VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and does pretty much what it says. Most people use VPNs for accessing websites that would otherwise be blocked, for whatever reason.
Whether you want to add a layer of security through anonymity or you want to watch Netflix or another video service from a country in which it's not available, a VPN could help. You'll find more in-depth information in our Best VPN roundup.
These days, you can download a free web browser with built-in VPN capabilities, but for those, such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox which don't have this feature, you can install extensions or plug-ins to do the same job.
Another alternative is a standalone application which automatically routes all web traffic through a VPN. Many of the best VPNs aren't free, but there are lots of free options. On the following slides are a mixture of paid and free choices.
See also: How to watch US Netflix with a VPN
- RRP: Free, Free
Of all the popular mainstream web browsers, Opera is the first to offer a built-in VPN service. This is different to the SurfEasy VPN, which you'll find advertised in the Privacy and security section of Opera right now.
To try out the new free, unlimited VPN, you need to get the beta version of the Opera browser.
It protects your identity by hiding your activity within the folds of a virtual network. The service operates a no-log policy, which means that no records are kept of the sites you visit, passwords you enter, or any downloads you make.
You can select from three regions to start with including Canada, USA, Germany: this becomes your virtual location. As well as giving your browser the added panache of being well travelled, this also opens up region-locked content from various streaming services.
See also: How to use a VPN
- RRP: Free version available; £3.74 per month, Free version available; US$5.83 per month
CyberGhost has built a solid reputation for security and transparency over the years. Currently on version 6 of its impressive VPN, the platform boasts a number of key features that make it one of the safest ways to roam the internet.
Alongside the anonymising of your online identity, CyberGhost also features military grade encryption to fend off hackers who would try to steal your data on public WiFi hotspots.
You don’t need an additional browser or plug-in, as CyberGhost works with pretty much everything and is even available as an app for Android and iOS.
An ad-blocker also makes surfing even quicker, although it does deprive impoverished writers of their hard earned money. Penny for the article, gov’nor?
While CyberGhost does offer a free tier, it has many of the main features disabled, employs a waiting period each time you connect, and automatically disconnects after three hours, although you can reconnect immediately.
It’s really there to show you how the service works, and the proper version are available for £45 per year, or £3.99 per month for a single device plan, and £70 per year or £6.99 per month for five devices.
- RRP: Free, Free
When it comes to online anonymity one name looms larger than all others. Tor has long been the refuge of those who want to avoid the glaring eye of government surveillance, or potentially sensitive data being hacked by nefarious parties.
Journalists use it to converse with sources, as do a number of other professions and general users.
The Tor browser is free and works very much like Firefox, as it appears to share the same engine.
Once installed you simply use it as you would Chrome or IE, but Tor recommends that you don’t install any plug-ins such as Flash and the like, as they can be a security risk.
Tor is already a byword for security online, and using it makes sense for those who value their privacy.
- RRP: Free, Free
Available from Hide.me
Another solid choice of VPN browser is Hide.me, which offers a free tier as well as paid premium accounts.
The free version is a browser that’s limited to 2GB of data per month (so no HD movies on this one), no port forwarding, and a choice of three worldwide locations for your VPN server (Canada, Netherlands, and Singapore).
As a free tier this is actually one of the best we’ve seen, and perfect if you want to give the service a thorough test before you move up to a premium plan.
Hide.me boasts AES 256 encryption, a no-log policy, as well as claiming to be the fastest VPN online. Thankfully you can test this out for yourself before you need part with money. If you’re happy then you could opt for the completely unlimited plan which costs around £8 per month.
Hide.Me is cross platform, with apps available for Windows, OSX, Android, iOS, and Linux.
If you don't want to download and use a separate browser for your VPN then you'll be glad to know that there are several plug-ins available that support the most popular browsers.
Hola is a favourite on the Chrome web store as well as with Internet Explorer users. The app installs quickly into the browser, is free to use, and sits there quietly until you click on the icon and select the country in which you want to place your virtual server. It doesn't work with Netflix any longer, though.
Firefox users will want to check out Hoxx VPN Proxy, which has a fully featured service, including multiple virtual server locations, 1024-bit encryption, and no bandwidth limits, all for free.
For a look at more of the finest free VPNs around check out our Best Free VPNs 2017 roundup