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ProtonVPN Review - The Lowdown

Marc DahanProtonVPN Review - The Lowdown

VPNs used to be a niche product for geeks, but times have changed. 

Many non-techies now subscribe to VPNs for reasons that go beyond enhancing one’s privacy: to stream geo-restricted content, to block ads, to bypass restrictive firewalls, etc.

But the main purpose of a VPN still remains to protect your digital privacy. 

On that front and others, not all VPN providers are the same. In this post, we take an in-depth look at ProtonVPN’s service to see if we can recommend them.

Short on time? 
Here's what matters most.

ProtonVPN logo

Our score: 

9.0/10

ProtonVPN was created by the same people behind the secure email service, ProtonMail – which is probably the most secure email service available to the public. So the service benefited from an already strong reputation for privacy and security.

The folks behind ProtonMail and ProtonVPN are a team of CERN scientists, who came together to provide a safe digital environment for activists and journalists. 

Their VPN service includes robust security features, such as strong encryption, a strict no-logging policy, secure protocols, DNS leak protection, and a VPN kill switch.

Do we recommend ProtonVPN? Absolutely.

Visit ProtonVPN (34% off)

ProtonVPN Overview

[vpn vpn_1="ProtonVPN"]

About ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN is a relatively new Switzerland-based VPN provider. They're very much focused on privacy - more so than on bypassing geo-restrictions and unblocking Netflix - though they do that too. Their ProtonMail secure email has a strong reputation and it looks like their VPN service is set to follow suit. And while it may not be the cheapest VPN service we've seen, it clearly is one of the better ones, and quality doesn't (usually) come cheap.

Positives

  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Native Applications
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Secure Core
  • Tor Over VPN

Negatives

  • Not much, though WireGuard support would be welcome (hint: it’s coming).

What to Consider Before Buying a VPN Subscription?

trustworthy VPN service needs robust policies concerning:

  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Anonymity

Now, I’ve written this many times: A strict no-logging policy is more important than jurisdiction. Though jurisdiction is still important.

But what would be the point of using a VPN located outside of the 14 Eyes alliance if the VPN provider logs your traffic? 

If your VPN provider logs your activities, there’s no telling where your data might end up. And law enforcement agencies could be pretty high on the list.

As far as ProtonVPN is concerned, they commit to a strong no-logging policy AND are located in Switzerland, outside of the 14 Eyes. So nothing to worry about here.

The other thing to consider is the payment methods the VPN provider accepts. 

Not everyone thinks about this, but the money trail you leave behind can compromise your anonymity and privacy. A trustworthy VPN provider who’s committed to privacy should always accept cash, bitcoin, or both.

ProtonVPN accepts both.

Features & Convenience

Speed

I performed a quick speed test while on ProtonVPN’s network. 

I ran the tests on a 100Mbps download and 30Mbps upload connection. When testing over my ISP connection, I’m getting exactly that: 100 down, 30 up.

The tests were run while connected to a New York server, which is geographically close to where I am actually located.

The speed test was performed three times, for added accuracy. And the average of the three tests is used as the final value.

ProtonVPN Speed Tests

Tested on a 100Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network

Server: U.S.A., New York

Average Download Speed: 90.42Mbps

Average Upload Speed: 35.60Mbps

So on two of the three tests, I’m getting either very close to my ISP speed or slightly above it – really good. 

On one test, I’m getting a noticeable decrease in speed. But this is likely due to network volatility.

This is very good performance.

On the upload side, I’m getting a little bit more bandwidth than what is officially allocated to me by my ISP. Again, this is likely due to network volatility, but who can complain when it gives you more bandwidth?

And of course, were I to connect to a faraway server, there would almost certainly be a bigger speed decrease – this is normal

Also, enabling Secure Core would inevitably slow down my connection due to the traffic being bounced over multiple locations. Again, this is expected behavior.

So speed does not seem to be an issue with ProtonVPN. This is an impressive performance.

Pricing

ProtonVPN pricing
ProtonVPN's different subsription plans.

ProtonVPN is pricier than most VPN providers around. But they offer rock-solid privacy – that’s never going to be free, or can it…?.

They offer three subscription terms and a free option:

  • Free – 1 device, throttled speed, no other features included. But gives you the same level of privacy and security as the paid tiers.
  • Basic – 2 devices, full speed, access to P2P, no other features included.
  • Plus – 5 devices, full speed, all services except ProtonMail included.
  • Visionary – 10 devices, full speed, all services including ProtonMail.

Each subscription can be purchased on a monthly, yearly, or bi-yearly basis. And the cost changes according to the term.

Basic: 

  • 5$/month – monthly
  • 4$/month – yearly
  • 3.29$/month – bi-yearly

Plus:

  • 10$/month – monthly
  • 8$/month – yearly
  • 6.63$/month – bi-yearly

Visionary:

  • 30$/month – monthly
  • 24$/month – yearly
  • 19.96$/month – bi-yearly

While the monthly prices may seem high, they can go down dramatically if you purchase a 2-year plan. 3.29$ is an excellent price.

All subscriptions are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Streaming 

ProtonVPN operates a streaming-friendly service. There are many advantages to streaming over a VPN, such as:

  • The security benefit of a fully encrypted connection
  • Mitigating ISP bandwidth throttling
  • Circumventing geo-restrictions

And Netflix?

Netflix Logo

You probably already know that Netflix actively blocks VPNs from accessing its service, since January 2018. 

They do this in order to respect the geo-restrictions content producers and publishers impose on their content.

Since the Netflix ban, some providers claim to be able to bypass the block. Of those who make the claim, some actually unblock Netflix, while others do not.

ProtonVPN makes that claim for Netflix U.S. and delivers on it. But only for Netflix U.S. 

tested it and it worked perfectly.

Netflix US
Streaming Netflix US over ProtonVPN's network.

Torrenting / P2P

ProtonVPN Torrenting
Torrenting over ProtonVPN's network.

ProtonVPN allows P2P file sharing over their network. They provide dedicated servers for torrenting. And only allow it on those specific servers. 

The P2P-friendly servers are marked in ProtonVPN’s server list.

Be sure to use a supported server for P2P. If you do not, you will be disconnected and an error message will be displayed informing you that you need to change servers in order to continue torrenting. 

Simply disconnect and reconnect to a supported server.

ProtonVPN provides a support document explaining this.

tested P2P over ProtonVPN’s network, and it worked very well. 

Visit ProtonVPN (save 34%)

User-Friendliness

Supported Platforms

ProtonVPN supports:

  • macOS
  • Windows
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Many routers. 

Good coverage.

Native Apps

ProtonVPN App
ProtonVPN's native macOS app.

ProtonVPN provides native applications for the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android

Again, this is good coverage.

I found the native macOS app to be clearly laid out and easy to navigate. Good stuff.

Number of Devices That Can Connect Simultaneously?

The number of devices that can simultaneously connect to ProtonVPN’s network depends on your subscription plan

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Free – 1 device.
  • Basic – 2 devices.
  • Plus – 5 devices.
  • Visionary – 10 devices.

I feel the Basic plan should include more than two devices. But that’s just me.

The Number of VPN Servers Available?

ProtonVPN Servers

ProtonVPN provides access to 865 server locations, in 50 countries. That should be more than enough for most.

Do They Support Multiple Server Hops?

ProtonVPN Secure Core

A VPN server that supports multiple hops, bounces your traffic over a second or a third VPN server. This makes you much harder to identify because of the additional hops obfuscate your connection further.

ProtonVPN supports multiple server hops through a feature they call Secure Core

If you enable Secure Core (available in all of the ProtonVPN apps), your traffic will first be routed to the Secure Core servers before going to the VPN server you chose to connect to. 

The Secure Core servers are hardened VPN servers in key (safe) locations. The Secure Core feature performs multiple server hops within the Secure Core network before sending it off to the VPN server you selected.

ProtonVPN provides a support document explaining Secure Core.

Blocks Ads & Trackers?

ProtonVPN does not support ad & tracker blocking at this time.

We hope to see them add that feature in the near future.

Tor Support

ProtonVPN Server List

ProtonVPN provides Tor Over VPN servers that route your traffic from the VPN server to the Tor network. 

Tor Over VPN is much like multi-hop, but the second hop is Tor, which also bounces your traffic over several locations.

The Tor Over VPN servers are clearly marked (grey double arrow) in their server list on their website and inside their apps. And ProtonVPN again provides a support document explaining the feature.


Logs and Privacy

Let’s now turn to ProtonVPN’s policies

This is of capital importance when assessing how private and secure a VPN service is.

Have they ever spied on their users at the request of law enforcement?

We found no evidence that ProtonVPN has ever spied on its users. And they don’t publish a warrant canary.

Given ProtonVPN’s positioning and reputation, I have absolutely no reason to believe that they would engage in such a breach of trust. 

And looking at TorrentFreak’s Which VPN Providers Really Take Privacy Seriously in 2020? VPN guide, we find this:

“[Q:] What steps would be taken in the event a court orders your company to identify an active or former user of your service? How would your company respond to a court order that requires you to log activity for a user going forward? Have these scenarios ever played out in the past?” 

“[A:] This type of request has never been made for ProtonVPN. That said, ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland meaning it would be illegal for us to cooperate with any foreign law enforcement or court unless specifically requested to do so by the Swiss authorities. However, even in this scenario, the only information we would have access to would be the username, email address and billing information for existing users. This data is deleted when an account is deleted.” 

Use a temporary email address to signup and pay with cash or bitcoin for maximum privacy. 

You can also use Vanilla VISA cards set up under a random identity for online payments. This is good advice for any VPN

Digital payment trails are a fact of life…

Would they warn users if/when compromised by law enforcement?

It is impossible for me to answer this question, unfortunately. 

But I would again recommend paying with cash or bitcoin, to mitigate the chances of you needing a warning…

How do they respond to DMCA notices?

From TorrentFreak’s VPN guide:

"Our Anti-Abuse and Legal team investigate the complaints we receive in that regard with all evidence available and take a decision on whether there is good cause to believe that the mentioned accounts are involved in such activities, in which case they are suspended. We always use Swiss law as our reference for such complaints." 

Good stuff.

Logging Policy

At the top of ProtonVPN’s privacy policy, is a statement on their no-logging commitment:

ProtonVPN Privacy Policy

Turning to TorrentFreak’s guide, we find this:

"Each time a user connects to the service, we only obtain a timestamp of the last successful login attempt. This gets overwritten each time a user successfully logs in. This does not contain any identifying information, such as IP addresses or locations. We retain this limited information to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks. However, we do not share any of this data with third parties.” 

Privacy Policy

ProtonVPN’s privacy policy is pretty standard for a trustworthy VPN. They commit to no-logging and explain what they mean.

Like all VPN providers, payment information must be kept on file in one form or another. This does enable the technical capacity to identify their users. 

So while ProtonVPN is a trustworthy provider, I nonetheless recommend paying with cash or bitcoin, while stressing that this is good advice for any VPN service you choose to subscribe to.

Other than that, their privacy policy is transparentclearly written and easy to understand.

Visit ProtonVPN (save 34%)

Security and Encryption

Supported VPN Protocols

ProtonVPN Protocols

ProtonVPN supports: 

  • IKEv2/IPSec
  • OpenVPN

These are both very secure VPN protocols. And we’re glad to see ProtonVPN not offering insecure protocols, like L2TP/IPSec & PPTP, to their users.

It would be nice to see them provide WireGuard access as many other VPN providers do now. But this is in the works and should be available soon.

Encryption Level & Supported Ciphers

ProtonVPN Encryption

ProtonVPN only supports the AES-256 cipher, for both VPN protocols. This is in line with most providers.

AES-256 is a very common cipher. It has been tried & tested, is very secure, and contains no known vulnerabilities.

DNS Leak Protection

ProtonVPN DNS Leak Protection

DNS Leak Protection works by running no-logging DNS servers that can only be accessed from within the VPN tunnel. A serious VPN provider will set up its own no-logging VPN servers and ProtonVPN does just that.

It is the default. Your DNS queries are protected while on ProtonVPN’s network.

VPN Kill Switch

ProtonVPN Kill Switch

A VPN Kill Switch will stop any traffic from going out onto the Internet (unencrypted) should your connection to the VPN server ever drop. 

This is a very important functionality, particularly for devices that may be unattended for some time.

All of ProtonVPN’s apps include a VPN Kill Switch.

In Which Jurisdiction is the VPN Provider Based?

Swiss Flag

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a strong no-logging policy is more important than jurisdiction.

But with ProtonVPN, we get the best of both worlds. 

ProtonVPN commits to (and details) a robust no-logging policy. And they are located in Switzerland, a country outside of the 14 Eyes alliance, which has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.

If you want more information on the 14 Eyes Alliance, have a look at our 5, 9 & 14 Eyes: What Does It All Mean For VPN Users? article.

Do They Have a Warrant Canary?

warrant canary is a statement, made on a frequently published document, that a service provider has not received a secret warrant or a gag order from law enforcement. 

The provider can then take the warrant canary down, to send the signal that they’ve been compromised, without violating the gag order they’ve been served.

ProtonVPN does not publish a warrant canary at this time.

Do They Own or Rent Their Infrastructure?

It would be preferable for a VPN provider to own all of its servers. And some do. But that approach doesn’t scale very well. 

That’s why most VPN providers who do own their entire infrastructure tend to offer a limited number of servers.

As for ProtonVPN, they do both: they own their Secure Core servers, we discussed earlier. And rent out the rest from trusted data centers.

Here’s how ProtoVPN answered the question when asked by TorrentFreak:

"While we own our Secure Core entry servers, we do also utilize rented infrastructure. We only use physical servers that we can fully control as opposed to virtual servers meaning the hardware is dedicated solely to ProtonVPN, giving us a higher degree of control and making it more secure. All rented ProtonVPN servers are secured with block-level disk encryption. By implementing full-disk encryption on all our servers, we can protect our certificates and mitigate the risk of MITM attacks. And yes, all our servers implement DNS servers." 

Have They Ever Been Hacked?

As far as I know, ProtonVPN has never been hacked.

What Information Is Collected at Signup?

ProtonVPN’s signup process is easy and straightforward. They only require a valid email address and a valid payment method.

We always recommend paying via cash or bitcoin.

Accepted Payment Methods

ProtonVPN accepts the following payment methods:

  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • PayPal
  • Cash
  • Bitcoin

All in all, very good stuff


Standout Features

ProtonMail

That’s right. I chose an email service as a standout feature for a VPN provider.

Simply put, ProtonVPN builds upon the reputation of ProtonMail. ProtonMail is a secure email service that supports PGP

PGP is an email encryption algorithm, geared specifically towards email, that is deemed very secure – though slightly difficult to use properly. 

With ProtonMail, the PGP configuration is handled by the ProtonMail app, and using solid email encryption is made very easy.

It’s also a standout feature because, if you subscribe to the Visionary plan, a fully-featured ProtonMail account is included. So it actually is part of their VPN offering.

I use ProtonMail every day. I love it.

Secure Core

Another standout feature for ProtonVPN is Secure Core. Secure Core is a security-minded approach to multiple server hops. 

When enabled, regardless of which VPN server you choose to connect to, you will first connect to the Secure Core servers and then you will be redirected to the VPN server you selected.

This affords you more securityprivacy, and anonymity. If ever your exit server is compromised, the attacker will only be led back to the last hop: Secure Core. 

And it won’t provide the attacker with anything they didn’t already know: you’re using ProtonVPN.

Visit ProtonVPN (save 34%)

What Others Are Saying

pcmag.com

PCMage_small

“At first blush, ProtonVPN's restrictively tiered pricing plans might seem a bit off-putting, but those tiers provide flexibility most competitors can't match. The company also offers a rare, truly free experience that doesn't limit your bandwidth or push ads. ProtonVPN has staked its reputation as a privacy-focused company, which is a refreshing change after seeing so many other VPNs emphasize speed and video streaming. It also has a remarkably good-looking client, which is not something every VPN can claim. All that, coupled with the company's focus on technological excellence, is a powerful combination.” 

vpnpro.com

VPNpro Logo

“ProtonVPN is suitable for security-first users who are willing to wait when this service grows their server and location numbers. It is a hugely ambitious project, lead by the CERN employees, and already the best choice for those who want a free VPN.” 

vpnmentor.com

VPN Mentor Logo

“ProtonVPN delivers some excellent security features to maximize your anonymity, as well as a strict no-logs policy. The app interface has one of the most user-friendly designs we have tested. Despite the positives, ProtonVPN’s prices aren’t as competitive as some other top VPNs, and the network speeds are a bit below average.” 


ProtonVPN Alternatives

Private Internet Access

Our score: 8.5 

Visit Site

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a U.S. based VPN service. They put a strong focus on privacy and security while offering a large number of features. 

They also have a strict and proven no-logging policy. They have over 3386 servers in 42 countries. They support many VPN protocols, including the obsolete and insecure PPTP protocol (unfortunately). 

PIA is also one of the cheapest high-quality and secure VPN services out there.

  • Based in the United States
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • Blocks ads & trackers
  • SOCKS5 Proxy support included
  • Over 3386 servers in 42 countries
  • One of the least expensive high-quality VPN Providers

NordVPN

NordVPN Logo

Our score: 8.5 

Visit Site

NordVPN is an excellent VPN service, based in Panama. They offer a great mix of security, privacy, and convenience. 

DNS leak protection, CyberSec, strong encryption, VPN kill switch have you covered on the security front. 

A strict no-logging policy, a thoughtfully written Privacy Policy, Bitcoin payments, and a Panama-based jurisdiction have your back for privacy

And dedicated P2P servers, native apps for every major (and not so major) platform, and up to six simultaneous connections (or more with a VPN router) make the service very user-friendly.

  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Native Applications
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Ads & Tracker Blocker
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Tor Over VPN

Surfshark

Surfshark logo

Our score: 9.0 

Visit Site

Surfshark is a VPN provider based in the British Virgin Islands, which was founded in 2018. 

They take a strong stance on user privacy and security, while still offering some very convenient features, such as background P2P routing.

Their sign-up process is minimalistic, in that it only requires a valid email address from you.

They only support IKEv2 and OpenVPN. And while this may seem restrictive, we commend Surfshark for not weakening their users’ security by supporting insecure or obsolete VPN protocols

Surfshark offers a very good service with a strong focus on privacy. And at 1.99 USD per month, it’s the least expensive, serious VPN service we’ve seen.

  • Industry-Standard Encryption
  • Native Applications
  • Strict No-Logging Policy
  • Ads & Tracker Blocker
  • VPN Kill Switch
  • Passed Security Audit in 2018

Conclusion

ProtonVPN is a security-focused provider that offers some excellent features for the privacy-minded.

They already had a very good reputation coming from their impressive ProtonMail service. And much like their email service, ProtonVPN has some robust policies in place for security and privacy.

And if you’re concerned with jurisdiction, this Switzerland-based, security-focused VPN provider should definitely be on your shortlist.

Recommended.

Visit ProtonVPN (save 34%)

Further Reading

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