As the VPN Editor at Tom’s Guide, I’m pretty tapped into new features coming out from all the best VPN providers – and in the last year some very clear trends have emerged.
The simple fact is that VPNs are no longer the preserve of hardcore techies. Unlike five years ago, you’re just as likely to find a VPN installed on a device to unblock a Premier League game in the US as you are for avoiding government surveillance. That means providers have to cater for a far wider range of use-cases while still maintaining flawless privacy credentials.
While I haven’t currently got access to my crystal ball (it’s having its annual service), there are four things I can predict with some conviction that will be happening in the VPN world this year – and I just so happen to have written them out below…
1. Wider security suites
This has been the case for some time now, but VPNs expanding into other areas of personal privacy certainly isn’t slowing down. The reason for this is twofold.
The first may seem cynical, but it’s true: tech companies want to gain market share. As a VPN user, you’re likely to care about other areas of online privacy – let’s say, using unique passwords for everything. You’re probably going to use a password manager anyway, so why shouldn’t they make one for you? It keeps you in their ecosystem, and also stops you potentially leaving their product for a rival that offers a better all-in-one solution.
However, the second reason definitely shouldn’t be discounted, and that’s that VPN companies are experts in personal privacy. Although there are plenty of ropey VPNs out there, I trust top providers like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, Private Internet Access and all the others I feature in my guides. If there’s a brand I trust to protect my passwords, cloud storage, even my credit card info, it’s the VPN I use daily.
Some of the biggest brands are going even further. NordVPN has recently launched a cyber insurance service which allows you to claim your money back if you fall foul of an online scam. Surfshark’s Incogni is an excellent personal information removal service, which automates requests for data brokers to delete your information. ExpressVPN’s Aircove hardware router allows you to protect everything in your home from your Ring doorbell to your Nintendo Switch.
Expect to see plenty more VPNs launching more comprehensive security suites in the next year – the big names have led the charge, but the little guys are hot on their heels.
2. Simplification of features and applications
It should come as no surprise that as PC use dwindles and mobile devices become the default way of experiencing the internet, many tech companies are prioritizing mobile apps over their desktop counterparts.
With this comes the inevitable simplification of interfaces, and due to the fact that users invariably like their software to look the same no matter what system they’re using, I expect desktop apps to hide – or even remove – some in-depth features.
I sincerely hope that the latter is not the case, and I think it’s unlikely that providers like Hide.me, Private Internet Access and Proton VPN will straight-up remove the advanced features they’re known for. However, don’t be surprised if plenty of these providers have a product refresh that whittles the main screen down to a mobile VPN-friendly interface of just a button and a server location.
This has already happened, in fact. Last year, IPVanish finished rolling out its newly updated app design, and while it maintained a lot of the feel of the previous UI, did away with a lot of the in-depth features. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the user.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will offer the best of both worlds. It’s undeniable that some of the most configurable VPNs have a steep learning curve for someone unfamiliar with this kind of software, but there are countless users out there who demand much more than simply setting and forgetting about their VPN. Retaining these features but lowering the barrier to entry is the dream – we can only wait and see who does it right.
3. Protection against quantum computing
One of the biggest talking points of the last year has been the development of quantum computing. In short, quantum computing allows devices to perform a huge amount of calculations simultaneously, in contrast to traditional computers, which have to perform similar calculations one at a time.
While quantum computing isn’t necessarily going to change how we use our own devices at home, some very specific problems that were previously near-impossible to solve are no challenge when quantum computing is involved – and one of those is breaking encryption as we know it.
Traditional encryption has been much the same for decades, with advances largely limited to increasing the size of encryption keys in order to make brute-force attacks unfeasible. However, when quantum computers become more common, the time it would take to break this encryption will go from thousands of years to a matter of minutes.
What’s more, just because quantum computers are in their infancy and can’t yet break traditional encryption doesn’t mean that there’s no risk. We can expect that cybercriminals are already launching ‘store now, decrypt later’ attacks by harvesting encrypted data from valuable sources – banks, governments etc – and storing that data until the technology is ready to decrypt it.
This is why many VPN companies are rushing to develop post-quantum encryption – the sooner they start, the more user data they can protect when ‘Q Day’ comes.
Our friends at TechRadar have covered a number of stories on this topic, from ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol offering post-quantum protection to how cybercriminals are already devising ways to use quantum computing. What’s clear is that this is at the top of many VPN providers’ to-do lists, and the very best already have protection in place.
For more information on what quantum computing means for encryption, I recommend watching Veritasium's video on the subject, which explains the complex maths involved fairly simply. However, all you really need to know is that quantum computing is coming, and work to protect the public from its dangers is ongoing. If you’re seriously interested in protecting your privacy, I’d recommend choosing a VPN provider that is proactive in futureproofing its tech against it.
4. Engaging with the cybercommunity
The cybersecurity community is passionate, tight-knit, and extremely aware of cutting-edge tech and new developments. As such, for VPNs to be respected and trusted, they need to engage with their users, and I see this happening more and more.
For example, Private Internet Access is very active on its own subreddit, and frequently asks users what features they most want, and what issues they’ve had with the software. This actually guides their development, too.
Last year I visited PIA in London, and learnt that although many of its competitors were launching Apple TV apps for tvOS 17, the community had expressed a greater desire for split tunneling to be available on MacOS again. As such, PIA expedited Mac VPN split tunneling to provide what its users wanted, while still working on its Apple TV VPN in the background.
Another example comes from ExpressVPN’s Chief Engineering Officer, Pete Membry, who is a sponsor of Real World Cryptography’s conference to further expand discussions around practical applications and improvements in protecting people's everyday security and privacy. ExpressVPN has also held hacking competitions and is undertaking academic research (watch this space), to develop the field of online privacy and security as a whole.
Tech is the fastest-moving sector of business, and with that frantic development comes many challenges for those seeking to protect people from those who will inevitably exploit it.
I expect just about every one of the top VPN providers to lean towards at least one of these trends this year, and largely I think that's a good thing.
When it comes to cybersecurity, if a company isn't moving forward, it's slipping behind. So, as always, when it comes to choosing how to protect yourself online, do as much research as you can, and go with a product or provider that's keeping up with the changes we see every day.
Tom's Guide's leading VPN expert, Mo tests VPN services every day to see what providers say they do, and what it's really like as a day-to-day user.
A privacy purist at heart, Andreas is a VPN expert that believes that the best VPN doesn't have to be the most expensive – it's about what's right for you.
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.
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Mo is VPN Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees VPN, privacy, and cybersecurity content, and also undertakes independent testing of VPN services to ensure his recommendations are accurate and up to date. When he's not getting stuck into the nitty-gritty settings of a VPN you've never heard of, you'll find him working on his Peugeot 205 GTi or watching Peep Show instead of finally putting up those shelves.
- Andreas TheodorouEditor-in-Chief of Tech Software