Virtual Private Networks, short VPN, serve a variety of purposes. From providing unfiltered access to contents on the Internet over privacy and security benefits to bypassing country-locks of select services.
Regardless of for what it is used for, it works always in the same way. A secure connection is created from the local computer system to a remote server that is maintained by the VPN company. From there, connections to the Internet are established.
Internet traffic flows through the remote server so that Internet services communicate with it directly and not with the local system.
While there are ways to identify VPN connections, by maintaining a database of known IP addresses or using plugins to detect the underlying IP address, it is difficult if precautions are taken.
VPN services are offered in three different ways: as server information that users need to connect to using the operating system's networking options, as standalone programs that establish these connections, and as browser extensions or plugins for select programs.
This guide looks at extensions for the Chrome web browser. Since Google Chrome is based on Chromium, most Chromium-based browsers should support these extensions as well.
The main appeal of using an extension is that it is easy to set up. All it takes usually is to install the extension in the web browser to start using it. You may need to activate it, but you won't need to add server or authentication information anywhere to do so.
While that is beneficial, browser extensions are limited to the browser itself. This means that the VPN will only work for connections established in the browser and not system-wide.
We have only included extensions that meet the following requirements:
- The extension must be available in the Chrome Web Store.
- It needs to be compatible with Chrome Stable.
- A free version needs to be available.
- It may not inject advertisement into web pages or do other shady things.
You need to enter your email address on the welcome page after installation. The extension won't work otherwise. A password is generated automatically for you on the next screen that you can change there.
Once that is out of the way, the extension activates itself automatically and is ready for use.
It displays a small shield icon in Chrome's address bar which you can click on to display the status of the current connection. Here you can also change the VPN server location to the following ones: New York/United States, Frankfurt/Germany, London/UK, Zurich/Switzerland or Kowloon/HongKong.
Zenmate is free at the time of writing apart from the required registration. It offers unlimited traffic as well which will change in the future. The company plans to introduce paid Pro accounts in the future and when that happens, will limit the traffic of free accounts.
Performance: excellent, worked flawless with all services it was tried on including Hulu and Pandora from the US, BBC from the UK, and ARD in Germany.
Company headquarters: Germany
Terms of Service: https://zenmate.com/tos/
Hola Unblocker is a free extension for Chrome that uses a slightly different system than others. The free version of it uses bandwidth of users connected to it to power its service. This works similar to how torrent downloads work.
This cannot be disabled but users can sign up to become Premium users so that their devices are not used as a peer to power the service.
A premium account is available for $5 per month or $3.75 per month if paid yearly in advanced.
Free users don't need to create an account to use Hola Unblocker. It works automatically right after installation in Google Chrome.
A click on the icon in the address displays custom information. If you are on a specific site, you can select a remote server location that you want used for the connection.
Other options include opening the options, or configuring specific site and country links so that these connections are established automatically by the application when a connection to the site is made.
Performance: While connections to US-based and German-based websites worked fine and without any performance issues -- buffering for instance -- issues were noticed during connections to sites based in the UK. While contents loaded fine, buffering was an issue as the stream paused frequently.
Company headquarters: Israel
Terms of Service: https://hola.org/legal_sla
You need to create an account before you can start using the service. To do so, you are asked to enter your name, email address and password into the form in the Chrome browser.
The functionality becomes available right afterwards. A click on the icon displays various information about the currently selected remote server including its location.
You can use the menu to switch to another server that you want to connect to instead. A total of nine different locations are supported right now including the USA, Germany, UK, France, Japan and Russia.
While the initial service is free, the website only lists paid plans. There was no request to upgrade to a paid plan during tests, and it is not clear if one is displayed to users at one point in time.
Performance: The connection quality has been excellent for all tested servers. Streams from the US, UK and Germany played fluently and without any buffering issues or other issues.
Company headquarters: Hong Kong
Terms of Service: https://dotvpn.com/en/legal/website-terms/
TunnelBear Beta is a new browser extension for Google Chrome that provides you with access to TunnelBear's VPN network.
You can sign in with an existing account or create a new one, the latter is done within ten seconds as you don't need to verify the email address and are signed in automatically in the extension once you complete the sign up process.
You connect to one of the twelve VPN servers located in different parts of the world through the extension icon or a keyboard shortcut.
Free accounts are limited to 250 Megabyte of traffic per month which you can raise once by 500 Megabyte if you verify your email address.
Performance: The performance of the VPN is excellent. A speed test verified that on a 50/10 Mbit line which it nearly maxed out during the test. Not all streaming services worked (Hulu did not) but those that did work ran fine.
Company headquarters: Toronto, Canada
Terms of Service: https://www.tunnelbear.com/terms-of-service/
Four extensions that add free VPN-like functionality to Google Chrome do not seem like much but it should be completely sufficient for most users.
While there are other extensions that promise similar functionality, all that we tried did not work well or acted only as a proxy that did not support multimedia websites at all.
Now You: If you know of another extension that adds VPN functionality to Chrome, feel free to share it with everyone in the comment section below.