You may have heard of Proton Technologies before. They are the creators of ProtonMail, which is currently the biggest encrypted email service. Now, they’ve turned their attention to VPNs — but does ProtonVPN have the potential to be as ground-breaking as their previous project?
Given the previous reputation, we expected ProtonVPN to stand out when it came to privacy and security. And stand out it did. From the basics to the unique features, this VPN spares no expense in keeping you safe on the Internet.
ProtonVPN works with two variations of OpenVPN. No other protocol is supported — the reason Proton gives is OpenVPN offers little to no room to be compromised. While other protocols may be faster and cheaper to maintain, ProtonVPN chooses to forego these options in favor of better security.
Encryption is, in a word, impeccable — AES-256 for network traffic, 2048-bit RSA for key exchange, and HMAC with SHA256 for message authentication offer a solid backbone.
That’s not all: ProtonVPN has developed its own re-routing tech, called Secure Core. What it does is weave your traffic through several servers before it goes on its way out of Proton’s network. These servers are in locations with strong privacy laws, which makes it impossible for hackers monitoring exit traffic to unveil the user’s actual IP address.
Features like Secure Core make ProtonVPN a great choice for those who often find themselves on the Internet in easily compromisable settings. Other great aspects include kill-switch functionality and the strict no-logs policy — ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, which puts it outside both EU and US legislation, and allows it to guarantee users full privacy.
ProtonVPN’s top-shelf protection isn’t limited to the virtual space, either. All of its critical infrastructures is located underground in a former army fallout shelter in Switzerland. Not only does it sound awesome, it shows the big steps taken to ensure hardware security and excellent uptime.
There is a lot more to this VPN’s attention to privacy, but we believe this is enough to show their dedication to the cause. What about the other important aspects?
Content unblocking is one of them, and ProtonVPN performs well — even tougher nuts like Netflix and Hulu can be cracked, but there’s trouble with BBC’s iPlayer.
As for the actual streaming experience, we found zero issues with connection and buffering. It was even better with the Plus servers, but you’ll have to break the bank and get the higher-tier packages for those.
Overall, there are no significant drops in speed, even on the OpenVPN protocol. But that’s for desktop — on mobile, it’s an entirely different story. Although the connection is stable, it’s by no means fast. The main culprit is the software, or the lack of one.
Indeed, there is no dedicated ProtonVPN app as of now. You’ll have to resort to third-party software, and configuration is wonky and convoluted, to put it mildly.
Ease of use is just one of the areas that suffer here — the other one, unfortunately, is speed. Prepare to wait minutes for heavier pages to load on mobile, and if you aren’t into slideshows, avoid watching streams.
All of this may come as a surprise, considering ProtonVPN’s list of supported platforms. The provider isn’t in the wrong — you can use the VPN on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and routers — but, in reality, the only fully-developed client is the Windows one. Keep that in mind if you aren’t a Microsoft fan.
Customer support is another area where ProtonVPN can make progress. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed by the lack of live chat, and response time on the two available means of contact can certainly be improved.
The average for a return to your question is at 12+ hours, and in one case it took customer support 3 days to get back to us. Apart from the huge wait, everything was handled professionally — we wanted to test the money-back guarantee, and we were given clear, straightforward instructions on how to do it.
In regards to that, we are happy to say that ProtonVPN is a provider that doesn’t try to pull shady tricks on customers wishing for their money back. In our experience, we were refunded immediately after the process was over.
The first step is to switch your account to Free, followed by contacting support with a refund request. You have 60 days to do that, which is twice the period most VPNs are willing to offer. Everything is handled on the spot, and you may even get your money back on the same day if you’re lucky enough to quickly hear back from customer support.
To sum up, ProtonVPN can be a solid contender for the best privacy-oriented VPN on the market, but it still feels like an unfinished product. It offers a host of functionality wrapped a smooth, good-looking interface, but this kind of polished experience isn’t currently available on any other platform than Windows.
On the upside, Proton has acknowledged their shortcomings to the community, and they’re working on solutions (developing an app for Android, introducing easier Bitcoin payment, etc.).
Once these updates are live, we believe there will be nothing but bright days ahead for ProtonVPN. As of now, it remains a work in progress with huge potential to be a leading VPN in the near future.
If you're looking for other free VPNs, there are a bunch of alternatives.