Out online privacy is incredibly important. Itís our right to have our electronic communication remain private and confidential.

CyberGhost 5
For those of you wanting total anonymity from the prying eyes of the government, nefarious hackers or some other clandestine group, then the key to your privacy is through the secure connections of a VPN. The problem, however, is finding one that provides the best anonymity against cost and speed.

CyberGhost version 5 was released some months ago amid rapturous applause and it's not surprising really, because it's quite simply one of the best VPN services we've ever used. Version 5 has a number of improvements over the previous incarnations of CyberGhost; first and foremost is the remodeling of the client application, which makes for a straightforward entrance to the CyberGhost servers. From here you can log into your account, if you have one or stick with the free unlimited service (which will auto-disconnect after three hours). The client will display your current location and IP address, but you then have the choice of simulating a country of origin or simulating a country- specific IP address.

Within the setting of the new client you'll find options to remove fingerprinting and block tracking sites, along with further tweaks to your network settings or entering an optional proxy address. The addition of a one-click connection button is a nice touch, as is the streamlined and uncluttered UI that informs you of the number of connected users and overall network speed. It's a clean yet powerful interface that may lack the bells and whistles of other products, but it far outweighs them in its real- world effectiveness.
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There have also been some significant speed improvements to and from the CyberGhost servers, with a further enhancement of the three protocols primarily used: L2TP, PPTP and OpenVPN. Our tests showed a slight drop in the overall speed of the broadband line, from a 75Mbps speed test when not connected to the CyberGhost servers to 65Mbps when we did conned, then to just 60Mbps when we connected using a US profile and IP address. Overall, more than enough to watch streamed HD content without any problems and the fastest anonymity service in the group.

There are three plans to choose from: the first is the free version, which has certain limitations but still grants you anonymity during the times when you're connected. The Premium plan comes next at £20.04 per year, which offers the choice of the three different protocols, the software to be installed on a single device/PC and access to all of CyberGhost's 267 servers across 23 countries.
Finally we have the Premium Plus plan at £44.99 per year, which will allow you to install the client software on up five different mobile devices or PCs. Naturally, you have a monthly payment option, but the yearly plans offer better value in the long run.

The AES256-bit encryption, coupled with the anti-fingerprinting and no logging policy that CyberGhost adopt means that you receive the best possible anonymity when online. The server and speed improvements have greatly advanced CyberGhost as one of the best VPN services available, far above what's available with the usual collection of free or lower paid VPN hosts.

If you're serious about your privacy online and you have several devices or computers that require this level of anonymity, then CyberGhost is certainly worth looking into. Just the iOS and Android device support alone is incentive enough for those who use public Wi-Fi hotspots. In short, an extremely effective product at a very reasonable price that more than justifies the cost.

Tor Project
There has already been much said about the Tor Project and how it can go a long way to making sure that your online activity is as anonymous as possible. But tor those of you who don't know, Tor is a method of bouncing your online communications through a distributed network of Tor relays, each of which is run by volunteers, from around the globe. In essence, its basic concept is to block sites from tracking you or learning your physical location and it also allows you to access otherwise blocked sites.

The Tor browser bundle is a free, portable, self-extracting package for Windows, Mac and Linux that when run will automatically connect you to the Tor network and launch a specially designed and modified version of Firefox. When it's up and running and when you start browsing via the Tor version of Firefox, all your connected online content is encrypted and routed through the aforementioned relays.

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The Tor browser bundle works effectively with any TCP applications, such as instant messengers, remote logins and other web browsers, but it's not a 100% anonymity product and it shouldn't be used in order to download illegal music or films, because this will put undue strain on the Tor network and ruin it for legitimate users. Also, the protocols that are used in P2Psites are often used to scan your IP address as it soon as it reaches you, so it can send back the actual IP address rather than the Tor-created one.

That said, Tor is an excellent third-party product to use if you want to stay anonymous for casual searching. The included Firefox, based on Mozilla's ESR (Extended Support Release) branch is patched to enhance the security and privacy functions, which includes blocking access to the 'Components interfaces' function, which can be used to identify the users' platform and blocking all plug-ins except for some Flash instances. Also it stops SSL sessions from caching their connections and stops Web Sockets from leaking DNS information. Needless to say, by using the Tor browser bundle you'll be relatively safe from online snooping from all but the most determined of individuals.

JavaScript and any leaks related to it are also plugged and blocked, as are Flash components and other such browser enhancements. Unfortunately, this means that your browsing experience through the Tor Firefox browser is severely hampered and as a result you obviously won't be getting quite the same content delivered via the browser as you would normally or through using a VPN, for example.

In addition to this limitation, there has been some talk recently suggesting the Tor network isn't quite as secure as everyone makes it out to be. Naturally, this could just be rumor created by some NSA shill or other agency employee paid to discredit the project. On the other hand, though, it could be true and you could be fooled into thinking you're anonymous when in actual fact everything you do and every site you visit is being closely monitored.
Tor is more like a starter pack for accessing the internet anonymously. It works, to some degree, but the sacrifice is the lack of speed and enhanced web content. If you want total anonymity, you're best off with a VPN solution.

HMA! VPN
Hide My Ass! VPN. Despite its colorful name. IS a very impressive UK-based service, which offers a list of features that are difficult to match, And it's quite possibly one of the largest and most comprehensives VPN services available. HMA VPN's strength lies in its infrastructure, with a total of 606 (at the time of writing) servers located in 153 locations throughout 75 countries.

It's available on a paid for only plan for the full anonymity experience, with a few extra free services such as a web proxy, IP Proxy and anonymous email facilities. There are three plans available: one month at $11.52 (£7.64), six months at $49.99 (£33.14) and one year at $78.66 (£52.15).

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There are many features that make HMA a good all- round service. The country selection tool, on-demand IP switching, timed/randomized IP switching, smart server load balancing, speed guide, speed testing and the secure IP bind are well worth the annual expense.

The country selection tool will change your IP address location to one of the 75 countries where the servers are housed. On-demand and timed IP switching will allow you to change IP addresses (from HMA's 75,000 IPs available) at the click of a button or every few minutes, depending on your selection. The Smart server load balancing will automatically hop you from one server to the next less used server without any noticeable drop in bandwidth. Similarly, the speed guide and testing will check your connection and find the closest fastest server for you to attach to.

Finally, the secure IP bind feature will automatically start any application you specify through the HMA VPN client and stop the program from launching if, for some reason, the client isn't active. This way, you can prevent any program from connecting to the world without first going through the VPN.

Unfortunately the HMA VPN servers weren't the fastest in the group. Our 75Mb line was being strangled and only using around 30% to 40% of its maximum bandwidth during our download tests, with an even more drastic loss of speed when we connected to a server in the US. However, despite the lack of speed, your IP address is well and truly hidden and the encryption levels used by HMA are military level.

There are a number of protocols used OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP with OpenVPN being the fastest of the protocols when used on UK servers. As for logging, being based in the UK means that HMA is subject to our data retention laws and is bound to keep a connection log for up to two years or longer if required. But the logs are kept in case the company becomes the victim of fraud or hacking attempts and. for the record, it does not record any details about the websites or services you're connecting to.

HMA! VPN is a very good albeit somewhat expensive, VPN client and set of services. Its sever speeds could do with an overhaul, perhaps even a VIP fast server access route for those who wish to pay a little more. The point is if you're not too bothered by the drop in line speed and you don't mind the expense, then HMA! VPN will do an admirable of keeping you anonymous.

JonDonym by JonDos GmbH

JonDonym, formally known as both JAP and just JonDo is a collection of Java tools presented via a simple client user interface.

There are two parts to the service as a whole. The first is the free client setup, which offers the JonDo IP Changer which, as you would expect, changes your public facing IP address to one of its servers in order to make you anonymous. This client, when installed, will act as a proxy service and forward all the traffic from your PC through the servers.

The second part is called JonDoFox and is essentially a pre-configured profile for Firefox that has been specifically optimized for anonymity. When used in conjunction with the JonDo IP Changer, the theory is that you're secure and well and truly hidden from the prying eyes of whomever you're attempting to hide from. Additional to the JonDonym service is the JonDo live DVD.

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This Debian-based Linux environment has been developed to offer a secure operating system through the JonDo tools and network. It's pretty good and allows you to surf, exchange emails and do the usual basic things you normally do on a PC but anonymously. Plus, the added security a Linux build offers also goes some way to helping with your anonymity and security.

The JonDonym service is free, with a premium edition available for those who require a little more. The free service is limited, as you would expect, to line speeds of just 30 to 50Kbps, HTIP/HTIPS ports, a single user, 2MB file transfers, two countries, two proxies and a very limited server availability. Needless to say, it's pretty pathetic. By modern standards, the limits imposed are used up in a matter of minutes, and the speed limit is simply ridiculous, to be honest.

The premium service isn't all that much better either. Some of the limitations are cut, but you're still limited to a line speed of just 900Kbps, two to three country-specific servers and three proxies. Considering you're going to be paying something in the region of £164 per year and you're still limited to a monthly volume of 5GB, it's pretty dire.

Our first few attempts at connecting to the JonDonym networks didn't fare too well. The connection was dropped time and time again, and when it eventually connected for any extended period, it was so shockingly slow that we may as well have plugged a 32K modem into the phone socket and used that instead.

The JonDoFox profile was also limited and provided a poor browsing experience. Like the Tor Project, so much of it was disabled that the content of even the most basic of sites failed to load up correctly. In other words, we could have used a command line browser and fared better.

JonDonym could have been an excellent anonymity service 15 years ago. These days, it's simply not good enough to compete with the Tor project on the free side, nor is it able to compete with the likes of a good VPN on the premium, paid-for side either.

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BTGuard
BTGuard is quite an infamous addition to this group. Highly recommended and endorsed by the piracy activist group that runs Torrent Freak, BTGuard has come under considerable scrutiny by the authorities and movie moguls who claim the only reason for its existence is to allow the illegal downloading of copyrighted content.

BTGuard operate three main server sites across the globe Toronto, Amsterdam and Singapore which, interestingly, are countries where the data retention laws are virtually nil. Between each of these sites are a cluster of 10Gbit lines, enough to provide a decent connection speed, along with 256-bit AES encryption, unlimited downloads and bandwidth and using OpenVPN and PPTP as the main protocols.

There are two main payment plans (no free version available, unfortunately), which differ slightly in their services to the users. First there's the Bit Torrent proxy client, which provides the users with a proxy IP address for use on torrent clients, in order to hide their activity. This package comes in at £4.21 per month or £37.89 for a 1 2-month period, offering you a 25%, discount.

The second package is an actual VPN-based, all in one service that simply hides your IP address behind the BTGuard servers and encrypts all incoming and outgoing connections through a virtual network interface. It costs £6.03 per month, with 12 months at £54.27 with the 25% discount again applied.

The pricing and services offered are where BTGuard is severely let down, in that it's rather a lot of money for just a change in IP address and some encryption on the connection. Plus the customer service option is a simple email ticket affair, and getting any further information regarding the service from the main site is like trying to get blood from a stone.

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The speed of the service was okay but nothing to get excited about. Amsterdam was significantly faster overall when compared to Toronto or Singapore, but that's to be expected. In all, there was something like a 600/0 drop in speed when connected to the Netherlands and roughly a 900/0 plus drop when connected to the Canadian and Asian servers.

Naturally, BTGuard is all about privacy and unrestricted use. Its privacy policy states that your details, used when making payments to the BTGuard service, are secure and will never be used by a third party, and similarly there is absolutely no logging of any form involved, whether that's the original IP address of the user or their usage of the service.

BTGuard, although good at protecting you, is just too pricey for what you actually get. For the same amount or thereabouts, you get a far better quality of service from HMA or CyberGhost. If it's just a change in IP address and some encryption you're after, then there are plenty of free services available, but it does depend on what you end up using the hidden IP addressing for; the emphasis here, though, is purely on the downloading of content through a torrent client.

Your Freedom
Your Freedom is a Java-based tunneling solution that aims to 'stick censorship where the sun doesn't shine'. Despite the colorful slogan, the service offered is pretty basic, but it's generally enough to cover your online goings-on and keep you fairly anonymous.

There are four packages available from the Your Freedom group: Free, Basic, Enhanced and Total. Starting with the free package, as you would expect, it's severely limited. Speeds of up 64Kbps, two hours of connection time allowed per day and 15 concurrent connections mean you'll only get basic surfing protection.

The Basic package ups things a little. The 256Kbps connection speed is an improvement but still not great. However, you do get unlimited usage and 50 concurrent connections.

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The Enhanced is better still and improves the speed restriction to 4Mbps, unlimited everything else and one hundred concurrent connections.

Finally, the Total package offers unlimited connections speeds and two hundred concurrent connections to the Your Freedom servers. The only issue therein lies with the cost: at a whopping £163.56 per year, it will drain your wallet faster than you can connect to the internet.

On the whole, the basis of the service is fairly good. Web proxies, SOCKS proxies, OpenVPN and various secure connections will keep you fairly anonymous while surfing. The Free package was diabolically slow, far less than the stated 64Kbps; likewise, the Enhanced package, which is supposed to offer far greater speeds, was still terribly slow and only measured in at about 20% of our overall connection speed. The speeds were enough Gust) to watch streamed content from sources around the world, but after a while the connection slowed until it dropped altogether. This happened continually until it refused to connect at all, stating that our connection had reached a maximum time limit, despite being on the Enhanced level.

The Java-based GUI is pretty bleak and is significantly bloated and slow. Plus we found that the server locations often switched without warning and wouldn't display country-specific content despite supposedly being located in that country.

Your Freedom is also required to retain logs of your usage, location preferences and activity for up to a maximum of three months, with the exception of a court order that can demand to see the details for up to a year. This means then that the logs and data are kept for longer than stated, which is a little worrying if you're especially concerned about your privacy.
Overall, Your Freedom is a pretty weak anonymity package and subsequently one of the worst performing of the group. Generally we'd use this service (the free package) as an anonymity backup resource - something to get us online and secure without being traced while we solve an issue with an alternative service, for example. It's certainly not worth the expense of using as a total solution.