My longtime customers were curious about how ProtonMail’s renowned privacy and security standards will be carried out in ProtonVPN’s sister product. The scientists at CERN who created this crypting email system compete with other VPN providers in this field. This privacy expert has a few interesting new features which can not be provided in other high speed VPN services. For this reason i conducted a detailed investigation about ProtoVPN, exploring its security practices and privacy practices. The software has been tested on speed, blocking abilities, leak protection, torrent support and more.
How Much Does ProtonVPN Price?
We dislike tiered pricing schemes in VPNs because they are typically used to conceal the true cost of a product and upsell customers. Thankfully, most VPNs have avoided this model, instead promoting longer subscriptions with increasing discounts. ProtonVPN does encrypt advanced features behind subscription tiers, but its approach appears to be more concerned with accessibility than with upsells. You can get a good VPN experience with ProtonVPN without paying for the most expensive plan.
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ProtonVPN’s free VPN service includes only three VPN server locations (Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States) and allows only one device to connect at a time. To use ProtonVPN’s free tier, you must first sign up for an account. Even for their paid subscriptions, neither Mullvad nor IVPN require any information.
Despite the fact that you must create an account in order to use it, the free version of ProtonVPN is particularly valuable because it does not impose data limits. TunnelBear VPN’s free version limits you to 500MB of encrypted traffic per month, Hotspot Shield to 500MB per day, and KeepSolid VPN Lite has no data restrictions but does restrict users to a single server. Other free VPNs impose additional restrictions. As a result of all of this, we recommend ProtonVPN over all other free VPNs we’ve tested.
The app while disconnected
ProtonVPN Basic is the second tier, and it costs $5 per month, $48 per year, or $79 every two years. This tier gives you access to all of ProtonVPN’s VPN locations, but it restricts you to only two devices and a subset of servers. This tier allows P2P and BitTorrent file sharing, as well as the NetShield ad and tracker blocker. Editors’ Choice winner Mullvad charges 5 euros ($6.03 at the time of writing) per month for unrestricted access to its service.
We signed up for a $10-per-month Plus account ($96 per year, $159 every two years) for this review, which is the third of four pricing tiers. This rate is almost exactly the average monthly price of a VPN ($10.05 per month), and it is still less than what competitors, such as Editors’ Choice winner NordVPN, charge for similar features. This tier allows you to connect to all of ProtonVPN’s VPN servers and use up to five devices at the same time. It also gives you access to Plus servers, which are only available to ProtonVPN’s top two tiers and may provide better service because they are less crowded. In addition, subscribers gain VPN access to the Tor anonymization network, which is a rare feature. It is not necessary to pay or use a VPN to access Tor, but it is convenient. At the Plus level, there are also specially designated servers for streaming media.
If all of that isn’t enough, you can upgrade to the Visionary plan, which costs $30 per month ($288 annually, $479 every two years). It includes all of the features listed in the previous tier and increases the number of devices that can be connected at the same time to ten. What you really get with a Visionary plan is access to the highest-paid tier of ProtonMail, ProtonVPN’s encrypted email service. That translates to 20GB of ProtonMail storage, 50 email aliases, 10 email domains supported, and up to five users on a single email account. ProtonMail also comes with a secure address book, a private ProtonCalendar, and the soon-to-be-released ProtonDrive file locker.
While ProtonVPN has a reasonable monthly fee, the same cannot be said for its annual fee. Because of the substantial discounts most companies offer for longer-term subscriptions, the average annual cost of a VPN we tested is $71.58. A ProtonVPN Plus account is more expensive, costing $96 per year or $159 every two years. In comparison, Kaspersky Secure Connection costs only $29.99 per year. Despite the savings, we recommend that you start with a short-term VPN subscription. Instead, get a short-term or free plan and test how the VPN works in your home and with the sites and services you need before committing to a long-term plan.
Subscriptions to ProtonVPN can be purchased using a major credit card or PayPal. You can send bitcoin payments, but you must first create an account. ProtonVPN says it will also accept cash sent directly to its headquarters, a feature that Editors’ Choice winners Mullvad and IVPN have yet to offer.
If you discover that you require more simultaneous connections, ProtonVPN will allow you to purchase them on an as-needed basis. You add a ProtonMail Professional account through the subscription portal. Following that, you can add as many VPN connections as you want for $2 per month, with discounts available for longer subscriptions. However, some VPN providers have completely removed these restrictions. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN are among the services we’ve tested. (It’s worth noting that both Encrypt.me and IPVanish are owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)
VPNs are useful tools for improving your online privacy, but they cannot protect you from all threats. We also advise everyone to use a password manager, enable multi-factor authentication wherever it is available, and download an antivirus app.
What Are Secure Core Servers?
Access to multi-hop Secure Core servers is also included in the ProtonVPN Plus tier, which is a bit unusual and deserves further explanation. ProtonVPN claims that these servers are only located in countries with strict privacy laws and that it directly owns them. They are physically housed in secure facilities (in one example, on an old military base). When you connect via Secure Core servers, your VPN connection goes through two hops: first from your device to the Secure Core servers, and then to the VPN server you choose.
Toggle the Secure Core servers on or off. While a VPN’s encrypted tunnel protects your data, it is useless if an attacker has taken control of the VPN server. The Secure Core server scheme ensures that your data is secure from your computer to the Secure Core server, which is password-protected. If the next VPN server you connect to after the Secure Core server is compromised, whoever has taken control will be unable to learn anything about you because your traffic will appear to be coming from the Secure Core server rather than your actual computer. This configuration is similar to Tor’s, but Tor is much more complicated, with many more hops between you and your destination.
Multi-hop connections, unsurprisingly, have a significant trade-off in terms of speed and performance, but it is a feature we rarely see and should put even the most paranoid mind at ease. Other companies may provide multi-hop VPN connections in a similar manner. Notably, CyberGhost extols the virtues of its NoSpy data center. Moreover, unlike most services, IVPN allows you to hop between any two of its servers.
What VPN Protocols Does ProtonVPN Offer?
VPN technology has been around for a long time, and there are many different types of encrypted tunnels to choose from. The WireGuard protocol is the latest craze in VPNs. This open-source protocol is free to test for flaws, uses cutting-edge encryption technology, and appears to provide significantly faster internet speeds than other options.
According to ProtonVPN, all of its Android, iOS, Linux, and Windows apps use OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) and IKEv2, both of which are excellent and secure options. The macOS app only supports IKEv2. In October 2021, ProtonVPN announced full support for WireGuard, the most recent open-source VPN protocol. It’s now available on all platforms.
ProtonVPN Servers and Server Locations
In terms of distribution, ProtonVPN covers 61 countries, which is more than the 53-country average among the VPNs we’ve reviewed. ExpressVPN, on the other hand, covers an impressive 94 countries. Having more server locations is beneficial because it increases your chances of finding a VPN server near you, providing you with better performance and more options for spoofing your location.
ProtonVPN deserves credit for expanding its geographic reach. The company now provides server locations in South America, Africa, and India, two continents that are frequently overlooked by VPN providers. Importantly, the company has been steadily expanding its global presence and actively solicits user feedback on which countries to include.
Having VPN servers in areas with repressive internet policies does not necessarily allow users to circumvent censorship, but it may provide the populace with a measure of security and privacy. China (Hong Kong), Russia, Turkey, and Vietnam are among the countries covered by ProtonVPN. ProtonVPN allows you to connect to specific servers. ProtonVPN has a well-sized server network that has grown steadily over the years. It is now at 1,529, which is just slightly lower than the industry average that we track. This is still a long way from the 6,900 servers offered by CyberGhost VPN. While having a lot of servers is nice, it doesn’t always imply that you’ll get better service.
Virtual servers are software-defined servers, which means that a single physical server can host multiple virtual servers. VPN servers that have been configured to appear somewhere other than their physical location are known as virtual locations. Neither is inherently problematic, but we would prefer VPN providers to be open about their infrastructure and where it is located. According to a ProtonVPN representative, the company only uses “bare metal” servers, which are dedicated machines that are located exactly where they claim to be.
In terms of physical security, ProtonVPN claims to use full disk encryption, rendering any seized server inaccessible. The company also claims that because dedicated servers are not virtual servers, they are more difficult to attack, and any server that goes offline due to “unforeseen circumstances” is immediately wiped and reprovisioned. Other VPNs have gone even further, running their servers entirely in RAM.
Your Privacy With ProtonVPN
It is critical that every VPN provider respects your privacy and safeguards your personal information. After all, the primary reason for using a VPN is to restrict access to your personal data. We believe, after reading ProtonVPN’s documentation and speaking with the company, that ProtonVPN is acting in the best interests of its customers—but determining that with absolute certainty is nearly impossible. If you have any doubts about a particular VPN provider, look elsewhere. There are numerous options available.
According to the company’s privacy policies, it does not log user activity or IP addresses. Previously, the company saved the timestamp of the last login, but this is no longer the case. That means the company has improved and is doing even more to protect the privacy of its customers.
According to a ProtonVPN representative, the company only makes money through subscription sales, not by selling user information, and it “does no targeted advertising or profiling.” While connected, the app ProtonVPN is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and is owned by Proton Technologies AG. It is registered in the Swiss Commercial Registry and is governed by Swiss law. As a result, it only responds to information requests based on an approved Swiss court order, which also requires that the individual who is the subject of the investigation be notified. Even if ProtonVPN were forced to respond to a request, it would have little or no information to offer. According to the company’s transparency report, ProtonVPN received a valid request for information in January 2019, but did not have any to provide. All of this is excellent in terms of privacy and security.
Because ProtonVPN’s apps have been open-sourced, any researcher can verify that there are no potential vulnerabilities. It also runs a bug bounty program, paying researchers for bug vulnerabilities that they report, and has had its apps audited by SEC Consult. That’s all well and good, but we’d like to see a comprehensive no-logs and infrastructure security audit made public. TunnelBear, for example, has pledged to conduct annual service audits. Audits are imperfect, but they are still useful for building trust. ProtonVPN has announced that it will conduct an audit in 2022, and we eagerly await the results.
Hands On With ProtonVPN for Windows
ProtonVPN has Android, Android TV, Chromebooks, iOS, macOS, and Windows clients. The company provides step-by-step instructions for configuring a Linux machine to use the service. We had no trouble installing ProtonVPN’s Windows app on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running Windows 10.
Because ProtonVPN places such a high value on user privacy and technological excellence, you might expect it to be an ugly, unusable shambles. This isn’t the case. ProtonVPN’s app is slick and well-designed, with plenty of features. A convenient row of buttons now provides quick access to ad blocking, Secure Core, and the app’s kill switch. When you launch ProtonVPN, the Quick Connect button makes it clear how to connect to the internet, which we appreciate. The app also displays your connection status, a list of servers from which you can quickly change your VPN location, a real-time network traffic assessment, and a map of available servers. The map is collapsed when you click the small grey arrow in the upper right corner. Profiles is an app feature.
You can browse the available servers on a map or in a list, or you can search for a specific location. We especially like the ability to drill down to specific servers within a location. The app also shows how much load a particular server is under, whether it is a Plus server (that is, a server reserved for Plus users), and which servers are specialized for Tor, streaming, file sharing, and so on.
ProtonVPN includes Profiles for specific activities in addition to specialized servers. There are four default Profiles included: one for connecting to the fastest server, another for connecting to a random server, another for connecting to P2P servers, and another for connecting to the Tor network. You can make your own Profiles by selecting a country and a specific server within that country to which you want to connect. You can give your profile a name, a color, and require it to use the Secure Core servers. If this is too complicated for you, you can simply disregard it.
ProtonVPN includes a Kill Switch, which disables web traffic on your machine if the VPN connection is lost. This prevents your traffic from being exposed, even if only for a short time. Permanent Kill Switch is a new option on the kill switch that prevents the computer from communicating with the internet even if it is rebooted. The app also includes a simple tool for split tunneling, which allows you to route traffic from specific apps or IP addresses either inside or outside of the VPN tunnel. ProtonVPN also allows you to route only the traffic of the apps you choose through the VPN while leaving the rest unencrypted. Minimized app and split-tunneling configuration Because Netflix wants to enforce its distribution deals, it makes it difficult to watch Netflix with a VPN. During our testing, we had no trouble streaming Netflix while connected to a VPN server in the United States. However, the conflict between VPNs and streaming sites continues, and what works today may be blocked tomorrow.
A VPN should not leak information about your ISP, true IP address, or DNS requests. The server we used for testing with the DNS Leak Test tool protected our information and changed our public IP address. Please keep in mind that we only tested one server; other servers may have been configured incorrectly.
ProtonVPN recently partnered with Invizbox to provide routers that are preconfigured to work with the VPN service. This provides VPN protection to all devices on your network, and those devices do not count against your simultaneous connection limit. This, however, may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Speed and Performance
When you use a VPN to protect your web traffic, your data will not take the most direct route to and from the internet. In general, a VPN increases latency while decreasing upload and download speeds. To get an idea of the impact, we run a series of tests with the Ookla speed test tool and calculate the percentage difference between when the VPN is turned on and when it is turned off. It’s worth noting that PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Media, owns Ookla. For a complete breakdown of our methodologies, as well as the limitations of our testing, see How We Test VPNs.
During our preliminary testing, we discovered that ProtonVPN reduced download and upload speed test results by 72.7 percent and 81.6 percent, respectively. ProtonVPN increased latency by 77.8 percent in our tests. We retested the service after it had deployed WireGuard to all of its clients. This time, we discovered significant progress. ProtonVPN reduced Speedtest download and upload results by only 14.7 and 0.8 percent, respectively—the best upload result we’ve yet seen. In our testing, we also discovered that ProtonVPN increased latency only slightly above average, by 57.1 percent. We’ve decided to conduct our speed tests in a rolling fashion this year to provide you with more timely results. This is also required due to our limited access to the PCMag Labs test network as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The graph below displays the most recent results. More information is available in our fastest VPN feature.
Remember that, while our testing is useful for comparison, your results may vary greatly. Furthermore, we believe that security, privacy, and overall value are far more important differentiators than speed, which should not be the first consideration when selecting a VPN.
Does ProtonVPN Get Faster if You Pay More?
ProtonVPN’s pricing page includes speed classifications for its subscription tiers. These are only estimates based on the anticipated number of users. Regardless of the subscription you use, ProtonVPN does not throttle your speeds. The free subscription has “Medium” speeds because ProtonVPN anticipates that many users will be crammed onto a few servers, whereas paid subscriptions have “High” speeds because they have access to more servers and fewer users per server. ProtonVPN also includes the Secure Core servers feature, which significantly improves speed.
We ran the tests again to compare the various methods of connecting to ProtonVPN. The outcomes are depicted in the graphs below. The Secure Core test results were based on a multi-hop connection between the United States and Sweden. We looked up and manually selected a Basic server for the Basic tier test. For the Free tier, we used a Free account and let the app choose a server for us. We re-ran these tests after ProtonVPN introduced WireGuard. The non-WireGuard results are shown in blue, while the WireGuard results are shown in green.
Our preliminary testing revealed that the Free tier reduced download speed test scores by 98.4 percent, the Basic tier reduced speed test scores by 68.9 percent, and the Plus tier reduced speed test scores by 72.7 percent. The use of Secure Core reduced download speed test results by 75.8%. On the upload side of the test, we discovered that Secure Core servers reduced upload speed test results by 98.9 percent, with the Free tier coming in close second at 97.3 percent. The Basic tier improved upload speed test results by 85.4 percent, while the Plus tier improved them by 81.6 percent. This year’s results were all worse than the previous year’s.
We retested all tiers using the same methodology, but this time we manually selected WireGuard as the VPN protocol for each test. We also ran a single baseline test and compared all VPN speeds to that result. We don’t believe it affected the outcome because these were run close together and on the same machine.
With WireGuard enabled, we saw a significant improvement in the majority of the results. ProtonVPN reduced download Speedtest results by only 16% for the Plus tier, 36.2 percent for Basic, 99.9% for Free, and a surprisingly good 42.8 percent for Secure Core. The download tests were also positive. Upload Speedtest results were reduced by 54.3 percent for the Plus tier, 5.3 percent for the Basic tier, 99.9 percent for the Free tier, and 90.1 percent for Secure Core when using ProtonVPN with WireGuard.
The latency results were, predictably, lopsided, to the point where the chart above is of dubious utility. The Basic tier increased latency by 55.6 percent, the Plus tier by 77.8 percent, the free tier by 500 percent, and the Secure Core servers by 5,055.6 percent, according to our pre-WireGuard testing. Notably, the previous year’s testing revealed an 8,500% increase in the Free tier and a 9,800% increase in the Secure Core server.
Remember that latency is primarily determined by distance from the server, so we didn’t expect to see significant improvement with WireGuard. The difference between these results and those previously recorded is most likely due to the servers we used in testing. ProtonVPN with WireGuard reduced latency by 75% for the Plus tier, 25% for the Basic tier, 2,337.5% for the Free tier, and 5,525% for the Secure Core tier.
A few conclusions can be drawn from this. To begin with, the peculiarities of the VPN server you use (and when you use it) have a significant impact on performance. Simply having access to a few more servers improved our performance significantly. Furthermore, while WireGuard resulted in improvements in the majority of categories, it produced nearly identical results on the Free servers to our pre-WireGuard testing. New technology can help, but it cannot solve all problems.
We also discovered that the difference between the Basic and Plus servers is relatively small, implying that you can get good service without upgrading to the highest tier. WireGuard increased this difference slightly, but we still believe the Basic tier performed admirably. Especially during the upload test with WireGuard, where the Basic server performed admirably.
Finally, the year-to-year changes show significant improvements in Secure Core performance. The latency results, for example, appear to be much better in 2021 than they have ever been.
Hands On With ProtonVPN for Mac
The ProtonVPN macOS VPN app is only available through the company’s website, not the Apple App Store. The interface is black, grey, and green, with a large Quick Connect button that clearly shows how to get started. A brief tutorial makes the app more user-friendly and walks you through its features. There is a row of buttons for the Kill Switch, NetShield, and SecureCore features, just like in the Windows version.
This app allows you to completely customize your experience, elevating it above a dependable but unspecialized service like Tunnelbear’s VPN for macOS. You have the option of selecting the city and server to connect to, as well as the type of connection. You can also create a custom profile based on the type of connection you want, such as P2P, TOR, or SecureCore.
We used a MacBook Air (M1, 2020) running OS Big Sur version 11.2.2 to test the macOS version of ProtonVPN. While connected to a server in Belgium, we ran a DNS Leak Test. Although we only tested a single server, the app did not leak our IP address or DNS information. ProtonVPN had no problem instantly playing YouTube videos, and Twitch streams loaded quickly and played without buffering or interruptions.
Hands On With ProtonVPN for iPhone
Unlike Tunnelbear and Mullvad’s colorful apps, the company’s iPhone VPN exudes a businesslike, not particularly fun vibe. When you first sign in, a red and black bar appears at the top of the screen, informing you that your connection is insecure. When you connect to a server, the bar changes to green with white text to indicate that you are connected. NetShield, a malware and ad blocker that can be toggled on and off, is a key feature in terms of extra features.
We used an iPhone XS running iOS 14.4 for this test. The app had some trouble connecting to its servers the first two times we tried to log in, but it worked fine the third time. Unlike Tunnelbear VPN, we could narrow our search all the way down to the individual server with ProtonVPN for iOS. We went to DNSLeakTest and ran a lengthy test to see if ProtonVPN was leaking our true IP address or DNS requests. During the test, we found no leaks, but we only tested one server in Hong Kong.
Connecting and disconnecting from ProtonVPN’s servers takes longer than with any other VPN we’ve tested. We were able to watch Twitch streams and YouTube videos without interruptions once we connected to a Hong Kong-based server. ProtonVPN’s iOS app is quick and effective.
Hands On With ProtonVPN for Android
We used a Samsung A71 5G running Android version 10 to test ProtonVPN’s Android VPN client. The Android app, like the iPhone app, is very clean, with little color other than grey, black, and green. The app successfully connected to a server in Hong Kong. The app will direct you to the fastest server in the country of your choice, but it will also provide you with a list of other servers that you can use. We chose the fastest server in each country for these tests.
To see if ProtonVPN was leaking DNS information, we used DNSLeakTest. When we tested a single server in Sofia, Bulgaria, we found no leaks, and ProtonVPN successfully changed our public IP address.
The speed of the Bulgarian VPN server was also excellent. We were able to watch YouTube videos without experiencing any noticeable load time or interruptions. Twitch.tv live streams took a little longer to load, but the video quality was excellent and there was no lag.
Hands On With ProtonVPN on Chrome OS
It was difficult to install this app on our Dell Chrome 3100 with an Intel Celeron Processor. Download timeouts occurred when attempting to download the app directly from Google Play. We then went to ProtonVPN’s website and clicked on the link to download the Chromebook app, but the download failed once more. Finally, we followed the website link to the Android app, and the download was successful.
The next issue arose when attempting to connect to a VPN server. Connection errors occurred when using the default Smart protocol. For any VPN server connections to work, we had to change the protocol to OpenVPN UDP. The preceding experience is not ideal, and it is certainly not a user-friendly method of connecting to a server. The interface of the ProtonVPN Android app is busy, with a list of available VPN servers taking up the majority of the screen and a small connection button at the bottom. A map view is also available, allowing users to select server locations from a map rather than a list.
The Android app for Proton VPN on ChromeOS has a plethora of useful features. From the Settings menu, you can enable an Always-On VPN or the Kill Switch. There’s also NetShield, which prevents ads, malware, and trackers from running. Split tunneling is another feature available on ProtonVPN’s Android app, and you can also enable Alternative Routing, which searches for alternative connection paths if a service or site blocks ProtonVPN. Finally, there is a VPN Accelerator feature that claims to increase VPN speed by up to 400%. We didn’t notice much of a difference in speed when we turned this option off on our Chromebook, but the feature is enabled by default and doesn’t appear to be harmful.
A Smart and Flexible VPN
At first glance, ProtonVPN’s tiered pricing plans may appear unappealing, but those tiers provide flexibility that few competitors can match. In addition, the company provides a rare, truly free experience that does not limit your bandwidth or push advertisements. ProtonVPN has staked its reputation as a privacy-focused company, which is a welcome change after seeing so many other VPNs prioritize speed and video streaming. It also has a remarkably attractive client, which not every VPN can boast. All of this, combined with the company’s recent introduction of WireGuard, makes for a potent combination.
Since our initial review, ProtonVPN has more than doubled its number of servers and server locations. The company has demonstrated that it can scale up its product while maintaining its integrity. It was chosen as an Editors’ Choice. Because of its excellent free version and extensive collection of privacy features, ProtonVPN receives a slightly higher score than its co-winners.
Conclustion:ProtonVPN has the best free subscription tiers we’ve seen, and its paid tiers give you access to a variety of privacy tools at a reasonable price.