Virtual private networks were conceived to connect computers in different geographic locations as if they were part of one same local network. They rely on encryption, tunnel protocols and masking mechanisms to fulfill their purpose in a reliable and secure fashion. These same attributes which are indispensable to create safe networks through the internet have made VPNs the go to technology for anyone looking to keep their location and online activities private.
In general, totally free high quality VPN services are few and far between. The current business model being used by some is to offer a free basic application with the option to upgrade to a paid, more feature rich version. However, for users simply looking for some extra privacy or sporadically accessing a geo-restricted website these free versions get the job done.
CyberGhost installs clean and the interface is very polished. There are no bandwidth limits but whenever you change a setting in the program you get a popup window that offers upgrading to their premiums plans. Speed is slightly higher than the other services we have listed here but they restrict P2P traffic. This doesn’t affect video and audio streaming services but if you want anonymity downloading torrents this one is not for you. They have the widest list of options when it comes to IP selection with virtual locations in Germany, Spain, Romania, Luxembourg, France, Italy, aside from the usual US and UK locales. CyberGhost is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux (with some work). Another plus, you do not need to register.
TunnelBear is another strong offering in the world of free VPNs. The interface is quite polished and easy to use, installation is clean and quick, and it was able to get us into all the online streaming services we tried – Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube. Speed was a bit lacking and there is a 500MB per month limit, but you can increase that to 1.5GB with a tweet right from the get go. You can choose virtual locations in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, and Italy. TunnelBear is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS after you register an account.
SurfEasy is one of the most solid free alternatives out there. Speed is decent, installation is straightforward, encryption is supposedly “bank grade” and they clearly state none of your online activities are logged. You can change regions on the fly with servers in Brazil, US, Singapore, UK, Germany and Canada. The biggest deal breaker is that apparently their IP addresses have been blacklisted by some streaming services. At the time of writing SurfEasy wasn’t able to get us into Hulu or the BBC iPlayer. There's also a monthly data transfer limit of 500MB for free accounts and BitTorrent traffic is not supported -- the company had to choose between keeping user logs or dropping torrent support to avoid being liable of copyright infringement. They chose the latter.
Although free accounts are capped at 500MB per month of traffic you can extend that limit indefinitely through referrals and several other pretty effortless mechanisms. SurfEasy is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS after you register for an account.
Hotspot Shield is probably the best-known free VPN out there. It does all the basics and while speed is just average, it's good enough for streaming Hulu videos at medium resolution. All communications are encrypted and there is no data transfer limit. However, you'll have to tolerate ads while surfing. Be sure to go with the "advanced installation" option during setup otherwise your browser will end up with a different homepage and default search engine. Finally, you can’t change your virtual location which limits your online selection to U.S based services. Hotspot Shield is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS with no registration necessary.
Spotflux is another free, ad-supported offering with no bandwidth limits. Speed is more or less on par with Hotspot Shield -- which is to say it's not the fastest of the bunch -- but besides encrypting your internet traffic they also promise protection online against malicious ads, cookies and malware. The client is quite simple with virtually no settings to deal with, which might a be a pro or con depending on your preferences. For the average user looking for an install and forget solution Spotflux does the trick. Their IP addresses seem to be U.S. based so it won't get you around blocks for services limited to other countries. It's also worth noting that at the time of writing they have been blacklisted from Hulu but had no issues with YouTube. Spotflux is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. You don’t have to register for an account right away.
Have you tried any of these programs? Have another one to add? Sound off in the comments.