ProtonVPN: Some Positives, but Fails in Key Areas

ProtonVPN

$8
7.2

Price

7.0/10

Security

8.5/10

Features

7.5/10

Speed

6.5/10

Support

6.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful apps
  • Double VPN
  • Tor over VPN

Cons

  • Limited server network
  • Limited choice of platforms
  • Slow speeds
  • No live chat support

ProtonVPN is slick. (Silly) Hollywood hacking movie kind of slick, but done tastefully. The design aesthetic and color scheme does a great job at inspiring quality and confidence. It’s founding story reads like the manifesto for internet privacy.

Exploring ProtonVPN’s website set the bar pretty high, so when I found out that there was no native app for iOS, I huffed. The company is still young though – it was founded in 2014 – so that’s forgivable.

I download the app on a Windows machine. Here’s what I found out.

Features

Servers

ProtonVPN’s server network comprises 303 servers spread across 27 countries. They are:

  • America: Canada, Brazil, and the United States
  • Europe: Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom
  • Asia: Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, and Singapore
  • Africa: South Africa
  • Oceania: Australia and New Zealand
  • That’s a very small count. Very small in fact. No presence in the Middle East, no servers in China, none in Russia, or South America, and much of Asia.

Tor over VPN

ProtonVPN comes with Tor support built-in. Users can use select ProtonVPN servers to route their traffic through the Tor network and access Onion sites on the dark web. That is possible using servers in Hong Kong, Switzerland, and the United States.

Peer to Peer File Sharing

P2P is also allowed, but only using select servers as well. P2P sharing is possible using servers in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Singapore.

Secure Core

ProtonVPN’s brand name for the feature more commonly known as ‘double VPN’. Simply put, ProtonVPN has the ability to route your traffic through two VPN servers before reaching its destination.

This feature is applied to a limited number of countries, countries ProtonVPN deems as ‘high-risk jurisdictions’. That’s the US, Canada, Italy, the UK, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, France, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Depending on your final destination, rerouting happens through either Switzerland, Iceland, or Sweden, countries that are protected by strong privacy laws.

Sometimes governments are able to break into VPN servers and monitor traffic. Having your data pass through another VPN server before reaching the compromised leaves snoopers with much less information about you than what would have been possible had the traffic been incoming straight from your computer.

ProtonVPN sees Secure Core as one of its biggest selling points. It is the first feature that they advertise on the Features page on the website. Perhaps a bit too seriously?

“Critical infrastructure in Switzerland is located in a former Swiss army fallout shelter 1000 meters below the surface. Similarly, our Iceland infrastructure resides in a secure former military base. Our servers in Sweden are also located in an underground data center.”

Platforms & Simultaneous Connections

What ProtonVPN doesn’t mention often on its website is the number of supported platforms. Windows, Mac, and Android have native apps; iOS is supported via OpenVPN, same for Linux.

Aside from that, I was able to find a guide to setup ProtonVPN on a DD-WRT router.

A free ProtonVPN account will work on just one device, the Basic package will run on two devices, the Plus package – the one comparable to the main packages of other VPN service providers, in both price and features – will run five devices, and the Visionary package, which includes ProtonMail, runs on 10 devices simultaneously.

Security

Protocols

ProtonVPN uses OpenVPN for all its apps, which makes me wonder about the likelihood of a ProtonVPN iOS app coming into existence. Cos the company even goes as far as to diss operators that use other protocols. “Even though they are less costly to operate,” the website reads, “you will not find ProtonVPN servers that support PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. By using ProtonVPN, you can be certain that your VPN tunnel is not using a protocol that has already been compromised.”

IKEv2 doesn’t sound so bad to me though…

Location & Logs

ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, a country that offers strong legal protection for its netizens. And while it is not a member of 14 Eyes, the country has been described as a cooperating member of the security alliance.

The Swiss law does not obligate companies to retain any user connection logs, nor can it be forced to perform targeted logging on specific users.

DNS Leak Prevention & Kill Switch

DNS servers translate what you type into the address bar into numeric names that the machines understand. If exposed, this information will reveal your destination. With ProtonVPN, DNS queries are routed through an encrypted tunnel and do not end up at third party DNS providers.

The Kill Switch, on the other hand, acts as a fail-safe for when your VPN connection drops. Without a Kill Switch, your communication would automatically default back to your original IP.

Support

ProtonVPN does not offer live chat support on its website. Your recourse will have to be either their knowledge database, which I found rather hard to navigate – the search functions listed too many results at times and I was left with the trouble of sifting through them to find what I want, or to contact their support team via email.

Speed

ProtonVPN is slow. I ran tests for servers in the US, the UK, France, and Germany. The results were mediocre at best.

Download speed dropped 40.3, 37.9, 28.4% and 56.2 percent respectively in those countries, whereas upload dropped 55.4%, 61.1, 68.7% and 41.8% respectively.

How bad is this? Well, you have to put it in context of the…

Price

At $8 a month for a yearly plan, it’s pretty bad.

ProtonVPN prices

ProtonVPN is a neat looking application but doesn’t hold very well when it comes to performance. There are positives: the apps are well designed, the features are impressive (Secure Core is a brilliant idea and Tor over VPN is a prized find), but the small server network, the lack of live support, and the slow speeds killed it for me.

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