ProtonVPN serves over eight million people, but how much does it cost?
You could be looking for a VPN to watch your favorite Netflix only available in another country, to get around internet censorship like the Great Firewall of China, or just because you care about the right to privacy. Whatever your reason, there is so much information on the web when it comes to VPNs that it can be hard to decide which one is best for you. I’m going to be looking at ProtonVPN, a company with more than 560 servers in over 4o countries based out of Switzerland. The name ProtonVPN might sound familiar if you’ve used their sister company’s email service, ProtonMail– a popular encrypted email service. ProtonVPN’s mission is to make secure and private browsing available to all.
In this ProtonVPN review, I’m going to take out a magnifying glass and see what ProtonVPN and ProtonVPN Free are about— their features, performance, subscription plans, customer support, and the ProtonVPN apps. Next, I’ll compare it to NordVPN, another top choice among VPNs. Finally, we’ll decide together if ProtonVPN is right for you. Let’s get started!
ProtonVPN Pros and Cons
Let’s go over ProtonVPN’s main advantages and disadvantages before we get into the finer details.
What We Like
- No data logging: ProtonVPN has the annual transparency reports to back up their no-logs policy.
- Torrents: The combination of unlimited bandwidth and special P2P servers makes a great VPN for torrenting.
- Watching Netflix: With speeds above 60 Mbps and no IP address blacklisting, I had a great experience on Netflix.
What We Don’t Like
- Customer support: I wish they had more ways to contact support than just email support tickets.
- Price: If you’re looking for a budget VPN, ProtonVPN is not it. ProtonVPN’s pricing may scare you a bit.
OK, let’s dive in.
How many VPN origin stories involve international nuclear physics research organizations? Well, I would guess only one. Proton Technologies AG, the parent company of ProtonVPN, came about after its founding members met at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They created ProtonVPN “to better protect the activists and journalists” around the world. That’s a cause I can get behind, as journalism is an increasingly dangerous profession. Since it’s founding, ProtonVPN has grown to more than 560 servers in 43 countries. Typically when it comes to VPNs, the more servers, the better, as your proximity to a server influences your internet speed.
ProtonVPN is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland is known for having strong personal privacy laws. Although they are not a member of Five Eyes international surveillance alliance, they do cooperate with Five Eyes’ partner countries regarding law enforcement requests. On the plus side, Swiss law doesn’t require VPNs to keep user data logs, which allows ProtonVPN to have a strict no-logging policy.
On their website, ProtonVPN maintains a transparency report which discloses every time that third parties request user information. Their most recent transparency report showed that only one request, approved by Swiss authorities, came in in 2019. And even when the company is forced to hand over user data, no data was handed over, as they don’t log your web traffic. If there is any VPN out there you can trust with your data, it seems to be ProtonVPN.
Will ProtonVPN Log My Data?
This question never has a simple yes or no answer for any VPN. The real world is never black and white. Frustrating, isn’t it? The truth is that every VPN logs at least some data that is needed to run their operations. That being said, ProtonVPN is about as good as they come from a privacy perspective. They don’t log user connection data, so even if the Swiss government requests it, the company has nothing to hand over.
As you can see above, ProtonVPN holds true to their claim and doesn’t log your session data. The only session data they record is the last time you tried to log in, in order to prevent brute force attacks against your password. They do, however, record the following personal data:
- Email address
- Support requests or bug reports
- Payment information
All of this data will be deleted when you delete your account. Before that, it’s encrypted and stored locally on their servers.
Does ProtonVPN Have A Kill Switch?
Don’t worry, turning on the kill switch isn’t going to harm anyone. Actually, using a kill switch, or network lock feature, will protect you during those moments when you lose connection to the VPN by shutting down all of your web traffic. Think of it as a digital Plan B.
Let’s say you’re torrenting a huge file that will take hours to completely download. Without a kill switch, if the VPN disconnects even for a moment, your Internet Service Provider would see what you are doing and it could get you in trouble. Kill switches are also important if you’re a journalist and trying to stay anonymous on the web. Either way, they are important, and luckily, ProtonVPN has you covered with kill switches on Mac and Windows.
Does ProtonVPN Offer Split Tunneling?
VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel to send all your web data through. With split tunneling, two tunnels are created: one goes directly to your ISP as if you weren’t using a VPN, and the second routes your traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel. For example, this feature would let you watch Netflix in your home country, and surf the web with your VPN at the same time. For some users, split tunneling is a must-have and for others, it’s a nice-to-have. With ProtonVPN, split tunneling is available on Windows and Android.
Can I Use Netflix with ProtonVPN?
As we’ll discuss further down, ProtonVPN has different subscription types: Free, Basic, and Plus. If you choose Plus, you will be able to watch Netflix with ProtonVPN. Free and Basic don’t offer access to Plus servers and your internet speed will not be fast enough to allow for streaming sites like Netflix.
When it comes to torrents, you will be able to download P2P files with either a Basic or Plus subscription. However, faster speeds on Plus servers will likely give you a better experience if you plan to torrent often.
With all your data being transported through that shiny, new VPN tunnel, you might be wondering how secure is that tunnel. At least I would hope so! If the locks on that tunnel are as secure as a dollar-store padlock, then you would be better off with no VPN at all. With ProtonVPN, all your network traffic is encrypted with AES-256, key exchange is done with 4096-bit RSA, and HMAC with SHA384 is used for message authentication. All of your encrypted data has perfect forward secrecy, meaning that even if the key is discovered it will only be useful for one session and not all sessions thereafter.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is an encryption algorithm used to encrypt data with a 128-, 192-, or 256-bit key lengths. AES-256 (AES with a 256-bit key) is ubiquitous in the encryption field because it’s fast, secure, and doesn’t use much computing power. The United States uses AES-256 to encrypt top-secret information, which is why sometimes you will see this advertised as “military-grade encryption”.
RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) is another encryption algorithm used to securely transmit data. This algorithm is slower than AES, which is why it is commonly used to transmit keys, rather than all the data. 2048-bit RSA keys are considered by security professionals to be secure, so ProtonVPN is really going the extra mile with 4096-bit RSA.
HMAC with SHA384
HMAC, or Hash-based Message Authentication Code, is a way to check the integrity and authenticity of messages. A shared secret key is created using a cryptographic hash function, which in ProtonVPN’s case is SHA384 (384-bit Secure Hash Algorithm).
Internet protocols determine how data packets are dispatched across a network. The degree of security a VPN has depends on the protocol chosen. Some VPNs use outdated, insecure protocols for faster speeds and lower maintenance costs. This is not the case with ProtonVPN, which only uses OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec protocols.
Both of these protocols are considered highly secure by the infosec community. On Mac and Android, ProtonVPN is built using OpenVPN. On iOS and Windows, ProtonVPN uses the IKEv2/IPSec VPN protocol. Both are considered secure, although OpenVPN is the more secure of the two. You can find more information below on these VPN protocols.
OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used to make secure tunnels for your web traffic. OpenVPN is sometimes referred to as the gold standard when it comes to VPN protocols, and rightly so because it offers a good balance of speed and security. It offers up to 256-bit encryption using the Open SSL library and many other security features that can be configured as desired with protocols such as PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and more.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a widely used VPN protocol that automatically re-establishes your connection with your VPN after you’re disconnected from the Internet. This comes in handy when you would like to switch between Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots, which happens all the time when you’re on a mobile phone.
Now that we know ProtonVPN is secure, let’s see if it’s fast enough to keep up with the competition. To perform well, a VPN needs to be lightning-fast and needs to not leak your IP address, no matter what. Let’s see how well the ProtonVPN performs across their platforms.
With ProtonVPN, the connection speed you get is going to depend on which subscription plan you signed up for. Basic will be faster than Free and Plus will be faster than Basic. For my tests, I’m going to be using ProtonVPN Plus exclusively. If speed isn’t crucial for you, you should be able to get by on the Free or Basic plan. For me and my unhealthy addiction to Netflix, Plus is what I need so that’s what I’m testing.
Whichever VPN you choose, you’ll have to accept the fact that your internet speed will slow down. The extra protection from VPN security protocols comes at a price. Please note that your internet speed is determined by many factors— time of day, location, internet service provider, VPN server distance, and of course the VPN service provider. I’m testing ProtonVPN in Poland on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS Mojave and my ThinkPad T430 running Windows 10. I’ll be using the “Quick Connect” option in the app to connect to the optimal server in my area.
First, I measured the difference in download speed in megabits per second (Mbps). On Windows, ProtonVPN was pretty fast. Download speeds decreased by 42% but remained above 90 Mbps. On my Mac, I started out with a higher initial internet speed so the drop was more significant. My internet decreased by 87%. Now that sounds really bad, but my Mac internet speed still remained above 60 Mbps which is still fast enough for streaming. Overall, ProtonVPN worked better on my Windows computer in this category.
Next, I tested the difference in upload speeds with and without the VPN. ProtonVPN barely slowed down my upload speed on Windows, only decreasing in upload speed by 4%. On my Mac, my upload decreased a little more at 10%, but not bad overall.
Finally, I tested the ping, or latency in milliseconds. For this category, ProtonVPN worked spectacularly. The latency increased by only 1 millisecond on my Mac and only 2 milliseconds on my Windows computer. This is very impressive and could mean ProtonVPN would be great for gaming.
Overall, I’m impressed with how fast ProtonVPN was on my computers. I thought maybe using such secure VPN protocols would slow me down to a crawl, but that was not the case. Sure some VPNs are a little faster, but if these are the speeds ProtonVPN Plus consistently provides, then I would not have any complaints about the level of security provided.
DNS Leak Test
DNS leak tests are important to do because a device might send DNS (Domain Name System) server traffic outside of the VPN’s tunnel, thereby giving your private IP address away. Fortunately, ProtonVPN offers DNS leak protection. By default in the ProtonVPN app, the “DNS Leak Protection” option is turned on, and for safety reasons can’t be turned off.
As you can see above, the private IP address detected from my connection was located in Italy. Since that’s not my real IP address (remember, I’m in Poland), ProtonVPN passed the DNS leak test. It’s nice to know that ProtonVPN has my back.
WebRTC Leak Test
Are you going to use your VPN with web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera? If so, you need to know about WebRTC leaks. WebRTC, otherwise known as Web Real-Time Communication Test, is a collection of standardized technologies that allows web browsers to communicate directly with each other rather than going through an intermediate server. WebRTC makes for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers. You’re probably waiting for the bad news.
Well, any two devices that are communicating with WebRTC need to know each others’ private IP addresses. So theoretically, a website or third party could use WebRTC to detect your real, private IP address. That’s no good. What’s the point of an encrypted VPN tunnel if your browser will give away your private IP address anyways? I tested ProtonVPN and luckily, ProtonVPN doesn’t allow WebRTC leaks.
Since ProtonVPN’s mission is to give everyone access to secure and private internet browsing, their VPN should be affordable enough to meet that goal. ProtonVPN offers three different subscription types: Free, Basic, and Plus memberships. ProtonVPN Free offers a bare-bones VPN experience and is, obviously, free. One level up from Free and you have the Basic plan, which gives you access to more servers in any country available. And the highest tier, Plus, gives you access to more servers, faster speeds, and more secure servers.
With both the Basic and Plus plans, you can choose the pay monthly or yearly. You receive a 20% discount if you commit to a full year. Keep in mind that ProtonVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so if ProtonVPN starts to let you down, you can get a refund for the prorated number of days remaining. Since the drop off in price between paying monthly and yearly isn’t that large, I would go with monthly payments for a few months before committing to a full year.
Overall, I really like that ProtonVPN offers a free option. I wouldn’t touch most free VPNs with a ten-foot pole, so it’s nice having a free option from a trustworthy company that isn’t out to profit from my personal data. I would recommend ProtonVPN Free to everyone.
The number of devices you can use simultaneously depends on the ProtonVPN subscription plan you choose, with the maximum being five devices on a Plus account. With any subscription, however, you’ll be able to switch between an unlimited number of servers.
Unfortunately, ProtonVPN doesn’t offer any browser extensions at the moment.
ProtonVPN Customer Support
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, pretty tech-savvy, or both, you’ll probably have to contact customer support at some point no matter which VPN you end up choosing. So let’s see what kind of customer support ProtonVPN has.
The only way to contact ProtonVPN for customer support is through an online ticket system. Honestly, I would have liked to see more options for contacting support, such as live chat or telephone. Communicating back and forth through email is about as slow as it gets. But let’s see how their users rate the ProtonVPN customer support experience.
Customer Support Ratings
If you look at ProtonVPN’s customer reviews on Trustpilot, you’ll see that they have an overall customer rating of 3.1 from 16 customer reviews. With as many one-star reviews as there are five-star reviews, I would say the results are mixed. Quite a few of the one-star reviews mentioned difficulty receiving a refund. Overall, I would say that ProtonVPN has room for improvement when it comes to customer support.
The ProtonVPN App
The ProtonVPN app is supported on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. Inside their apps, you will find a quick-connect button to turn on the VPN service. ProtonVPN has a great 4.2 rating from both the Apple store and the Google Play store alike, quite high for a VPN.
ProtonVPN Vs. NordVPN
NordVPN is another popular VPN, so let’s see how it compares with ProtonVPN. While ProtonVPN has over 560 servers in more than 40 countries, NordVPN has a staggering 5,246 in 62 countries. Neither ProtonVPN nor NordVPN are based in countries belonging to an international surveillance alliance or subject to data retention laws, as they’re based in Switzerland and Panama, respectively.
In terms of data logging, ProtonVPN and NordVPN don’t log your personal session information. Both offer kill switches, and both let you stream on Netflix or torrent files. Where they begin to differ is that only ProtonVPN has split tunneling.
Now that we’ve gone over how NordVPN and ProtonVPN’s features compare, let’s talk about their performances. ProtonVPN was faster on Windows, but NordVPN edged out ProtonVPN on my Mac. Overall it’s a close race, but I’d recommend ProtonVPN unless they don’t have servers in your desired location, or if you can’t afford ProtonVPN’s higher price point.
You can read more by seeing our full NordVPN review.
Recap of ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN might be the VPN for you if you care about…
- No data logging: ProtonVPN can’t be forced to log your data under Swiss law.
- Not part of a surveillance alliance: Switzerland is not part of Five Eyes and has strong consumer privacy laws.
- Split tunneling: You can route some traffic through the VPN tunnel and some through your normal ISP.
- Watching Netflix: I was able to watch other countries’ Netflix without issue.
- Torrenting: They have servers designed with P2P file downloading in mind.
- Great speeds: I got over 60 Mbps on both Mac and Windows, plenty for streaming in 1080p.
You might want to avoid ProtonVPN if these are deal breakers for you…
- Customer support: There is no live chat or phone option to contact support and they received mixed reviews on Trustpilot.
- Price: At $8-$10 per month, ProtonVPN is on the more expensive side.
- Is ProtonVPN legit?
ProtonVPN is a legitimate VPN service based out of Switzerland with more than 560 servers in over 4o countries. They have a strict no data logging policy, furthered by strict privacy laws in their home country.
- Is Proton VPN safe?
ProtonVPN is a safe VPN to use. They have a strict no data logging policy, so even if your data is requested by someone, ProtonVPN has no data to hand over. It also has Tor integration and SecureCore servers for additional security if needed.
- Is ProtonVPN free?
ProtonVPN does have a completely free option that provides you with unlimited bandwidth. If you want faster speeds or to watch Netflix, you will need to upgrade to the ProtonVPN Basic or ProtonVPN Plus paid plans.
- Does ProtonVPN work with Netflix?
ProtonVPN works well with Netflix, but you will need a ProtonVPN Plus subscription. The Free and Basic plans do not let you watch Netflix.