What is a No Log VPN and Why You Want To Have One
While some people use a VPN simply to bypass geographical restrictions, for millions of users, a VPN’s most important function is to give them privacy online and complete anonymity when browsing, shopping or banking online.
A no-log VPN is preferable because it won’t collect or store any information about its users’ online activities, IP addresses, connection duration or data usage. Those VPNs that keep activity logs are to be avoided as this type of information can reveal which sites you’ve visited, whether you’ve been downloading illegal torrents and if you’ve strayed into the Dark Web.
If you’re concerned enough about your online privacy to invest in VPN, chances are, you’ll be concerned enough to want a VPN that doesn’t track your online behavior or store information about where you’ve been.
Not only that, some VPNs have been known to sell that information to the highest bidder, turning your privacy into their profit.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s our list of the best no-log VPNs:
- ExpressVPN – Zero-knowledge DNS, privacy-friendly jurisdiction and proven no-logging policy CyberGhost – Anonymous VPN with extensive server network and intuitive user interface
- Surfshark – No-logging VPN that supports unlimited devices and P2P traffic
- ProtonVPN – Collect timestamps but offers free and anonymous VPN
Our pick for the Best No-Logging VPN: ExpressVPN
What is a No Log VPN and Why Should You Have One?
There are hundreds of VPNs available and nearly all of them will claim that they don’t keep any logs at all and operate under a strict no-logging policy. This is often far from the truth, and some cybersecurity experts claim there is no such thing as a true no-log VPN.
So, even VPNs that have proven their no-logging policies in court do keep some logs, they just don’t keep any sensitive information. While most users won’t notice much difference between a logging VPN and an anonymous VPN, committing to a VPN that does log data like your browsing history and IP address requires a greater level of trust.
VPN Logging: A Case Study
To illustrate the potential problems that occur from using a VPN service that keeps logs, we’re going to tell you the story of a man named Ryan Lin. Lin signed up for what he thought was a no-log VPN and proceeded to engage in various illegal activities believing himself to be hidden behind his VPN’s cloak of invisibility. Unfortunately for Lin (but rather more fortunately for us law-abiding citizens who don’t much like hackers and cyberstalkers), his VPN’s claims that it does not “keep any records of anything that could associate any specific activity to a specific user.”
When approached by the FBI, however, “PureVPN was able to determine that their service was accessed by the same customer from two originating IP addresses”. A true no-log VPN wouldn’t have collected or stored any information about the user’s original IP address and would, therefore, have been unable to assist the FBI with its investigation.
While we are as eager as anyone else to see cyberstalkers like Lin get their comeuppance, the moral of this story is that not all VPNs’ no-logging claims can be trusted, and a VPN that does keep logs could betray its users and potentially sell or share that information with third parties or just the highest bidder.
What Can a VPN Do with Your Logs?
Depending on the type of logs your VPN keeps, it could potentially reveal enough information to create an accurate picture of who you are and where you live. While your IP address may look like a random collection of digits and dots, each of these online unique identifiers is allocated geographically. If you’re connecting from home, your internet service provider will assign you an IP address that can reveal the country, state, and potentially even the city, you live in. What’s more, a study conducted by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s Office (OPC) revealed that anyone who knows your IP address can potentially unearth information about your location, email address, P2P activities, and glimpses of your online activity.
With just your IP address, it would be possible for a cybercriminal, law enforcement official, or anyone else with a little technical know-how to figure out if you searched for legal advice relating to a personal injury, showed an interest in a specific religious group, made revisions to any Wikipedia entry, or shared photos online. In other words, a whole heap of information you’d probably prefer to keep to yourself and that could be used to send targeted adverts or even political campaign messages your way.
In its report, the OPC draws attention to the well-publicized case of the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus. When the FBI began investigating threatening emails being sent to Jill Kelley, they used the originating IP address to trace down the culprit – one Paula Broadwell. From there, they stumbled across an email account used by Petraeus to exchange messages Broadwell who, it turned out, was both his biographer and his lover.
According to the OPC, the FBI gained access to the following information about Broadwell without ever obtaining a warrant:
- IP address
- Email address and subscriber information
- The ISP that assigned the IP address
- Names of other guests staying in the same hotel as Broadwell when the emails were sent
That’s a lot of information that most of us would hate to see end up in the wrong hands and it’s also the kind of information that a logging VPN can and will collect. Those that collect your complete browsing history have even more ammunition and the potential to sell that information for a serious profit – which some free VPNs have been accused of.
Why You Wouldn’t Want a VPN Tracking You
Most VPN users are trying to escape tracking and prevent their ISPs from knowing everything they do online. As cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneider notes, “I used to say that Google knows more about me than my wife does, but that doesn’t go far enough. Google knows me even better because Google has perfect memory”.
While tracking can make for a more personalized online experience, it also means details like your date of birth, the posts you like on Facebook, where you go for your online retail therapy, and your favorite Netflix content. This makes it possible for a company like Google, or even a VPN, to share that information with marketing companies who can then “increase revenue by displaying ads in accordance with a person’s interests”.
Similarly, while a VPN should protect you against tracking, if it does keep logs, then it will be able to access information like your historic and real-time location which can again be used for targeted advertising but also exposes you to the risk of both identity theft and cyberstalking.
In some countries, the cost of political criticism or activism is high, and just sharing a post criticizing a member of the Chinese government, for instance, could land you with a big fine or even a prison sentence. While a VPN is intended to hide your online activity from government surveillance, a no log VPN or one that is legally obliged to store some metadata could share that information with law enforcement task forces without your knowledge and even in instances where there is no suspicious behavior.
Why Would You Want a No Log VPN?
Opting for an anonymous VPN grants you the freedom to go wherever you like in cyberspace without being tracked, watched, stalked or spied upon. In some countries, like China, for example, posting on Twitter could mean 15 days in a detention center or even eight hours of interrogation. A VPN can hide a visit to Twitter but one that keeps logs could be forced to share that information with law enforcement officials while a no-log VPN wouldn’t have any such data to share.
No log VPN: A Case Study
Two years ago, Turkish authorities were investigating the assassination of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. During the investigation, they found that someone had logged into their prime suspect’s Facebook and Gmail accounts and deleted certain messages believed to be related to the crime. At that point, however, the digital trail went cold as the person in question had used ExpressVPN to mask his or her online activities.
Rather than just asking ExpressVPN to hand over their logs, Turkish authorities went a step further and seized an ExpressVPN server only to find that there were no logs and the server contained no useful information. According to ExpressVPN, “The server seizure occurred before the Turkish authorities even contacted us. They contacted us to determine if we possessed the logs which they were unable to find on the server itself… which of course we did not”.
ExpressVPN’s official statement on the incident explained, “ExpressVPN does not and has never possessed any customer connection logs that would enable us to know which customer was using the specific IPs cited by the investigators. Furthermore, we were unable to see which customers accessed Gmail or Facebook during the time in question, as we do not keep activity logs”.
It’s this level of no-logging that we should all be looking for in a VPN, which is why we’ve applied our minds and our flexed our research muscles to come up with the best four no-log VPNs.
The Best Anonymous VPN
There’s a reason why ExpressVPN is routinely described as the best VPN in the world and, in a nutshell, it’s because it manages to combine fast speeds with the latest technology without overcomplicating its apps. It also has clear and concise policies on user privacy and logging and has been fortunate enough to prove its no-logging status in court.
When it comes to being a trustworthy VPN, ExpressVPN goes the extra mile, introducing zero-knowledge DNS on all its 3,000+ servers which means there are no connection or activity logs stored. Combined with its TrustedServer technology which uses only RAM and clears all data automatically every time it reboots, this makes for a guaranteed log-free existence.
ExpressVPN benefits from being situated in a country where no laws are enforcing mandatory data retention – the British Virgin Islands. This means that, unlike VPNs in the UK or Germany, ExpressVPN can legally operate under a strict no-logging regime and give its users the kind of privacy and protection they expect.
In addition to its sophisticated cybersecurity technology and an impressive commitment to user privacy, ExpressVPN has the following features:
- 3,000+ servers in 95 countries
- Kill switch
- Split-tunneling feature
- 5 simultaneous connections
- 24/7 customer support
- Unbeatable speeds
Later on, however, it admits to occasionally collecting data, including an IP address, as part of its “fraud detection measures”. Although it says this information is “captured and stored in an anonymized format”, it’s still a little unnerving, especially for those who’ve read up about data anonymization and its failings.
Nevertheless, CyberGhost remains one of the most reliable anonymous VPNs around while also being one of the most user-friendly. It also has a host of benefits for its users, including:
- 5,624 servers in 90 countries
- Kill switch
- DNS and IP leak protection
- 7 simultaneous connections
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Torrenting and streaming profiles
If you’re just starting on your cybersecurity journey, sign up with the user-friendly CyberGhost today. If you want to find out more about this eerily effective VPN, however, you can read our full review here.
When CyberGhost’s free VPN was still around, Surfshark wasn’t yet a glimmer in its developers’ eyes but despite its fledgling status, Surfshark is outperforming many of its more mature rivals and providing users with authentic anonymity and robust online protection.
It does, however, collect some diagnostic data, including “aggregated performance data, the frequency of use of our Services, unsuccessful connection attempts, and other similar information”, but this isn’t going tell anyone very much about where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to online.
In addition to its zero-logging policy, Surfshark offers highly competitive speeds and allows P2P traffic on all its servers. It also offers specific modes for certain activities. For example, if you’re connecting from a highly restricted or heavily censored region, you can use its No Borders mode, whereas those wanting double the protection can use the MultiHop mode.
Surfshark is an affordable alternative to the big-name VPNs and can be relied upon not to store or share any sensitive data. The additional benefits enjoyed by its users include:
- 1,040 servers in 61 countries
- Ad-blocker included
- Independent security audit
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- 7-day free trial on mobile apps
- P2P-optimized network
This impressive piece of cybersecurity software evolved out of an encrypted mail service and has the added advantage of offering a limited free VPN service which will give you the same protection, but slightly slower speeds and limited server options.
The only reason ProtonVPN collects the timestamp is to improve its service and guard against brute force attacks and its virtually impossible to glean any personal or sensitive information from a timestamp, so it is, in effect, a no-log VPN. It’s Swiss base also means that ProtonVPN is under no legal obligation to keep logs and provides a base for its Secure Core servers.
Some of the other advantages of using ProtonVPN include:
- 577 servers in 44 countries
- Cross-platform compatibility
- Kill switch and Always-on VPN
- 5 simultaneous connections
- Free VPN available
- Tor over VPN
While a VPN should never be used for illegal activities like cyberstalking, it should be capable of giving its users a completely private and anonymous online experience. The trouble is, many VPNs that claim to operate under a no-logging policy, actually keep tabs on more of their users’ activities than they are willing to disclose. Those that collect activity logs or store your original IP address are in a position to share a surprising amount of personal information about you with third parties, be they data collection companies or law enforcement officials.
Distinguishing between an anonymous VPN and one that’s simply making false claims isn’t easy and few us want to spend our weekend scrolling through privacy policies and scrutinizing their contents. A VPN that keeps logs isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as their users are fully informed and given the choice of opting out.
The great thing about a no-log VPN like ExpressVPN is that you don’t have to place your trust nor your browsing history in their hands. The structure of ExpressVPN’s architecture means it can’t store logs nor see anything you do while hidden under its cloak of invisibility.
If you want complete online privacy and peace of mind, we recommend ExpressVPN as the best VPN no logs but if you’d rather see for yourself, then we hope you enjoy the privacy policies and their associated legalese!