Whether you own a Chromebook or just use the Chrome browser, a VPN can improve your online privacy, bypass censorship, and unblock content. Many of the best VPNs now make browser extensions, but not all of them are trustworthy, and some aren’t really VPNs at all. In this article, we’ll look at what makes the best VPN for Chrome.
Below we’ve listed our top five most recommended VPNs for Chrome users, based on the following criteria:
- App design and features
- Speed and reliability
- Customer service
- Number of servers
ExpressVPN tops our list again thanks to security and performance that even the most privacy-conscious among us can appreciate, combined with an app so easy to use a toddler could use it. Performance is fast and stable. ExpressVPN can unblock pretty much anything. That includes being able to bypass the Great Firewall and watch Netflix in a browser or on the mobile app. ExpressVPN makes apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux (command-line), and certain wifi routers.
ExpressVPN makes a fantastic browser extension that manages your device’s native VPN connections. This is especially useful for Chromebook users that can’t run the Windows or iOS versions of the app. The extension does not function by itself, and requires you have ExpressVPN installed or configured first. The extension adds in some extra privacy features, including the ability to randomize the location reported by Google’s geo-location API to somewhere around the chosen VPN server. This prevents websites from learning your real location both through Google and via your IP address.
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Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN checks off all of our criteria plus it adds special servers. They include anti-DDoS, ultra-fast streaming, double VPN, and Tor over VPN. The service is completely logless and touts top-of-the-line encryption standards. It unblocks everything, including Netflix and Hulu, even on mobile apps. The apps let you easily connect either by choosing a location on a map or a server from a list. NordVPN makes apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
NordVPN makes a standalone browser extension that functions with or without installing the native NordVPN app. By itself, the extension only protects Chrome traffic. It also prevents WebRTC leaks that could expose your real IP address from your browser even with the VPN enabled. Nord’s CyberSec feature comes built into both the extension and the app to block ads, trackers, and malware.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
SaferVPN is an Israel-based provider that boasts fast speeds and a simple, lightweight app. The service unblocks US Netflix along with a few other geographically restricted streaming sites. The app uses 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, and an optional kill switch secure the VPN connection. SaferVPN keeps no logs.
A Chrome extension that functions as an HTTPS proxy is free up to 500 MB per month. After that, you’ll need a SaferVPN subscription to access the 34 server locations available. Upon installation, the extension requests permission to “read and change all your data on the websites you visit”, which is a bit disconcerting, but SaferVPN states, “There are no ads, no logs and we’ll never sell your data to third parties.” You’ll still need to install the VPN app to protect any apps or processes other than Chrome.
Read our full SaferVPN review.
Windscribe is an up-and-coming VPN provider from Canada. Among its many perks are unlimited simultaneous connections, no logs, and fast speeds. It works in China and unblocks Netflix US. Only the strongest encryption is used across a selection of VPN protocols. Windscribe doesn’t have a kill switch, exactly, instead opting for a firewall that “blocks all connectivity outside of the tunnel to ensure there is zero chance of any kind of leak.”
Windscribe makes one of the best browser extensions of any VPN company. It can be used independently but performs best when combined with the native VPN app. By connecting both at once, data is passed through two VPN servers, doubling the encryption and preventing attackers from correlating traffic and tracing it back to the user. Windscribe’s Chrome extension also blocks adds and removes trackers, including social media widgets.
Read our full Windscribe review.
StrongVPN is a veteran censorship bypasser, a favorite among users in China. It was also able to unblock Netflix and Hulu in our tests. Users can choose from SSTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN connections. Prompt customer service will be there to help you round the clock if you run into any issues. The network of servers spans the globe. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
StrongVPN makes a browser extension called Strong Proxy for Google Chrome. It’s a simple proxy that just changes your IP address—you don’t get any encryption. Several locations are available to choose from, which makes it suitable for unblocking geo-locked content, but you’ll want to rely on the StrongVPN app for privacy.
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Read our full review of StrongVPN
Browser extensions vs real VPNs
ZenMate, DotVPN, Hola … None of these browser plugins are real VPNs. In fact, most Chrome extensions cannot function as real VPNs at all. Instead, they are just encrypted proxies, usually SSL or HTTPS proxies. These Chrome extensions are VPNs in name only.
True, they function in a similar manner to VPNs. Traffic is encrypted (we hope) and sent through an intermediary server. This can help get around censorship, unblock websites, and protect your privacy.
But these “clientless” VPNs only encrypt traffic coming from the Chrome browser. A true VPN will encrypt all of the traffic travelling to and from your entire device. Furthermore, so-called VPNs that run solely as Chrome extensions are vulnerable to a number of security issues because they do not use OpenVPN or an IPSec-encrypted VPN protocol (L2TP, IKE, SSTP), both of which require a native client to be installed on the user’s device. Finally, they do not extend your network to access remote machines, a key defining feature of a genuine VPN.
Charlie Hosner, a security expert from the University of Michigan, details the vulnerabilities of clientless SSL VPN extensions in a blog post. Those vulnerabilities include man-in-the-middle attacks, worms, keyloggers, and remote management tools.
Furthermore, most free VPN services, whether they run as browser extensions or native apps, are severely limited. They impose bandwidth throttling, data caps, and waiting queues. Many inject tracking cookies and advertisements into your browser, which in effect can actually take a counterproductive toll on user privacy. The worst of them use a decentralized peer-to-peer structure, which eats up idle bandwidth on users’ machines, exposes them to a litany of threats, and in one infamous case (Hola) leverages everyone connected to the network to perform a massive botnet attacks and mine bitcoin.
So, the next time you Google “free VPN for Chrome,” remember that most of the top results you see are not true VPNs. If you want a real VPN, you’re going to have to configure it in your operating system or install a native application, not a browser extension. With very few exceptions, you’re also going to have to pay for it (note: ZenMate’s premium service is a real VPN, but the free browser extension is not).
How to install VPNs on Chromebook
Most VPN providers don’t make apps specifically for Chromebook like they do for Windows and Mac. Instead, VPNs must be manually configured on Chrome. Without the need to consider an app, you should choose a VPN based on speed, number of servers, reliability, and security.
Again, don’t resort to a Chrome extension calling itself a VPN if you value security. Instead, find the server configurations on your VPN provider’s website. You’ll need your username, password, server address, and shared secret.
With all of that information in hand, follow these instructions from Google:
- If you haven’t already, sign in to your Chromebook
- Click the status area, where your account picture appears
- Click Settings
- In the “Internet connection” section, click Add connection.
- Click Add OpenVPN / L2TP
- In the box that appears, fill in the information below
- Click Connect
How to prevent WebRTC leaks
Some apps that run inside Chrome require a feature called WebRTC. Those include extensions for torrenting, voice calls, and video chats. WebRTC was built into Chrome and other browsers so that separate plugins wouldn’t have to be installed.
A key way that VPNs protect users’ privacy is by masking their true IP addresses. Unfortunately, WebRTC can expose a device’s original IP address even when the VPN is enabled in what’s known as a WebRTC leak.
To prevent a WebRTC leak in Chrome, you’ll (somewhat ironically) require an extension. A handful are available, but this one is the official release from Google. Once installed, right-click the extension icon and go to Options. Check the box next to “Use my proxy server (if present):” and exit the pop up window to save your settings.
You should now be protected from WebRTC leaks when using a VPN.