- The company is based in Switzerland, which has what we can say VPN friendly laws and regulations. Switzerland is not among the 14-Eyes countries, and it is outside the jurisdiction of EU.
- This is an extra layer of security that this VPN service provides. It protects the user’s IP address from being traced even if the some of the servers located in the high-risk jurisdiction countries get compromised. All the traffic in the secure core tunnel passes through specific secure core servers, which are strategically placed in countries with stern privacy laws and less government interference.
- The provider claims to implement only those encryption cipher suites which have Perfect Forward Secrecy. It protects the data in the future sessions even if the data in a particular session gets compromised. The encryption key is changed every session, and the same key is never used again.
- ProtonVPN can be easily used along with the Tor network. They have dedicated servers for accessing the Tor anonymity network.
- The provide claims to have the secure core servers under high physical security and monitoring. The measures include having datacenters and servers built in former army fallout shelters and military bases. They claim to ship their equipment to these places in order to make sure of the security at the hardware level too.
- ProtonVPN can be traced back to ProtonMail; supposedly the world’s largest encrypted emailing service. The parent organization has a history of working for individual’s privacy online.
- The VPN provider claims that it prevents DNS leaks by not using any third party servers to route the DNS queries.
- There is no live chat facility for the users and the customer support system in place of live chat takes an awful lot of time to respond. In such a scenario, even a minor issue or query can take a lot of time to get sorted. It is a big blow to the whole user experience, especially annoying for the users who are new to the world of VPN.
- They use only OpenVPN protocol for the product. It is a secure protocol but having more protocols will give the user a few more options.
Official Website: Visit Website
ProtonVPN is a product from ProtonVPN AG which is a company based in Geneva, Switzerland. They have also talked about their relations with Proton Technologies AG and FONGIT, that is they get financial support from these firms.
ProtonVPN was a result of a need for a better project after ProtonMail, and it started as a crowd-funded project. However, ProtonVPN and ProtnMail are separate entities, but a lot of the knowledge base is shared between the two.
Because the company is based in Switzerland, it can stick to the no-log and privacy policies with more conviction. They have emphasized a lot on the fact that they are based in a region which lets them protect the user’s privacy, and they are not bound by the law to breach the trust of their customers in any way.
It looks a very impressive product at first glance and promises a lot to the user as he/she goes through the website. They seem to have all the security measures possible for a VPN service to imply.
Features such as secure core servers definitely catch the reader’s eyes, and they boast of a team full of experts from various fields, and after looking at each’s description and background, it is tough to doubt their claims about the product.
But we are not that easy to please, and mere words written on a screen cannot persuade us into thinking highly of a product. In this review, we will make all their claims undergo a litmus test and then see if we end up being positively or negatively drawn towards ‘Proton’VPN.
First things first, let us discuss the secure core servers.
Some countries have strict government regulations against privacy and heavy surveillance systems in place to monitor the data passing through the servers located in the country. It can be very challenging to protect the traffic through these servers as not much can be done if the government agencies decide to breach these servers.
This is when secure core servers come into the picture. These servers are strategically located in countries which have strict privacy laws and don’t have any massive surveillance systems in place. On top of that, they take care of the physical security of the servers as well.
We have not heard many providers VPN claim that they have their data centers 1000 meters below the surface and that they use former military bases for their sever locations. We think it is safe to say that ProtonVPN has gone ‘war-mode’ when it comes to the security of their secure core servers.
When a user turns on the secure core mode, he/she will always be directed through one these secure core servers along with other servers. In case there is a data breach in one of the servers, and the trespassers are able to track the IP of the server to which it was connected, the connection will always get traced down to one of these secure core servers, which means the IP cannot be determined after this and it saves the user’s original IP getting into the hands of the trespassers.
However, the use of secure core servers reduces the internet speed by quite some margin, but when security is the top-most priority, the user can sacrifice a bit of the internet speed for sure.
At the time of this review, ProtonVPN has 334 servers located across 30 countries with an ability to churn out 391 Gbps. Some of these are 10 Gbps servers. The number of servers is satisfactory, but the functionality that the client provides with these servers is impressive.
They have dedicated servers for P2P file sharing and separate ones to connect with the Tor network. It is very easy to find these servers on the client as they have their own little icons.
Perfect Forward Secrecy
The VPN providers mention that security was the topmost priority during the making of this product. They gathered all the experience which they got while working on ProtonMail and tried making a VPN product which will suffice all the security needs of a user.
They claim to have only those encryption cipher suites which include Perfect Forward Secrecy. Under these cipher suites, the encryption keys change for every session.
So, if the traffic during a particular session gets compromised and the data gets captured and decrypted for that session. Perfect Forward Secrecy will prevent the data from further sessions getting compromised.
As the subsequent sessions will have different encryption keys, the data remains safe, and the previous key cannot be used to decrypt the data. The encryption keys change every session, and no key is used again in any of the future sessions.
DNS Leak Protection
ProtonVPN does not use third-party servers from DNS queries and uses its own DNS servers to route the DNS queries of the user. They encrypt all the DNS queries, and the traffic moves only through ProtonVPN’s secure tunnel.
We also believe that it is vital to have secure DNS servers to prevent DNS leaks from happening. Involvement of a third party can sometimes make things complicated, and it is not easy to trust these not so well known third parties.
ProtonVPN comes with Internet kill switch which further strengthens the security of user’s DNS queries. We have talked about Internet kill switch in the later sections, and you can have a look if you want to know more about it.
Now, this is one topic which is not usually discussed when talking about VPN services. Everyone wants to know more about protocols and encryptions, but what about the physical security of the servers. What if someone is able to access the servers physically?
ProtonVPN takes care of this crucial issue. They employ heavy security measures for their Secure core servers. They have mentioned that their Switzerland facility is located in a Swiss army’s former fallout structure which is located 1000 meters below the surface.
In Iceland, they have their infrastructure based in a former military base which they claim is very secure. They have servers located in an underground datacenter in Sweden.
They claim to go the extra step as they ship their own equipment to these locations and make sure that all the hardware is secure.
All these measures sound very impressive, and it appears that ProtonVPN has got its money where its mouth is when it says that primary emphasis was given on the security while making the product.
Tor with VPN
Tor is already used by a lot of people across the world to access the dark web and the onion sites. It gives user anonymity by directing the traffic through various peers using the service. Tor has its own limitations though.
Tor is pretty much safe while browsing the internet, but if the user is using some apps while he/she is on the Tor network, some of the information may get leaked and compromise the privacy of the user.
ProtonVPN has dedicated servers for Tor usage. The user can just connect with these servers and connect with the Tor network with just a click. It covers the user’s data under an additional blanket of security and privacy. These Tor servers reroute all the connections through the Tor network.
P2P File Sharing
The VPN provider has got specific servers for P2P mode, or we can say that not all the servers in the VPN support P2P file transfers.
They say it is the case because some of the data centers they have partnered with don’t allow P2P traffic. If a user tires P2P file sharing using one of these servers, the connection gets disabled, and the user gets a pop up which explains the issue.
However, they have got a system in place to bypass this issue — Stateful Firewall, which is an automatic mechanism, checks for torrent fingerprints in the traffic and then redirects it to a server which allows P2P file sharing if the packet was meant for P2P data transfer.
Bandwidth and Speed
The client does not impose any caps on the bandwidth or the internet speeds. They mentioned that subscriber with different plans may experience different speeds.
The free servers are the slowest as they experience heavy traffic. Users with the ‘basic’ subscription experience higher speeds because the servers under this plan are only for the subscribed user. So, less traffic and more speeds.
Finally, the ‘plus’ subscription users not only get exclusive servers, but many of the servers in the plus network are 10 Gbps servers, which can be expected to give very high speeds. According to the VPN provider, speeds as high as 300 Mbps have been reported through these servers.
ProtonVPN has a no logs policy. The company is based in Switzerland and enjoys the strict policy laws applicable there. The company is not obliged to store any personal data under the law.
They have themselves mentioned this fact a lot of times on the official website which highlights the importance of strong privacy laws for a VPN service to work efficiently.
There is some data storage when it comes to keeping a log of the payments and user information such as mail id. They have talked about all the data that is stored and clarified why is that stored.
Apart from keeping payment logs and storing email ids, they can also share the emails within the Proton group with companies such as ProtonLabs. They don’t share or sell user’s information to third-parties. They can use data analytics software to collect data to improve their services, and all this is non-personal data.
They also monitor timestamps, which is information about the last successful login attempt by the user. It gets overwritten with every login, and no personal information is attached along with this data. They store timestamps to prevent brute force password hacks. It helps them keep track of the guessing attempts and keep user’s account safe.
They can only be bound by the Swiss court to disclose this limited data they possess.
Connection Time Analysis
When it comes to connection time analysis, the client is not the fastest one out there. However, we have seen many VPN products which were a lot slower than this. So, when it comes to connection time, ProtonVPN is a mediocre VPN service.
We checked connection times for all the dedicated servers also, and there was not any considerable connection time difference for the servers. As expected, secure core servers took the most time to connect to the network, but the margins are not a thing to worry.
The client performs very well when it comes to internet speeds through the smart connect servers. We observed retention of 90% of the original speed. The numbers seen in the speed tests are very impressive.
For the secure core servers, the speed was expected to take a dip, and so it did. There was a loss of 60% of the original speed. However, it is not a significant concern as the secure core servers are focused on security and not high speeds.
If the user is not going to use the secure core servers all the time, then he/she should have no concerns regarding the speeds through the network.
The ping rate was also under control during the tests. The secure core servers did show a considerable increase in the ping rate, but that is the cost of an extra layer of security which should not bother a lot of people.
This product is packed with features which make it secure, and it is no exception in the case of protocols and encryption as well.
ProtonVPN uses 256-bit encryption which is a more than enough secure way to encrypt user’s data. However, they use only OpenVPN protocol for the product. In their defense, it is one of the safer options. But in this day and age when some of the VPN providers are providing as many as ten protocols, ProtonVPN needs to step up its protocol game.
It is never a bad thing to have more options in the world of VPN, and we would love to see some more protocols in the ‘Settings’ tab of ProtonVPN.
We have already mentioned that the client implies Perfect Forward Secrecy and how it works. DNS leak protection is also one of the features that all the VPN clients have these days, and the same is the case with this product.
It has also got Internet kill switch, which stops the traffic in case the VPN connection drops. This keeps user’s data safe by prohibiting any traffic outside the secure tunnel of the VPN. Both the features, i.e. DNS leak protection and Internet kill switch are accessible from the ‘Settings’ tab and can be activated/deactivated with just a click.
All the above features along with physical security features that we talked about earlier in the review make this product the contender for the most secure VPNs in the market.
User Interface and Experience
The client has a gorgeous and interactive interface. It is among the most beautiful ones that we have come across, and so was the official website of the product.
The home screen displays the list of servers, IP address, server locations on the map, session duration, volume downloaded and uploaded, upload and download speeds and the bandwidth available. The interface looks very clean even after having all this information on screen all the time.
Some of the servers which are dedicated for P2P file sharing and Tor browsing are identifiable with the small icons present in front of them. The Tor browsers have small onion icons, and the P2P servers have two opposite directed horizontal arrows to identify them.
The list of servers can be viewed under two tabs, one is the ‘Countries,’ and the other is ‘Profiles.’ Under the countries tab, all the countries are listed with an option to directly connect to any of the country servers or select a particular server from the drop-down menu.
The other tab is ‘Profiles’ in which the user can save custom server locations according to his/her needs and access it with one click the next time he/she uses the client. For instance, one can save specific servers for torrenting and streaming and use them according to the need without the hassle to go through the server list each time for the same purpose.
The secure core mode button is on top of the server list, and the user can turn it on any time he/she feels the need of that extra robust, secure internet experience.
The quick connect button is present in the top left section, and above it, IP address of the user or the server to which he/she is connected is displayed. The options icon is present on the top left corner of the client. It drops down to showcase a variety of options such as Account, Settings, Help, Logout, etc. which are pretty much self-explanatory.
The settings tab shows a few toggle switches for Auto Connect, Quick connect, DNS leak protection, kill switch, etc. The user can customize the product for himself using all these options.
The only thing that we felt missing was any sort of tray for the people who use the VPN for streaming. However, there is a way to have one’s own customized servers’ settings for streaming, but a dedicated tray to help the binge-watchers would have made things even better.
The overall user experience is very fluid with all the relevant information on the client. The interface is easy to understand and easily customizable.
Platforms and Devices
The client works on all the major platforms such as Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, routers, etc. The user can login on the official website and then select the platform for which she needs the product and download the necessary files or apps.
The setup guides are available on the official website, and the user can take help of that. The versatility aspect again seems missing, and we feel that there should be more options to satisfy all the needs of a customer.
Usually, the best one is saved for last, but sadly in our case, it is the worst one for the last. After going through impressive features and security measures employed by the provider, customer support turned out to be a big disappointment.
There is no live chat option available for the product and the query ticket system in place is very slow and at time useless. We made a query and received a canned reply after the annoying waiting time of almost 24 hours.
The support page on the official website is also not very helpful. They could have added a lot more questions and added an FAQ section to help some of the novices using their product. Sometimes these minor inconveniences can make a potential customer change his mind.
The product itself is competent and top notch, but what is the use of it if the company can’t back it up with a suitable customer response system. We would like to see ProtonVPN strengthen its customer response system.
The product is very impressive with all the necessary and then some extra features expected from a VPN service. They have not left any stone unturned when it comes to safeguarding user’s privacy.
The speed is among the fastest that we have recorded. The user interface has all the right components and features. No logging policy, secure core servers, jurisdiction in Switzerland, Tor-friendly and many more features are the jewels of this product.
However, we are not even close to being satisfied with the customer support, and massive improvements can be made in that department. The number of protocols can also be improved, even though OpenVPN is a very safe protocol, the users would love to see more.
This is among the most refined products that we reviewed and genuinely want to see it do well in the future. If the issues that we discussed above are addressed, then it is definitely a product worth investment.