WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
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Consider the recent VPN news that hit the internet this month: British-Israeli digital security software provider Kape Technologies buys ExpressVPN for $936 million in September 2021, the largest deal ever within the industry. This year alone, VPN usage has increased drastically, many services have vastly improved, and the online privacy industry has grown into a massive revenue generator.
To get the full scoop on the current state of the VPN industry, we did some digging. Here is a combination of the most important statistics, key trends, and data surrounding VPNs as it relates to everything from rising cybercrime to the providers themselves.
COVID-19 & VPNs
COVID-19 has been on the agenda for a couple of years, with many businesses suffering due to the impact of lockdown restrictions and other economic factors. Of course, VPNs were largely free of these issues, especially as growing numbers of users flocked to their services as they spent increasing amounts of time at home.
We’ll begin with facts and stats surrounding VPN usage and COVID-19.
- COVID-19 was a key factor in the rise of cyber attacks. (Fraud Crime Trends Annual Assessment, 2021)
- VPN usage in the United States surged during the coronavirus crisis, increasing 124% during the two weeks between March 8 and March 22, 2020. (Statista, 2021)
- This increase was also seen elsewhere, including Italy (175%), Spain (62.1%), and Germany (48.4%), (Statista, 2021). It’s worth mentioning that Italy and the US were the two regions most affected by the virus during this period in 2020. Therefore, COVID-19 played a major role in the increased adoption rates of VPNs.
- In 2021, 20 percent of respondents increased their virtual private network (VPN) capacity by 76%. (Statista, 2021)
- More than 16 million Covid-related cyber threats were detected in 2020. (AtlasVPN, 2021)
COVID-19 has increased VPN usage for criminal elements and normal users alike. An increase of over 100% in the US is also notable, especially as it’s one of the bigger markets worldwide.
- The U.S. currently accounts for a 34.8% share in the global VPN market (GIA, 2021). Even as we slowly begin to leave lockdown procedures behind, the long-term effects of the pandemic will still be felt in the workplace.
- Remote work and VPNs are anticipated to remain long after the pandemic fades. In fact, “a lot of organizations are going to find that their structure now incorporates remote work permanently. It just won’t be as feasible to return to the old situations. That means VPNs are becoming an integral part of more businesses’ networks, and faster than expected.” (International Journal of Engineering Applied Sciences and Technology, 2020)
- 30% of employees report that their company recently implemented remote work capabilities for the first time. (OpenVPN, 2020)
Cybercrime & VPNs
Cybercrime is always a worrying prospect and has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis. This led to a recent coordinated effort by law enforcement and judicial authorities in Europe, the US, and Canada to shut down the Russian-based VPN service DoubleVPN.
The head of Europol’s EC3, Edvardas Šileris, said:
“Law enforcement is most effective when working together and today’s announcement sends a strong message to the criminals using such services: the golden age of criminal VPNs is over. Together with our international partners, we are committed to getting this message across loud and clear.”
With that in mind, here are stats relating specifically to VPNs and cybercrime in 2021.
- 2021 was the first year in which law enforcement took direct action against users connecting via DoubleVPN. They noted that “it is the first time law enforcement has been able to take direct action against a criminal enabling service of this type.” (NCA, 2021)
- 80% of reported fraud in the UK is cyber-enabled. (ActionFraud, 2020-21)
- Over 300 million individuals were affected in 1,108 US data breaches and exposure incidents in 2020. (AtlasVPN, 2021)
- In North America, the main reasons the VPN market continues to grow are the increased risk of cybercrime and thus the need to protect enterprise data. (GIA, 2021)
- In regards to personal data, internet users in the US and UK were most concerned about cybercriminals and hackers (66%) first and foremost. The second most popular cause for worry was domestic governments (40%), social media companies (37%), and foreign governments (34%). (Global Web Index, 2020)
- Apple macOS malware development surged by over 1,000% in 2020. In fact, 674,273 new malware samples were discovered in 2020, compared to 56,556 in 2019. (AtlasVPN, 2021)
- Cybersecurity Ventures expects global cybercrime costs to increase by 15% annually over the next five years, possibly reaching $10.5 trillion USD each year by 2025, which is up from $3 trillion USD in 2015. (Cybersecurity Ventures, 2020)
Fraud is increasing at a rate unseen, fuelled by faster internet speeds and a changing global climate.
Cybercrime, VPNs, and Business
Cybercriminals target businesses as well as individuals, which makes sense considering the large sums of money at stake. Here are further cybercrime stats that relate to VPNs and businesses around the world.
- The average total cost of a data breach has increased by 10% since 2014. The consolidated average total cost in this 2020 study was $3.86 million, a slight decrease from $3.92 million in 2019. (IBM Security, 2020)
- With the major influx of remote workers, phishing and ransomware attacks increased by 11% and 6% respectively in 2021, and instances of misrepresentation increased by 15 times compared to last year. (DBIR, 2021)
- About 83% of UK businesses face phishing attacks as threat penetration looms. (Cyber Security Breaches Survey, 2021)
- VPNs are essential for remote workers to securely access sites. However, per the NSA, “without the proper configuration, patch management, and hardening, VPNs are vulnerable to many different types of attacks.” (NSA, 2020)
Regardless, VPN use is also increasing for businesses according to recent stats. Peep below to see how.
- In today’s threatening cyber scene, many industry verticals are utilizing VPN services to ensure the complete protection of their business data while in transmission. (GIA, 2021)
- Roughly 59% of Canadian organizations used VPNs to protect themselves from cyberattacks in 2020. (AtlasVPN, 2021)
- Moreover, AtlasVPN also found that Canadian enterprises most preferred VPN services as their main defense against the rising cyber threats in 2020. (AtlasVPN, 2021)
- Nearly 70% of employees polled by OpenVPN say their companies expanded business VPN usage, and 29% say their organization started using it for the first time. (OpenVPN, 2020)
- Of the 21% of polled employees whose companies have never used a VPN, 71% went on to say their companies are still neglecting to use the security tool, despite switching to remote work. (OpenVPN, 2020)
We generally focus on commercial VPNs, but the majority are used for business, especially as many office workers have switched to a home environment. It’s interesting that 29% of the OpenVPN respondents said that their organization started using VPNs for the first time last year, highlighting that many aren’t equipped for the switch to WFH conditions.
Who keeps an eye on the providers? The VPN industry is growing by almost every imaginable metric, so what are the key stats for this year? Let’s take a look.
- The VPN industry is expected to be worth $31.1 billion in 2021 (Statista, 2021) In and of itself, that’s a significant amount. It’s worth mentioning that it’s a growing industry, with new providers popping up all the time. Research suggests that the VPN market was only worth $16.15 billion in 2016, giving an indication of the rapid growth seen in recent years.
- Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the VPN global market was originally estimated to hit $32.2 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach a revised size of $77.1 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 15.3% over the analysis period” (GIA, 2021). If it’s a big business now, it’s projected to be gargantuan in the future.
- “Many [VPN providers] misrepresent the physical location of their vantage points. 5-30% of the vantage points, associated with 10% of the providers we study, appear to be hosted on servers located in countries other than those advertised to users (An Empirical Analysis of the Commercial VPN Ecosystem, 2018).”
- Almost 90% of all VPN services are offered by companies founded after 2005. (ACM Internet Measurement Conference 2018) Not to mention, there are so many VPN services nowadays, with many owned by the same umbrella companies.
- VPN downloads sky-rocketed to 616 million in the first half of 2021. In 2020, people from 85 selected countries downloaded VPN applications over 277 million times. (Global VPN Adoption Index, 2021)
- British-Israeli digital security software provider Kape Technologies bought ExpressVPN for $936 million in September 2021, the largest deal ever within the industry. (Reuters, 2021)
- A consumer VPN may protect someone from being seen by the ISP, but that comes at a cost. The ISP might not see the activity, but now the VPN provider does. (Forbes, 2021)
- The consumer VPN market is projected to hit $834.1 million by 2024 at an 11.1% five-year compound annual growth rate. (IDC, 2020)
VPN Users & Usage
What about us, the VPN users who make up a significant segment of the online space? Here’s what we discovered:
- VPNs are used by roughly 31% of internet users, with the largest percentage found in Indonesia (61%). (Surfshark, 2020)
- This is an increase from 28% in 2017. (Global Web Index, 2020)
- The countries with the lowest VPN adoption rate in 2021 so far are Japan, Madagascar, and Japan. (Atlas VPN, VPN Adoption Index 2021)
- 57% of those that don’t use a VPN say it’s because they don’t need it for personal reasons. (Security.org, 2021) Although, even if you have nothing to hide, it’s worth taking an interest in what happens to your personal data.
- Interest in VPNs has remained high throughout 2021 according to Google Trends. Countries like Myanmar (100/100) and Turkmenistan (96/100) have especially high search rates. This can be seen in the screenshot below. (Google Trends, 2021)
- An Ofcom study found that only 7% of newer users had a VPN for the purposes of hiding their location. This rose to 13% for established users. (Ofcom, Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019). The Ofcom study raises a valuable point, in that a VPN is more likely to be utilized for its primary purpose by advanced users.
- 72% of US and UK VPN users opt for free services; 36% pay to use theirs (Global Web Index, 2020). Having checked the education level and the income of respondents, the GWI report concluded that “even for the highest earners, free VPNs are more popular than paid ones.” Clearly, there’s an online awareness gap that needs to be filled here.
- “VPN usage skews toward the more educated, and they’re more popular with tech-savvy younger generations. But they are making more headway with older age groups. VPN usage has grown by 37% among baby boomers since Q2 2017.” (Global Web Index, 2020)
- Further research confirms the above. A study by Cornell found that “students are mostly concerned with access to content and privacy concerns were often secondary.” (Understanding How and Why University Students Use Virtual Private Networks, 2021)
- Furthermore, “they made tradeoffs to achieve a particular goal, such as using a free commercial VPN that may collect their online activities to access an online service in a geographic area. Many users expected that their VPNs were collecting data about them, although they did not understand how VPNs work” (Cornell, 2021). As always, people are willing to make sacrifices in the name of free content.
- This is despite credentials for more than 21 million mobile VPN app users being exposed and put up for sale in March 2021. (Malwarebytes, 2021)
- Approximately 57% of mobile users used VPN apps to unblock more TV content, movies, and games compared to 54% of PC or laptop users (Security.org, 2021). This essentially means that it doesn’t matter which platform/device is used; the majority of respondents simply want to access better content.
- In a poll, 52% of respondents used an iOS device with a VPN. This dropped to 37% for Android. Desktop device VPN usage was far lower, as Windows scored 9% and macOS just 3%. (Security.org, 2021)
- Over 56% of all VPN users access Netflix each month. Whereas in Canada and Mexico, only 49% of all VPN users admitted to using VPN for Netflix streaming. (Global Web Index, 2020)
- Gen Z and Millennials account for 75% of users of popular VPNs. (Security.org, 2021)
- As well as skewing towards younger age groups, VPN users are more likely to be male (62%) than female. (Statista, 2021)
- About 41% of users in the United States and the United Kingdom claim to use a virtual private network (VPN) at least once a week. (Statista, 2021)
- A 2020 GWI report found that 36% of VPN users in the US and the UK used the technology daily. At the other end of the scale, 10% of respondents said they used a VPN less often than once per month. (Global Web Index, 2020)
Key VPN Insights
Considering the stats and data above, we’ve listed a number of insights relating to the various findings.
- Everything from privacy concerns to COVID-19 has helped to accelerate the adoption rate of VPNs over the last 18 months.
- Rising cybercrime is also a factor in the increased use of VPNs.
- VPNs continue to be used globally, with slight discrepancies between age and gender.
- There is still some pushback from a section of internet users, while many in locations like the US and the UK prefer to use a free service.
- In the West, it’s unlikely you’ll get in trouble for criticizing the government to the extent you would under an authoritarian regime like China or Australia. This could potentially be an explanation as to why users from the US and the UK are more willing to give up personal data by using a free VPN service.
- Accessing entertainment is still extremely important for the average VPN user. To that end, US Netflix is the preferred option.
- More commercial and business usage has caused projected industry figures to increase, leading to record sales this year.
- VPNs are typically used by young people, even if they’re not as willing to pay for a service compared to older consumers.
Best VPNs in 2021
The best VPN providers do share some commonalities, but it will depend on what you’re planning to use it for. Here’s a quick roundup of our Editor’s Top Picks for 2021.
Best Overall: CyberGhost
CyberGhost has a powerful server network and is also one of our top pick for streaming content. It’s fast, secure, and easy to use, and you’ll also be able to use torrents freely.
Best for Privacy: NordVPN
Privacy might not be the most important aspect for the average user, but NordVPN also has a massive list of high-speed US servers and airtight encryption. It’s also reliable and offers connection speeds that are often unmatched.
Best for Gaming: Surfshark
Surfshark will unblock numerous streaming services, is affordable, and allows for unlimited device connections. Their no-logs policy is also verified by Cure 53, and it’s a great choice for gaming enthusiasts looking to up their connection performance.
Best for Security: IPVanish
IPVanish is a solid VPN service that, for the most part, has garnered significant trust from users. It’s our top pick for security overall, deploying industry-leading AES-256 encryption and offering a host of advanced security features.