Today we’re going to talk about VPNs that have ad blockers built into them. In many cases, using a VPN with ad blocking is an excellent strategy that offers advantages over traditional ad blockers.
Here’s how an ad blocker VPN compares to other approaches to killing pesky ads and trackers:
Ad blocking browser extensions are a great solution… but these only working within certain browsers and can be slow and inefficient.
Installing an ad blocker on your router protects everything on your network… but can be difficult to set up and can be a real problem if the blocker conflicts with sites or services you need to access.
A VPN with ad blocking can efficiently protect everything on your operating system (all browsers and apps) through the VPN itself. Of course, this means you need to have the VPN connected, or whitelist certain apps or websites that you want to route outside of the encrypted tunnel.
Finding a quality VPN with a built-in ad blocker can be a time-consuming and annoying task. So we did the work for you.
First, we’ll give you a quick overview of each VPN, with particular emphasis on their ad-blocking capability. We’ll also include links to our in-depth review of each VPN if you want to learn more before investing your money.
Here are the best VPN ad blockers:
NordVPN – Best VPN with built-in ad blocking
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 live chat|
NordVPN is currently the best VPN with ad blocking. They do everything you would expect of a great VPN, and are always hard at work implementing the latest in VPN technology. Most recently, they rolled out a custom VPN protocol (NordLynx) that provides full support for the super-fast, and extra-secure WireGuard VPN protocol. In our testing with NordLynx, we found NordVPN to be the fastest VPN with speeds up to 445 Mbps. It outperforms many other leading VPN services, as you can see in the NordVPN vs IPVanish comparison.
One of the best features of NordVPN, however, is CyberSec. CyberSec goes beyond just blocking ads. It also blocks trackers, malware, and phishing domains that could infect your device. When your browser queries the NordVPN DNS servers, CyberSec consults a list of websites (domains) known to host ads, malware, spyware, and trackers, and then filters (blocks) them from loading on your device in a fast and efficient manner. This results in a fast and lightweight VPN ad blocker.
When you visit a website that may be hosting questionable domains, such as ads and trackers, these domains will be automatically blocked from loading, without breaking the regular website you are visiting. CyberSec is extremely easy to enable and disable, which you can do directly in the NordVPN settings area of the VPN app:
Now that we have covered how Nord VPN blocks ads, let’s examine some other features of this leading VPN service. Here are some of NordVPN’s best privacy and security features that we haven’t already covered:
- Double VPN servers, which pass traffic through two servers for additional security
- Tor-over-VPN servers that add an extra layer of protection through Tor’s anonymity
- Obfuscated servers, which make your VPN traffic look like HTTPS traffic to avoid notice by censors. (This is a great feature if you need a VPN for China and anywhere else that blocks VPNs.)
- 100% RAM-disk servers, to enhance your security by ensuring no user data is available on any VPN server.
- Leak-free and secure VPN apps, thanks to built-in leak protection with a VPN kill switch.
NordVPN has conducted independent audits of their security and their compliance with their published no-logs policy. NordVPN’s encryption is very strong, featuring an AES-256-GCM cipher and DHE-4096 key exchange for Perfect Forward Secrecy.
NordVPN is currently rated as the best VPN for torrenting, an area where CyberSec’s defensive capabilities are particularly welcome. NordVPN is also an excellent VPN for streaming content from major services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer. You can use the NordVPN app if you need a VPN for Firestick, TV boxes, or Smart TVs, or any other streaming device.
NordVPN has over 5,100 servers in 60 countries. They give you 24/7 live chat Customer Support, a very low price, and a 30 day money-back guarantee on all plans.
Main drawbacks of NordVPN:
- The discounted prices are only available with a multi-year subscription.
See our NordVPN review for more test results and analysis.
Surfshark – High-end VPN and ad blocking performance for a low price
|Based in||The Netherlands|
|Support||24/7 live chat|
Despite being one of the newer VPNs (launched in 2018), Surfshark has all the trappings of a premium VPN service. It is equipped with all the features you would expect from top-rated VPN services: tons of servers, high-end security, a solid no-logs policy, automatic leak protection, the ability to unblock major streaming services, and a variety of specialized servers and advanced capabilities.
And did we mention that Surfshark is really inexpensive and one of the only VPNs around to support an unlimited number of simultaneous connections, 24/7 live chat customer support, and a 30 day money-back guarantee?
Now let’s examine how this VPN blocks ads with the CleanWeb feature, which is similar to NordVPN’s CyberSec.
Of particular interest to us here is CleanWeb, the Surfshark ad blocker.
Like NordVPN’s CyberSec, CleanWeb maintains a huge list of websites (domains) known to be malicious, invasive (trackers), or simply to be serving ads. When your device makes a DNS query, CleanWeb checks to see if the domain is on the bad-boy list. If so, it blocks content from that site to protect you from whatever foulness is lurking there. Anything using the VPN automatically gets protected like this, so apps running on your device (and using the VPN) are protected, not just web browsers.
To enable CleanWeb, simply dip into the Features section of the Surfshark client and turn CleanWeb on:
In addition to blocking ads and malware with CleanWeb, Surfshark keeps your connection secure by using the strong AES-256-GCM cipher and your choice of the OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard VPN protocols.
And like NordVPN, Surfshark is also a very fast VPN with ad blocking. In our tests for the Surfshark vs NordVPN comparison, speeds were similar with Surfshark approaching 400 Mbps on some servers. That’s far more than you would need for streaming HD content or any other high-bandwidth activity. Speaking of streaming, Surfshark does a great job unblocking all types of media websites. It is one of the best VPNs for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and many other streaming sites.
As of today, Surfshark has over 3,200 servers spread between 65 countries. And like we noted in our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison, Surfshark also runs all servers in RAM-disk mode to ensure no data is ever available.
Like our other best VPN ad blocker picks, Surfshark provides 24/7 live chat support and a full 30 day money-back guarantee with all subscription plans. These are the only drawbacks we could find with Surfshark:
- No WireGuard support for Linux (currently in development)
- Limited support for VPN routers (but can still be used with most firmware)
See our Surfshark review for more test results and analysis.
Perfect Privacy – Extra intense privacy and ad blocking protection
If the highest levels of privacy and security are your goal, Perfect Privacy merits consideration. Like NordVPN and Surfshark, Perfect Privacy has a strict no-logs policy, a kill switch, strong encryption, and several specialized features, including the intriguing NeuroRouting feature.
But what we are really interested in right now is TrackStop, the Perfect Privacy VPN ad blocker that can also filter out many other undesirable domains. TrackStop works like the other VPNs with ad blocking in that it checks for malicious sites and advertising domains when anything on your device makes a DNS query. But as you can see below, it does a lot more than just blocking ads:
But TrackStop goes even further, with built-in Parental Controls, and customizable filters so you can decide which filters you want active on your device. While each of our featured VPNs blocks ads and malware, TrackStop gives you more control over what exactly you want to block.
No white-listing feature – One drawback with Perfect Privacy is that there’s no white-listing feature. This means that if TrackStop is blocking access to a website you want to access, you will need to turn off the VPN, which can affect your online privacy and security. Conversely, NordVPN and Surfshark have white-listing options for both desktop and mobile apps. This means that you can simply white-list a website or application if it is conflicting with your ad blocker (and there’s no need to disable your VPN).
Another interesting feature of the Perfect Privacy VPN is its full support for IPv6. While most VPN services still don’t support IPv6 at all, Perfect Privacy has been doing so for years. IPv6 isn’t yet a “must have” feature, but it is clearly the wave of the future as the number of devices connected to the internet explodes. When IPv6 becomes urgent, Perfect Privacy users will be ready.
If you are looking for specialized servers, Perfect Privacy offers Stealth VPN, which disguises VPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic, and Multi-hop VPN, which passes your traffic through up to FOUR (4) VPN servers for a massive amount of encryption. (But we also find these features with NordVPN and Surfshark.)
While Perfect Privacy has many advantages that put it on this list, it does have a few drawbacks.
- No white-listing feature
- Above-average prices
- Does not work well for unblocking streaming media services, such as Netflix
- Their server network is smaller than most other VPNs (but still fast in our tests)
- Unlike the competition, they do not offer 24/7 live chat support, and their refund window is only 7 days
See the Perfect Privacy review for more test results and analysis.
Other VPN ad blockers (not recommended)
The VPNs above are not the only ones offering ad blocking. There are a few other examples, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Here are two examples:
CyberGhost ad blocker (traffic manipulation)
CyberGhost is an interesting case, but not in a good way. Instead of filtering ads and malicious
content via DNS requests, they actually look inside the traffic and modify requests to certain domains so they display content from Cyberghost instead.
This is problematic for a few reasons. First, manipulating traffic is something a trustworthy VPN provider should not do – even with good intentions. Secondly, this only works over http since https connections are encrypted and Cyberghost cannot (easily) access that content.
Looking into this issue a bit more, there is some interesting history to this. Back in 2016, CyberGhost made headlines because it was installing their own root certificate on a user’s computer, effectively doing a man-in-the-middle attack on all https traffic. Not only was the traffic processed locally, it was also sent back to a CyberGhost server that decided what to change.
Here’s an excerpt from when this controversy originally surfaced in 2016 [original source now appears to be offline]:
A VPN that installed a root certificate in your computer (like the [CyberGhost 5] version) will be able to attack all your SSL-encrypted traffic. This is otherwise known as a Man-in-the-Middle attack. CyberGhost can intercept and decrypt all of the data that goes through the encrypted link – even sensitive information such as email addresses, passwords, and bank account details. And it can re-encrypt the data and pass it to the website like nothing happened.
With the CyberGhost version tested for this article, there is no root certificate being installed. But because they are still using the same methods to filter traffic, that means their “ad blocker” does not effectively work on HTTPS websites. Basically, CyberGhost’s ad blocker is barely working, especially since it will be ineffective on all HTTPS websites. We cover this more in our CyberGhost review.
If that wasn’t enough, we have also found both speeds and streaming to be a major problem with CyberGhost. Despite advertising Netflix compatibility, we found this VPN to be blocked by Netflix servers in the US. Additionally, CyberGhost lags behind other leading VPNs with performance, as you can see in our CyberGhost vs NordVPN comparison.
PureVPN’s ad blocker (does it even exist?)
PureVPN promises an ad-blocker on their website:
PureVPN’s ad-blocker removes all kinds of ads and online litter while you’re browsing online. In doing so, it improves your browsing speeds by blocking images from consuming bandwidth, and analytics codes and scripts running in the background of the page you’re browsing online.
But when you open up the PureVPN app, you see that there are no specific settings for ad blocking.
Meanwhile, the website claims, “Every subscription plan includes PureVPN’s Content Filtering features without any extra cost.”
When testing the PureVPN client on various news sites, all ads and tracking were getting through. Nothing was getting blocked.
At this point, it was necessary to clarify with PureVPN what exactly was going on. Here is a transcript of the chat:
Visitor: Hello. I have a question about the ad-filter. Do i need to activate it, because it does not seem to be working
Visitor: for instance, i still see ads on theregister.co.uk and other sites
O’Brien: Well we do not provide add blocker with our service now
Visitor: huh? but it is advertised on your website? it says all plans include that
O’Brien: Could you please share with us the screen shot of that advertisement. It was offered in the past but not now
Visitor: sure one sec
O’Brien: Let me check – This is the content filtering and it does not
blocks any paid ad
Visitor: what does it block then?
O’Brien: This blocks the content which you don’t want to access.
It was clear that “O’Brien” was not going to provide any answers, so the chat was ended.
To follow-up on this pointless chat, the below questions were emailed to PureVPN support:
How do you define “Ads” in the context of your content filtering webpage?
What kind of content is being blocked, how is it determined?
How is the blocking of any content implemented technically?
PureVPN replied with a canned response and a random link that has absolutely nothing to do with ad blocking. PureVPN’s reply:
Thanks for contacting us. Ads can be quite annoying. Not only online popup advertisements ruin your browsing experience but they also end up leading you to malicious or spam URLs. Luckily, you can now block ads before they appear on your browser with PureVPN. Learn how to use content filtering and prevent ads.
At this point, the only conclusion I could reach is that there is no ad blocking feature and PureVPN was carrying out false advertising. Of course, this is not the only case of questionable business practices. PureVPN also cooperated with the FBI to hand over data logs, all while claiming to be a “zero logs” VPN service. We discuss this more in our review of PureVPN.
Best VPNs with ad blockers – FAQ
Here are some Frequently-Asked Questions related to VPNs with built-in ad blocking:
Why do ads track my online activities?
Most ads these days have two main functions: to sell you something, and to track your online activities. The “sell you something” function is annoying, but can serve a legitimate purpose. For many sites, their only source of income is those ads.
The “track your online activities” function of online ads is a threat to your privacy. Ads are usually fed to a site from third-party advertising domains. Unfortunately for us, when ads get sent to our devices, so do bits of code called trackers. The trackers allow the company that put them on your device to track where you go and what you do online.
This data about your browsing habits and preferences is used to send you highly-targeted ads. The better an ad is targeted to you, the greater the chance you will buy something. And when you do, both the advertiser and the website make money, giving both huge incentives to keep pushing the ads (and the associated trackers) at you.
How do ads track my online activities?
It isn’t actually the ads that track you; it is the tracker code that comes along with the ads. They use three main approaches to gather data about you: cookies, beacons, and fingerprinting.
Cookies are small files stored in your browser that help websites you visit identify you. Cookies can record data that helps you navigate a site, but they can also store your data.
Beacons are transparent images that get loaded when you load an ad. They are often 1 pixel by 1 pixel, making them unnoticeable to humans. Beacons can show a website how many times you loaded a page, and help advertisers find their ad impressions for monitoring the results of their ad campaigns.
Fingerprinting is done by recording information about your web browser and device settings. The ad company uses this information to identify you without even having to store anything on your device. (We have a guide on how to mitigate browser fingerprinting.)
Will a VPN ad blocker protect all my online activities?
No. The VPN ad blocker will protect anything that passes its data through the VPN “tunnel.” In addition, no ad blocking system is perfect, so some ads will always get through, even if all your traffic passes through the tunnel.
How does a VPN with ad blocking protect my privacy?
A VPN with ad blocking protects your privacy by preventing third-party ad domains from installing trackers on your device when they display their ads. By blocking the trackers, the VPN prevents the ad domains from collecting data about you.
How does an ad-blocking VPN keep me secure?
A VPN with ad blocking keeps you secure by preventing third-party ad domains from installing trackers on your device when they display their ads. By blocking the trackers, the VPN prevents the ad domains from installing malicious trackers or malware on your device. Sometimes this is done intentionally by the ad company. Other times, the bad stuff is added to an ad domain by hackers.
Conclusion: Combine a VPN with ad blocking for more privacy and security
The internet is getting clogged with annoying ads, trackers, and junk of every type. Go to any major website and while you are looking at the content, your device will quietly be getting bombarded with junk of every type in the background. For example, I just popped over to CNN.com, where uBlock Origin reported that it blocked 33 ads or trackers trying to get into my computer.
In the fight against the endless flood of junk that advertisers are trying to ram onto your device, a VPN with ad blocking built in is a powerful weapon. It can protect every browser, and every app on your device at once. While no ad blocker is perfect, any of the three VPNs we featured here make a great first line of defense. Add on a browser-based ad blocker like uBlock Origin, and you will be able to stop the vast majority of annoying ads and other dubious garbage that is trying to sneak onto your device.
VPN Ad Blocker Comparison Table
As a brief recap, here are the best VPN ad blockers that we have personally tested:
This VPN ad blocking guide was last updated on December 6, 2021.