Data leaks have been happening on a bigger and more regular scale in recent years. As many in the public eye suffer embarrassing or incriminating exposes, it left many people questioning their own data and online safety.
More companies are selling off their customers’ data, and more apps listen in for targeted advertising, causing people to look for ways to stop these invasive practices.
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are fast becoming an essential tool for online users looking for a more secure and safer way of using the internet. Activists and journalists need them to protect their identities as they search deep into the depths of the internet for truth and knowledge.
Internet users who may be in countries suffering from political upheaval, or in those with Draconian laws, use VPNs to safely access online resources and avoid tough sanctions.
Many people simply wish to use the internet anonymously, avoid security issues, and steer clear of the questionable practices of tech giants and governments.
With so much choice on the market, and endless tech jargon being thrown around, it can be a nightmare trying to find the right VPN provider.
ProtonVPN has built a strong reputation amongst internet users in recent years, with their VPN and encrypted email service ProtonMail becoming the choice of journalists, activists, and users seeking privacy worldwide.
Read on to learn the ins and out of ProtonVPN’s services and features.
Who’s behind ProtonVPN?
Proton Technologies AG is the parent company of ProtonVPN that is based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its founders met at Cern and created ProtonVPN with the aim of offering better protection for activists and journalists.
As countries worldwide try to clamp down on dissenting voices and free speech, this is a noble cause indeed.
As they are based in Switzerland, they operate under Swiss law. This means that their user’s privacy and security are held in the highest of importance. Many people in the tech industries, as well as activists and journalists, have moved their email accounts to ProtonMail.
This is Proton’s encrypted email service that offers extra security and privacy.
Proton makes its users’ security and privacy an imperative part of its service. The company does not sell users’ data or personal information, nor do they log users’ IP addresses or internet activity. Switzerland has strong consumer privacy laws, with requests for information having to come from a Swiss Court Order.
Although the country is not part of the international security surveillance alliances such as Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes, they do cooperate with the relevant law enforcement agencies when requested.
However, as they don’t log their users’ details or internet activity, they would have no information to share. The only data that ProtonVPN keeps is the email address associated with the account, a record of support requests or bug reports, and payment information.
If you decide to delete your account, then the company policy is to delete all of this data. These factors combine to create a truly private and secure user experience.
ProtonVPN has four tiers of subscription available, ranging from a free membership to the top-level Visionary plan. Below, we break down the features and costs involved in each.
Signing up to the free ProtonVPN account gives the user a limited number of three VPN server locations, with a choice of Japan, Netherlands, and the US. It’s also only possible to use one device at a time, though there are no limitations on the amount of data a free member can use.
ProtonVPN Basic is the second tier, with a cost of $5 per month, $48 annually, or $79 every two years.
With this tier, users gain access to all the available VPN locations that ProtonVPN provides as opposed to the three for the free account, though it’s limited to two devices and a subset of servers. Users have access to NetShield ad and tracker blocker, as well as P2P and BitTorrent file sharing.
ProtonVPN Plus is the third-tier and costs $10 per month, $96 annually, or $159 every two years. Access is granted to all ProtonVPN’s available servers, as well as to the Plus servers.
The Plus servers get access to the Tor network, which combined with the VPN offers the highest of online anonymity and security. Users are also able to use the service on five devices simultaneously.
The top tier, and most costly option, is the Visionary Plan. This costs $30 per month, $288 annually, or $479 every two years. This allows a whopping ten devices to use the account simultaneously, so it’s especially useful for families or small businesses.
Visionary subscribers also gain access to the top tier of Proton’s encrypted email service, ProtonMail. With that comes a whole host of features and benefits. It includes 20 GB of storage, support for up to 10 email domains, 50 email aliases and allows up to five users on a single email account.
Users will also have access to ProtonDrive secure online cloud storage, a secure address book, and the ProtonCalendar.
How can I pay?
Proton VPN subscriptions can be paid in a number of ways. It’s possible to pay via credit card, PayPal, and via Bitcoin (if you already have a Bitcoin account).
The company also advises that they will take physical cash that’s sent directly to their headquarters in Switzerland. This is another step to allow user anonymity and protect activists, journalists, or those using the internet in countries with restricted internet access.
Servers and Locations
ProtonVPN currently hosts servers in sixty-one countries, including locations in Africa and India, which many competitors don’t do. When using a VPN service, a wider choice allows users to access region-specific content, as well as find servers that offer better performance.
ProtonVPN has been adding to their locations in recent times, with an indication that they are willing to listen to their customers when deciding on new server locations.
The company host servers in countries that have particularly strong censorship and government clampdowns such as Hong Kong, Russia, and Turkey.
Users with tier three or four membership have access to the Plus servers. This also includes access to multi-hop Secure Core Servers.
These are servers directly owned by Proton in countries with stringent privacy laws. These allow the connection to ‘hop’ first from the user’s device to the Secure Core Servers, then ‘hop’ again to the selected VPN server. This works similarly to the Tor browser, adding another layer of security for users.
The only downside to this added security is that speed and performance can be considerably lower. Though, if a user requires extra security to protect themselves, the trade-off with reduced speed may be a worthwhile choice to make.
ProtonVPN is available on all major platforms and operating systems. Users of Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Linux are catered for, although there are some minor differences such as the protocols used.
Streaming and Torrents
Using ProtonVPN will allow users to unblock region-specific content and websites. Those that wish to use streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon or Disney+, can gain access to a wide range of extra content by logging in from different locations.
The only issue regarding this is that users need a ProtonVPN Plus account to ensure access and a high level of performance.
The unlimited bandwidth and specialized P2P servers ensure high-speed torrenting for ProtonVPN users. Basic users do have access to BitTorrent and P2P file sharing, though the Plus users will enjoy a smoother and more time-efficient experience.
Interface and Apps
ProtonVPN has a slick and well-designed interface across all platforms and devices. It’s easy to use from the get-go, with a smart, contrasting color scheme ensuring the user can find their way around without any trouble.
The Quick Connect button allows a user to quickly connect to a private server, though if you wish to change the server location it’s only a click away. The interface shows the users’ connection status, real-time network traffic updates, and the user can view either a list of server locations or a world map.
VPN providers use a range of connection protocols that define how the provider shares and secures users’ data across networks.
ProtonVPN has designed its protocols around the different operating systems to ensure the highest degree of privacy whilst not having to reduce the speed of connections. They have built their Windows and iOS VPNs around IKEv2/ IPSec and their Mac and Android VPNs around OpenVPN.
Both protocols offer strong security and internet speed, but what’s the difference, and is one better than the other?
WireGuard allows ProtonVPN to establish instantaneous connections to their servers. It is an open-sourced VPN protocol that, due to its refined coding, improves the speed of connection whilst simultaneously reducing the amount of processing a user’s computer or device is using.
WireGuard uses a variety of cryptographic standards such as ChaCha20, Poly1305, and BLAKE2.
OpenVPN provides a balance of security and speed. It is an open-source protocol that creates secure tunnels for the user’s web traffic. It is widely regarded as the industry standard, with most leading VPN providers favoring this.
IKEv2 stands for Internet Key Exchange version 2. It automatically re-establishes a user’s connection to their VPN if they happen to be disconnected from the internet.
Each protocol will offer the user strong privacy and a fast connection to the servers. WireGuard, despite being the newest of the three used by ProtonVPN, is fast becoming the go-to protocol for VPN providers.
ProtonVPN’s Kill Switch feature adds another layer of security for their users, preventing them from being exposed online. It works to ensure that if a user accidentally closes their connection to the VPN, or it disconnects, all internet traffic is immediately shut down and blocked.
This stops any user’s internet service provider or government from seeing what they are looking at online, especially essential for users in politically volatile environments.
Perhaps the only downside to ProtonVPN’s service is the customer support. Currently, the only way to contact them is via email, as there is no live online chat or phone option. They do have a useful online resource with many FAQs and guidance to resolve common issues that may arise.
ProtonVPN is undoubtedly one of the best options currently available on the market.
Their Free package is unrivaled in that it doesn’t limit the user’s data allowance like most competitors. Users’ security and privacy are at the forefront of their policies, whilst their location in Switzerland adds an added layer of protection.
With strong Torrenting and streaming capabilities, the service will please most users and allow them to surf online securely.
Although the higher tier packages of Plus and Visionary are quite expensive when compared to some competitors, the sheer volume of features and inclusive content makes it a worthwhile investment.