The best VPN services for Linux
Linux has traditionally been seen as an operating system for tech geeks who know their way round a computer. For this reason, setting up and configuring an internet connection on a Linux based system, particularly one that uses a VPN to protect the traffic going to and from the system has been complicated since the major VPN operators did not see any financial benefit in creating software for the system. This has started to change in recent years however thanks to the rise of operating systems such as Ubuntu Linux which make it easy for new and less experienced computer users to pick up and use a Linux operating system without a lot of training or prior knowledge. At the same time, new systems have been released which make it easy to port programs from one system to another, meaning that it’s much easier to take a piece of software that was written for Windows or macOS and port it over to Linux.
The upshot of all of this is that getting a VPN system from a major provider running on your Linux system is now easier than it has ever been. You’ll still have access to all of the configuration and power offered by a Linux system and it’s still possible to set up and manage the connection manually if that’s what you want to do. However, if you want a VPN that offers a ‘set it and forget it’ setup approach, that’s available as well.
Why use a VPN?
If you’ve never used a VPN service before, you might be wondering why they are suddenly becoming so popular. There are lots of different reasons that people choose to start protecting their internet connection with a VPN, but they tend to fall into two main categories, security and ease of use.
The security argument for using a VPN is simple. Governments and ISPs are taking more and more steps to monitor the internet activity of computer users. For ISPs, this is an opportunity to sell profiling information about their customers to advertisers (if you’re an internet user in the United States, there’s every chance that you consented to this when you agreed to your ISP’s terms of service). For governments, the ability to build up a massive database of citizens’ internet activity is very tempting from a law enforcement point of view. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of downsides to this for law abiding citizens who may baulk at the idea of a list of every website they visit sitting on a server somewhere. Previous incidents around the world have shown that this type of information can easily be leaked.
A VPN eliminates this risk by protecting your internet connection with 256-bit military grade encryption. The exact type of protection that is on offer varies from one service to another. However, they all provide significantly more security than a standard internet connection, even if you are connecting to a certain website via a secure (HTTPS) connection. Many of the VPN services that we will be covering also offer additional protection features such as kill switches and no log policies.
The other reason why many people choose to use a VPN is that it gives them access to content that would otherwise be unavailable. This is particularly useful if you no longer live in the country that you were brought up in and want to watch streaming media from that country. UK expats who want to watch programs on the BBC iPlayer for instance, often rely on a VPN to help them do so. Similarly, there are many programs in the US Netflix catalogue that are not available in other countries. Connecting to Netflix via a VPN server that is based in the United States gets around this restriction. Unfortunately, services like the iPlayer and Hulu have taken action in recent years to block free VPN services from accessing their sites but most paid for options have continued without experiencing any problems.
How we have ranked the VPN services
There are dozens of paid for VPN options out there and narrowing them down to a select few has been a tricky task. In this article, the key factor has been the ease of setup on Linux systems and for that reason we have not included any options that do not offer a dedicated app for Linux users. While it may be possible to use other options by configuring them manually, this tends to be a tricky and time-consuming process that can put off newcomers, so we have not considered it. It’s also worth noting that some VPN companies offer Linux apps that are significantly less fully featured than their equivalents on macOS and Windows. Where this is the case, we have mentioned this in the reviews.
Apart from Linux compatibility, we have also looked at the security options available; how many servers are on offer and which countries they are located in and the overall cost of the service. Obviously, every user has different priorities that will help them to decide which VPN option is right for them. That’s why we’ve covered each of the options listed in depth, so that it’s easy to get a good idea of whether or not the service is suitable.
ExpressVPN offers a straightforward setup process for the Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, Mint and CentOS versions of Linux. If you are using another distribution, then you can set the software up manually using Terminal, but this does require a much higher level of technical expertise. If you are comfortable with this level of configuration then you may want to think about the router install option that we will come to later in this review.
ExpressVPN is probably the most fully featured VPN option out there. While it has faced increasingly tough competition in recent years, it continues to offer the most well-balanced range of features of any of the VPN services which are available for Linux.
The most impressive feature is simply the sheer number of servers offered by ExpressVPN. There are over 10,000 servers in almost 100 countries. This means that it should be possible to use almost any streaming media service on the planet. Every country in the European Union, East Asia and North America is covered along with several more besides. The range of servers is constantly being changed and expanded and dynamic technology is used to ensure that major streaming platforms do not block connections which come from ExpressVPN.
Connection speed is also very high and well suited to media streaming. In our experience, downstream speed on ExpressVPN varies from around 20 to 25 MBPS. This means that streaming standard and high definition video isn’t an issue and 4k video is even an option on some of the faster servers.
Security is another area where ExpressVPN simply excels. The company is based in the British Virgin Islands, which puts it far beyond the reach of the American government and its law enforcement agencies. The Virgin Islands take a very strict approach when it comes to protecting user privacy and ExpressVPN takes full advantage of this. It also protects its users by operating a ‘no logs’ policy. This is an increasingly common approach among the major VPN companies which means that they do not keep records of which websites their users visit and the servers that they connect to. Put simply, this means that even if a law enforcement agency did manage to obtain a court order from the authorities in the Virgin Islands that compelled ExpressVPN to turn over a user’s browsing history, the company would be unable to do so as the data would not exist.
The more standard security feature that you would expect are also in place. Every connection through an ExpressVPN server is protected using high-grade 256-bit security. Users also have the option of using a ‘kill switch’ system that ensures that no unprotected data can be sent to or from a network. In the event of a connection problem occurring between a user’s network and the ExpressVPN server, the internet connection will automatically be shut down until the secure connection is re-established.
The major downside from a security point of view is that ExpressVPN does not accept Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency as a method of payment. This means that all payments must be made through a credit or debit card or another online payment portal such as PayPal. In general, this means that there is a risk of personally identifiable information being tied to your VPN account. The best way around this if you’re concerned is to use a prepaid debit card, which can be purchased for cash at a local retailer.
Finally, it’s worth noting that you have the option of installing ExpressVPN directly onto your router instead of using the dedicated Linux software. This has the advantage of protecting all of the internet traffic that is transmitted via your network, even the traffic that comes from devices that do not allow you to install software such as smart speakers and smart TVs. This is much more complex to set up though so make sure that you understand exactly what you are doing before you start the process as it can cause irreversible damage to your router and is likely to void your warranty.
Support for ExpressVPN customers is available via an email or a live chat service that runs 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, there is no option to speak to support via the phone.
ExpressVPN may be the most fully featured of the services that we cover on this page, but it certainly doesn’t come cheap. A month to month subscription is available for a list price of $12.95. Generally, you can save quite a bit on this if you buy several months of service in advance, with the biggest discounts being available to users who commit to three years of service at the point of purchase. However, discounts are not quite as generous as for some of the other services that we will be reviewing.
If all the features available on ExpressVPN sound appealing to you but the price is what puts you off, then NordVPN is definitely worth having on your shortlist. Often spoken of in the same sentences as ExpressVPN, this is a service that has developed a good reputation for customer service and innovation. Unfortunately, it’s range of servers is not quite as large as that of ExpressVPN, but this shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of customers.
NordVPN recommends that users of supported Linux distributions use the NordVPN app to connect to its services. In general, this is the best choice unless you are very technically savvy and want to set the service up in a particular way. At the time of writing, the NordVPN Linux app supports users of Debian and RHEL-based Linux distributions. This includes the popular Debian and openSUSE remixes.
More confident users also have the option of manually configuring service using the console or another Linux networking utility. If you are going to do this, you may also want to consider reconfiguring your router to directly run the NordVPN software. This means that all the traffic on your network will benefit from the protection and other advantages of using a VPN. This is very useful if you want to use the BBC iPlayer on a smart TV for instance as this would normally be impossible as most smart TVs do not support the type of software that NordVPN uses.
Once you have got the software up and running, you will have access to over 10,000 servers which are located in almost 90 countries. The connection between a user’s network and the server is more than sufficient for SD and HD video streaming in our experience, although there can be a few buffering issues if you want to watch 4k based content. The range of servers makes it easy to use the full range of popular streaming services including HBO Go, Netflix and Hulu.
Security is a very strong feature of NordVPN. All traffic that runs through the company’s servers is protected by 256-bit military grade encryption. Users also benefit from a kill-switch, which prevents any traffic from being sent to or from a network without the protection of the VPN. In the event that there is an interruption to the connection to the NordVPN server due to any type of issue, your internet connection will be blocked until the connection can be restored. This is a fairly rare occurrence but it’s good to know that this type of protection is available if you are worried about your ISP or the government snooping on your internet browsing activity.
NordVPN also operates the same ‘no logs’ policy that is becoming increasingly common to VPN operators around the world. This means that they do not keep information about the servers that users connect to, the times that they do it at or the websites or other servers that they visit when their connection is under the protection of the VPN. Put simply, if your ISP or the government came asking for this type of information, NordVPN would be unable to provide it even if they wanted to.
Pricing for NordVPN is good and there are generally plenty of offers available for users who are willing to commit to a long period of service in advance. The company also offers users a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that if you start using the service and decide that it isn’t right for you for any reason whatsoever within your first 30 days of use, NordVPN will refund your money no questions asked. The lead-in monthly price is $11.95 but this can be reduced by as much as 75% for those users who buy several months or years of service upfront. Unfortunately, users do not have the option of paying for their NordVPN using a cryptocurrency, opening up the risk of their payment info being seen by others, but this is a fairly minor niggle for the vast majority of users.
SurfShack is a relative newcomer to the world of VPNs and as such, it is a significantly cheaper option than the two services that we have looked at so far. Month-to-month subscriptions to the service can be sold for as little as $2.95. The main drawback of this option compared to the others that we have used so far is that its app for Linux does not offer a graphical user interface (also known as a GUI). This means that you will have to set up and configure the application using the command line, which can feel like a fairly retro, 1980s experience if you have never done it before. Thankfully, the app is well though through and put together but it’s worth keeping this drawback in mind if you’re not comfortable using the command line.
Like ExpressVPN, SurfShack is based in the British Virgin Islands and has a ‘no logs’ policy, meaning that there is plenty of protection for its users’ information. For security conscious users, there is also the option of paying the monthly subscription fee using a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. This makes it possible to use SurfShack with total anonymity and avoids the worry of your credit card details being lost or stolen when you sign up for the service.
SurfShack offers servers in more than 50 countries. This is notably lower than the two other services that we have looked at so far but the vast majority of locations that will be of interest to the casual user are available. Unless you are looking for very specific content from a country that generates very low levels of demand, you are very unlikely to find the number of servers restrictive when you are using SurfShack.
Finally, the service comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that it is possible to sign up for an account and evaluate it for 30 days. If you decide at any point during this period that SurfShack is not the right VPN for you, just get in touch with the 24-hour customer support service and let them know. They will be happy to refund your money.
Overall, SurfShack is an excellent, although slightly less slick option when it comes to VPN services that support Linux. Setup is a little bit more cumbersome and using the command line interface may be irritating if you are a non-technical user who wants to switch between servers on a regular basis but the friendly support service and low prices means that it should definitely still have a place on your shortlist.
As the name suggests, CyberGhost is a VPN service for those who are interested in protecting their identity and don’t want to leave a list of the activity they carry out online for others to pick up later. What might be less clear is that over the years, the company has built up a wide range of servers and an excellent software system which means that it belongs in the same category as the other VPN options that we have covered.
If you have heard of CyberGhost in the past and believe that the company has a poor reputation for customer service, then we are here to put your mind at rest. The company has invested significantly in recent years in upgrades to its customer care operation which mean that most of the problems its users have experienced are now a thing of the past. Obviously, experiences do vary from one customer to another but there is now a 24-hour live support service available that can help resolve any issues that may come up when you are using the service.
A native Linux client is not available for CyberGhost, but it still makes our list thanks to its add-ons for the Firefox and Chrome web browsers. Keep in mind though that if you do choose to use one of these options, only the traffic that is sent and received by your computer using one of these browsers will be protected by the VPN. Other traffic, such as that generated by music or TV streaming apps will not be protected and will not appear as if it is coming from the VPN server that you have connected to. If you would like to configure your system so that all traffic is protected by the VPN, CyberGhost offers comprehensive setup guides that are easy to follow, and the live support service is also there to help you out. If you are feeling confident, you also have the option of configuring your router so that all of your network traffic is protected by the CyberGhost network.
Another positive of CyberGhost is that it accepts Bitcoin as a method of payment, meaning that there is no trail of information left every time that you make a payment for the service. If you are just looking for the simplest option though, it does also take credit cards. Security is a key consideration for the people behind CyberGhost as you would expect. Not only does it offer high-grade encryption to all of its users, but it also offers the ‘no logs’ approach that is common to all of the VPN companies that we have looked at on this page. Unfortunately, some of the more complex security features such as the kill switch and IP address scrambling that are offered by CyberGhost on other platforms are not available to Linux users.
Like most of its rivals, CyberGhost offers significant discounts, which can be as high as 75% to users who commit to a long period of service in advance. If you’re concerned about doing this before you know whether or not the service is right for you, then keep in mind that you also have the protection of the company’s 30-day money back guarantee. If you decide that the service isn’t right for you at any point in the first 30 days of usage, then just get in touch via the live support service and let them know that you no longer wish to use it in order to obtain a full refund.
We hope that this selection of reviews has helped you to identify the Linux supporting VPN service that is right for you and your internet browsing needs. Linux support has long been patchy among VPN service providers but it’s now becoming easier to develop software for the system and as demand continues to increase, more and more companies are putting in the time required to build Linux friendly options. All of the major providers are now available on Linux in one form or another and there is every chance that more will follow in the months and years to come. Keep in mind that most of these operators also make software for mobile operating systems such as iOS and Android so it should be easy to protect all of your internet browsing activity once you have signed up for a VPN service.