ExpressVPN has become a household name – or at least as close to one as a VPN is likely to get – by taking on top advertising on sites like YouTube. In our roundup of the top nine providers in June, it came out on top for streaming services, frequent travel and gaming. But notably, it wasn’t the best overall, lacking in areas like security and user-friendliness.
There are three main VPN use cases over general security: geoblocking, streaming, and gaming. This means my tests looked like watching Shrek on the hour, using a VPN to access Canadian Netflix from my US-based home office, where the ogre movie isn’t currently available.
ExpressVPN was easy to sign up for, download, and use, but compared to other services, it didn’t wow me. Competitors like ProtonVPN, for example, had easier ways to sign up across platforms. But an ExpressVPN subscription comes with a password manager to automatically save and fill credentials across websites. This is a plus in a world where complex passwords are essential to keep your accounts secure.
The best VPNs stay out of your way and you’ll barely notice they’re running. But one oddity was that ExpressVPN internet speeds exceeded our basic internet speed measures. The service is likely to bypass ISP traffic shaping or a similar anomaly because any other VPN will hurt internet speed in some way. But it successfully masked the IP address and passed DNS and WebRTC leak tests as privacy measures.
It was also easy to access geo-blocked content using ExpressVPN, with little to no buffering. There were some loading delays that only lasted a few seconds when I tried to stream YouTube news using ExpressVPN, but there was no lag after that. Finally, ExpressVPN passed the gaming test by avoiding lag and maintaining a normal loading time. Although, it was a fairly basic test where I logged into the online game Slither.io from a UK-based VPN to play worm competition with international users. Surfing the web with ExpressVPN was just as easy as being online without it. With ExpressVPN, a ping test measured how long it takes data to travel from the computer to the server and back at 100 milliseconds, versus 16 milliseconds without the VPN enabled.
The biggest advantage of ExpressVPN is that it supports up to five devices at once. This means I could run all the tests at the same time and still have no slowdown. This is great for sharing it with a family or people who like to play, watch TV and scroll on their phone at the same time. It’s the main reason ExpressVPN landed as our top choice for streaming and gaming. The connection was strong, had a wide range of servers in 94 countries and provided clear setup instructions for each device.
But from a security standpoint, I found myself asking for more. ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which the company touts because the territory lacks any foreign intelligence operations and does not participate in the 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing agreements. But it’s owned by Kape Technologies, which also owns competitor CyberGhost, and Kape has a troubled history that includes spreading malware. Not only that, in 2021 the Department of Justice charged ExpressVPN CIO Daniel Gericke with cyber espionage activities on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. ExpressVPN stood by the CIO in a blog post.
But it’s not all bad. ExpressVPN publicly shared security audits of its mobile apps, protocol and desktop apps last year. This is a win for security transparency. However, a 2021 Consumer Reports study found that ExpressVPN did not support multi-factor authentication, did not meet brute force mitigation checks, and retained some data even after an account was closed. ExpressVPN, however, exceeded industry standards in protecting against unauthorized access, implemented a vulnerability disclosure program, and said it would not pursue legal action against security researchers. This means that when it comes to security standards and practices, ExpressVPN as a company has a lot of mistakes and not enough successes.
I recommended ExpressVPN as our top choice for gamers, frequent travelers, and heavy users of streaming services because it allows users to access a wide range of locations from a variety of devices with high-speed, lag-free connections. With options to configure directly on routers and game consoles, it’s a solid choice for people who overcharge their ISPs. Still, there are better VPNs for the security-conscious or those who want something more affordable.