Mullvad VPN Review
Mullvad is a Sweden-based Virtual Private Network that showcases itself primarily as a means of fighting Internet censorship. Whether you’re worried about people snooping on your activities while on public WiFi or trying to circumvent surveillance by corporations or governments, Mullvad has a suite of features aiming to protect you.
What is Mullvad VPN?
It may not have the geographical coverage, the speed or the easy configurability of a service like ExpressVPN (see our ExpressVPN review) but we think that for the price it’s one of the best VPN options out there, offering a good all round service that combines speed, security and an ability to get into Geo-blocked content.
Is My Privacy Protected with Mullvad VPN?
Personal privacy is where Mullvad really stands out. The service starts by not wanting to know anything about you. However, the company does set cookies on your browser to maintain session logins, preferred language, and one security cookie. The session login cookie expires after one hour.
First of all, Mullvad doesn’t keep any connection logs nor does it monitor your online activities. You also shouldn’t be worried about the EU Data Retention Directive since it’s only relevant to phone operators and ISPs. Even if the company was presented with a court order, the zero-logging policy means that it wouldn’t have any relevant data to hand over. Mullvad servers use OpenVPN protocol, which is the safest option currently available. We always recommend it because it comes with the best set of security features on the market.
At Mullvad, we do not store activity logs of any kind. We strongly believe in having a minimal data retention policy because we want you to remain anonymous.
In this policy, we give you an overview of what we mean by "activity logs," why we actively refrain from storing any user's activity, and the data we do handle to monitor our system.
Our anonymous, numbered accounts
We want you to remain anonymous. When you sign up for Mullvad, we do not ask for any personal information – no username, no password, no email address. Instead, a random account number is generated, a so-called numbered account. This number is the only identifier a person needs in order to use a Mullvad account. This is a fundamental difference that sets us apart from most other services.
Anyone at any time can create as many numbered accounts as they wish on our website. An account can be used by multiple people or by someone other than the person who initially generated it.
A Mullvad account has two properties: the account number and the time remaining on that account. When an account is created, it comes loaded with three hours to try Mullvad for free. At once the countdown starts. After those three hours have passed, the account has no time left. Using it to connect to Mullvad is no longer possible unless it is loaded with more time.
Question: How many numbered accounts does Mullvad have?
Answer: At the time of writing this post, Mullvad has 555,541 numbered accounts. These accounts could have been created by 555,541 unique people, or by one person 555,541 times.
This is the data we store for an account¹:
account number | expiry date
xxxxxxxxxxx | 20170730"
How Much is Mullvad VPN? Is There a Free Trial?
Mullvad’s pricing could not be simpler. It costs €5 per month (approx. $5.75 USD at the time of writing), and that’s it. Unlike most VPN services, there are no discounts for buying longer subscriptions. The only kink is that payment in Bitcoin gets a 10% discount "due to lower fees and less administration."
A rather short, three-hour free trial allows you to check that the service works as it should. In addition to this, Mullvad offers a 30-day money-back guarantee (except for payments sent in cash, due to anti-money laundering regulations).
Mullvad accepts payment via credit/debit card (via PayPal), Swish, bank wire, and Bitcoin. It is also unique among VPN providers because it accepts cash sent by post. In addition to this, Mullvad accepts vouchers that can be purchased from certain stores, which can be paid for in cash. This means that Mullvad has no direct contact with the purchaser.
These almost unique payment options alone give Mullvad a good claim to be the most privacy-oriented VPN service out there.
Mullvad VPN Speed Test
In my tests, Mullvad’s speeds were pretty good. The service achieved an average of 52% of the base speed based on connections to five different countries. All but the Australian connection hit speeds were impressively fast. The base speed on my network at the time of testing was about 90.29Mbps.
I did find that the desktop application could sometimes be a little slow to respond. That’s hardly a deal breaker, just something to be aware of.
How is Customer Service at Mullvad VPN?
User support is probably the weakest link in the Mullvad chain. There is no live chat on the official website and the only way to contact the support staff is through the provided email. Their reaction time is somewhat sluggish and it usually takes some time before you get a good answer.
There’s a lot of room for improvement here and we would definitely like to see Mullvad make an effort to improve its customer support. Granted, most people probably won’t even need it, but that’s not an excuse for a subpar service.
Compared to other VPNs, Mullvad is basic. There are no specialty servers for Double VPN, or special features like an auto-connect when you’re on open Wi-Fi networks. Mullvad’s focus is on offering a straightforward VPN with good security and privacy.
Mullvad does include a few essentials, though. It has a kill switch enabled by default that blocks the Internet connection when you lose your VPN connection. The advanced settings also have the option to automatically connect to the VPN when you start the Mullvad client.
The service is working on using the WireGuard VPN tunneling protocol. WireGuard on Mullvad is currently in beta on Linux, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it once it comes to Windows.
Mullvad also owns its own severs. Most big VPNs run virtual servers on public clouds such as Digital Ocean and other providers.
While Mullvad offers a solid service, it won’t win any awards for interface design. This is as basic as it gets. Mullvad has a single panel interface very similar to old-school messaging services like MSN Messenger.
At the top are two tabs: Status and Settings. Status is where you can check whether the VPN is connected, and what your current server address is, which port you’re using, and the protocol that you are using for the connection.
The Settings tab is where you can access the aforementioned features as well as choose the country connection. The Advanced settings are simple to use, but will probably keep novices away. They are all text-based and use a True/False setting that you adjust by typing out the word. Although it’s essentially the same as checking or unchecking a box, it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone but power users.
Mullvad offers desktop apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Chrome OS users could use that operating system’s built-in VPN client, and Android users can access Mullvad via the OpenVPN for Android app.
Is Mullvad VPN Safe?
The fight between repressive regimes and VPNs is a constant battle. Right now, it seems that the Chinese authorities are focusing on session establishment and key exchange procedures to try to crack VPN encryption. This is because VPNs usually work on private key systems, which require both sides to possess the same key, which both encrypts and decrypts data.
If a VPN detection system can work out the key exchange process, then it can get that key at the session establishment phase and then decrypt every consequent message.
Mullvad has 4096 bit RSA certificates for server authentication, which is un-crackable. It uses 2048 bit Diffie-Hellman keys for the actual session key exchange. This is good enough for now, but it would help to assure users if Mullvad will amp up this level of security.
After a connection is established, both computers have the same encryption key. However, many are suspicious of the AES encryption system, which is used by most VPNs. Mullvad offers Blowfish encryption as an alternative to its 256-bit key AES encryption.
Overall, Mullvad is a great VPN with good respect for privacy and enough servers to accommodate most users. In my tests, it was able to dodge Netflix’s VPN police, but Mullvad doesn’t advertise that as a feature and it could change in the future. The bottom line is that for those who just want a no-nonsense VPN at a reasonable price with good privacy it’s hard to beat Mullvad.