Do you need a VPN in 2024?

It's only natural to want to keep yourself and your devices safe, and with cybercrime getting more complex with every passing minute, it's more prevalent than ever. In my time reviewing security and privacy services, people often ask me if it's really necessary to have a VPN.

Luckily, virtual private networks (VPNs) are as expensive as a cup of coffee each month, and they're a great way to protect yourself online while unblocking the internet around the world. VPNs mask your original IP address and route your traffic through a secure tunnel, encrypting your data and making it unreadable to anyone who tries to take a peek.

Why is that important? Well, everyone has a right to digital privacy and, unfortunately, that right has been under attack in recent years. The best VPNs allow you to go about your day-to-day browsing without worrying about leaving an identifiable trail across the web.

Written by
River Hart Tech Software Editor
Written by
River Hart

River supports cybersecurity content on TechRadar—ranging from breaking news pieces, reviews, how-tos, and buying guides. They joined the team in August 2023 and previously wrote VPN content while advocating for digital rights at ProPrivacy.

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Do I need a VPN?

You might already know that VPNs improve your digital privacy—but why is that important, and what threats are lurking out there on the web? Here are a handful of everyday risks that you might come across online:

Privacy at home

A VPN masks your IP address and assigns you a shiny new one—which is sort of like assuming a new digital identity. This, in addition to VPN encryption that ensures your traffic remains unreadable, means that your internet service provider (ISP) won't be able to see what you get up to online, log your information, record it, or pass it on to advertisers who can trace your activity back to you.

Other digital threats could impact your home privacy, too. I've heard plenty of horror stories about cybercriminals hacking the cameras on laptops, phones, and tablets, and even listening in via the device's microphone. It's a disturbing violation of privacy that happens more often than you might expect—but it's one that a VPN can help prevent. By encrypting the traffic that passes from your device to the web and back, VPNs thwart these invasive attacks by rendering that data unreadable (and useless).

How can I tell if my VPN is working?

The easiest way to check if your VPN is properly protecting your privacy is by checking your IP address. If the IP matches your VPN connection, you'll know that you're browsing via the VPN server. If you see your original IP address, there could be an issue with how you've set up the service or missing client software. 

Public Wi-Fi hotspots

Let's say you're in a cafe and you want to connect to the web. There might be dozens of free networks available—but which ones are safe?

Cybercriminals create their own access points in the hopes that you'll join them—and they'll often name them something similar to the actual, legitimate, connection. If you do join one of these bogus networks, the cybercriminal could hit you with a man-in-the-middle attack to follow you across the web and collect the login information you input while using the hotspot. Some of these bad actors even redirect you to shady phishing sites designed to harvest your personal information.

With a VPN, you don't have to worry about these honeytraps. Their encryption prevents anyone, including potential hackers, from watching you over your shoulder and monitoring the sites you visit or what you’re downloading.

The three best VPNs in 2024

Want a quick answer? Here are the three best VPN services right now: 

1. The best overall VPN service: ExpressVPN

1. The best overall VPN service: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN tops our charts as the best VPN around because it automatically configures your setup in real-time to give you the fastest, most secure connection instantly—most other VPN apps will make you set it up manually.

It's not as cheap as Nord or Surfshark, but it more than makes up for it by offering a password manager, a year of unlimited cloud storage, and three months of extra protection all for free. 

See for yourself with a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can put it to the test without risking a penny.

2. The fastest VPN around: NordVPN

2. The fastest VPN around: NordVPN
NordVPN is the perfect middle-ground between a premium VPN and a cheap VPN, giving excellent value for money by including ad and malware blocking as standard. For a little bit more, you can upgrade to get a password manager, data breach scanner, and a whole bunch of other security tools, still for less than ExpressVPN.

Nord's also offering TechRadar readers a free Uber Eats voucher as it celebrates its 12th birthday, couple that with a 30-day money-back guarantee and see how it compares to ExpressVPN without committing to the cost.

3. The best cheap VPN: Surfshark

3. The best cheap VPN: Surfshark
Surfshark is a high-value, low-cost option that's easy to use, packed with security features, and unblocked everything in my latest streaming tests.

With servers in over 100 countries, you can stream your favorite shows from almost anywhere. Best of all, Surfshark costs less than $2.50 per month, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, too.

Who should use a VPN?

VPNs (and other techy tools) have a reputation for being complex or only for experts. It's not the case—today's top services are used by all sorts of people, from tech veterans to total newcomers, and for all sorts of reasons:

Everyday internet users

Leave your VPN running in the background and it'll work hard to keep you secure from myriad threats. VPN encryption prevents hackers from getting their hands on your login details and other valuable info—which is hugely important if you do any online banking. Plus, as a VPN cloaks your original IP and assigns you a new one, you can rest assured that your browsing history will stay private. 

A VPN is a necessity for anyone using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, too, seeing as these (admittedly handy) connection points are typically unsecure and haunted by cybercriminals hungry for sensitive data.

Businesses and employees 

Once upon a time, VPNs were primarily used by remote workers to connect securely to the company network. There are still plenty of employees who use VPNs when they're out of office (at home or traveling for work)—and the added benefit of robust encryption keeps bad actors and hackers from accessing important files and logins that could be used to launch phishing attacks.


VPNs are a must-have for frequent flyers—and the good news is that you don't have to squeeze them into your hand luggage. Whilst you're overseas, you'll be able to log in to apps and sites the same way you would at home, and stay up to date with all of your favorite shows (that might otherwise be region-locked and unavailable). 

Gamers and streamers 

More people than ever are turning to VPNs to make the most of their streaming subscriptions. Why? Well, with a VPN, all you need to do is connect to a server overseas and you'll have access to all of that region's content—which comes in handy if that new movie or series isn't available in your home country.

Plus, if you're into your games, you can put your VPN to good use and pick up titles that are similarly region-locked. You can save some extra cash by connecting to a server in a location where games are typically cheaper, too. Oh, and your VPN will also prevent DDoS attacks from disrupting your online matches.

Journalists. Activists, and protestors 

Reporting breaking news stories can take journalists to risky parts of the web—especially if the topic at hand is controversial. A VPN conceals the original IP address of these individuals, ensuring that their location remains hidden, and that they can enjoy freedom of expression and press, and continue to safely research, publish, and share stories. 

What else can VPNs do?

While it's true that privacy-boosting and digital security are a VPN’s calling card, there are plenty of other things you can do with your trusty service. Here are a few of my favorites:

Unblock international streaming content:

If you're subscribed to Netflix (or another streaming service), you're probably already aware that folks in different countries get a different selection of content. This can be frustrating—especially if the show or movie you're dying to watch isn’t available in your location. Sites like Netflix are under contractual obligations to dish out content like this, unfortunately, meaning a lot of us miss out.

Luckily, you can make the most of your subscriptions with a streaming VPN. How? Well, when you join a VPN server in a different country, you'll be assigned an IP address based in the same place. The sites you visit will think you're really there, and you'll get access to that location's streaming content—which is doubly handy if you're traveling overseas and want to keep up with shows and sports events from back home.

Access sites and social media platforms

Ever tried to access a particular site only to find that it's been banned by your workplace, school, or network administrator? It's undeniably frustrating, particularly for students trying to vet sources for papers, and some governments even enforce internet blocks in an attempt to prevent citizens from accessing popular Western sites. Think Google, YouTube, and Facebook.

This is why China VPNs are in such high demand—and why privacy activists rely on them as the first (and sometimes last) line of defense towards securing a more open internet.

Bag a bargain

Most VPNs charge a modest subscription fee—but they can also help you find the best deals and sales from around the world. The price of goods often varies from location to location, so it's worth doing a little server-hopping to see if you can save on a big purchase.

Airlines and hotels use dynamic pricing, too, bumping up the cost of tickets and overnight stays each time you return to scope out the price. You can put a stop to this with a VPN—though it's worth clearing your cache folder and browsing history, too.

On the horizon

DDoS attacks aren't the only threats that could impact you in 2024. We've rounded up our top cybersecurity predictions for the year ahead. 

Stay safe while gaming

If you're an avid gamer, you'll know that some players are seriously sore losers and can resort to DDoS attacks to retaliate. However, because a VPN masks your original IP address, any attempt to hit you with a DDoS attack will be thwarted, seeing as the perpetrator will be targeting the VPN server and not your home network.

Plus, with a gaming VPN, you can check out region-specific deals from overseas and unblock content that’s not available where you are.

Save money on antivirus

While it's generally a good idea to invest in one of the best antivirus tools around, if you're looking to save a bit of money, it's worth checking out VPNs that have built-in antivirus capabilities. They won't be as fully featured as their antivirus counterparts, but the likes of NordVPN and Surfshark have their own ad-blocking and malware protection features and can put a stop to annoying pop-ups, too. Even better, these tools are included in each VPN's standard plan.

Some VPNs have even more add-ons, like password managers that can help you generate (and remember) secure logins, and secure cloud storage where you can keep your important digital mementos safe. So, by subscribing to one VPN, you effectively consolidate the cost of multiple security tools by subscribing to one—not half a dozen.

3D illustration of VPN software for computers and smartphones

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to choose a VPN

The VPN you go for will depend on your individual use case—and there are a few questions it's worth pondering before you commit to a long-term subscription. Firstly, what are you going to use your VPN for? Streaming content? Accessing restricted sites and services? Or do you want a service that’ll simply work in the background to secure your data?

Then, there are other important things to add to your VPN wishlist:

  • Apps for your devices: most of us are glued to our phones, these days, so it's important that your VPN can go with you when you're out and about. If you have a console or smart TV, it's worth checking whether your VPN is compatible with them, too.
  • Servers around the world: if you want to unblock region-specific content, or play games with friends overseas, your VPN will need servers in key locations around the world.
  • Reliable speeds: a sluggish service isn't worth using, so make sure you pick a fast VPN that can keep up with HD streaming and torrenting.
  • Security features: while some people are happy to set and forget a VPN, others want to make use of advanced features like split tunneling and a kill switch, and some VPNs even have extras like ad-blocking and malware protection.
  • No-logs policy: you'll want to go with a provider that not only has a no-logs policy, but one that has taken the time and effort to invite independent auditors to comb through it for vulnerabilities and loopholes. This kind of transparency is key when dealing with services designed to safeguard your identifiable info.
  • Round-the-clock support: hiccups happen, problems pop up, and sometimes you just need a quick answer to a burning question. The best providers have 24/7 live chat support manned by friendly agents or an email ticketing system, and support articles you can rifle through to troubleshoot your issue.

How much does a VPN cost?

First things first, if you're working with a budget—stick to it. There are VPNs available at every price range, these days, and you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for a stellar service.

Surfshark is my favorite cheap VPN, and one I recommend to newbies all the time thanks to its simple apps and non-intimidating features. You can pick up a 2-year plan for $1.99 a month, which is incredibly good value, and enjoy unlimited simultaneous connections, too.

If you're willing to push the boat out, ExpressVPN has a 1-year plan available at $6.67 a month. It's on the pricey side, but ExpressVPN is virtually unbeatable when it comes to ease of use and overall quality.

You might be wondering if there are any viable free VPNs—and there are, but they all come with caveats. Most free services are limited versions of the full experience, designed to tempt you into upgrading to a paid plan. You can expect to be saddled with monthly data caps, reduced speeds, and fewer servers to choose from which, obviously, isn't ideal. Some free VPNs are poorly disguised scams that just want to gobble up your data and sell it to the highest bidder—so exercise caution if you're looking for a free option.

If you ask me, the best way to try out a VPN without risking a penny (and without having to deal with a ton of limitations) is to make good use of a premium provider's money-back guarantee. You'll have to pay for the VPN up front, sure, but you can claim your money back before the trial period is over—and then check out the next contender on your list the same way.


Is a VPN worth it?

Nowadays, everyone needs a VPN. It's the best way to protect yourself online. While most people aren't suffering in oppressive regimes that heavily censor the internet and restrict what you can see and do online, that doesn't mean they don't need a VPN.

If you want to protect yourself from being hacked, or having your information stolen while you're on the internet, a VPN is the best tool for the job.

What happens if you don't have a VPN

Without a VPN, your internet traffic is unencrypted, meaning it can be read by anyone that intercepts it. That means your passwords, banking details, credit card info, pictures, videos, and even internet searches are visible to hackers, cybercriminals, internet providers, and even governments.

Without a VPN it's like not having curtains or blinds on your bedroom window—anyone can see straight in. Even if you don't mind someone looking in, it's the dangers of what they could do with what they see that should have you worried.

Do you really need a VPN on your phone?

Yes, using a VPN on your phone is absolutely essential. Most of our lives reside on our phones nowadays, and with so much at stake, a VPN is non-negotiable. If you want to protect yourself while shopping or doing your online banking, a VPN is the best tool for the job. Plus, all the best VPNs come with easy-to-use VPN apps for both iPhone and Android, and are easily downloadable from the App app store/Google Play store.

Should I use a free VPN?

Yes, a free VPN is a great way to get a glimpse of the value of an app before committing to a premium purchase. However, not just any free VPN will do, and there are a lot of scams to avoid, so it's important to acknowledge that even the best free VPNs come with restrictions—be it server locations, speeds, or data usage.

Lots of free VPN services claim to be totally unlimited, and more often than not, they're often an unsafe service that's only built to harvest your information and sell it to anyone that's willing to buy it.

Edited by
Andreas Theodorou Editor-in-Chief Tech Software
Edited by
Andreas Theodorou (MRes, BA)

As a digital privacy advocate and expert, he's spent the past four years leveraging his master's degree to research VPNs, cryptography, and other cybersecurity topics.


We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:
1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).
2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.
We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

River Hart
Tech Software Editor

River is a Tech Software Editor and VPN expert at TechRadar. They’re on-hand to keep VPN and cybersecurity content up-to-date and accurate. When they’re not helping readers find the best VPNs around (and the best deals), River can be found in close proximity to their PS5 or being pushed about the countryside by the lovely Welsh weather. 

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