Updated · Oct 11, 2022
Best for: Anonymous browsing and secure P2P transfers
Developed by CERN scientists, ProtonVPN is a security-focused VPN service. This Swiss-based VPN provides you unrestricted access to the internet. Backed by impressive security tech, this unlimited free service utilizes industry-grade encryption when transmitting anonymized data via secure tunnels. Routed via the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, the PPP (Point-to-Point) transfers within the tunnel are backed by secure encryption mechanisms. The presence of Tor browser extensions allows users to hop onto an anonymous network with ease. The slick client of ProtonVPN provides an easy-to-operate user experience as well. Scroll down to read our comprehensive ProtonVPN review.
ProtonVPN comes with:
This technology prevents network attacks such as code and SQL injections, man-in-the-middle attacks, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), insider threats, unauthorized access, and privilege escalations.
By routing the traffic through multiple network servers. Using deception technology, such as network decoys, network attackers are distracted from the main target. Strong Network Address Translation (NAT) mechanisms, lower the probability of attacks. ProtonVPN safe servers in the Secure Core network landscape are located in countries that have strong privacy laws. Servers and networks are operated on dedicated networks as opposed to leased networks.
Encryption of traffic is multi-pronged combining network encryption, key exchange, and message authentication. The 256 bits key length AES-256 encryption over internet Key Exchange v2 makes it impossible to penetrate the network on the virtue of it being one of the strongest 256-bit symmetric cipher keys. Network handshakes are done with 4096 bit RSA. It is followed by the Diffie Hellman key-agreement to establish the veracity of the keys. Using HMAC with SHA384, message authentication is applied. ProtonVPN SHA384 is a reliable cryptographic hash function that powers its network security. ProtonVPN HMAC implementation converts the cryptographic function into MAC (Message Authentication Code).
TLS/SSL cipher suites with strong algorithms in the realm of the bulk encryption algorithm, key exchange algorithm, and message authentication code establish forward secrecy. Cryptographic algorithms enable the exchange of keys, encryption, and decryption applies message secrecy. Bulk encryption encrypts and decrypts data at each routing point, doubling the security of traffic even with simultaneous connections on multiple devices. With forward secrecy, each session generates a unique set of traffic. With each connection, a new encryption key is generated. One key is used per session.
Reliable protocols such as IKEV2/IPSec, Open VPN are used. Using Camellia, AES, and many other 256-bit ciphers, traffic-utilizing IKEV2 establishes certificate-based authentication.
Kill Switch and Always-on
The ProtonVPN kill switch periodically polls all servers connected in the VPN and monitors the network topology. If a VPN server is down or connection times-out, network traffic is blocked. Subsequently, the Always-on feature issues a fresh encrypted connection. The kill switch blocks the connection to the VPN server or the network region until the servers are up and running. This prevents accidental exposure of sensitive data. Hackers are denied any access to data even when a network route is down or in maintenance.
Speedy file sharing is achieved via the P2P support, which is a self-organized network of servers. ProtonVPN’s algorithms help partition tasks and workloads between peers. Processing power, disk capacity, network bandwidth is shared between the nodes. Consuming as well as supplying resources, peers in the ProtonVPN topology form a virtual community of VPN servers engaged in shared tasks. Functioning simultaneously as clients and servers, the data transmission is speedy, and so is the resource discovery and routing.
DNS leak prevention
DNS leaks are non-existent because the traffic is channeled through secure encrypted tunnels. Private DNS service ensures that all DNS requests are routed through the private DNS instead of ISP’s DNS. DNS requests are encrypted over HTTP or TLS despite net neutrality.
The highly intuitive interface enables self-explanatory use of the client shell. ProtonVPN iOS, Android, and Windows apps all have the same sleekness. It requires no programming knowledge or coding experience. There are no configurations to be made too. We were pretty happy with the ease of use when we were doing the test for this ProtonVPN review.
ProtonVPN Advanced Features
In addition to the industry-standard features, ProtonVPN also goes the extra mile.
Tor over VPN
Your data travels through an anonymous volunteer overlay network comprising of roughly 7000 relays. No network surveillance software or traffic analysis bots can detect ProtonVPN traffic through the anonymous Tor over VPN network. This onion routing mechanism implemented as part of a communication protocol stack’s application layer, sends encrypted data via a virtual circuit consisting of thousands of Tor relays randomly selected. Multiple encryptions and decryptions are levied on the circuit, with each layer of the routing pathway encrypting and decrypting traffic multiple times. Using Tor over VPN allows devices on the network to identify the presence of a visitor, but cannot capture details of the visitor – even if it did, the details are hidden because of the obfuscated VPN technology.
Not many VPN providers offer an ad and malware blocker, but NetShield does. It improves your experience by getting rid of ads, trackers, and guards you from malware. The best thing about it is that it’s available on all ProtonVPN apps – Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
Fully encrypted servers
ProtonVPN goes above and beyond to ensure maximum security. That’s why the company uses full-disk encryption on its servers, keeping data safe from man-in-the-middle attacks. This way, you can rest assured that your confidential data remains private.
ProtonVPN Servers and Locations
More than 1000 servers spread across 55 countries enable a combined data throughput of 1,248 Gbps. Governed by zero traffic logs policies and supporting peer-to-peer transfers, servers are categorized as Secure Core and Standard. Secure Core servers are placed in countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland that have strong privacy laws. Data centers are housed in underground storage cabinets to ensure physical security. Servers in Iceland are placed in a former military base. All Secure Core servers are owned and operated by ProtonVPN. These are not third-party servers, thus ensuring the integrity of data.
ProtonVPN speed was tested in multiple locations. The following results were obtained.
Before connecting to VPN, the download speeds were in the range of 64 Mbps.
After connecting to VPN to a nearby server in the US, the connection dropped. This side of the network was supposedly the fastest network. We experienced some massive drops in speed even when connected to the closest servers.
Each server and how much traffic it is handling presently is shown, giving an indication of the overall network traffic.
In the next test, we chose the US West Coast server. This server was showing low traffic. The VPN speed improved by a huge margin, but it was still about 30 Mbps, which is more than a 50% speed drop than our regular speed.
A speed test was undertaken in servers in Germany. The speed was functional, but not out of the ordinary. With about 19 Mbps, we wouldn’t call ProtonVPN the fastest VPN out there.
Speed tests conducted in the UK returned the same results too - more or less under 20 Mbps. These speeds were the same even up to Hong Kong.
Overall, ProtonVPN speeds are far from blazing fast. It’s even slower than the industry’s average. On the upside, the network is highly secure.
ProtonVPN Privacy and Jurisdiction
ProtonVPN is located in Geneva, Switzerland. The VPN service is protected by some of the strongest privacy laws in the world. Being outside of the jurisdiction of the US and EU, there are no restrictions associated with being part of a Fourteen Eyes group of countries. Therefore the company is not obligated to store logs because of government mandates. This is reflected in the zero-logs policy of ProtonVPN.
ProtonVPN reviews in 2020 indicate that this VPN service has not been involved in any scandals. There have not been any cases where the data integrity of customers has been compromised.
ProtonVPN Security and Protocols
Using the IPSec tunneling protocol, strong VPN privacy is established using a combination of authentication headers, encapsulated security payloads, and immutable security associations. Based on double-layer security, and onion routing, ProtonVPN security, and protocols enable safe and anonymous browsing, bypassing geo-restrictions using the ProtonVPN Tor network.
- IKEv2/IPSec – The virtually unbreakable x.509 authentication certificates-based mechanism followed by the Diffie-Hellman key exchange process makes ProtonVPN IKEV2 implementation reliable. Traffic is routed through secure private DNS servers; shared secrets and anonymous network sessions establish peer to peer sharing and transport.
- AES-256 – The implementation of the AES-256 algorithm prevents ProtonVPN network traffic from being attacked by man-in-the-middle or brute force attacks. Side-channel attacks, key-recovery attacks, XSL attacks, are impossible on this network. Requiring only eighteen clock cycles per byte of encryption, ProtonVPNs’ network data UDP packets encrypt and decrypt over the onion layered security topology adequately.
- OpenVPN – Underlying ProtonVPN’s OpenVPN usage is the AES 256 block cipher that secures all communication channels such as SSL and TLS. Keyed-hash MAC secures network packets using ciphers that encrypt and decrypt the network data at each vertex of the network topology. During peer to peer transfers, public-private key encryption enables peer to peer authentication during ProtonVPN torrenting. The VPN tunneling protocols are adequately secured by strong ciphers that can be extended by third-party plugins.
ProtonVPN Leak Test Results
It wouldn’t be a complete ProtonVPN review, without some leak test results.
ProtonVPN’s unique selling proposition is its strong security features. When browsing over a Tor network via the ProtonVPN Chrome extension or using the VPN tunnel, your IP address is adequately masked. Your IP address is not sent to the ISP; instead, it is sent to a private DNS. ProtonVPN has an in-built DNS leak security feature.
In the following test, made especially for this ProtonVPN review, no DNS leaks were detected. When located in the US, the connection was made through a server in Hong Kong. The real location, (in this case, the US) is not revealed.
ProtonVPN and Streaming Services
Streaming services are restricted based on the country of residence or location of the user. ProtonVPN secure core servers allow users access to content that is blocked by geographic restrictions. ProtonVPN provides guidelines on the server to connect in the respective country depending on the streaming service chosen.
For example, to unblock ABC.com and safely browse the TV Everywhere services, you need to subscribe to ProtonVPN Plus or Visionary. You then install the ProtonVPN app. After connecting to a plus server in the United States, you select a show and start watching it at ABC.com. The last step is optional. You can register your participating TV provider with ABC.com to access more shows from ABC.com.
Likewise, there are guidelines from ProtonVPN on how to connect to various streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney +, DisneyNOW, ESPN+, F1 TV, FuboTV, HBO Max, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, NOW TV, Pluto TV, RAI, Sling TV and SyFy. ProtonVPN user reviews praise the fact that it can unblock so many of the popular streaming services.
How Good Is ProtonVPN for Torrenting?
ProtonVPN’s onion routing ensures that ProtonVPN free torrenting via peer-to-peer sharing and transfers. Even if not speedy, it is safe and reliable. ProtonVPN supports the BitTorrent client and has guidelines regarding usage. One important guideline is to use a P2P friendly server. Such a server is indicated in the server list by an icon. When connecting to a non-P2P server, maintained by an external data center, ProtonVPN may not guarantee a connection, as there could be a P2P redirection. Some partner data center servers may not provide torrent support.
Torrent transfers are considered amongst the riskiest content and data sharing activities on the network. In this regard, ProtonVPN can be considered a good VPN service for peer-to-peer transfers.
Can ProtonVPN Bypass Geoblocks?
ProtonVPN can bypass geoblocks. But there are restrictions.
It needs to be via servers located in Germany, the US, and the UK. It is available only on the Plus pricing plan as well. So if you launch the app, and subscribe to the Plus plan, and select an Australian server to connect to ProtonVPN Netflix, the connection will not be made. Instead, if you connect to a US server that has the ‘P’ letter next to it, you will access Netflix.
So the answer is yes – ProtonVPN can bypass geoblocks. However, if you try to watch a Netflix version of a series unavailable in the US, you can still do it:
- Use torrenting to download the show you want
- Try another platform such as Hulu or Amazon Prime
Ease of Use
While doing the test for this ProtonVPN review, we encountered no difficulties using the app. The navigation is easy and intuitive. The first time you access the app you are given a brief introduction or walk-through of the important features of the app.
Available server locations are listed on the left, and current connection status is displayed on the top. There is also a map that indicates (in green triangles) the countries where servers are placed.
Unlike many of its competing VPN service providers, ProtonVPN does not provide live chat assistance. There is no phone option too. That’s something mentioned quite negatively in ProtonVPN reviews.
The only way to get in touch with support is to submit a ticket or send them an email. After submitting a question, you will have to give them 24 hours to respond. But the response you receive will be informative and helpful. There is also the knowledge base to rely on. This is a comprehensive set of articles offering assistance on common troubleshooting information.
Now comes the ProtonVPN pricing part. There are four types of plans:
Access servers in all countries. Connect up to 2 devices. P2P transfers are available. Plus, you get NetShield included.
Offers all features of the Basic plan, plus access to Secure Core tech, Tor Servers access, allows up to 5 devices, Secure Streaming, and up to 10 Gbps speed.
ProtonVPN Review - Verdict
ProtonVPN has a track record of providing secure VPN services. The company manages its own servers. More than 1000 servers in 55 countries ensure an abundance of internet coverage and lots of avenues to choose from to stream or browse websites. ProtonVPN also supports P2P via its P2P friendly servers, has a kill switch, no DNS leaks, and has inbuilt Tor routing for its Onion sites. Native apps for IOS, Mac, and Windows exist – enabling you to access the VPN service from popular platforms. The only downside is that ProtonVPN P2P speeds are low compared to some of the competition.
Is ProtonVPN trustworthy?
Yes it is.
On its website, ProtonVPN cites the case of Hotspot Shield that infringed customer data and was subject to an FTC complaint. ProtonVPN claims to be open-source, audited and backed by legal guarantees.
Is ProtonVPN really free?
Yes, it is.
Still, the free version is limited.
Is ProtonVPN a virus?
No, ProtonVPN isn't a virus.
It’s absolutely safe to use.
Does ProtonVPN sell your data?
ProtonVPN is formed by CERN scientists and is operated by the company that is behind ProtonMail – an encrypted email service. ProtonVPN has no known cases of data theft. It does not come under the Fourteen Eyes jurisdiction and therefore isn’t obliged to store logs. You can find more detailed information about that in our ProtonVPN review.
Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.
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