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Postal service

Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots – The Washington Post

The letters sketch a grim possibility for the tens of millions of Americans eligible for a mail-in ballot this fall: Even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery may disqualify their votes.

The Postal Service’s warnings of potential disenfranchisement came as the agency undergoes a sweeping organizational and policy overhaul amid dire financial conditions. Cost-cutting moves have already delayed mail delivery by as much as a week in some places, and a new decision to decommission 10 percent of the Postal Service’s sorting machines sparked widespread concern the slowdowns will only worsen. Rank-and-file postal workers say the move is ill-timed and could sharply diminish the speedy processing of flat mail, including letters and ballots.

The ballot warnings, issued at the end of July from Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, and obtained through a records request by The Washington Post, were planned before the appointment of Louis DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump, as postmaster general in early summer. They go beyond the traditional coordination between the Postal Service and election officials, drafted as fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented and sudden shift to mail-in voting.

Some states anticipate 10 times the normal volume of election mail. Six states and D.C. received warnings that ballots could be delayed for a narrow set of voters. But the Postal Service gave 40 others — including the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida — more-serious warnings that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were “incongruous” with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may become disenfranchised.

“The Postal Service is asking election officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works,” Martha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the USPS, said in a statement.

In response to the Postal Service’s warnings, a few states have quickly moved deadlines — forcing voters to request or cast ballots earlier, or deciding to delay tabulating results while waiting for more ballots to arrive.

Pennsylvania election officials cited its letter late Thursday in asking the state’s Supreme Court for permission to count ballots delivered three days after Election Day. But deadlines in many other states have not been or cannot be adjusted with just weeks remaining before the first absentee ballots hit the mail stream. More than 60 lawsuits in at least two dozen states over the mechanics of mail-in voting are wending their way through the courts.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that mail ballots lead to widespread voter fraud and in the process politicized the USPS. This week, he said he opposes emergency funding for the agency — which has repeatedly requested more resources — because of Democratic efforts to expand mail voting.

The Postal Service’s structural upheaval alone has led experts and lawmakers from both parties to worry about timely delivery of prescription medications and Social Security checks, as well as ballots.

“The slowdown is another tool in the toolbox of voter suppression,” said Celina Stewart, senior director of advocacy and litigation with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. “That’s no secret. We do think this is a voter-suppression tactic.”

Vanita Gupta, a Justice Department official in the Obama administration and now president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said she viewed the situation as “the weaponization of the U.S. Postal Service for the president’s electoral purposes.”

“It’s completely outrageous that the U.S. Postal Service is in this position,” Gupta said.

DeJoy, in service changes last month, has drastically reduced overtime and banned extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery. His wholesale reorganizations ousted several agency veterans in key operational roles. And the USPS is currently decommissioning 10 percent of its costly and bulky mail-sorting machines, which workers say could hinder processing of election mail, according to a grievance filed by the American Postal Workers Union and obtained by The Washington Post. Those 671 machines, scattered across the country but concentrated in high-population areas, have the capacity to sort 21.4 million pieces of paper mail per hour.

The machine reductions, together with existing mail delays and a surge of packages — a boon to the Postal Service’s finances but a headache for an organization designed to handle paper rather than boxes — also risk hamstringing the agency as the election approaches and have led lawmakers to hike pressure on DeJoy to rescind his directives.

DeJoy wrote in a letter to USPS workers Thursday that temporary delivery slowdowns were “unintended consequences” of his efficiency moves but that the “discipline” he was bringing to the agency “will increase our performance for the election and upcoming peak season and maintain the high level of public trust we have earned for dedication and commitment to our customers throughout our history.”

DeJoy declined to be interviewed, but in a statement the USPS described the machine reductions as a matter of“routinely” moving equipment to accommodate the mix of packages and letters in the mail stream. Doing so “will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations and better service for our customers,” the statement said.

Even without the emergency funding Trump vowed to block, postal workers can handle the country’s mail-in ballots with proper planning, the head of their union said.

“Piece of cake for postal workers,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

Johnson, the USPS spokeswoman, also said the agency “is well prepared and has ample capacity to deliver America’s election mail.”

The letters to states detailing concerns for November followed ramped-up vote-by-mail primaries marred by serious delivery problems. It “presented a need to ensure the Postal Service’s recommendations were reemphasized to elections officials,” Johnson said.

In New York City, for example, a 17-fold increase in mail-in ballots left results of a June congressional primary race in doubt for six weeks. During court wrangling over it, USPS workers said elections officials had dropped off 34,000 blank absentee ballots at a Brooklyn processing center on the day before the election, leaving postal workers scrambling in an attempt to deliver them overnight. Some voters received ballots after the election, and tens of thousands of voted ballots were initially thrown out because of delayed receipt.

The letters warning about November caution many states that their deadlines for voters to request an absentee ballot are too close to Election Day and that “the Postal Service cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate the requirements of state election law.” The letters put the onus on election officials to adjust deadlines or educate voters to act well before them.

Mail carriers, meanwhile, have warned that new cost-cutting measures at the USPS are slowing the delivery of mail ballots in key states. Recent contests have offered a preview of the potential consequences, with voters — particularly in urban areas such as Detroit and the Bronx — complaining that their absentee ballots did not arrive until the last minute or at all.

The problems predate the cost-cutting measures — a late returned ballot was the chief reason absentee or mail ballots were disqualified during the 2016 election, according to U.S. Election Assistance Commission data submitted to Congress.

But the onslaught of vote-by-mail ballots, driven by directives to stay at home and practice social distancing during the pandemic, has increased the volume of delays this year. In D.C.’s early-June primary, elections officials drove around town hand-delivering ballots because the mail service was not quick enough. In Florida, 18,500 mailed ballots arrived too late to be counted during the March primary. Tens of thousands of late ballots in Pennsylvania were counted only after courts intervened.

Eighteen states and D.C. have eased or expanded access to mail ballots during the pandemic, allowing concerned voters to avoid potential exposure to the virus at polling places. These policy shifts have brought the number of Americans who are eligible to cast mail or absentee ballots in the general election to a historic high of nearly 180 million, roughly 97 million of whom will automatically receive an absentee ballot or an absentee ballot request form in the mail, according to a tally by The Washington Post.

An analysis of the USPS letters to states reveals that the threat of ballot rejection because of missed delivery deadlines may be highest for voters in 40 states that received serious warnings. About 159.5 million registered voters live in those states.

According to the letters, the risk of disenfranchisement is greatest for voters who wait until close to Election Day to request or cast a ballot. The letters advised 31 states that regardless of their deadlines, voters should mail ballots no later than Oct. 27 — a week before Election Day — if they want to guarantee they are counted.

Elections officials across the country are also installing drop boxes for completed ballots and encouraging voters to use them in lieu of the Postal Service.

The USPS did not offer serious warnings to the five states that have long conducted universal vote-by-mail elections — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

For Nevada, which Trump accused in May of trying to “cheat” in elections after it announced plans to conduct a statewide primary by mail, the USPS delivered a clean bill of health. The state plans to mail ballots to all active voters for the general election.

“Under our reading of Nevada’s election laws, it appears that your voters should have sufficient time to receive, complete, and return their ballots by the state’s deadlines,” the letter stated.

Trump tweeted Wednesday: “Nevada has ZERO infrastructure for Mail-In Voting. It will be a corrupt disaster if not ended by the Courts. It will take months, or years, to figure out.”

Postal workers, meanwhile, are concerned over the ongoing removal of mail sorting machines in areas that project to be hotly contested in the presidential race.

The machines — Automated Facer-Canceler Systems, Delivery Bar Code Sorters, Automated Flat Sorting Machines and Flat Sequencing Systems — can label and sort tens of thousands of paper mail items, such as letters, bills and ballots, each hour.

Purchased when letters and not packages made up a greater share of postal work, the bulky and aging machines can be expensive to maintain and take up floor space postal leaders say would be better devoted to boxes. Removing underused machines would make the overall system more efficient, postal leaders say. The USPS has cut back on mail-sorting equipment for years since mail volume began to decline in the 2000s.

The machines, however, fundamentally changed the job of some postal workers, allowing them to spend more time on the street delivering mail, rather than in post offices organizing it.

Elections officials in several states contacted by The Washington Post said their deadlines for voting by mail had been in place for years and that the Postal Service has long noted some concerns about meeting them. Some officials received the warnings with skepticism, others with resignation.

“This is a conversation that has been going on with the Postal Service, to my knowledge, at least five years,” said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R). While the deadlines haven’t changed, “as we all know, the Postal Service has changed,” he said. “It has become much more inefficient and much more ineffective at returning the mail in a timely fashion. That has happened over several years.”

Wisconsin’s deadlines were set years ago, when it was reasonable to expect a letter dropped in the mail to arrive in another part of the state two days later, elections officials said this week. But with increasingly slower delivery times and no recourse for bureaucrats to change the deadlines, elections officials are focusing on what they can do — encouraging voters to take on more responsibility to request and cast mail-in ballots early, as well as installing drop boxes and implementing a bar code tracking system for voters to monitor their ballots.

Teaching voters “requires a more robust campaign,” said Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The state also is encouraging local elections officials in charge of mailing out the ballots to coordinate more than ever with local post offices.

In response to the USPS letter, Arizona changed its guidance for when voters should mail back their completed ballots, from at least six to at least seven days before the election, a spokeswoman for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) wrote in an email. Maryland shifted its long-standing ballot-request deadline back a full week.

“It was the Postal Service trying to cover themselves,” Patrick J. Hogan, a Democrat and vice chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said of the letter. He supported the deadline change anyway, saying the risk of delayed ballots was not worth it.

“This is the way we have to operate,” he said. “We’ve got to get people in the mind-set of getting things done early. There will be no excuse to not vote this year.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) said the warning to his state appeared to be a “typical CYA exercise” that ignored his state’s policy changes and messaging campaigns aimed at alleviating election-season pressure on USPS.

In 2018, Missouri moved up its deadline for requesting an absentee ballot to provide additional time for ballots to be delivered and returned, he said. Praising local election authorities for running three smooth votes so far this year, Ashcroft said there are special efforts underway to encourage voters to obtain and submit their absentee ballots with time to spare.

“I didn’t see how it was at all helpful,” he said of the USPS letter, adding: “This is not something that is new to us. It’s something we’ve been working on for years, and I think we’ve been ahead of it. For USPS to send something out at the end of July — we’re in the silly season of politics.”

Reading from the letter, Ashcroft disputed a recommendation that Missouri voters who mail their completed ballots “no later than Tuesday, October 27,” could be assured of arrival by Election Day. He recounted the experience of a voter in St. Louis during the state’s June municipal contests — she dropped her ballot in the mail six days before the election, he said, but it took 14 days to arrive at an address in the same city and was not counted as a result.

“If you mail it on Tuesday, you have no certainty it will get back in time,” he said. “I know that from experience.”

Jada Yuan contributed to this report.

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probably service

Uber CEO says its service will probably shut down temporarily in California if it’s forced to classify drivers as employees – CNBC

Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi outside the New York Stock Exchange ahead of the company’s IPO, May 10, 2019.

Uber would likely shut down temporarily for several months if a court does not overturn a recent ruling requiring it to classify its drivers as full-time employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Wednesday on MSNBC.

“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” Khosrowshahi said.

Uber and rival Lyft both have about a week left to appeal a preliminary injunction granted by a California judge on Monday that will prohibit the companies from continuing to classify their drivers as independent workers. Following the order will require Uber and Lyft to provide benefits and unemployment insurance for workers.

California’s attorney general and three city attorneys brought the lawsuit against the companies under the state’s new law, Assembly Bill 5, that aims to provide benefits to gig workers core to a company’s business by classifying them as employees. In his decision granting the preliminary injunction, the judge rejected the notion that drivers should be considered outside the course of the companies’ businesses, calling the logic “a classic example of circular reasoning.”

Uber and Lyft both said they would appeal the ruling during the 10-day period before it goes into effect.

Rather than classify drivers as employees, Khosrowshahi has advocated for what he calls a “third way” that would maintain drivers’ independence while allowing companies to provide some protections without risking being viewed as full-time employers. In a New York Times op-ed ahead of the court ruling, Khosrowshahi said gig companies such as Uber could pay into a fund that workers could dip into for paid time off or health-care benefits based on the number of hours they work.

Khosrowshahi said on Wednesday that his Plan B if Uber can’t win on appeal would be to temporarily pause service in California. While he said Uber would later resume service in the state, it would likely be more centered in cities, which could mean limited availability in less concentrated areas such as suburbs.

If the appeal doesn’t work out for Uber, it will be banking on voters to determine its fate. Khosrowshahi said if that’s the case, the service would likely shut down in California until November, when voters in the state decide on Proposition 22, which would exempt drivers for app-based transportation and delivery companies from being considered employees. Uber has argued its drivers prefer working as independent contractors, though California AG Xavier Becerra rejected that claim as a “bogus argument.”

Khosrowshahi emphasized that pausing service in the state would leave thousands of drivers without the income they would typically earn from Uber. Still, ridership has been down during the pandemic anyway, which the judge said made the injunction come at what is perhaps “the least worst time” for Uber and Lyft to adjust their business models.

Becerra said in an interview on CNBC on Tuesday that he was unconcerned about the potential for Uber to leave the state as a result of the order.

“Any business model that relies on shortchanging workers in order to make it probably shouldn’t be anywhere, whether California or otherwise,” he said.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: California attorney general on court order requiring Uber, Lyft to classify drivers as employees

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service

The best VPN service for 2020 – CNET

If, like a lot of people, you’re still working from home due to the COVID-19 crisis, remote VPN access is more important than ever. But in the increasingly expanding market for commercial virtual private networks, choosing the best VPN to suit your specific needs can be downright difficult. To help you make the right choice, we’ve sifted through the multitude of overhyped VPN providers touting their own private network to find the best VPN service for you. We’ll be regularly updating this directory and keeping a close eye on how each VPN provider stands compared with its competitors, as well as any new VPN services that may hit the market.    

Because don’t recommend free VPN services, this directory is packed only with paid commercial VPNs. In our current testing and ranking system, we looked at more than 20 factors, including price, security, bandwidth caps, ease of remote access, number of server locations, logging, client software, dedicated and dynamic IP, and customer support. To see exactly how we test and rate each virtual private network, check out our full evaluation walk-through.  

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Let’s look at each of our VPN vendors below in more depth. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: It was originally published earlier and is constantly updated. We’re actively working on more VPN testing and research, so expect this guide to change throughout the year as our virtual private network use continues and we put each VPN option through rigorous paces.  

ExpressVPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 30,000
  • Number of servers: 3,000-plus
  • Number of server locations: 160
  • Number of simultaneous connections: 5
  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • 94-plus countries
  • 3 months free with 1-year plan

ExpressVPN consistently proves itself one of the fastest VPNs on the market, and actively promotes its commitment to privacy. The company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users’ online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN’s setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ. 

Like the rest of the top five VPN services we’ve reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method — something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.

The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free. 

Read more: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation

Surfshark

  • Number of servers: 1,000

  • Number of server locations: 60

  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands

While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, the VPN services makes it up on features. Let’s start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark’s VPN, you don’t have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.

Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) — though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.

The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. 

Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn’t know you’re using a VPN. Multihop jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.” Just be careful. Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

For a year plan, Surfshark comes in close to many of the other full-featured VPN providers, at $72 for the first year. Be careful, because it looks like that will jump to $143 after your first year is up. Month-by-month plans are $12. Its best offer is $2 a month, for its 24-month plan (you pay $48 up front). Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).

Read more: Surfshark VPN review: A feature-rich service with blazing speeds and a security focus

NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast. 

The company’s one-year subscription plan costs is for $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($119.76), up from $3.99/$95.75. And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy. 

While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. 

While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list as a recommended vendor. 

Read more: NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed

IPVanish

  • Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plus
  • Number of servers: 1,300
  • Number of server locations: 60
  • Number of simultaneous connections: 10
  • Country/jurisdiction: US
  • $3.99 a month and $48 a year

A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN. 

A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we’re intrigued by, is the VPN’s support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.

At $5 a month or $39 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We’re a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from five to now 10 simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. 

Read more: IPVanish review: Get under the hood with this zippy VPN

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Norton

Norton Secure VPN

  • Number of countries: 29
  • Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
  • Number of server locations: 200 in 73 cities
  • Country/jurisdiction: US
  • $40 for the first 12 months

LifeLock, long known for excellence in security products, has a relatively limited offering in its VPN product. Norton Secure VPN does not support P2P or BitTorrent, it does not have a kill switch feature, and it does not support Linux, routers or set top boxes. Its Netflix and streaming compatibility is somewhat limited. Even worse, during testing, we experienced privacy-compromising data leaks. 

During CNET’s testing, Norton Secure VPN speeds were comparable to other mid-tier VPNs but not particularly competitive. Although its VPN is only available on four platforms — Mac, iOS, Windows and Android — Norton gets big points for its 24/7 live customer phone support and 60-day money back guarantee.

Read more: Norton Secure VPN review: More work is needed for this privacy product to shine


Below you’ll find additional VPNs. We’re in the process of reevaluating them for 2020. 


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PureVPN

PureVPN

PureVPN does not log connection information. The company joined the “no log” movement in 2018, which was recently verified via a third-party audit by Althius IT (albeit one commissioned and paid for by PureVPN). 

We like that PureVPN offers a 31-day refund policy and supports Bitcoin payments, to further extend anonymous browsing. We also like that PureVPN has both Kodi and a Chromebook solutions available. In addition, PureVPN was the first VPN service we noted to fully implement the GDPR.

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StrongVPN

StrongVPN

StrongVPN blasts onto our favorites list with excellent infrastructure and decent price performance. As with our other favorites, StrongVPN has a strong no-logging policy. Since VPN is all about protecting your privacy, that’s a place the savvy VPN providers can pick up points.

Strong also picks up kudos for its large base of IP addresses, which also helps protect your anonymity. It has a solid collection of servers and worldwide locations. For those of you who need a dedicated IP, you can get one from the company, but you’ll need to contact support to get help setting it up.

One of StrongVPN’s strongest strengths is the company’s network. It owns and operate its entire network infrastructure, which means it has no externally dictated limits on bandwidth or the type of internet traffic allowed on the network. This gives you the confidence that you’ll be able to power through your work.

StrongVPN’s regular monthly price of $10 is in the middle of the pack, but its yearly price of $70 is among the lowest of our contenders. 

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CyberGhost

CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost has been around since 2011 and has come out strongly as a supporter of “civil rights, a free society and an uncensored internet culture.” We really liked how the company specifically showcases, on its website, how folks normally prevented from accessing such important services as Facebook and YouTube can bring those services into their lives via a VPN.

The company has solid Linux support, supports VPN via routers, and has a solution for the popular Kodi media player. It checks off all the boxes on protocol support and gets kudos for offering a connection kill switch feature, along with supporting P2P and BitTorrent in most countries. Plus, it allows you to use seven devices at once with its service.

The few extra dollars it costs are worth it. We liked how the company offers custom app protection, IPV5 support and DNS, IP and WebRTC leak prevention. CyberGhost also picked up points for preserving anonymity by not logging connection data.

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Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access

  • Number of IP addresses: N/A
  • Number of servers: 3,252
  • Number of server locations: 37
  • Country/jurisdiction: US

Speaking of price, if you want a solid VPN provider, Private Internet Access is the place to go. 

The key to getting the most savings with this vendor is buying its two-year plan for $83.87. That works out to $3.49 a month. It also offers a one-year plan for $71.88, but as you can see, you can get an entire additional year for less than 10 bucks if you sign up for its two-year plan.

The company does not release information on the number of IP addresses available, but at 3,252, its server count is more than any of our other picks.

These folks have been around since 2010, and don’t log anything. It provides a generous five connections, a connection kill switch feature, and some good online documentation and security guidance. Our one disappointment is that its refund policy is seven days instead of 30, but you can certainly get a feel for its excellent performance in the space of a week.


hotspot

HotSpot Shield

Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is a product that has had some ups and downs in terms of our editorial coverage. Back in 2016, it picked up some positive coverage based on founder David Gorodyansky’s comments about protecting user privacy. Then, in 2017, a privacy group accused the company of spying on user traffic, an accusation the company flatly denies. Finally, in 2018, ZDNet uncovered a flaw in the company’s software that exposed users. Fortunately, that was fixed immediately.

So what are we to make of Hotspot Shield? Frankly, the controversy caused us to drop it from our directory for a while. But it approached us, made a strong case for its ongoing dedication to privacy, and we decided to give it another chance.

Here’s the good news. It offers one of the best money-back guarantee we’ve seen for VPN services, a full 45 days. It supports Linux, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, along with plugins for Chrome and Firefox. It also supports routers and media players. And, as a bonus, it has a connection kill switch feature.

The company does not support P2P or BitTorrent — and it also doesn’t support the OpenVPN. Every other vendor does, but Hotspot Shield limits its protocol support to L2TP/IPSec and something it calls Hydra, an enhancement of the transport protocol.

Overall, the company did impress us with its attention to privacy. It has a published privacy canary. It also told us, “We have built in malware, phishing and spam protection. Our commitment to our users is that Hotspot Shield will never store, log or share your true IP address.”


Goose VPN

I had to know why Goose VPN was so named. My first order of business was to reach out to the company’s co-founder and ask. Geese, I was told, make excellent guard animals: There are records of guard geese giving the alarm in ancient Rome when the Gauls attacked; geese have been used to guard a US Air Defense Command base in Germany and a brewery in Scotland.

It’s clear that the goose is an ideal mascot for a service that’s meant to guard your digital communications. And so, we have Goose VPN.

Goose VPN has a couple of standout features. First, you can have an unlimited number of simultaneous connections (or devices) using the VPN at once. Second, if your bandwidth needs are 50GB or less per month, you can sign up for $2.99 a month, the cheapest monthly rate we’ve seen.

If you want unlimited bandwidth, the company definitely is pushing you towards buying a year at a time. Its monthly fee for unlimited bandwidth is a middle-of-the-road $12.99 a month, but if you spend $59.88 for a year’s service, you’ll find it’s the second lowest by-the-year price of the services we’ve reviewed.

Goose provides all the usual clients, including iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, and adds support for routers, Android TV and Linux. It is working on a kill switch feature, which may even be up and running by the time you read this review. The company also offers 24/7 ticket-based support.

Ducks quack, geese honk and swans whoop (we know, because we looked it up). Overall, especially given the unlimited connections and low yearly price, we think Goose VPN is something to honk about. 


VyprVPN Services

  • Number of IP addresses: 200,000-plus
  • Number of servers: 700-plus
  • Number of server locations: 70-plus
  • Country/jurisdiction: Switzerland
  • 30-day money back guarantee

VyprVPN has the largest bank of IP addresses of any of the services we’ve examined. The company offers a wide range of VPN protocols, including its own high-performance Chameleon connection protocol.

We like that the company offers a connection kill switch feature and, for those who need it, there’s an option to get a dedicated IP address. VyprVPN is a standout in its effort to provide privacy and thwart censorship. When China began its program of deep packet VPN inspection, Golden Frog’s VyperVPN service added scrambled OpenVPN packets to keep the traffic flowing. 

The company offers three plans: two years for $60, one year for $45, or monthly at $12.95. The company’s two-year offering is the sweet spot.




Buffered VPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 11,000

  • Number of servers: 800
  • Number of server locations: 46
  • Country/jurisdiction: Gibraltar

Buffered VPN doesn’t disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take its service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company saddened us because it does keep some connection information. It cheered us up, though, due to its client support, unlimited bandwidth and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.

The company is relatively new, founded in 2013. We like how Buffered has made a strong commitment to internet freedom, and an equally strong commitment to providing quality customer support.

At $12.99 a month and $79 for a year of service, it doesn’t offer the least expensive plan, but we do recommend giving it a try.



Hide My Ass

  • Number of IP addresses: 3,106
  • Number of servers: 830
  • Number of server locations: 280
  • Country/jurisdiction: UK
  • $2.99 a month for 3-year plan

We have to give these folks an extra shout-out just for the name of this service. The firm has a strong network with a good selection of VPN protocols supported. While it has an extensive (and clearly written) set of policy documents, the company explicitly allows P2P and torrents.

We like how HMA offers support on a wide range of devices, including game consoles. We gave it kudos for bitcoin support, and its excellent money-back guarantee. It did make us frown a bit because it does log connection data. It also offers five simultaneous connections.

While its monthly pricing of $11.52 is at the high end of the spectrum, its yearly pricing is competitive at $83.88 for a full year.


Webroot WiFi Security

  • Country/jurisdiction: US

  • Starting price: $40

As VPN services go, Webroot WiFi Security is relatively bare-bones — but it’s also cheap. Starting at $40 for a year of VPN service, you can get a bundle with both VPN and Webroot’s antivirus software for $70 for your first year. Both of these prices bump up after the first year: VPN protection jumps to $60 and the bundle jumps to $120.

While we applaud the combination of VPN and antivirus in one package, Webroot has had a troubled few years. In 2017, it mistakenly flagged Windows’ system files as malicious. In 2018, a kernel exploit was found in the company’s Mac antivirus client. In 2019, the company was acquired by backup firm Carbonite.

If you’re only protecting a few devices and want to save money, Webroot’s VPN might be for you. That $40 price is for up to three devices. If you want to protect five devices, you’ll need to pay $60 for a year and $80 after that. Frankly, once you enter that price range, there are products with more capabilities available.

Webroot’s VPN has recently improved its security protocol offering. While it does connect using IKEv2 by default, it also offers L2TP and the very old and very insecure PPTP protocol (although it does warn that it’s not “as” secure). In April, however, Webroot began offering OpenVPN protocol options for all platforms except iOS. Another concern for those of you who need deep protection is that the company does log both which VPN server location you connect to and the country you connect from.

So who is Webroot’s VPN for? If all you want to do is protect your Wi-Fi connection while surfing in your local coffee shop or at a hotel, you only need to connect a few devices, and you want to save money, this is a workable option. But if you’re in need of a serious VPN with deep capabilities, you’ll want to look elsewhere in this directory. Also, we didn’t find any reference to a money back guarantee, so check with its presales and support before buying.

VPN FAQ

Since we’re living in a connected world, security and privacy are critical to ensure our personal safety from nefarious hacks. From online banking to communicating with coworkers on a daily basis, we’re now frequently transferring data on our computers and smartphones. It’s extremely important to find ways of securing our digital life and for this reason, VPNs have become increasingly common.

What Is a VPN?

A virtual private network is a technology that allows you to create a secure connection over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet. It protects your privacy by allowing you to anonymously appear to be anywhere you choose.

A VPN is beneficial because it guarantees an appropriate level of security and privacy to the connected systems. This is extremely useful when the existing network infrastructure alone cannot support it.

When your computer is connected to a VPN, the computer acts as if it’s also on the same network as the VPN. All of your online traffic is transferred over a secure connection to the VPN. The computer will then behave as if it’s on that network, allowing you to securely gain access to local network resources. Regardless of your location, you’ll be given permission to use the internet as if you were present at the VPN’s location. This can be extremely beneficial for individuals using a public Wi-Fi network or public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Therefore, when you browse the internet while on a VPN, your computer will contact the website through an encrypted connection. The VPN will then forward the request for you and forward the response from the website back through a secure connection.

VPNs are really easy to use, and they’re considered to be highly effective tools. They can be used to do a wide range of things. The most popular types of VPNs are remote-access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs.

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What is a remote-access VPN?

A remote-access VPN uses public infrastructure like the internet to provide remote users secure access to their network. This is particularly important for organizations and their corporate networks. It’s crucial when employees connect to a public hotspot and use the internet for sending work-related emails. A VPN client, on the user’s computer or mobile device connects to a VPN gateway on the company’s network. This gateway will typically require the device to authenticate its identity. It will then create a network link back to the device that allows it to reach internal network resources such as file servers, printers and intranets, as if it were on the same local network.

It usually relies on either Internet Protocol Security or Secure Sockets Layer to secure the connection. However, SSL VPNs can also be used to supply secure access to a single application, rather than an entire internal network. Some VPNs also provide Layer 2 access to the target network; these will require a tunneling protocol like Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol running across the base IPsec connection.

What is a site-to-site VPN?

This is when the VPN technology uses a gateway device to connect to the entire network in one location to a network in another location. The majority of site-to-site VPNs that connect over the internet use IPsec. Rather than using the public internet, it is also normal to use career multiprotocol label switching clouds as the main transport for site-to-site VPNs.

VPNs are often defined between specific computers, and in most cases, they are servers in separate data centers. However, new hybrid-access situations have now transformed the VPN gateway in the cloud, typically with a secure link from the cloud service provider into the internal network.

What is a mobile VPN?

A traditional VPN can affect the user experience when applied to wireless devices. It’s best to use a mobile VPN to avoid slower speeds and data loss. A mobile VPN offers you a high level of security for the challenges of wireless communication. It can provide mobile devices with secure access to network resources and software applications on their wireless networks. It’s good to use when you’re facing coverage gaps, internetwork roaming, bandwidth issues or limited battery life, memory or processing power.

Mobile VPNs are designed and optimized to ensure a seamless user experience when devices are switching networks or moving out of coverage. It generally has a smaller memory footprint, and because of that, it also requires less processing power than a traditional VPN. Therefore, it enables your applications to run faster while the battery pack is able to last longer.

A Mobile VPN is a worthwhile tool to have since it increases privacy, user satisfaction and productivity, while also reducing unforeseen support issues caused by wireless connectivity problems. The increasing usage of mobile devices and wireless connectivity make it more important to ensure that your data is being transferred through a secure network. It will allow you to access the internet, while staying safe behind a firewall that protects your privileged information.

Who needs a VPN?

People who access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from using a VPN. A VPN service will always boost your security by encrypting and anonymizing all of your online activity. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so a hacker or website spying on you wouldn’t know which web pages you access. They also won’t be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details and so on. Anyone who wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.

How to choose a VPN service?

There’s a vast range of VPN services on the internet. Some are free VPN services, but the best ones require a monthly subscription. Before you decide to download a VPN, make sure you consider these factors for understanding a VPN.

Cost: VPNs aren’t too pricey, but they vary from vendor to vendor. If your main concern is price, then go with something inexpensive, or a free VPN service — like Spotflux Premium VPN or AnchorFree HotSpot Shield Elite. Free servers are often slower, and since most are ad-supported, they place adverts on the online pages you access. Others can even limit the speed of your connection, as well as your online time or amount of data transferred.

It’s also important to note that leading VPN providers offer stronger security features to ensure you’re digitally safe. When selecting a paid VPN service, always be sure to check which countries it operates servers in.

Read more: 5 reasons not to use a free VPN

Reliability: Select a VPN that is reliable and read the reviews to make sure that it’s capable of protecting you by providing you with sufficient online privacy.

High security: An effective VPN will have the following security features: 128-bit encryption, anonymous DNS servers and an absence of connection logs.

Are there any bandwidth limits? This can often be linked to price; paying more will generally provide more bandwidth with faster internet access.

Are VPN apps for Android, iOS phones and tablets available? Apps for Android and iOS devices are also vulnerable, so make sure your VPN server can support a VPN app.

To ensure privacy, you want to make sure you have a VPN that doesn’t store online logs. Some servers provide virus and spyware protection, and features like that can significantly increase your online safety.

Using a no-logs VPN service will provide you with a higher degree of security. It can protect you from blanket government surveillance and prevent your internet service provider from knowing your online activity.

Using a VPN for Netflix and other forbidden treasures

Online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have been making it difficult for foreign users to access their content in other countries. Many people can get around region restrictions by using a VPN service to route your traffic through another country.

It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You’ll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a “dedicated IP address,”http://www.cnet.com/”dedicated IP” or “static IP.” Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.

This is by far the easiest way to access your forbidden apps since there’s no specific way to block VPN traffic.

Many people started using a VPN to evade geo-restrictions. But despite its forbidden benefits to users outside the US, a VPN is a great tool that can protect you and enhance your online experience over the internet by providing you with sufficient security and privacy. When it comes to selecting the best VPN, you have plenty of choices. There are many cost-effective VPN options, and all of them will vary in monthly offerings. Choosing the best VPN is easier once you narrow down the competition. The best indication of a good VPN service provider is that it has the right security and the right support in place for you.

Got a question for our security community? Head over to the CNET Forums and join the conversation.  


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