ExpressVPN has long been one of the top VPN services available. With an increasing array of competitors, however, is that still the case? Should you trust ExpressVPN with your online security?
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network, or VPN, is an important part of protecting your security online, especially when connecting to public or unsecured networks.
Any time you’re connected to a network, anyone else on that network could use readily available software to capture the packets of data going to and from your computer to the internet, giving them the ability to capture sensitive information about you and your accounts.
While this may not be a concern on your secured network at home, it’s a big concern at your local coffee shop, airport, library or other public networks.
A VPN protects you from this scenario by providing a secure, encrypted connection to the VPN’s server. Because the traffic from your device to the VPN is encrypted, hackers on the same network can’t access it.
Similarly, any websites or services you use won’t be able to see your IP address. Instead, any traffic you generate will appear to come from the VPN’s servers and network.
Even when you’re using your secure, home network, a VPN goes a long way toward protecting your privacy. Many ISPs log their users’ traffic, something that is impossible when using a good VPN.
There are a number of VPN protocols in use today. When choosing a service, it’s important to use one that supports all of the major protocols for the best compatibility with whatever network you’re using. Fortunately, ExpressVPN supports all of the major ones.
OpenVPN is one of the most widely used protocols. Its open-source nature is a big part of its popularity, as anyone can look at the code, go over it and find vulnerabilities. OpenVPN also works on all platforms and is available for free.
Internet Key Exchange Version 2 (IKEv2)
IKEv2 is a newer protocol that does especially well with mobile devices. One of its biggest strengths is its speed. It does not support Linux, however.
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)
L2TP is often used with IPsec to provide AES-256 encryption. Even so, OpenVPN is usually a better choice. The NSA was involved in the development of L2TP, albeit in a small role, and many security researchers no longer fully trust it following the Snowden revelations.
How ExpressVPN Uses Protocols
One of the benefits of using ExpressVPN is its Automatic mode. You can simply let the VPN app pick the right protocol for your network.
An important thing to remember is how ExpressVPN works with the System Preferences in macOS. The VPN service installs a network interface in the Network Preference Pane. Even when ExpressVPN is active and protecting your Mac, the VPN interface in Network Preferences may show “Not Connected.”
If this happens to you, it’s because the VPN interface in Network Preferences is specifically for the IKEv2 protocol. When ExpressVPN is using another protocol, such as OpenVPN, the Network Preferences interface will show “Not Connected,” even though your Mac is protected.
Security and Privacy Policies
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, an autonomous territory of the United Kingdom. The territory is well-known for its privacy-friendly laws, making it a popular choice for companies specializing in privacy and security.
They maintain no logs or digital trail of your activity. In fact, ExpressVPN collects only the absolute minimum, fully anonymized data necessary to maintain and troubleshoot their network.
ExpressVPN also features TrustedServer, a fancy way of saying the company runs RAM-only servers. This is an important factor in protecting your privacy, as hard drive-based servers are a weak point of some VPNs.
When data is saved to a hard drive, it remains there until it is overwritten or securely erased. Until that happens, the data can be retrieved. Needless to say, that is an undesirable trait in a service dedicated to preserving your anonymity.
Since ExpressVPN uses RAM-only servers, no data is ever saved to the hard drive. By its very nature, RAM requires power to maintain information. As a result, whenever a server is turned off or rebooted, all data is automatically wiped, ensuring there is no long-term data storage.
ExpressVPN’s Security Put to the Test
While other VPNs claim to run RAM-only servers, ExpressVPN’s claims have been put to the test. PwC performed an extremely extensive audit of ExpressVPN, auditing everything from source code, to policy compliance, to how the staff manages servers.
PwC has strict guidelines prohibiting any sharing of excerpts or summaries of their audits. ExpressVPN customers, however, can download and view the audit.
In the meantime, in regard to the audit, ExpressVPN says: “We can unequivocally say, however, that we’ve been pleased with the entire process from start to finish.”
That alone says volumes about what PwC’s audit found.
In addition to the audit, ExpressVPN was tested by fire in 2017, following the assignation of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Turkish officials seized an ExpressVPN server as part of their investigation, only to find there were no logs or usable data on the server, thanks to ExpressVPN’s security practices.
Again, while many VPNs tout their security and privacy policies, ExpressVPN has been tested like few others, both voluntarily and involuntarily. As a result, customers can have confidence the company is truly offering the level of protection they promise.
It’s important to consider how many servers a VPN service has, and how many countries they operate in. The more servers they have and the more countries, the better your performance will be.
As one of the largest and most popular VPN services, ExpressVPN has a wide network of servers around the world. As of time of writing, the company has over 3,000 servers in 160 locations, across 94 countries.
The company has servers in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and numerous islands in the Pacific. As a result, regardless of what part of the world you may be in, you should have no trouble finding a server reasonably close.
One of the biggest advantages to a wide network footprint is speed. Connecting to a server nearby will generally be faster than trying to connect to one around the world. Similarly, the more servers a VPN network has, the more customers it can serve before bogging down.
ExpressVPN has a well-established reputation as one of the fastest VPN providers on the market. In our testing, that reputation holds up.
We tested ExpressVPN on a home T-Mobile cellular internet connection. Over the course of five tests, we averaged 41.2 ms ping, 48.97 Mbps download and 11.42 Mbps upload with no VPN. With ExpressVPN active, we averaged 113.2 ms ping, 41.43 Mbps download and 11 Mbps upload.
Considering that many VPNs impact speed by as much as 50%, these were extremely good results. The only potential issue was the latency, which more than doubled using ExpressVPN. For most tasks, it shouldn’t be noticeable, although gamers may see an impact.
ExpressVPN supports virtually every major platform available, including the following:
Computers, Smartphones and Tablets
- Kindle Fire
- Amazon Fire Stick
- Samsung Smart TV
- Smart Tvs
- Nintendo Switch
ExpressVPN has an app for compatible routers, as well as manual setup instructions for routers that can’t run the app.
ExpressVPN Features and Benefits
As one would expect, ExpressVPN includes a bevy of features.
Like any good VPN, ExpressVPN has a Network Lock kill switch feature. If your connection to the VPN server is interrupted in any way, your internet traffic could be vulnerable. The Network Lock feature will kill all internet connectivity if the connection to ExpressVPN is lost.
ExpressVPN operates its own, secure DNS servers, unlike many other VPNs. This is an important part of protecting your privacy. Many services route DNS requests through your ISPs DNS servers exposing, or leaking, private information. For a VPN to work effectively, it needs to provide complete, end-to-end protection and operating its own DNS servers helps do that.
Access Websites and Services
Another important reason to use a VPN is to circumvent location restrictions. Some websites and services block individuals outside of a country or region. Because a VPN masks your IP address, you can make it look like you’re in the required region and circumvent the restrictions. This is another reason it’s important to choose a VPN with servers around the country. The more widespread the network, the greater the odds of having a server in the region of whatever site or service you’re trying to access.
According to ExpressVPN’s website, they can help you access Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, DAZN, Disney+, ESPN, Facebook, Gmail, Google, HBO, Hotstar, Hulu, Instagram, Kodi, Netflix, Pinterest, Showtime, Sky Go, Skype, Sling, Snapchat, Spotify, Tinder, Twitter, WhatsApp, Wikipedia, Vudu, YouTube and Zattoo.
As an added benefit, using a VPN can help you avoid network throttling. Since Net Neutrality was rolled back in the US, ISPs have the right to throttle traffic to any websites or services they want. Streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and others, are popular throttling targets. ExpressVPN helps you circumvent that and stream your video at full speed.
When it comes to pricing, ExpressVPN is certainly not the cheapest option. If you pay per-month, it costs $12.95. Paying six months at a time drops that to $9.99, while paying a year at a time lowers it to $8.32.
In contrast, SurfShark (which we reviewed here) starts at $11.95 per month, dropping to $5.99 if you pay for a full year and a mere $1.99 per month if you pay for two years.
While SurfShark is known as a budget VPN, ExpressVPN is still on the higher end of the spectrum when compared with other well-known services, such as NordVPN. That service starts at $11.95 per month, dropping to $6.99, $4.99 and $3.49 for one, two and three-year options.
An ExpressVPN subscription can be used with five devices. While nice, this is not as generous as some rivals. SurfShark, for example, supports an unlimited number of devices on a single subscription.
It’s obvious that ExpressVPN is charging a premium price for what they believe is a premium service. The question is: Does ExpressVPN deliver on that promise?
We believe the answer is yes. While some VPNs may offer flashier looking apps, ExpressVPN has a solid and well-deserved reputation where it counts: security and privacy. The company has been audited by third-parties and it has been tested via government seizure. Through it all, the company has continued to be a solid choice, offering security, privacy, speed and a bevy of features.
It is true the service is one of the more expensive VPNs available but, as the saying goes: “You get what you pay for.” That makes ExpressVPN the best choice for security and privacy-minded customers who don’t mind paying a little extra for extra protection and piece-of-mind.
Download ExpressVPN for your device here, and enjoy a 30-day free trial to see if it’s a good fit for you.
- Excellent, tested security
- Best-in-class privacy
- RAM-only servers
- Private DNS
- Large network of servers in nearly 100 countries
- Excellent speed
- More expensive than competitors
Writing professionally since 1999, Matt has authored news articles, press releases, marketing copy, technical documentation, website content, novels, and non-fiction books. An avid tech enthusiast, Matt has spent years covering the tech industry and has even done a fair amount of development. This dual background in writing and development gives him a unique perspective and ability to write about highly technical topics for a non-technical audience.