ProtonVPN Review: Is It Safe?

ProtonVPN serves over eight million people, but how well does it work?

Aliza Vigderman, Senior Editor Gabe Turner, Chief Editor
ProtonVPN App on iPhone
Editors Rating:
8.8 /10

What We Like

What We Don't Like

  • Customer support:We wish ProtonVPN 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, which starts at $4 a month, is a little higher compared to the competition.

Bottom Line

Whether we were watching Netflix or torrenting movies, we knew that ProtonVPN encrypted all our web traffic. It even replaced our IP address, making us much less susceptible to hacking when using public Wi-Fi networks.

You could be looking for a VPN to watch your favorite Netflix show, 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.

We’re going to be looking at ProtonVPN, a VPN company in Switzerland with more than 1,300 servers in over 50 countries. In this review, we’ll see what ProtonVPN and ProtonVPN Free are all about— their features, performance, subscription plans, customer support, and apps— to help you decide if it’s the right VPN for you.

ProtonVPN Privacy Features

Network traffic encryption AES-256
WebRTC leak test Passed
DNS leak test Passed
Kill switch Yes
Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, 14 Eyes Non-member
Editor's Rating
Overall Rating
8.8
  • The company's headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, which means it isn’t under the jurisdiction of any international surveillance alliances.
  • Strict logging policies and annual transparency reports ensure that customer data is untraceable and secure.
  • A free version is available, in addition to subscription options starting at $4 a month.

Video Review

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, ProtonVPN offers a total of 1,334 servers across 55 countries. Watch our Chief Editor, Gabe Turner, test it out for himself.

About ProtonVPN

Selecting a Country Server in ProtonVPN
Selecting a Country Server in ProtonVPN

How many VPN origin stories involve international nuclear physics research organizations? Well, we would guess only one.

Proton Technologies AG, the parent company of ProtonVPN, came about after its founding members met at CERN. They created ProtonVPN “to better protect the activists and journalists” around the world. That’s a cause we can get behind, as journalism is an increasingly dangerous profession.

Since its founding, ProtonVPN has grown to have more than 1,300 servers in 55 countries. Typically, when it comes to VPNs, the more servers, the better, as your proximity to a server influences your internet speed.

Switzerland, the location of ProtonVPN’s headquarters, has strong personal privacy laws. For instance, Swiss law doesn’t require VPNs to keep user data logs,1 which makes the country great for VPNs with no data-logging policies. Switzerland also doesn’t belong to any international surveillance alliance like the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances.

However, it does cooperate with Five Eyes’ partner countries regarding law enforcement requests. So how does ProtonVPN handle court-approved data requests?

On its website, ProtonVPN maintains a transparency report which discloses every time that third parties request user information. Its most recent transparency report shows that only one IP information request came in in 2019.2 And even when the court mandated that ProtonVPN hand over user data, the company had no data to hand over since it doesn’t log customer IP addresses. If there is any VPN out there you can trust with your data, it seems to be ProtonVPN.

ProtonVPN App on iPhone
ProtonVPN App on iPhone

ProtonVPN Features

Feature ProtonVPN
Data Logging No
Kill Switch Yes
Split Tunneling Yes
Netflix Yes
Torrenting Yes
IP Addresses Shared IP address with other users

Will ProtonVPN Log My Data?

Transparency Report on the ProtonVPN App
Transparency Report on the ProtonVPN App

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 it needs to run its operations.

Despite that, ProtonVPN is about as good as it comes from a privacy perspective. As we noted in our ProtonVPN privacy report, the VPN doesn’t log user VPN connections data, so even if the Swiss government requests it, the company has nothing to hand over.

ProtonVPN Privacy Policy
Screenshot of Privacy Policy from ProtonVPN’s Website

As you can see above, ProtonVPN holds true to its claim and doesn’t log your session data. The only session data it records is the last time you tried to log in in order to prevent brute force attacks against your password. ProtonVPN does, however, record the following personal data:

  • Email address
  • Support requests or bug reports
  • Payment information

ProtonVPN promises to delete all this data when you delete your account, but until then, the company stores all personal data in its encrypted local servers.

Does ProtonVPN Have A Kill Switch?

ProtonVPN Kill Switch
Screenshot of ProtonVPN Kill Switch in Windows

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 using a VPN to torrent a huge file that will take hours to download completely. 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. Luckily, ProtonVPN has you covered with kill switches on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Linux devices.

Does ProtonVPN Offer Split Tunneling?

Split Tunneling
Split Tunneling

VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel to send all your web data through. With split tunneling, VPNs create two tunnels: one goes to your ISP directly 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 feature 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 your VPN. Free and Basic don’t offer access to Plus servers and your internet speed will not be fast enough to allow for streaming services like Netflix. However, you can use either the Free or Basic subscription to access other types of restricted content by changing your IP address and in effect, changing your location.

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 give you a better experience, likely, if you plan to torrent often.

ProtonVPN Encryption

VPN Encryption
VPN Encryption

ProtonVPN encrypts all network traffic with AES-256, then uses 4096-bit RSA for key exchange and HMAC with SHA384 for message authentication. All of your encrypted VPN traffic has perfect forward secrecy, meaning that even if someone discovers encryption keys, the keys will only be useful for one session and not all sessions thereafter. Read on as we explain what each encryption standard means.

AES-256

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is an encryption algorithm that encrypts data with 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 some advertise it as “military-grade encryption”.

4096-bit RSA

RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) is another encryption algorithm that transmits data securely. This algorithm is slower than AES, which is why usually, VPNs use it to transmit keys, rather than all the data. First, VPNs encrypt traffic using AES, then send keys that unlock the encryption to their servers using RSA. Security professionals consider 2048-bit RSA keys secure, so ProtonVPN is really going the extra mile with 4096-bit RSA.

HMAC with SHA384

VPN Hashing Algorithm
VPN Hashing Algorithm

HMAC, or Hash-based Message Authentication Code, is a way to check the integrity and authenticity of messages. In ProtonVPN’s case, it creates shared secret keys using SHA384 (384-bit Secure Hash Algorithm) cryptographic hash functions.

ProtonVPN Protocols

Internet connection protocols determine how VPNs dispatch data packets across networks. The degree of security a VPN has depends on the protocol it uses. Some VPNs use outdated, insecure protocols for faster speeds and lower maintenance costs, which is not a good thing, obviously.

This is not the case with ProtonVPN, which built its Mac and Android VPNs around OpenVPN and its Windows and iOS VPNs around IKEv2/IPSec. The information security community considers both of those protocols to be highly secure.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol that VPNs use to make secure tunnels for your web traffic. Many consider OpenVPN 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 VPN providers can configure with protocols such as PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and more.

IKEv2

Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a VPN protocol that re-establishes your connection with your VPN automatically after disconnection 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.

Testing ProtonVPN

Now that we know that 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 must not leak your IP address, no matter what. Let’s see how well the ProtonVPN performs across its platforms.

Speed Test

Getting the Fastest Connection in the ProtonVPN App
Getting the Fastest Connection in the ProtonVPN App

With ProtonVPN, the connection speed you get will depend on which subscription plan you signed up for. Basic will be faster than Free and Plus will be faster than Basic. For our tests, we used ProtonVPN Plus exclusively.

Whichever VPN you choose, you’ll have to accept the fact that your internet speed will slow down. The extra protection from VPNs comes at a price. Please note that many factors determine internet speeds— time of day, location, internet service provider, VPN server distance, and, of course, the VPN service provider.

We tested ProtonVPN on a Macbook Pro running macOS Mojave and our ThinkPad T430 running Windows 10. We used the Quick Connect option in the app to connect to the optimal servers in our area.

Download Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 463.85 mbps
With VPN 61.47 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 157.52 mbps
With VPN 91.41 mbps

First, we measured the difference in download speed in megabits per second (Mbps). On Windows, ProtonVPN was pretty fast.

Download speeds decreased by 42 percent but remained above 90 Mbps. On our Mac, we started out with a higher initial internet speed, so the drop was more significant. Our download speed decreased by 87 percent.

Now, that sounds really bad, but our Mac internet speed still remained above 60 Mbps, which is still fast enough for streaming. Overall, ProtonVPN worked better on Windows in this category.

Upload Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 28.66 mbps
With VPN 25.6 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 28.95 mbps
With VPN 27.88 mbps

Next, we tested the difference in upload speeds with and without the VPN. ProtonVPN barely slowed down our upload speed on Windows, only decreasing upload speed by four percent. On Mac, the upload decreased a little more at 10 percent, not bad overall.

Ping Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 10 ms
With VPN 11 ms
Windows
Without VPN 10 ms
With VPN 12 ms

Finally, we tested the ping, or latency in milliseconds. For this category, ProtonVPN worked spectacularly. The latency increased by only one millisecond on our Mac and only two milliseconds on our Windows computer. This is very impressive and could mean ProtonVPN would be great for gaming.

Overall, we’re impressed with how fast ProtonVPN was on our computers. We thought maybe using such secure VPN protocols would slow our internet 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 provides consistently, then we would not have any complaints about the level of security it provides.

DNS Leak Test

DNS Leak Test
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 on, and for safety reasons, you can’t turn it off.

As you can see above, the public IP address ProtonVPN detected from our connection was in Italy. Since that’s not our real IP address, and we were nowhere near Italy at that time, our little test proved our VPN worked.

ProtonVPN Leak Test
ProtonVPN Leak Test Results. Screenshot from ProtonVPN app.

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, is a collection of standardized technologies that allows web browsers to communicate directly with each other rather than going through intermediate servers. WebRTC makes for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers.

All good, so far, but here’s the bad news: Any two devices that communicate with WebRTC need to know each others’ public IP addresses. So theoretically, a website or third party could use WebRTC to detect your real, public 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, anyway? We tested ProtonVPN and luckily, ProtonVPN didn’t allow WebRTC leaks.

ProtonVPN Subscriptions

Features Free Basic Plus Visionary
Number of server locations 3 55 55 55
Server access Free servers only Free and Basic servers All servers All servers
Total number of servers 23 396 1,334 1,334
Access to P2P servers No Yes Yes Yes
Access to Secure Core servers No No Yes Yes
Tor servers No No Yes Yes
Streaming No No Yes Yes
Number of devices 1 2 10 10
Speed priority Medium speed High speed Highest speed (up to 10 Gbps) Highest speed (up to 10 Gbps)

Since ProtonVPN’s mission is to give everyone access to secure and private internet browsing, its VPN should be affordable enough to meet that goal. ProtonVPN offers three different subscription types: Free, Basic, Plus, and Visionary 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. Visionary offers the same features as Plus, but in addition, it includes a ProtonMail Visionary account, so it’s a VPN plus encrypted email.

Aside from having differing features, each subscription covers a set number of devices. Free accounts can use one device, Basic accounts can use two devices, and Plus and Visionary accounts can use up to 10 devices.

Subscription Options Basic Plus Visionary
Monthly plan $5 $10 $30
One year plan cost $48 $96 $288
The monthly cost of one-year plan $4 $8 $24
Two-year plan cost $79 $159 $241
The monthly cost of two-year plan $3.29 $6.63 $19.96

With the Basic, Plus, and Visionary plans, you can choose to pay monthly, yearly, or every two years. You receive a 20 percent discount if you commit to a full year, and 33 percent if you commit for two years. Keep in mind that ProtonVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if the VPN itself starts to let you down, you can get a refund for the prorated number of days remaining.

Overall, we really like that ProtonVPN offers a free option. We wouldn’t touch most free VPNs (except the best free VPNs, of course) with a ten-foot pole, so it’s nice having a free option from a trustworthy company that isn’t out to profit from our personal data. We would recommend ProtonVPN Free to everyone. And to see other savings, check out ProtonVPN Black Friday deals.

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, we 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.

If you’re in a hurry, though, ProtonVPN’s extensive knowledge base might be able to help. It contains answers to questions that customers ask frequently regarding accounts, setting up VPN, billing, troubleshooting, and more. Again, we would have liked it better if ProtonVPN had phone or live chat support, but its lack of those customer support features isn’t a deal-breaker.

The ProtonVPN App

The ProtonVPN App
The ProtonVPN App

The ProtonVPN app is available on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. Inside ProtonVPN’s apps, you will find a quick-connect button to turn on the VPN service. ProtonVPN has a great 4.2 rating from the Google Play store, and a 3.9 rating from the Apple App Store, quite high for a VPN.

ProtonVPN Vs. NordVPN

nordvpn-review
NordVPN App

NordVPN is another popular VPN, so let’s see how it compares with ProtonVPN. While ProtonVPN has over 1,300 servers in more than 50 countries, NordVPN has a staggering 5,187 servers in 60 countries. Neither ProtonVPN nor NordVPN is under jurisdictions of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes member countries, as they have headquarters in Switzerland and Panama, respectively.

Features ProtonVPN NordVPN
Logs personal data? No No
Kill switch Yes Yes
Split tunneling Yes Yes
Netflix Yes Yes
Torrenting Yes Yes
IP addresses Shared IP addresses with other users Shared with other users, rotated regularly

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. Additionally, both have split tunneling on Windows and Android.

The main difference is the pricing. NordVPN’s pricing ranges between $3.67 to $11.95 a month, depending on the length of your subscription. However, you get the same features no matter what subscription you choose.

With ProtonVPN’s pricing, you only get the full features with the Plus plans, starting at $6.63 a month with the two-year plan. That’s almost twice the price of NordVPN’s $3.67 a month two-year plan.

Now that we’ve gone over how NordVPN and ProtonVPN’s features and pricing compare, let’s talk about their performances. ProtonVPN was faster on Windows, but NordVPN edged out ProtonVPN on Mac. Overall, it’s a close race, but we’d recommend NordVPN for its large server network, worth it even with the higher pricing.

You can read more by seeing our full NordVPN review.

Recap of ProtonVPN

In summary, we would definitely recommend ProtonVPN. It’s hard to find a free VPN that doesn’t compromise your privacy and gives you unlimited bandwidth, but ProtonVPN’s Free version hits the spot. Plus, we like its privacy policy and how transparent the company is. But is ProtonVPN the right VPN for you?

ProtonVPN might be the VPN for you if you care about…
  • No data logging: Governments can’t force ProtonVPN 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: We were able to watch other countries’ Netflix without issue.
  • Torrenting: ProtonVPN has servers for P2P file downloading in mind.
  • Great speeds: We 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.
  • Price: At $6.63 to $10 per month for the Plus subscription, ProtonVPN is on the more expensive side.

If you have more questions about ProtonVPN, keep reading.

ProtonVPN FAQs

We answered the questions we get the most about ProtonVPN below.

  • Is ProtonVPN legit?

    ProtonVPN is a legitimate VPN service based out of Switzerland with more than 1,300 servers in over 55 countries. It has a strict no-data logging policy, which the Swiss government’s strong consumer privacy laws protect further.

  • 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, though, 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.

Editors Rating:
8.8 /10
Citations
  1. GDPR Register. (2021). New Swiss Data Protection Act completed: comparison with GDPR.
    gdprregister.eu/news/swiss-data-protection-act-2020/

  2. ProtonVPN. (2018). ProtonVPN Transparency Report & Warrant Canary.
    protonvpn.com/blog/transparency-report/