What Sets ProtonVPN Apart From The Rest of the VPNs?

It has been a while since the last serious VPN provider entered the market. Until now that is… The VPN landscape had almost gotten boring, with existing providers mostly adding servers to expand and trump (pun intended) each other’s foot prints. Ok ok, HMA Pro VPN found a way to get around Netflix’s region restrictions, no small feat I might add, but that was about it. Therefore I am excited to see that our beloved ProtonMail has added their long awaited ProtonVPN service, and it has some really cool features, including supporting Netflix…

Summary

If you don’t want to read the whole review, here are the highlights:

  • ProtonVPN is based out of Switzerland, which has strong privacy protections
  • No logs
  • ProtonVPN has an impressive array of privacy and security features, such as physically protected servers, strong encryption, the option to route your traffic through several VPN servers or Tor, perfect forward secrecy, DNS Leak protection…
  • Prices range from free, to USD 4/month for a basic plan, USD 8/month for the standard package, to USD 24/month for the super duper plan.
  • ProtonVPN offers native apps for many operating systems and getting started is point and click
  • As of this writing they have 347 servers spread over 31 countries.
  • You can watch US Netflix
  • Only supports Credit Card and PayPal payments at this time.
ProtonVPN Servers

ProtonVPN Servers

Full Review of ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN is a primarily community supported and community developed VPN, based out of Switzerland. It is a feature-rich VPN brought to you by the same group of people who developed ProtonMail. As with ProtonMail, they are taking privacy and security serious, seriously serious.

Here is how they keep your data and web traffic secure:

Strong Encryption

ProtonVPN encrypts their network traffic using AES–256, uses 2048-bit RSA for key exchange and HMAC with SHA256 for message authentication, which is about as good as it gets. To prevent people from getting hold of your data at a later time the implemented perfect forward secrecy.

Forward Secrecy

To enhance the privacy and security of ProtonVPN’s encrypted traffic, ProtonVPN selected encryption cypher suites that have perfect forward secrecy. This means they generate a new encryption key with every connection making it almost impossible to compromise any given tunnelling session. All of that means very little if the protocols you use aren’t secure to begin with, so they limit the protocols you can use on the network.

Protocols

ProtonVPN only supports OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec, because those are the two most reliable protocols.

Talking about reliability, and we all know just how reliable our smartphones and computers really are, ProtonVPN has a few features that protect your privacy in case something goes wrong.

Kill Switch and Always-on VPN

This ProtonVPN features does exactly what it sounds like, it ’kills your Internet connection (blocks all your internet traffic) and automatically reconnects to a VPN server. The advantage of these two functions is that your real IP address is never revealed to anyone only, thereby protecting your privacy.

DNS Leak Prevention

DNS Leak prevention means that ProtonVPN routes DNS queries through the encrypted tunnel to their own DNS servers, making sure your browsing activity is only exposed to ProtonVPN DNS servers.

So far so good, but where ProtonVPN really sets itself apart from the competition is in a feature they call Secure Core.

ProtonVPN’s Secure Core

ProtonVPN offers a service they call ‘Secure Core’ to their Plus and Visionary customers. Typically a VPN connection is routed through a single VPN server, at least that is how most VPN providers do it. Secure Core passes traffic through ‘multiple’ servers (the exact number isn’t specified, but it would have to be at least two by definition) to protect against an adversary that has gained control of a VPN server, such as a state surveillance agency that coerced a VPN provider into assisting with their network monitoring. ProtonVPN placed their Secure Core servers in secure countries (Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland) and locations, to provide customers with a level of security that other providers just cannot achieve with their current configurations.

And just in case you don’t trust ProtonVPN 100% or you would like to access onion websites, you can also connect to Tor from right within your VPN session.

Tor over VPN

ProtonVPN has Tor already built in, so you can route your traffic not only through Proton’s VPN network but also through the Tor Network . An additional benefit of this functionality is that you can access Onion sites with a single click.

No Logs

If you followed the VPN space carefully, you might have noticed that a couple of ‘no-log’ VPN providers mysteriously were able to provide those non-existing logs to law enforcement. We are looking at you HMA, IPVanish, PureVPN!

Here’s my opinion on that, and I wouldn’t fault you if you don’t agree with me. No-one in their right mind endorses criminal activity, but the definition of ‘criminal’ or ‘illegal’ is a matter of interpretation; therefore I won’t get into that discussion. However, if your terms and conditions state that you ’ do not keep logs’ then that is what you committed yourself to do and you should NOT be able to provide said logs to law enforcement, period!

I firmly believe in looking at what people and companies do and not what they say. For that reason I cannot endorse HMA, IPVanish or PureVPN. It really is that simple.

ProtonVPN’s No-Log policy is pretty simple: ‘ProtonVPN respects its users’ privacy and enforces a No Logs policy. This means your VPN connections remain private and we do not store information about your connections or the websites you visit.’

While we are dealing with the legal stuff, let’s have a quick look at ProtonVPN’s terms of service and Privacy Policy.

Terms of Service

ProtonVPN’s terms and conditions are relatively short. They state the basics, don’t do anything illegal, don’t hold us responsible if anything goes wrong, how their 30-day money back guarantee works, and that everything is governed by the laws of Switzerland. The Switzerland part is important, because if anyone even wanted to try to get information about you, they’d have to do that within the Swiss legal system, which has pretty good privacy protections. Which brings us to the next point:

Privacy Policy

The Privacy Policy is equally as easy to read stating that ProtonVPN does not log your activity in regards to your VPN usage, except for timestamps, your last login attempt to prevent brute force hacking. This timestamp is overwritten the moment of your next login.

Their privacy policy also covers the use of the website, setting up an account and paying for their service. I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary reading through this information, except for your ability to request that all of your data associated with your ProtonVPN account can be deleted per your request.

How does ProtonVPN work?

I signed up with ProtonVPN end of November and have been using it since. I installed the service on my Mac, my iPad and my iPhone and the installation was a breeze on each device.

After logging in, connecting to their servers is fast and easy and worked flawlessly. Other than doing my work primarily online, I use the Internet like an average user, listen to music, watch videos, upload photos and short movies, and all of this worked perfectly. Connection speeds are slower than my Internet connection without VPN; however, that is to be expected. Engaging Secure Core slowed it down again, and yes, that too was to be expected, because now the traffic goes through at least one additional server. What is important though is that in either case I was still able to use my Internet connection as I normally would without noticing any difference.

ProtonVPN No VPN Speed

ProtonVPN No VPN Speed

ProtonVPN Speed

ProtonVPN Speed

How much does it cost?

ProtonVPN’s price is slightly higher than the average VPN service; however, you get what you pay for, a solid product that simply works. ProtonVPN has 3 pricing tiers, just like everyone else, a Basic version with limited features for USD 4/month, a Plus version for USD 8/month which gives you all of their VPN features and the ability to use 5 devices, and a Visionary version which will set you back USD 24/month that offers use on 10 devices and includes a ProtonMail account.

ProtonVPN Pricing

ProtonVPN Pricing

If your VPN needs are very basic, you just want to test their service, or you are just looking for a backup VPN in case your preferred provider isn’t available at the time, they also offer a Free version which limits your access to 3 countries, a single device and lower speeds.

Payment Methods

Currently ProtonVPN accepts PayPal, Credit Card and Bitcoin payments. While paying via PayPal and Credit Card is straight forward, for Bitcoin payments you need to have an existing account or contact ProtonVPN directly via a link you can find on their support pages. That leaves only one question remaining, and that is how do you sign up?

ProtonVPN Payment Methods

ProtonVPN Payment Methods

Money Back Guarantee

ProtonVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee for the unused portion of your subscription period. The way to do it is to first downgrade your plan to the Free version and then request a refund. Easy!

How to get ProtonVPN?

Signing up for ProtonVPN is easy, even easier if you already have a ProtonMail account as you can just add ProtonVPN to it. Just download the ProtonVPN client native to your device and log in with your ProtonMail username and password, it couldn’t be easier.

If you want privacy, ProtonVPN offers a great product for a good price. Their secure core feature and optional Tor routing seriously enhance privacy and help set ProtonVPN apart from the rest of the VPN providers, making it a serious contender in the VPN space. I appreciate that they keep no logs and that they give users the option to request deletion all of their data from ProtonVPN’s servers. However, reading through their Threat Model, it is clear that they have thought things through and aren’t afraid to tell things like who they really are. There is no 100% security or privacy, a sufficiently motivated (and funded) adversary still has a chance to uncover what they are looking for; the trick is to make that as difficult and costly as possible.

With that in mind, sign up for ProtonVPN to protect your privacy and data in a world that is becoming ever more adversarial by the day.

We’d love to hear what you think about ProtonVPN. Please comment below!

Image Credit: Binary Koala

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