1. Top 3 best VPNs
2. How to choose a VPN
3. How we test VPNs
4. VPN FAQs
5. Top 3 best antivirus
6. How to choose antivirus software
7. How we test antivirus
8. Antivirus FAQs
9. Top 3 best password managers
10. How to choose a password manager
11. How we test password managers
12. Password managers FAQs
Congratulations on getting yourself (or being given!) a top-shelf smartphone this holiday season. However, you need to take immediate measures to protect yourself from those from trying to infiltrate your device and plague it with malware, viruses, and ransomware. Then there's your ISP, your government, and other malicious actors who may attempt to track your internet activities and restrict your access to certain sites, including foreign content and marketplaces.
The best way to sidestep all these concerns is to use the best VPN, the best antivirus, and the best password manager. Together, they’ll help you stay hidden on the internet, protect your device and your online accounts from hackers, and keep your privacy intact overall.
However, there are hundreds of options to choose from, which is where our team of experts at Tom's Guide come into the picture. Read on to find out which are the leading VPNs, antiviruses, and password managers in the industry right now – all selected with the help of Tom's Guide experts who review all sorts of tech services on a daily basis.
The best VPN in 2024
A VPN is an essential part of your online security toolkit, masking your real IP address and helping you stay protected from your ISP, hackers, and even the government – plus it can also give you access to region-restricted content and events and sales.
Here are the best VPN services on the market right now:
1. ExpressVPN: the best VPN – get 3 months free
ExpressVPN is the best mobile VPN, with blazing speeds, friendly 24/7 support, and boasts one of the widest network of servers in the VPN space. You’re also getting rock-solid security features and its unblocking capabilities are just as commendable, giving you access to content you otherwise wouldn't be able to view.
There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free, and Tom’s Guide readers will also enjoy 3 months of extra coverage for free and 1 year's worth of cloud storage with Backblaze.
2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN and packed with tools
NordVPN is an all-in-one security suite offering tons of extra features for an added layer of protection. These include a built-in antivirus, ad-blocking, and a password manager.
It knocks it out of the park when it comes to unblocking, topping the list as the best Netflix VPN – and class-leading speeds, lots of server locations, and customer support are all icing on the cake. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN on the market
Surfshark will fit your bill if you’re on a tight budget, offering excellent security and the fastest VPN service at less than $2.50 a month. A highlight is its unlimited simultaneous connections, meaning you can protect any number of devices you want.
With easy-to-use apps for virtually every device, superb unblocking capabilities and servers in over a hundred countries, there’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it on for size before you commit.
How to pick a VPN to secure your phone
Consider the following factors to find the right VPN for your intended use case:
Locations: a good VPN has a wide network of servers spread across the world so you’ll be able to connect to anywhere you want irrespective of where you are. If you’re looking for something particular, though, like a specific country whose content you want to unblock, make sure the VPN you choose has a server in that region.
Security: while almost all VPNs offer a kill switch, a no-logging policy, and an encryption protocol, some of them are more reliable and foolproof than others and those are the ones you should be considering. After all, a VPN that can’t protect your internet traffic from intruders is useless.
Speed: if you want to use your mobile VPN app for online gaming or binge sessions or downloading heaps of files, it should offer unlimited bandwidth and blazing speeds.
Simultaneous connections: it’s an important determinant, especially if you have multiple devices or you want to cover the devices of your family/friends as well.
Budget: while all of the providers on our list of the best VPN services ask for little and deliver much, you can go for a good cheap VPN if you’re seriously strapped for cash.
Support: look for a VPN with an in-depth hub of helpful guides and friendly 24/7 support via email, live chat, and/or phone. This ensures that you can always get the VPN to work and find help on the fly.
How we test VPNs
We begin at the provider’s website where we analyze its policies, any changes from the last time we reviewed them, and whether it uses tracking cookies to monitor users on its website.
We then shift our attention to the apps on offer – Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux – and we test all of them under difficult scenarios to see if essentials like the kill switch work as advertised. If something breaks, we report it back to the provider, hoping they fix it.
Next, we try to access region-restricted libraries from Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer on various devices and from different locations to zero in on the provider’s unblocking capabilities.
For speed testing, we use two sessions (a US and a UK one) and multiple speed test websites, encryption protocols, and features and then take the average of the best session as the provider's peak speed.
Using a VPN FAQs
What features should a mobile VPN have?
A good mobile VPN boasts a strict no-logs policy, meaning it doesn't track your IP address or internet activities. Next, it should have an ample number of servers around the world so it's able to churn out fast connections and unblock your favorite foreign content.
Also, all its essential security features like a kill switch and leak protection should be reliable and foolproof.
Can you use a free mobile VPN?
A free VPN can be an ideal choice for you if you're pinching for pennies but free VPNs don’t offer the same features as a paid-for VPN service, such as unblocking capabilities, add-ons like dark web monitoring and bundled password managers/malware protection, and the ability to protect multiple devices on a single plan, among others.
Moreover, a top-shelf paid VPN won't break the bank for you, either, as most of the providers on our list of the best VPN services will cost you less than $4-5 per month.
The best antivirus in 2024
The best antivirus software can help keep your mobile phone protected from malware, ransomware attacks, and other cyber threats. They also come with some handy extra features that'll safeguard against a wide variety of scams, such as identity theft, phishing attacks, and financial fraud.
Here are our top three recommendations:
1. Norton: the best antivirus software package
Norton is one of the most popular antivirus services, combining excellent malware protection and browser security with tons of extra cyber security tools, including identity theft protection, a password manager, a VPN, parental controls, and more.
Sign up for its auto-renewal program to get even more value for your money, as it comes with a Virus Protection Promise and a whopping 60-day money-back guarantee.
2. Bitdefender: fast and accurate antivirus software with tons of extras
Bitdefender cleans up both known and unknown malware files at lightning-fast speeds, and that too, with little to no impact on your device's performance.
There’s no dearth of add-ons, either, and you’re getting a VPN, a firewall, and safe banking tools. Make the most of its 30-day money-back guarantee to see how it compares to Norton.
3. McAfee: the best antivirus for big families
McAfee Antivirus Plus and Total Protection Plus are tailor-made for you if you want to protect tons of devices on a single plan. Plus, they also come with a password manager, identity theft protection, and 24/7 tech support for added security and convenience.
However, if you want absolutely everything McAfee has to offer, I’d recommend opting for Total Protection Ultimate.
How to pick an antivirus to secure your phone
Malware detection rate should be at the top of your list when you’re out shopping for antivirus software. While I recommend providers with detection rates of over 95 percent, make sure you don’t pick a program that gives out a lot of false positives, either.
You also don’t want to punish your phone in the name of security, so choose an antivirus that doesn’t take up a lot of system space nor affects your device’s performance—both while it’s in the background and when it’s running scans.
Depending on how tech-savvy you are, you can either go for a set-it-and-forget-it option or look for tons of customization under the hood.
Now, one of the most important considerations is the level of security you want and how many devices you wish to protect simultaneously. Almost all antiviruses keep multi-device support behind the paywall of their premium plans.
However, full-fledged internet security suites can be incredibly value-for-money purchases, as they come with a ton of extra cyber security tools for an added layer of protection, including dark web monitoring, parental controls, password managers, backup software, identity protection, and online storage.
How we test antivirus software
We test the top antivirus software by deliberately throwing malware (including custom-made malware files) at it, attempting to access harmful websites, and stress-testing it under different conditions.
Next, we evaluate the program’s performance and its impact on the system. For this, we take a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 with a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage containing 43.3GB of files and record the time it takes to sort through a database of 20,000 names and addresses on our tailor-made Excel test. We do so five times and take the average of the results as the baseline.
Then we run the Excel routine again with the antivirus software in the background and once more when it’s running a scan – the difference between the time it takes to scamper through these tests and the laptop’s baseline performance is the antivirus’s impact on the system.
For accurate insights into the program’s malware detection scores, we leverage the test results from three independent testing labs: AV-Comparatives in Austria, AV-TEST in Germany, and SE Labs in England.
Using antivirus FAQs
What does antivirus do?
Antivirus offers real-time protection against malware and viruses, identifying and eliminating them as and when they enter your device. Additionally, you can initiate a manual scan (which can be a quick scan or a full-fledged device-wide scan) at a time of your liking to eliminate any lurking threats.
Is free antivirus enough?
While free antivirus software can offer robust protection from malware and other threats, premium products offer extra protection and features, such as identity theft protection, parental controls, dark web monitoring, and even bundled VPNs and password managers so you can get the trio at one-third the cost. That's not all, though – paid solutions also don't come with pesky ads and popups, which you may have to put up with in the case of free solutions.
The best password manager in 2024
The best password managers do more than just store your passwords and personal details – they can also detect weak passwords and generate strong alternatives to replace them, keep you protected from data breaches, and enhance your productivity by automatically filling up online forms.
The following are the best password managers you can get right now:
1. 1Password: the best password manager overall
1Password is the best password manager you can get right now, courtesy of its easy-to-use apps across all popular distros – and great sharing features mean that it's just as good for families and businesses.
2. Dashlane: the best password manager interface
Dashlane isn’t just super secure, but it’s also one of the best for those new to password managers, thanks to intuitive interfaces across the board.
It’s admittedly not the cheapest, but a bulk password changer, a bundled Hotspot Shield VPN, and dark web monitoring make it worth every penny.
3. Keeper: the best password manager for security
Keeper is a feature-packed solution that boasts perhaps the best security of any password manager, including biometric access to your passwords on your desktop.
Its free plan is a delight for thin budgets, as it comes with everything you’d normally find in a premium plan, except for only cross-syncing across various devices.
How to choose a password manager to secure your phone
One of the most important factors to consider is the features on offer. While all of the top password managers can store an unlimited number of passwords and passkeys, employing top-notch encryption methods and zero-knowledge architecture, they’re not all equal – they may or may not offer biometric login, two-factor authentication (2FA), or weak password/website detection.
If convenience is a top priority for you, look for a password manager that can also store your credit card numbers, personal information, and other frequently used information so that it can fill out online forms in a jiffy.
Do you want to protect multiple devices simultaneously? If so, I’d recommend providers like NordPass and Dashlane that offer robust sharing features and sync various devices in real time – plus they come with easy-to-use apps and browser extensions.
It’s worth noting that while free password managers can be a sound choice if you’re pinching for pennies, you’ll have to make sure that you choose a reliable and feature-packed service like Bitwarden that doesn’t lock essential features, such as cross-platform synchronization and unlimited storage, behind a paywall.
However, if you want all-around protection from all sorts of cyber threats, paid solutions are the way to go, as they offer extra security in the form of data breach alerts, dark web monitoring, bundled VPN/parental controls, and more.
How we test password managers
We follow our testing methodology and compare and review the top 30 password managers and rank them based on their security, storage capacity, compatibility, and value for money, among other core aspects.
For this, we try out their desktop apps, mobile apps, and browser extensions on a variety of devices and platforms—a ThinkPad T470 running Windows 10, a Samsung Note 20 smartphone, an iPad Pro, and Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox.
We check if everything, including features like auto-fill, works as it should, how easy it is to use the apps, and whether the support agents can come up with fast and accurate solutions to whatever query we throw at them.
Password managers FAQs
Do password managers work with apps?
All of the top password managers offer compatible apps for mobile and desktop, and you can also protect multiple devices on a single plan, thanks to features like cross-platform synchronization. Moreover, smartphones combine password managers with biometrics, passcodes, and/or face ID to crank up security, which may not be available in the browser versions.
Can password managers be hacked?
Short answer – yes.
Password managers can be hacked because, at the end of the day, they're akin to any other computer system. Two popular and recent examples are Passwordstate and LastPass where the hackers managed to infiltrate the system and steal personal information.
However, you can rest assured that all of the tools on Tom’s Guide's best password managers page have a clear record of safety, as they use industry-standard encryption and zero-knowledge architecture.
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Olivia joined Tom's Guide in October 2023 as part of the core Future Tech Software team, and is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.
- Krishi ChowdharyContributor