I have been using ProtonMail for a while now, and when I had seen a couple of mentions about them starting a VPN service on Twitter I had to have a look and see what it was all about. This lead to me reading up on there new services ProtonVPN. And once on there website I was blown away! Some of the features and use cases that they mention show that they truly care about the people using their services. And protecting there users is paramount to them, you can tell from the fact that they offer an end to end encrypted email service. For people in a position were there privacy might be invaded while using the internet. So after reading all of this on the website I saw all of the features that it boasts, these include:
ProtonVPN’s Secure Core architecture gives our secure VPN service the unique ability to defend against network based attacks. Secure Core protects your connection by routing your traffic through multiple servers before leaving our network. This means an advanced adversary who can monitor the network traffic at the exit server will not be able to discover the true IP address of ProtonVPN users, nor match browsing activity to that IP.
Secure core servers are located in hardened datacenters in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden, protected by strong privacy laws, and operated on our own dedicated networks. Learn More
We use only the highest strength encryption to protect your Internet connection. This means all your network traffic is encrypted with AES-256, key exchange is done with 2048-bit RSA, and HMAC with SHA256 is used for message authentication.
We have carefully selected our encryption cipher suites to only include ones that have Perfect Forward Secrecy. This means that your encrypted traffic cannot be captured and decrypted later if the encryption key from a subsequent session gets compromised. With each connection, we generate a new encryption key, so a key is never used for more than one session.
We exclusively use VPN protocols which are known to be secure (OpenVPN). Even though they are less costly to operate, 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.
In addition to strong technical security, ProtonVPN also benefits from strong legal protection. Because we are based in Switzerland, ProtonVPN is protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy laws and remains outside of US and EU jurisdiction. This means that unlike VPN providers based in a fourteen eyes country, we cannot be coerced into spying on our users.
We are one of the only VPN companies that provide transparency so you know exactly who is running the service. Our team has a long track record in security, having previously built ProtonMail – the world’s largest encrypted email service. Whether it is challenging governments, educating the public, or training journalists, we have a long history of fighting for privacy online and contributing to the open source community.
We have gone to extreme lengths to protect ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers to ensure their security. 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 datacenter. By shipping our own equipment to these locations, we ensure that our servers are also secure at the hardware level.
No Logs Policy
Under Swiss law, we are not obligated to save any user connection logs, nor can we be forced to perform targeted logging on specific users. This allows us to ensure that your private browsing history does in fact stay private and cannot be turned over to a third party under any circumstances.
DNS Leak Prevention
ProtonVPN doesn’t just protect your browsing traffic, we also protect your DNS queries. By routing your DNS queries through the encrypted tunnel and not relying on third party DNS providers, we ensure that your browsing activity cannot be exposed by leaks from DNS queries.
ProtonVPN desktop and mobile applications come with a built-in Kill Switch feature which will block all network connections in the event that the connection with the VPN server is lost. This prevents a VPN server disconnect from inadvertently compromising your privacy by revealing your true IP address.
ProtonVPN comes with Tor support built-in. Through our selected Tor servers, you can route all your traffic through the Tor anonymity network and also access dark web sites. This provides a convenient way to access Onion sites with just a single click.
We respect your privacy so no personal identifying information is required to obtain a ProtonVPN account. You can sign up with an anonymous ProtonMail email account and use our anonymous VPN without disclosing your identity.
For optimal performance, we use only high speed servers. All ProtonVPN servers have at minimum 1 Gbps bandwidth, and many of our servers also utilize 10 Gbps connections. This means that even though we utilize only the strongest encryption, ProtonVPN also provides blazing fast speeds.
Easy to Use
We understand that it is important for security technology to be easy to use. We have designed the ProtonVPN applications to have a simple and intuitive user interface so that browsing privately and anonymously can be done with a single click. Additionally, you can create custom connection profiles which automatically protect your device whenever you connect to the internet.
So after reading all of the information listed above it was clear that ProtonVPN was not messing about, and frankly it was offering stuff that I didn’t even know I needed. And some other stuff I had never heard of before. This was mainly the “Secure Core” but the look and style of the windows application was also a huge draw.So the next step was to sing up and start using it, this was a very simple and straight forward process as I already had a ProtonMail account so I logged in using that and then went to active the VPN. I was given a few different packages ranging from free to around about $30 a month
The first thing that drew me into the ProtonVPN was after looking on the website, seeing something they call “secure core” after a little digging it turn out that the secure core adds a second layer of protection by routing your traffic through multiple servers. Meaning its a huge amount harder to track. This is something that I have not seen on any of the other services I have used that have all been highly rated across the web. And understandably every ones use case for a VPN service is going to be drastically different to one another but as I said before the company Proton cares about its users privacy. This leads onto another key selling point and that is that the company is based in Switzerland, and if you know anything about the Swiss law they have amazing privacy laws. And don’t extradite information to countries such as the UK or USA. This was shown during the huge amount of time that the PirateBay way one of the largest torrenting sites in the world and remained relativity untouched until about the past 5 years. This all adds up to some pretty good things to brag about.
The next thing to consider with any VPN is the price and if its worth it when there are so many others on the market, well I personally feel that ProtonVPN hits the market at right about the sweet spot. This is not only because they offer a free service (Obviously there are restriction, and due to the heavy demand much like when ProtonMail came out there is a waiting list to start using it) But even then the next step up is only $4 a month if an annual subscription is purchased, or $5 a month if paying monthly is more your thing. As you can see from the image below even the highest tier package is not hugely unrealistic for people to pay. It is also bundled with ProtonMail Visionary (This package is the top tier for the ProtonMail services that in my opinion is targeted at business due to some of the features they offer.
I decided to go for the middle ground and singed up to the Plus package costing $8 a month and bundled it with ProtonMail plus saving me 20% and after adding a second custom domain cost me the grand total of $13.60. And after using some other services and a little bit of research most of the other VPN’s out there tend to cost between $6 and $10 roughly. So this is not costing any more than your average VPN and is boasting features that I had not seen advertised anywhere before. And if you throw in a ProtonMail Plus subscription as well your not paying much more than you would for the top Netflix package.
So after signing up and getting into my ProtonVPN account I was excited to download the Windows application after seeing some screen shots on the website and there is a good reason to get excited. Unlike any of the other VPN’s that I have used it has a really pleasant GUI (Graphical User Interface) and an ascetically pleasing feel to it. This is done from the map of the world that it displays and the screen lines to show your active connections. They have managed to make it look really good and almost something that you can leave open on a second screen as a sort of wallpaper. When you compare this to other services such as SurfEasy and ExspressVPN it wins on looks hand down. Its not following what I believe is the standard VPN GUI and that’s a little window that lets you log into the services and then a drop-down box that offers you connection and then a connect button. And that’s amazing, so not only does it hit the sweet price spot while offering features that most other don’t it also looks and feels nicer to use than others on the market.
ProtonVPN with the secure core connected
ProtonVPN without the secure core connected
So the next thing I was looking for after signing up as mobile compatibility, naturally I use both my iPad and my smartphone on public WiFi networks. So I like for my VPN service to run on my mobile devices and ProtonVPN does run on mobile devices but not quite in the matter that I was expecting it to. This is because it use’s an application called OpenVPN this was something that I had never heard of before and was a little skeptical on using a 3rd party application to receive my VPN tunnel. But I proceeded anyway, and download the OpenVPN application and then went onto the ProtonVPN website to download the files I needed to set up my connection to the service. This was the first hurdle I faced with ProtonVPN, and that was largely due to not being able to download the files I needed through either my safari browser or my Firefox IOS application, a small work around however was if I downloaded all of the files as a Zip document I was able to download the file, and open it using the Files application (IOS 11) from there I downloaded an application to view and extract Zip files on my IOS devise. I wont say which as there are so many on the app store it will not be hard to find one that works. One the Zip file had been extracted to my devise I was simply able to share the file to the OpenVPN application. From here it was a simple matter of putting in my ProtonVPN login credentials and hitting connect. At first trying to get it to work seemed to be a daunting task but after managing to get it done on my iPad it took me mere minuets to do the same on my iPhone. Again the mobile versions offered are all the same connection as the Windows application uses, it also offers the secure cores as well they are just stored in a different folder to download. Although I have not used either Linux or Mac with this VPN I do know it is done using the OpenVPN application so I would imagine the processes of connecting is a very similar one to that of the IOS devices.
The next and final thing I am going to look at is the performance of the VPN its self, as with any your download speed will be effected by using the service and some of them slow your connection down more than others so I was interested to know how ProtonVPN would do in comparison to my standard internet speed. As the images below show on the left we have my connection without using the VPN and on the right my connection with the VPN connected. That works out to be around 10% of my original speed. Granted to a lot of people 51mbps is a huge speed, and when using the VPN it is silky and smooth with no noticeable drop outs or failed connections. Unlike some of the other VPN’s that I have used and had failed connections becoming a regular occurrence .
So to summarize I feel although ProtonVPN is the new kid on the block I feel it is a very nice VPN that not only looks good but delivers are service that you cannot complain about. And for the price even as a student I do not find it to be unreasonable. and if I was going to give it a rating I would go as far to say 4.5/5 due to all of the features that it offers that I haven’t seen anywhere else. And due to the company’s mantra about protecting peoples internet privacy.