VPNs are incredibly flexible tools that can be used for many things. Among their features include watching geo-restricted media, defeating state censorship, and preventing tracking by websites and commercial WiFi hosts.
For the majority of VPN users, privacy is their number one reason for subscribing to a VPN. Given that, the number of logs that are recorded on users and their online activity kept by a VPN provider is a crucial consideration when deciding which VPN service provider to go for.
Unfortunately, the term “no logs VPN” is often abused by service providers and the term is also frequently misunderstood by customers. Almost all VPNs will state that they have a no-logs policy, but the truth is that most of these VPN providers can be quite sneaky.
Types of VPN logs
There are a few types of VPN logs that either an ISP or VPN service can keep about their users’ internet usage. These can be then broadly grouped into two categories: usage logs and connection logs.
Usage logs are basically a record of the websites that you have visited. Some countries require your ISPs to retain this data for a set time limit for each individual. On the other hand, no VPN services we know actually admit to keeping such usage logs, even when it is in clear contradiction with what the laws of the country says.
In the UK
ISPs (and VPN providers) are required by law to log this information and store it for 12 months in a way that is accessible to a wide range of government departments.
In the US
ISPs have successfully lobbied the US Congress to sell or share customers’ detailed web browsing history to advertisers and partner companies.
Above are among the few reasons why it would be best to avoid VPN providers based in the UK and US.
Connection logs are also known as metadata logs, although the UK government frequently abuses this term by classing web browsing history as “metadata”. A full set of connection logs would include the following information:
- The IP address the connection was made from.
- The time the connection started.
- The time the connection ended.
- How much bandwidth used while connected
The good thing is that they do not include the websites that you have visited. However, it does still provide more than enough information to compromise one’s privacy. One should not underestimate the danger connection logs pose. Every known case of VPN users getting caught performing criminal activities online was the result of the service providers analyzing connection logs and handing the data over to the police.
Note: Some VPN services claim to be “no logs” VPN because they do not collect usage logs. However, they do store a lot of connection information, which makes their no-log policy rather misleading.
All network systems including VPNs generate real-time logs as a simple byproduct of their operation. Even if these logs are immediately deleted (sent directly to a /dev/null file), they do exist for even a few milliseconds which means they can still always be monitored as they are created in real-time.
Even the strictest no-logs VPN service will need to monitor logs in real-time whenever they notice their network being abused or if there’s an issue that needs to be resolved.
Generally, real-time logs are perfectly acceptable within reason because keeping real-time logs for a few minutes or deleting them the second a session has ended generally poses minimal threat to users’ privacy.
Most VPN companies rent servers from third-party providers. So, even if the VPN provider does not keep any logs, it is likely that the server centers in which the VPN employ do. And unlike VPN companies, these server companies have absolutely no obligation to protect users’ privacy.
Good VPN companies, however, genuinely care about their users’ privacy and take great steps to mitigate such a problem. This is one of the reasons is why it is crucial to pick out a good and trustworthy service provider,
Although server logs can be an issue, it is mainly the logs kept by a VPN provider itself which poses the greatest threat to online users. Therefore, it is imperative to know where your VPN company is based as this has a big impact on its ability to protect your privacy.
Best No-Logs VPN
Best all-round VPN, fast connection with no logs
British Virgin Island (BVI) is considered as one of the safest countries for online privacy and is located far away from any surveillance countries. This is why ExpressVPN has set up their headquarters in this privacy-friendly country. BVI does not have any retention laws and is therefore legally permitted to keep your online activity from government.
ExpressVPN has more than 3,000 VPN servers located in 160 different locations that are supported with an AES 256-bit military-grade encryption to protect your connection. You get to stay reassured that all your activities online will remain undetected with ExpressVPN.
The VPN company even accepts cryptocurrencies as their subscription payment so users can truly remain anonymous. Other than that, the company has a strict no-logging policy that clearly outlines that they will never log:
- IP addresses
- Browsing history
- Any website you visit/Torrent you download
- DNS queries
Though the VPN service does record a few information once you are connected, but there’s nothing to be worried of cause none of it can be tied to your account anyway. The only information saved includes login date, server location, and the amount of data transferred.
Featuring a “Network Lock”, ExpressVPN automatically kills your internet connection once your VPN connection drops for whatever reason. This is important as it prevents DNS leaks and keeps your information protected as long as your security is not restored.
On top of that, all your DNS requests are sent through the company’s private servers that do not log queries on any site you visit. This cuts out any third-party involvement and works to keep all your information within the company. Their Zero-Knowledge DNS also makes sure that none of your line activities can be traced back to you.
If you’re still concerned despite the features above, ExpressVPN goes one step further by offering a .onion version of its website to let users create a completely anonymous account with them. Just sign up with a throw away email and none of the internet activities will ever be linked back to you. This is just how reliable ExpressVPN sets out to be as the top VPN service provider.
All these added benefits do come with a price, though a relatively reasonable one considering how useful the extra features are. In fact, you get to test out their full-service free trial for 30-days if you’re still in doubt.
- Super-fast connection speeds
- Well-encrypted, kill switch-protected connections
- Accepts Bitcoin as payment
- Offers .onion site
- Keeps no user logs
- More expensive
- No-kill switch protection on mobile devices
SurfShark is another VPN service provider that is headquartered and operates from the privacy-friendly British Virgin Island (BVI). Started from the bottom with approximately 100 servers, this VPN quickly rose to the top with more than 1,000 servers across the globe in their pocket. This exponential growth is definitely an impressive feat for a small company.
SurfShark promises a strict no-logging policy that states the company does not collect data from your connection, such as incoming and outgoing IP addresses, browser history, bandwidth, session information, connection timestamps, network traffic. The only information the company may have is your email address and billing information.
However, this VPN service does collect some information regarding their app performance. In any case, all data recorded are completely anonymous. The service only knows that a malfunction occurred for a user but will not be possible for the company to trace that bug to a specific account.
The amount of effort and seriousness SurfShark puts into protecting your privacy is what makes this company one of the most secure VPN available for you. In addition to their unbreakable AES 256-bit encryption to keep you safe and secure, the service provider even features a CleanWeb function that ensures you can access the internet with no ads, trackers, nor malware.
Multihop is yet another useful feature that you get with this VPN. SurfShark takes IP masking to a whole other level by letting you establish a chain of VPNs. You now get to connect to two servers in different countries so that you virtually appear in both places at the same time. All this done without suffering through a speed drop.
Their Whitelisted function lets users select and exclude specific apps or websites that they want connected via the VPN. This degree of flexibility is well appreciated by many as you get to secure more sensitive apps and website while excluding others that may not be necessary to go through a VPN.
SurfShark’s sports a user-friendly app with a brand-new design that is super easy to navigate. All the options and functions are kept in convenient and easy-to-find places for a friendly user experience.
Finally, SurfShark offers users with one of the most affordable VPN plans out there. In fact, the service provider offers three different package plans that are frequently accompanied by amazing discounts. With their extensive 30-day money-back guarantee offer, it is very difficult to find a reason not to give this company a try.
- Unlimited device connection
- Multihop Feature
- Whitelister Feature
- Unbreakable military-grade encryption service
- User-friendly app
- Some issue with kill switch feature
Best balance of performance and affordability
Based in Romania, CyberGhost currently has more than 5,000 servers spread among 90 different countries around the globe. Romania is based far away from the reach of the Fourteen Eyes. This means CyberGhost is not obligated to expose and share users’ information to any other country.
In terms of logging, this company only tracks connection attempts and the success of each one. The service provider does not keep traffic or connection logs that can be traced back to each individual user. The data collected are purely used to track the performance of their serves. Additionally, the company runs their own no-spy servers on-site so you can be assured that all your online activities are 100% secured.
With protocol supports such as L2TP, IKEv2, and OpenVPN, CyberGhost is set out to be one of the most secure VPN services in the industry. And as far as encryption goes, this company delivers a military-grade encryption that is quite literally impossible to break into to protect all your critical information.
The company’s Kill Switch features works to keep you anonymous 24/7 even when your VPN connection drops out of the blue. The system automatically kills off your entire internet connection when it detects an issue with your VPN connection, so all your information does not get leaked out and get exposed.
Sadly, CyberGhost’s ad-blocking feature does not effectively block all advertisement pop-ups on HTTPS websites. However, the feature does work well on Windows, Mac, and iOS devices, which should be more than sufficient for general users.
Another thing about CyberGhost is that it does not include a free trial and their monthly plan does get pretty expensive. On the other hand, the company does have a 45-day money-back guarantee and their longer-term plans come with better pricing.
- Simple and free extension for basic usage
- Affordable subscription plans with streaming speeds
- Permits up to 7 simultaneous connections
- Great for first-time VPN users
- Free extension does not include security features
- Ad-blocking feature needs some improvement
Best for ad and malware-free browsing
NordVPN is easily one of the largest VPN service providers available in the industry with more than with 5,600 servers in 59 different countries. Out of these servers, the company even offers an impressively large amount of P2P and torrenting servers with unlimited usage bandwidth.
The VPN service provider’s affordable subscription plans come with major features like CyberSec that is designed to block out any advertisement and malware from interrupting your online experience. The company’s impressive global coverage and secure connection is what we absolutely love about NordVPN.
On top of that, the company is even headquartered in the data retention-free jurisdiction of Panama. Their no-logs policy is also accompanied by their military-grade encryption to keep all your information private. With their Double VPN feature, this company routes your connection through two separate servers to grant you double the protection to ensure online activity always stays encrypted.
Although it does not record your browsing activity, the company does collect some information like your email address and payment details, which is completely normal as with any VPN service that accepts credit cards and PayPal for their subscription payment.
On top of that, NordVPN comes with a Kill Switch for the desktop app and another for mobile devices. You can choose to activate either the app kill switch or the internet kill switch, both work efficiently to disable your entire internet connection when anything goes wrong.
With 4 different plans on offer, NordVPN gives customers very reasonably priced services, especially for so many amazing features. The VPN service provider even provides a 7-day trial and 30-day refund policy in case you decide that it’s not the right fit for you.
- Double-VPN servers
- Fast connection speeds
- No-log policy
- Accepts Bitcoin as payment
- Speeds are sometimes volatile
- Unable to specify individual servers you want to connect to
Up and Coming
The Swedish VPN provider is actually part of the five eyes aliances which makes PrivateVPN a whole lot less insecure as the Swedish government can demand the VPN service provider to hand over the data.
However, PrivateVPN actually successfully found a loophole within Sweden’s legal system that allows the company to get away without collect any personal data. So, even if the company were to hand over all the data to the government, the authorities would not have any useful information to work on.
At the moment, this underdog VPN service provider only offers slightly over 150 VPN servers spread out across 60 different countries. Although this is relatively much smaller number of servers than what other famous VPN service providers are offering, we still think the average home users will be perfectly content with what PrivateVPN has to offer.
Similar to other providers, PrivateVPN supports OpenVPN (with TCP/UDP), L2TP, IPsec, PPTP, and IKEv2 protocols. With AES-256 encryption feature, the VPN works to keep all your data to keep your privacy secured from third parties.
In the event you have some questions or doubts regarding PrivateVPN’s services, you can always turn to the company’s official website where you’ll find a whole section dedicated for support. Below are a few support channels that you can use to have your questions answered:
- Live Chat Support – This option is unfortunately not running 24/7, more often you’ll be able to send a message and the company will respond to you via email.
- Installation Guides – The company has a series of nicely written installation guides that are easy to understand. They even have clear videos to guide you through a step-by-step process.
- Frequently Asked Questions – PrivateVPN has done a good job of coming up with commonly asked questions and providing additional support that is on-point and concise.
- Support Tickets – You can send an email to the VPN’s tech support and you can expect a reply within a day.
PrivateVPN offers three different subscription plans at very attractive prices. It is also worth noting that the provider frequently runs different promotions, especially during certain holidays or celebrations. On a good day, you can even see their annual subscription go as low as $2.00 per month. So, do give their webpage a visit for the latest promotion.
The company accepts credit card, PayPal, and even anonymous cryptocurrency as payment for that added layer of protection. All of their subscription plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can relax.
- Fast connection speeds
- Zero logs
- Strong encryption
- Supports Tor-over-VPN
- Smaller server network
- Lack of global coverage
IPVanish excels in providing users with fast and reliable connection that works flawlessly. The company has an impressive global coverage with 1,300 servers in spanning over 75 locations. Based on a few tests conducted, it is found that IPVanish performs up to five times faster for short hop connections while long-distance connections take an average 15% increase in download speeds.
Unfortunately, this popular VPN service is based in the US meaning it is part of the 5-eyes country. IPVanish is required to hand over your data to the US authorities should it be requested. However, since the provider does not keep any usage logs, the data the government has will quite literally be useless.
In terms of security, IPVanish features some pretty good security systems like OpenVPN, IKEv2 Kill Switch, Private Check, and Password Generator, so you can count on the company to secure your privacy. They even go the extra mile by offering customers with a level of control over the OpenVPN setup
You have the ability to choose to connect to either 1194 or 443 OpenVPN port, or you can also go for the “Scramble OpenVPN Traffic” option which significantly reduces the chances of your VPN tunnel being detected or blocked by ISP or the government.
IPVanish also has a strict no-log policy that will ensure your identity is always under wraps and secured from malicious intent. The company takes your civil rights to privacy very seriously and it does not record any connection, traffic, or activity data accessed through their server.
IPVanish features efficient customer support with three different ways for contact:
- 24/7 live chat support
- 24/7 email support (email@example.com)
- Help section on the website for tickets
Regardless of your method of contact, you can expect helpful responses in a timely manner. Similarly, you may get some assistance through their app. Their help section contains FAQs, troubleshooting and billing guide to help you out.
IPVanish has 3 different pricing plans that are all rather expensive despite their good discount offers. Additionally, the company also does not offer customers with a free trial, but their plans do come with a 7-day money-back guarantee.
- Good security
- No logs
- Reliable connection
- Fast connection speeds
- No free trial
- Does not accept Bitcoin
Best for 4K Streaming
VyprVPN works an umbrella company called Golden Frog in Switzerland. Good news for internet users, Switzerland has a privacy friendly law such that the VPN is not required customer data and does not need to hand over the recorded info to any of the surveillance country. However, the company has its own data retention law and internet privacy regulations that may affect users’ privacy.
VyprVPN has been publicly verified by an independent audit firm to certify that the VPN service provider does not log any personally identifiable information. On top of that, the company also owns its own server to make sure no one outside of VyprVPN ever has any access to customer information.
The premium plan on VyprVPN features OpenVPN and Chameleon protocols that are engineered to help customers avoid any deep packet inspection. This feature effectively keeps your connection from getting detected, throttled, or blocked.
The Chameleon feature works to scramble packet metadata using the OpenVPN 256-bit protocol. This then allows users to bypass DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) in countries with aggressive internet censorship, such as China, Russia, UAE, Turkey, and Syria.
Additionally, the kill switch function on VyprVPN blocks your internet traffic whenever it senses a drop in your VPN connection. Similarly, they have a Cloud feature that lets users to access cloud servers worry-free with the additional layer of security offered by the VPN.
You should take the VyprVPN a try out first if you’re interested as they do not allow a refund once you’ve signed up. However, when it comes to subscription plans, VyprVPN is the best all-rounder for affordable pricing billed annually. The Premium plan may be a bit pricey, but it comes with all the advanced features that is worth every penny.
- Fast streaming and download rates
- Premium plan features security protocols to prevent Deep Packet Inspection
- Not suitable for torrenting
ExpressVPN keeps no user activity logs of any kind, ensuring that there is no evidence of your online activities. This provider even takes extra steps to keep you undercover by accepting Bitcoin and offering a .onion website. Their 30-day money-back guarantee ensures there is no risk in giving them a try.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are VPN logs?
VPN logs are a record of users’ online activity used through the VPN service.
Although many VPN service providers have a no-log policy, it is actually impossible for a VPN to keep no logs at all. Even a VPN service provider with the strictest no-log policy will need some way to know when subscriptions have expired and require renewal.
What is a zero-logs VPN?
This question is frequently debated among many. Can a VPN truly call itself as no-logs if it deleted all logs a few minutes after the session ends? What about a VPN that logs timestamps and bandwidth without associating it with users’ IP addresses or account details? Does anonymized and aggregated usage statistics count as logs?
A consensus is that a no-logs VPN is a VPN service that does not keep any identifiable logs that can be tied back to the user and their internet activity through the service provider. Similarly, if some logs are kept, but only for a short time before the data is wiped out, we are happy to describe that VPN as “no logs”, as long as it does not compromise a user’s privacy.
Why should I use a no-logs VPN?
Your internet provider (ISP) actually keeps detailed records of all your online activity with its service. This completely exposes all your data and interactions on the internet. However, when you use a VPN, your internet provider is blocked from seeing the content of your data. The VPN service encrypts all your data and shields it from outsiders. This way, you get to roam about the internet without worrying about someone else watching and tracking your every move.
Your VPN provider, however. Can still see the IP addresses of individual web pages and contents of your data on sites that are not HTTPS protected. While most websites these days are already protected by HTTPS, your VPN provider can still see which websites you have visited.
Another great thing about VPN is that these service providers don’t necessarily need to hand over their logs to the government, unlike ISPs. Though almost every VPN service promises to protect your privacy, only a no-logs VPN can be fully trusted to keep such a promise. A company cannot be forced to hand over information that it simply does not possess.
Will a no-logs VPN make me anonymous?
VPNs provide privacy, not anonymity. VPN services can always start logging in order to match users with their internet activity. Some service providers are not entirely honest about the logs they keep and may even have stored some historical data on their users.
VPNs provide a high level of privacy against all sorts of blanket surveillance on the internet with minimal impact to your internet experience. They even work to keep you out of trouble when you’re torrenting, but you should not rely on them to keep you safe if you commit any criminal acts online.
Those whose life or liberty rely on true anonymity, such as journalists, political dissidents, and whistleblowers should use Tor instead.
How to be sure your VPN is a no-logs provider?
At present, we can only take VPN service providers at their word or pay attention to the increasing number of independent audits set out to test their policy out. We hope such audits become much more common throughout the industry to improve the level of transparency between companies and their customers.
Always read Terms of Service and Privacy Policies
Many VPN providers make bold and generalized “no logs” claim on their websites but are quick to qualify such claims in the small print under their Terms of Service and Privacy Policies. This is why it is important to take a good look and review each VPN provider’s ToS and Privacy Policies before deciding.
Warrants and court orders requiring companies to hand over customer details are usually accompanied by gag orders. This prevents the company from alerting its customers that something is amiss. In order to curb such issues and reassure customers, some VPNs operate warrant canaries.
As a Master Degree graduate in the Internet Technology field, Stefan is highly dedicated towards improving the overall web security so internet users can browse freely without having to be afraid of technical loopholes. With over 15 years in the internet security industry, you should definitely take his advice seriously.