even got 3 months of using it for free.

ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it with zero risk. You can ask for a refund if you are not completely happy with it. To see if its claims are 100% true, I tested this out after 28 days by contacting its support through live chat. The whole process took fewer than 2 minutes. I was granted a full refund, no questions asked, and received my money back after 3 days.

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2. CyberGhost — Automatically Protects You on Unsecured Networks

  • Public WiFi protection to keep you safe from intruders trying to steal your data
  • Open-source protocols with AES 256-bit encryption for a safe and stable connection
  • 7 simultaneous device connections
  • Can unblock: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Go, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, and more
  • Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, Apple TV, different routers, and more
August 2022 Deal: CyberGhost is currently offering 82% off its most popular plan! Take advantage of this offer now and save more on your CyberGhost subscription.

When you connect to unprotected WiFi anywhere in public, you put yourself at risk to cybercriminals. Your passwords, banking details, or social security number can get stolen. That’s why I was super happy to use CyberGhost’s public WiFi protection. To enable it, go to Settings, choose WiFi, and toggle the WiFi Protection button. You can set it up to automatically start whenever you connect, so you don’t have to think about security each time you’re using the public internet.

I also tested its IP, WebRTC, and DNS leak protection, which affects how secure your online traffic is from hackers, trackers, and any spying entities. I performed my test connected to CyberGhost’s Estonia server, and I was pleased to see that there were no leaks detected. The only IP address others could see was the one from the VPN.

A screenshot of CyberGhost's server in Estonia passing the IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak test

There were no data leaks with CyberGhost

If you want complete privacy, CyberGhost has over 20 self-operated NoSpy servers based in Romania. Most VPNs store their servers in third-party data centers, which leaves them vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. CyberGhost cuts out the middleman by having only its own team taking care of the servers. Using these servers comes at an additional cost, but it’s a small price if you want complete privacy and security from outside threats.

Its monthly subscription plan is on the more expensive side, starting from $2.29/month, and comes with a shorter money-back guarantee. However, if you choose a long-term one, your costs can be lowered by 82%, depending on the active offers.

Also, it has one of the longest money-back guarantees on the market: 45 days if you opt for an extended subscription. That way, you can try CyberGhost completely risk-free. I tested its refund procedure by contacting the support team via email. They responded within an hour, and I received the money to my Paypal account after 4 days.

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3. Private Internet Access — Customizable Security to Best Suit Your Needs

  • Choose protocols and encryption levels to fit your needs
  • 10 simultaneous device connections
  • Vast network of 29,650+ servers in 84+ countries so you can stay safe anywhere
  • Can unblock: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Go, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, and more
  • Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, Apple TV, and more
August 2022 Update: PIA doesn't usually have deals or discounts (it's already so affordable), but right now you can get a new subscription for a crazy 82% off!

PIA offers several encryption levels and protocols you can combine depending on the level of security you need. For example, if speeds are important for a certain task, you can switch to lower encryption (e.g., 128-bit or 256-bit AES). I recommend using 256-bit AES whenever possible because it offers the highest level of protection. By combining different protocols and encryption levels, you may also fix issues with some VPN features or apps not always working properly. You have both WireGuard and OpenVPN to choose from, while IPsec is only available on iOS.

A screenshot of PIA's Windows app showing its protocol settings that can be customized

You can also try the “Alternate Settings” and let PIA choose the best protocol and encryption automatically

It also has a strict no-logs policy. This is not just a claim — PIA has proven in court that it never logs its users’ data. I really appreciate the fact my browsing habits and other personal data are never in danger of being misused. Being regularly tested and audited means it truly leaves up to its promises.

PIA also has a built-in ad-blocker. Unfortunately, its MACE feature doesn’t block all ads. I tested it on several websites, and even though some ads still got through (e.g., on YouTube), it did protect me from malware. So, it is still a solid choice against malware and trackers, and you’re more secure while browsing.

PIA’s pricing is reasonable, starting at $2.19/month. It often offers generous discounts on its long-term plans, which can help you save up 82% on subscription costs.

It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out for yourself. Its refund process works as promised. The support agent did ask me one troubleshooting question to see if I was willing to continue with the subscription, but after, my payment was processed super quickly. The money was back in my account within 4 days.

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Quick Guide: How to Use a Safe VPN in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Download a VPN. I recommend using ExpressVPN because it uses military-grade encryption to protect your data and never logs your private information.
  2. Connect to a server close to you. For the best connection and speeds, I recommend you connect to a server in your country or nearby. For example, choose a UK server if you’re there.
  3. Start using the internet securely! With your traffic fully encrypted, you are safe from online threats wherever you are.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free

Pro Tips on Choosing the Safest VPN:

  • Check the encryption levels: The safest encryption levels on the market are 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption ciphers. Used even by the US government to safeguard top-secret information.
  • Find out which protocols it offers: You may want to be able to switch between protocols depending on what you’re doing. For example, some apps, features, or VPNs work only with WireGuard or OpenVPN. Some VPNs even have their own in-house protocols, like ExpressVPN.
  • See if a kill switch is available: The kill switch halts your internet if your VPN connection drops. That ensures that you are never left vulnerable to online threats. Sometimes the feature isn’t automatically enabled, so make sure to check
  • Stick to verified no-logs VPNs: You want to make sure that your VPN doesn’t keep your information. You can also check whether any court cases or independent audits are confirming its privacy claims.
  • Look for IPv4, IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS built-in leak protection: Data leaks can still happen, so you should have a VPN that actively works on preventing them.
  • Opt for a VPN with a reliable money-back guarantee. That way, you can test it out with zero risk. If it doesn’t, you can always request a refund.

Try ExpressVPN Today

FAQs on Safest VPNs

What are the dangers of using a VPN?

The dangers are if a VPN you’re using is not safe. In general, they are all recommended for improving online safety. Still, some can compromise your security, infect you with malware, and track your activities. These are mostly free VPNs because that is how they earn revenue. Besides security and privacy concerns, some VPNs are also often slow and limit your data usage, unlike premium VPNs.

Also, a study by CSIRO on Android VPN apps found that about 18% don’t encrypt the traffic despite the promises, and almost 40% contain malware. Many use embedded tracking to collect data on you for advertising purposes. They can even share this data with third-parties putting you at risk of identity theft. The study showed only 25% of VPNs on Google Play Store don’t use trackers. Users are unaware of security or privacy risks when signing up for them because they’re advertised as safe.

Which VPNs are safe?

Only VPNs with powerful encryption protocols, IP and DNS leak protection, and a strict no-logs policy are safe. Since this type of technology isn’t cheap, it’s mostly paid VPNs that can be called truly secure. Here are some features that they have:

  1. Encryption levels and protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, or ExpressVPN’s proprietary Lightway. All provide 256-bit AES encryption, ensuring that your data can't be deciphered if intercepted. Most of these protocols are open-source. That way, anyone can check their code and see if anything nefarious is happening there.
  2. Built-in DNS, WebRTC, and IP leak protection. Data leaks can occur, but a good VPN can prevent this.
  3. A strict no-logs policy. You want a VPN that doesn’t collect your data or share it with third-parties. It’s best if a VPN has undergone an independent audit to confirm its privacy claims.
  4. A kill switch option. If your VPN connection drops suddenly, the kill switch turns off your internet altogether, so you are never at risk of various online threats.

All 3 VPNs on this list fit these criteria and can reliably keep you safe online.

Can VPNs steal your data?

Yes, some untrustworthy VPNs can steal your data. It’s mostly free VPNs that track your online activity and sell your data to third-parties for advertising purposes. A study by CSIRO has found that only 25% of Android VPN apps don’t contain embedded tracking libraries.

That’s why I recommend using a top-tier VPN like ExpressVPN because of its robust security features, strict no-logs policy, and independent audits. Firm PwC has confirmed that ExpressVPN does not collect, store or share your data with third-parties. It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free.

Can free VPNs be trusted?

Unfortunately, very rarely. While there may be some that don’t necessarily endanger your privacy, most free VPNs don’t have the resources to keep you safe online. Free VPNs are unreliable for several reasons because they often use embedded trackers in their apps, infect you with malware, and have dubious ownership.

I recommend using a tried-and-trusted VPN like ExpressVPN. It has powerful security and privacy features, never logs any of your data, and comes with a money-back guarantee.

Which VPN is safe for banking?

VPNs with strong security, such as 256-bit AES encryption and a kill switch, are safe for banking. High-level security features prevent hackers from stealing your sensitive data. The US government even uses this encryption, so it’s almost impossible for cybercriminals to crack the encryption key.

All the VPNs on my list can protect you while banking online. Due to its TrustedServer technology, kill switch, and military-grade encryption, I recommend ExpressVPN as one of the safest ones for banking online.

Are VPNs safe on public WiFi?

Yes, trustworthy VPNs with strong encryption can easily protect you while using unsecured WiFi. Another thing that can keep you secure is an automatic public WiFi protection feature. You can even set it up to connect automatically whenever using any unprotected network. With a premium VPN, you can safely browse the internet without fear that someone can steal your identity or credit card information.

Try ExpressVPN Today

The Bottom Line

VPNs are not only secure but are recommended for improving your online safety. Still, not all of them can deliver on that promise. Some (especially free ones) can compromise your security by infecting you with malware, tracking you, or selling your data.

With a reliable VPN, all your data and activities are kept safe. Your digital footprint is under layers of strong encryption and rerouting. Trustworthy VPNs also don’t keep track of any of your data. That makes it much harder for anyone trying to monitor or steal your personal or business information.

Out of all the ones I tested, my recommendation is ExpressVPN because of its ultra-secure 256-bit AES encryption, verified no-logs policy, and other top-class security features.

It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it completely risk-free.

To summarize, here are the safest VPNs…

9.8/10
9.8/10
9.6/10
Privacy Alert!

Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!

Your IP Address:

Your Location:

Your Internet Provider:

The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.

VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

Visit ExpressVPN

About the Author

Obren is a technology researcher and writer. He is a strong believer in online privacy and digital freedom.

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