After ProtonMail, pretty much everyone was expecting something special with ProtonVPN. By-and-large, Proton has delivered. ProtonVPN is a very polished privacy-orientated VPN service that is secure and very fast when connected to a nearby server.
Is My Privacy Protected with ProtonVPN?
“Data we retain from ProtonVPN sessions: Each time a user connects to ProtonVPN, we only store a timestamp of the last successful login attempt. While it is stored indefinitely, this gets overwritten the each time you log in… We retain this limited information to know how many devices are being connected and ensure users do not make excessive number of connections.”
Proton has also clarified to me that, by default, IPs are not logged (although it is possible to turn on IP logging if you wish). This makes ProtonVPN pretty darn close to being a fully no-logging VPN service.
ProtonVPN is a No-Logs VPN service
When you use ProtonVPN, we do NOT do any of the following:
• Log users’ traffic or the content of any communications
• Discriminate against devices, protocols, or applications
• Throttle your Internet connection
Data we collect and why we collect it
Personal data (related to your account):
Account creation: To create an account, in order to use our service, we do not ask your name or surname. All you need to do is select your username, then provide the email address and choose your password. You can also register with your existing ProtonID.
We do store the email address (or ProtonID) you have entered when creating an account for communication and anti-abuse purposes. If you are referred to ProtonVPN by a friend or some other third party who is participating in our referral program, we may associate your account with the referrer to appropriately credit the referrer.
Support: When you submit support requests or bug reports, we will collect the data that you choose to share with us about the issue being reported. Bug reports sometimes rely on third parties, such as Zendesk.
Payment: The Company relies on third parties to process credit card and PayPal transactions, and we do not save your full credit card details. For example, if you make a payment with a credit card, your name and the last 4 digits of the credit card number will become part of the invoice and saved by us. Anonymous cash or Bitcoin payments and donations are also accepted.
How we use this personal data: Your email address is not shared with any third parties. We mainly use it for account-related questions, communication, and recovery. By signing up to our Service, you agree to receive communications from us, which may include promotional emails, too. You can stop receiving emails from us by following the unsubscribe instructions included in every email we send. Alternatively, you can login to the ProtonVPN dashboard and adjust your email preferences under the ‘Account’ tab.
How Much is ProtonVPN? Is There a Free Trial?
ProtonVPN offers four separate plans. Prices start at free, going up to $30 per month if paid monthly. Paying annually nets you a 20% discount. Existing ProtonMail users with paid-for accounts can claim a 20% discount (which is cumulative with the annual discount).
For most people who are willing to pay for a VPN, the sweet spot is likely to be the Plus plan. This provides access to all ProtonVPN servers at the highest speeds available. It also provides access to all ProtonVPN’s advanced features.
Even for ProtonMail users, the Visionary plan only really makes sense for businesses or individuals who wish to support the Proton project above and beyond the call of duty.
This ProtonVPN review will, therefore, concentrate on the Plus plan, although I have run some speed tests using the free plan. Free users can access servers located in Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States.
ProtonVPN offers an extremely generous 60-day money-back guarantee. You can, of course, use the free service for as long as you like before upgrading. Although not advertised on the website, when I downloaded the Windows software on the Free plan, I was granted a 7-day free trial of the Plus plan.
Note that this free trial only applies if you’re using the custom client. It’s not possible to download the Plus plan OpenVPN server configuration files during the trial period. This means that, at present, only Windows users can take advantage of this offer.
Payment can be made via credit/debit card or PayPal. ProtonVPN uses a third party payment processor for these, so doesn’t keep any payment information itself.
ProtonVPN Speed Test
In my performance tests, speeds were consistently above average. Both the European and North American servers were always somewhere in the 20-30Mbps range. This didn't necessarily reflect distance, either: UK-US connections were almost always faster than UK-Sweden.
ProtonVPN has some more distant servers in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. Download speeds fall dramatically when your data has to travel that far, as with everyone else, but the service still delivered a usable connection. We typically got 4-5Mbps, and up to 10Mbps from Japan, maybe enough for 720p streaming (it's not stable enough for 1080p).
The good news continued to the end, as we ran our usual set of privacy tests. All ProtonVPN servers were in the locations promised, and they all returned the same IP and DNS address, with no DNS or WebRTC leaks to give our real identity away.
How is Customer Service at ProtonVPN?
Unfortunately, ProtonVPN does not offer support via live chat. Instead, you can send your requests via a support form or email, with the support form being the preferred method, as the support staff admits that the email inbox is not checked as regularly. Usually, you can expect a prompt and knowledgeable response, which somewhat makes up for the lack of live support. If you do not want to wait for a response, you can visit the Support Center and browse the answers to the most common questions neatly categorized into 5 sections. Browsing is further facilitated with the handy search option.
Below are the key features of the ProtonVPN Plus plan. The features vary by plan, however. See the pricing table above for more details.
• No IP logs and last login time overwritten on each new connection
• Five simultaneous connections
• Servers in 32 countries
• Secure Core server network
• Tor through VPN
• Peer-to-peer (P2P) torrenting permitted on selected servers
ProtonVPN supports P2P sharing and you can download torrents and share data with your peers on the majority of available servers. To enjoy the greatest speeds, you can connect to the fastest server in a single click. Furthermore, you can enjoy a personalized experience with custom connection profiles.
• Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection
The software features DNS leak protection and comes equipped with a built-in kill switch that prevents your privacy from being compromised in case your VPN connection disconnects. It comes with built-in Tor support, so you can easily route your traffic through the Tor network and enjoy one-click access to Onion sites.
• Kill switch (mobile apps also)
• Transparency report and warrant canary
Is ProtonVPN Safe?
ProtonVPN offers two solid VPN protocols - iKev2 and OpenVPN. Although this does mean that users of more obscure or legacy hardware may not be able to use the service, it is a commendable decision. Properly implemented OpenVPN is the only VPN protocol that is believed to be 100% secure.
For the OpenVPN data channel, ProtonVPN uses an AES-256-CBC cipher with HMAC SHA-512 hash authentication.
For the control channel, ProtonVPN supports a number of cipher suites, the weakest of which is an AES-256 cipher with RSA-2048 handshake encryption and HMAC SHA-1 hash authentication. Perfect forward secrecy is provided by a Diffie Hellman key exchange.
This is a secure setup and, as I say, stronger control channel cipher suits are also supported.
ProtonVPN is an excellent and highly competitive premium VPN service, but the icing on the cake is its free plan. You are limited to just three server locations, but with no data limits and speed results that are better than most paid-for services, ProtonMail Free truly is an exception to the golden rule that all free VPNs are basically rubbish.