Psiphon is a free, open-source, Canadian-born VPN that started as a project to bypass censorship in 2008 at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Today, Psiphon has grown to become an independent corporation offering VPN and proxy services among digital civil rights groups such as Access Now.
It is “a circumvention tool that utilizes VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy technology, to provide you with uncensored access to internet content.” It uses L2TP/IPsec for VPN tunneling and provides extra data security using AES 256-bit encryption.
Psiphon has a VPN mode and proxy mode and works on Android, macOS, iOS, and Windows.
I tested its speeds, streaming, torrenting abilities, security, ease of use, and customer support.
I found that while Psiphon is easy to use, it is considerably slower and less private than most of the other VPNs we have reviewed in the past. It logs user data, which may be a red flag for a VPN from a 5 Eyes Alliance country.
Although Psiphon unblocked BBC iPlayer, it couldn’t unblock Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney+.
Psiphon has different pricing options for its apps. It also offers a 7-day free trial, so you can test it out before committing to a subscription plan.
Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings
- A free tool that uses open-source code. Being open-source comes with its benefits and I’ll tell you all about it in the security section.
- Canadian jurisdiction. Psiphon keeps logs of user data, and as it is from Canada, a member of the 5 Eyes Alliance, user privacy is not guaranteed.
- Unblocks BBC iPlayer. However, it couldn’t unblock HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, or Amazon Prime Video. Take a look at my streaming test results here.
- Has slow speeds. I was able to watch a show on the unblocked streaming site, although, I experienced continuous and long buffering. I tested its speeds and these were the results.
- Not great for torrenting, owing to its slow speeds and low privacy. See the torrenting section for more information.
- Server presence in 20 countries, mostly in North America and Europe. Jump to the server network section for the details.
- Works in China. But only Psiphon’s proxy mode is strong enough to circumvent China’s censorship rules.
- Leaks DNS data and doesn’t have a kill switch. This could expose your IP address. You can see my DNS leak test results in the security section.
- Easy set-up, no email registration. I installed Psiphon with 3 easy steps.
- Supports multiple devices. Psiphon works on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
- Limited customer support. Psiphon only offers email support, with long response times. I sent them an email and this was the response I got.
- Free trial on the Pro plan. You get 7 days to try out Psiphon’s features before deciding to commit to a paid plan. I’ll tell you all about Psiphon’s pricing below.
Psiphon Features — Updated in February 2023
Money Back Guarantee
Does VPN keep logs?
Number of servers
Number of devices per license
Based in country
Streaming — Generally Poor With Lots of Buffering
I tested Psiphon on both VPN mode and proxy mode. All tests in VPN mode defaulted to a New York server. I selected the server country at random while testing on the proxy mode.
Psiphon only unblocked 1 streaming platform. I found server speeds generally slow when streaming, and I wasn’t able to watch in HD.
Unblocked: BBC iPlayer
I was able to log into BBC iPlayer with Psiphon’s UK server while in proxy mode.
It took a long time to load Baptiste and although the show finally played, there were several periods of long buffering.
BBC iPlayer worked with Psiphon, but only on the UK server
Blocked by: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and HBO Now
I tested Hulu on the VPN’s default New York server and got this message: “It looks like you’re using an anonymous proxy or VPN”. When I tried to log in a second time, I was redirected to this account creation page.
Hulu blocked any attempts to log in
I tested Amazon Prime Video on the same server and got this message: “Traveling? Some titles may be unavailable in your current location”. On my second attempt on the same server, Amazon Prime Video kept loading captcha screens, and I couldn’t go past the log-in.
Amazon Prime Video kept loading captchas
Netflix also blocked Psiphon on the New York server during my tests. I was rather disappointed with this round of tests as I was really hoping to catch up on some shows, starting with the Borgias. If you’d like a more reliable service, I’d suggest taking a look at these VPNs that work great with Netflix.
US Netflix detected I was using a VPN and blocked me
Next, I tested it on Disney+ with the default US server. I got past the landing pages without Disney+ detecting Psiphon.
I got to this point quite easily
However, the screen froze when I tried to stream Jungle Cruise. This happened even after multiple server changes.
Disney+ blocked my attempts to stream Jungle Cruise
Unlike Disney+, HBO Max immediately detected that I was using a VPN connection and blocked me even though I was connected to a US server.
HBO Max detected I was using a VPN and blocked me
Finally, HBO Now also blocked me on the New York server and it generated this error message:
HBO NOW gave me an error message while connected to Psiphon
Speeds — Slow, Particularly on the Free Version
I tested Psiphon’s free plan on a New York server and experienced a 61% download speed loss on Windows. The upload speed came down to 18 Mbps and the ping went up to 258 ms.
Psiphon significantly reduced my internet speed
The slow speeds could be due to Psiphon’s automatic server selection that only happens on VPN mode, not on proxy mode. It selected a New York server for me, which is quite far from my real location.
Speed tests on Psiphon Pro for Android yielded different results. I performed a speed test on a US server and although upload speeds dropped by 50%, download speeds went up by 29%.
Speed tests on Android with Psiphon
You can pay for a premium subscription on mobile (both on iOS and Android) to increase to maximum speeds (5 Mbps). Psiphon Pro also gives you the option to use a speed/time pass or PsiCash if you want better speeds for a limited time but don’t want to subscribe to Psiphon Pro’s premium packages.
Are Psiphon’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? No
The speeds on Psiphon’s free plan aren’t enough for gaming since it got me a ping of over 258 ms. You need a ping of 40 to 60 ms for smooth gaming.
I think you are better off using other VPNs that give you better speeds for gaming at a fraction of the cost you pay for Psiphon.
Server Network — Limited Number of Server Locations
Psiphon has servers in Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, and these countries:
Unfortunately, it has no server presence in South America and Africa.
Server locations depend on the app you’re using. On Windows, you can access servers in 20 countries. Android doesn’t support Slovakia and Switzerland, while Denmark is available on Android, but not on iOS.
Psiphon claims to have a wide server network but doesn’t disclose the exact number of IPs and servers, or how many of them it controls. It just says that most of them are hosted with cloud providers.
On Psiphon’s website it says that it has 1000s of proxy servers
Security — Decent, but Not Best-In-Class
Psiphon states that it “does not increase your online privacy and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.”
While most other VPNs use Obfsproxy to make OpenVPN or Tor traffic look like regular traffic, Psiphon uses proxy configurations to hide your IP address and browsing activity, and it also avoids detection by using transport protocols to hide that a VPN is in use. SSH is set as its default transport protocol and adds on obfuscation encryption (the result being the SSH+ obfuscated protocol) to protect against protocol fingerprinting.
It also uses SOCKS and HTTPS over port 443 to tunnel data in proxy mode. Enabling L2TP/IPsec in Transport mode activates VPN tunneling to provide double encapsulation.
Psiphon offers AES 256-bit encryption and SHA1 cryptographic hashes to secure data, although these hashes set a lower data integrity bar than PGP encryption.
Psiphon owns its DNS servers. However, I decided to conduct a WebRTC/DNS/IP leak test on a US server, and I found that my data was leaking on the VPN mode, but not on the proxy mode.
I detected DNS leaks only on Psiphon’s VPN mode but on proxy mode
Although the 2017 Psiphon audit conducted by Cure+53 found no major vulnerabilities in Psiphon’s protocols, a DNS leak could reveal your activity to your ISP.
Psiphon is not equipped with a kill switch, which means that if your VPN connection gets interrupted during a browsing session, your IP address will be exposed.
To end this on a good note — being open-source, Psiphon gives you the opportunity to check its code yourself and see what’s recording.
Privacy — No Guarantees
Psiphon collects and stores personal information such as user activity data and aggregated data.
However, it notes that user activity logs are very general and that the kind of information logged includes: your ISP, city, country, session length, sites visited, and bytes transferred.
Psiphon logs general data to help improve the service
In addition, Psiphon only keeps individual activity data for 90 days, after which such data is grouped with similar data. For example, all user data from Iran may be aggregated for general analysis.
The only logged data visible on the Windows client is connection data such as time and protocols.
Data logs as they appear on Psiphon for Windows
Psiphon doesn't share the user activity data with third parties. Despite this, I’m still concerned, because being based in a 5 Eyes country, logging user data is a red flag.
Torrenting — Not Good
Psiphon was very slow during torrenting. Also, my connection kept on cutting, and as Psiphon doesn’t have a kill switch and it logs user activity, I was concerned about my data leaking.
For more secure torrenting, try other VPN alternatives that guarantee faster torrenting and better security.
Disclaimer! While torrenting is meant to encourage peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of files, torrenting of copyrighted material is illegal and vpnMentor doesn’t condone or encourage it. Torrenting files from unknown sources might also expose you to malware, data phishing, and other hack attacks.
Does Psiphon Work in China? Yes
Psiphon is popular in China, Iran, Turkey, North Korea, and other countries with a history of imposing censorship rules.
You can access blocked content from China using Psiphon’s proxy service but not the VPN service. This is because Psiphon’s VPN Transport Mode (L2TP) is not strong enough to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.
Do not use L2TP/IPSec in China
On the other hand, Psiphon’s proxy servers use the SSH obfuscation protocol to avoid DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), which is why they work in locations like China.
Only government-approved VPNs are allowed in China, so you cannot access Psiphon’s website there. Psiphon’s simple solution to this problem is to send you the installation file via email. I sent an email, and almost immediately, Psiphon sent me links through which I could download the app in all of its supported languages.
Psiphon will email you all these links when you request access through email
Simultaneous Device Connections — Multiple on the Free Version
Psiphon’s free version supports multiple simultaneous device connections.
To find out whether Psiphon’s premium plan offers simultaneous device connections, I consulted customer service about it by sending an email to email@example.com. I received this autoresponse and no further assistance after that.
Device Compatibility — Wide Compatibility Across Major Devices
Psiphon works on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. The Windows version supports 41 languages, making it more accessible.
The list of languages that Psiphon supports
The macOS version only works on devices released after 2020 (Macs that have Apple Silicon processors and Apple M1). If your Mac is older, you can try out these VPN options for macOS.
Psiphon has a browser app for iOS that only works in proxy mode, and tunnels information accessed through the browser. It supports the HTTPS Everywhere browser add-on, which provides extra security by encrypting your data when using a public internet connection.
Psiphon doesn’t have apps for gaming consoles, Linux, or Chrome OS. It also doesn’t have browser extensions for Chrome, Explorer, Firefox, or Safari, and it doesn’t work on routers.
It automatically selects and connects you to the best performance server on all of its VPN apps. You can change this selection if you are using the proxy mode, which is enabled by default. To enable VPN mode, you have to go to Settings, click on Transport mode, and then click on L2TP/IPSec mode.
The settings menu of Psiphon for Windows has several options, including minimizing it to the notifications area (system tray), activating split tunneling, and choosing a server location. You can also allow or disallow automatic local proxy port selection and traffic alerts, and disable timeouts for slow networks. If you are on an institution network, you can set up an upstream proxy to receive all outgoing web requests redirecting to a destination server.
Settings on Psiphon’s Windows app
Psiphon allows you to use split tunneling to route traffic from websites in your country outside Psiphon’s servers to make them load faster. You can enable split tunneling in the settings section of the Windows app.
Split tunneling on Windows will not proxy websites in your home country
On Android 5.0 onwards, you can tunnel your entire device or specific apps. Whole device tunneling enables VPN mode. You can enable this by going to Options, VPN settings, and then choosing an app to include or exclude from Psiphon. If you don’t opt for the tunnel all apps option, you can only browse securely using the Psiphon browser. The Psiphon browser is built into the Android client, and it tunnels through Psiphon even when VPN mode is disabled.
Split tunneling options on Android
You can also select a language and customize the settings for your HTTP/S requests by enabling “connect through an HTTP proxy” in the proxy settings.
You can add custom HTTP headers on the Android app
Besides these server settings, you can set vibration and sound notifications; this is a simple but useful feature that enhances usability.
Connecting on my Android phone was a bit challenging; the speeds were slow, and it served too many ads. I also couldn’t use some apps or tether my connection while still connected to Psiphon.
I consulted Psiphon’s FAQ section and found that some apps don’t work due to port restrictions. The tethering restriction was also possibly happening because some traffic could not go through Psiphon.