Review

Psiphon Review


Last year we wrote an article highlighting the free anti-censorship tool Psiphon, which has generated a great deal of interest from our readers. We have therefore decided to expand the article, and turn it into an updated full review of the software.
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Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

Please Note: This is only a review, and for support you should visit the Psiphon FAQ, or contact the support team directly on info@psiphon.ca.

Psiphon is a powerful tool which is designed to evade internet censorship. Developed and maintained by Psiphon Inc. (although originally written by researchers at Citizen lab on behalf of the OpenNet Initiative (ONI)), it uses a combination of VPN, SSH and HTTP Proxy secure communication and obfuscation technologies to bypass the kinds of internet filtering (i.e. censorship) systems commonly used governments.

Conclusion

We liked

  • Evades censorship using a variety of different technologies
  • Free
  • Nifty Android app
  • Website and app available in a wide range of languages

We weren’t so sure about

  • VPN speed results are not great, although Psiphon Inc. has told us before that the VPN mode has its bandwidth deliberately restricted as Psiphon is keen to be all about censorship evasion, and not about downloading movies
  • Psiphon Android browser is a bit basic for general use, but is serviceable for accessing censored websites
  • Psiphon is a commercial company that sells users’ (anonymous) metadata
  • That Iranian website auto-opening in our desktop browser

We hated

  • Nothing

How it works

Psiphon Inc. runs a number of servers, which the client connects to via VPN or secure SSH connection. Each client has a list of these servers, which are added to over time so that as older servers become blocked there is a backup list of new servers to connect to. System integrity is maintained through each client being digitally signed to certify its authenticity, and each server having embedded certificates to ensure it is the authentic server for that client.

The website and user support

The website is a fairly simply affair, although we love the fact that it is available in a wide range of languages, many of which are from country’s which suffer from extensive censorship issues.

Psiphon languages

A good user-guide is provided for the Windows client, and an extensive FAQ explains what Psiphon does, what the privacy implications of using it are, and which tackles some of the more common problems users may encounter.

Somewhat frustratingly, although the FAQ goes into quite a lot of detail about how feedback is treated once received, it does not make it clear how to leave this feedback or contact Psiphon Inc. for support (which may explain why many of our readers have directed technical support questions at us). Feedback and support requests are in fact done directly though the client (click the blue symbol to the top left in the Windows client).

Psiphon feedback button

Psiphon Inc. can also be emailed directly on info@psiphon.ca . Please please please do note that BestVPN is unable to answer technical queries about the Psiphon service, so if you have a problem then please contact Psiphon Inc. directly about it.

Psiphon as an anti-censorship tool

The beauty of the Psiphon system lies in the fact that it utilizes multiple transport systems, so that if one protocol is blocked by a censor, users can switch to an alternative mechanism. If a user encounters a block when using VPN, for example, he or she can switch to SSH or obfuscated SSH (SSH+) instead (at least in theory).

SSH+ mode is ‘SSH mode with the addition of an obfuscation layer on top of the SSH handshake to defend against protocol fingerprinting. A description of the protocol can be found here.’

As BestVPN is based in the UK, it is difficult for us to fully assess how well this system works at evading censorship blocks in practice, but judging by the comments we receive, it generally works very well. The occasional report about Psiphon suddenly not working may indicate that it has been blocked, or may simply be the result of a technical problem.

As noted below, however, we did have issues using SSH+ mode in Windows. Basically, it just didn’t work.

Privacy and security

Psiphon provides ‘confidentiality’ by hiding your internet activity from your ISP, as the connection between the client and the Psiphon server is encrypted. It does not however provide anonymity.

Psiphon is designed to provide you with open access to online content. Psiphon does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.

User’s IP addresses and email addresses are not collected, but although the software is open source, Psiphon Inc. is a commercial company that shares metadata information about which sites are visited by its users, and from which counties, with its business partners.

Event logs include timestamps, region codes (GeoIP country code) and non-identifying attributes including sponsor ID (determined by which Psiphon client is used), client version, and protocol type. Page views are aggregated by time and/or session before being logged… All statistics shared with sponsors are further aggregated by date, sponsor, and region.

Psiphon Inc. warns users that it may occasionally need to turn on system logging in order troubleshoot problems, but this is a transparent process, and any such events are published online.

Users should also be aware that although Psiphon is good for evading censorship blocks, observers will know that anti-censorship technology is being used (the obfuscation technologies used for SSH+ may help to hide this, but we have no way of knowing for sure).

The VPN setting uses the  L2TP/IPSec client built into Windows, which is generally considered secure, although OpenVPN is generally preferred these days. As Psiphon is not intended to provide security or anonymity, however, this is not much of an issue.

Psiphon Inc. contacted us, wishing to clarify how the business-side of the operation works, and offering the following reasoning of how and why it can run for free for daily customers:

Our software is provided as a way of helping people to access content that has been censored in contravention of Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Our main method of distribution for Psiphon is through relationships that we have with broadcasters and human rights organisations, whose content has been blocked.

Because of this focus, our biggest audiences are in places like Iran, Iraq, China, Turkey and across the Middle East. You can see an article about us written earlier this year when Iraq attempted to block social media. These are the kind of countries that we make our software for. To continue to provide our service, we’ve built a large, ephemeral network, with software that is designed to keep working regardless of attempts to block it.

The process

Users do not need to sign-up or provide Psiphon Inc. with any personal details. All you need do is download the software, and assuming everything works correctly, you are good to go.

Psiphon for Windows

The Windows client is a small (2.7MB) self-contained .exe file that does not require installation to run. A rather funky feature is that you can request the app (Windows or Android versions) be sent by email if the Psiphon website or download links are blocked or censored.

Psiphon Windows client

The only user-options in the Windows client are a choice of SSH+, VPN and standard SSH. If you find your internet connection blocked while using one of them, simply try another.

In the Windows client you have no option to choose which server to connect to, although when connecting via SSH+ or SSH you are given the option of selecting ‘Don’t proxy domestic websites’.

Psiphon Windows SSH

Whenever we connected via SSH+ or SSH, the following Facebook page automatically opened in our browser.

Bizarre facebook page

This Facebook page links to a website that monitors the extent to which Iranian president Hassan Rouhani keeps his promises. Psiphon offered us the following explanation,

‘That is intended behaviour! It’s a site run by a research group that we partner with. We can change the landing page depending on where you get Psiphon from (email, download, app stores, etc.) and by country. At this time, the Rouhani Meter project is sponsoring the landing page for that client, and their page is seen in several countries. Many of our end users come from Iran, and this project is trying to reach Iranians.

Psiphon for Android

The Psiphon Android app can be downloaded from Google Play, the Amazon AppStore or the .apk can be downloaded directly and ‘sideloaded’ if access to those websites is blocked.

It is a more fully featured affair than its Windows counterpart, and has two ‘modes’ – ‘whole device’, and ‘Psiphon browser’. As with the website, we really like how the app allows you choose between a wide range of languages.

Psiphon Android statup

In ‘whole device’ mode, Psiphon channels all internet traffic through a ‘VPN to SOCKS’ connection (using a component called ‘tun2socks‘).

Psiphon Android options

Psiphon for Android comes bundled with its own browser, which is presumably configured for SOCKS proxy.

2014-11-07 14.54.38

The browser is, to be honest, a rather basic affair, but it gets the job done

Psiphon Android server choice

Unlike the Windows client, the Android app allows you select which region to connect to

Psiphon Android stats

The app also lets you look at some funky stats

Other Platforms

Psiphon is available for Windows and Android only. We are not aware of any plans to make the software available on other platforms.

Performance

We tested performance using testmy.net’s Amsterdam, NL, server (the closest to our location), on our 20 MB/s UK broadband connection.

Windows

Psiphon speed Windows no VPN

Raw connection (not a fantastic day for Virgin!)

Psiphon speed Windows SSH

Connected using Psiphon’s SSH mode

Psiphon speed Windows VPN

Connected using Psiphon’s VPN mode(IPLeak.net informed that we were connected to a Netherlands server, although Testmy.net lists a US sever)

When we first published this article we did not list results for SSH+, as IPLeak.net indicated that it was not working. However, we have since determined this problem is limited to only our regular Firefox browser (we are unclear why, as the proxy settings are set to default, but as everything seems to work fine in other browsers we will put it down to one of the various security related plugins we usually have running). In the last week Testmy.net has introduced a new UK test server, so we for the SSH+ results we have switched to using that.

Psiphon UK speed Windows no VPN

Raw connection

Psiphon UK speed Windows SSH plus

Connected using Psiphon’s SSH+ mode (pretty good!)

Android

We stuck with the default ‘Best performance’ option in the settings menu.

Psiphon Android speed none

Raw speed

Psiphon Android speeed VPN

Using Psiphon ‘Whole Device’ mode (VPN)

Psiphon Android speed browser

Psiphon browser (proxied)

Conclusion

We liked

  • Evades censorship using a variety of different technologies
  • Free
  • Nifty Android app
  • Website and app available in a wide range of languages

We weren’t so sure about

  • VPN speed results are not great, although Psiphon Inc. has told us before that the VPN mode has its bandwidth deliberately restricted as Psiphon is keen to be all about censorship evasion, and not about downloading movies
  • Psiphon Android browser is a bit basic for general use, but is serviceable for accessing censored websites
  • Psiphon is a commercial company that sells users’ (anonymous) metadata
  • That Iranian website auto-opening in our desktop browser

We hated

  • Nothing

It is difficult for us to determine just how well Psiphon works as an anti-censorship tool, but it is free, and many of readers have told us how useful it is. As long as users understand that Psiphon does not provide any meaningful privacy or security, and use it solely as intended (to circumvent censorship), there is little that can go wrong, and it is a fantastic little service for providing unrestricted access to the internet.

We understand that users in many countries that practice high levels of censorship might struggle to afford a commercial VPN package, so the fact that Psiphon is free is to be commended. Other alternatives that such users might be interested at looking into include Tor, VPN Gate (a free distributed VPN system), Lahana, and the Hola Unblocker and ZenMate browser extensions.


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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62 responses to “Psiphon Review

  1. I downloaded Psiphon and I have been charged $2.99 every month even though I have uninstalled it because it as not working on my tablet. I want to know how can I stop Psiphon on charging me since I am not using it anymore and it was already uninstalled for a long time now. Please help. I have been paying $2.99 a month for nothing.

    1. Hi Esmeralda,

      Psiphon is 100% free, so if you are being charged then you have downloaded some form of malware. You should contact your bank or payment platform IMMEDIATELY to alert it of it problem and cancel payments.

      1. GOOGLE *PSIPHON INC – 855-492-5538 , CA
        This is what it is written on my charges.. can you please help me to unsubscribe?
        I would really appreciate it if you could help me. Thank you.

        1. Hi Esmeralda,

          Please note that BestVPN.com is in no way affiliated with Psiphon. That said, it would appear that you are being charged via your Google Play Store account. Google Play Store subscriptions can usually be cancelled by signing into Google Play -> Account -> Subscriptions -> cancel your subscription. If this does not work then you will need to contact the Psiphon team directly on info@psiphon.ca.

      2. It seems that I am wrong about Psiphon being 100% free. It now appears to offer in-app purchases in its Pro app.

  2. m working in cruise ship hear we have 2 pay if we want internet but i use psiphone just wanted 2 ask that is it possible for IT DEPARTMENT 2 trace my phone location plz reply bcos its risky

  3. Psiphon is only working if I have data to my sim card is not opening for free, so I like to know that it can open for free or you have to pay a monthly subscription?

    1. Hi John,

      Psiphon is free – there is no monthly subscription. Psiphon does not, however, give you free internet access. To access the internet you must pay your ISP/mobile phone network for the data you use.

  4. Am in Jamaica does it work here???? Cuz I tried it alot and it doesn’t connect I need help I even try the pro and it only connect once…. Is it a network block or something?? What can I do please help!!!!

    1. Hi Keneil,

      To the best of my knowledge, there are no general network blocks in Jamaica (although whoever own the WiFi you use may have placed a block). Have you tired all the different options (e.g. switching from SSH+ to VPN or SSH)? It may also be work contacting the devs on info@psiphon.ca .

  5. please add socks4 and socks5 proxy support. add proxy list that let user to select proxy from a list, just like “openvpn connect” for android

  6. hi Douglas,
    Thank you so much for your informative blog. Here in Taiwan i am using a prepaid IF(FarEastone) sim. By using Psiphon app i am always connected to the internet. Just turning on my mobile data i can easily connect to the net even my simcard has not been recharged. I am just worried that IF is charging me since simcard here are being registered. I am only using prepaid simcard.

    1. Hi Raf,

      In normal circumstances, when you run out of credit on a prepaid simcard you can no longer access the internet (using your mobile data – you can, of course connect using WiF). To the best of my knowledge, using Psiphon does not change this. Since you say that you can access the internet using your mobile data connection if Psiphon is turned on, then I simply do not know what is going on. Sorry. I suggest contacting the Psiphon devs at info@psiphon.ca.

  7. En colombia ya no funciona desde la ultima actualización, si alguien sabe las nuevas configuraciones no dude en decirlo!

    My collage is work on proxy port system, so i use this app . But now a day it automatically disconnect and stop. I am from India. Please fix it

    Psiphon works effectively here in taiwan.but we were worried because there are stories that we will be charged upon using this app. what do you mean with your explanation before because i open my mobile data when using psiphon.will i be charged by IF SIM?please reply because i’ve been using it for a couple of months.hoping for better result.

    1. Hi khaye,

      Psiphon is an app like any other. It encrypts your internet data so that no-one can see what you get up to the internet, but it does not hide how much data you use from your mobile provider (IF SIM, I presume). The app itself is completely free, but you will still be charged by IF SIM for the mobile data you use. If you are still in doubt, why not check your IF SIM bill? Note that if you connect to the internet via Wifi (including public WiFi), rather than via a mobile network plan, you will not be charged.

      1. Does it mean that there is a possibility that IF SIM already charged me by using mobile data? How can we use psiphon without any other charges? Another thing, i dont know where to go to check my IF SIM bill..

        1. Hi khaye,

          Using Psiphon does not provide you with free internet access, so yes, it is very possible that IF SIM has charged you for data used while using the app. You can use Psiphon without any charges by connecting over WiFi (if connecting over your own WiFi you will, of course, need to pay your usual subscription fees, but using free public WiFi is 100% free).

          1. Hello. I have the hard time to understand everything. I’m here in Taiwan and im using psiphon app I use internet but I do not know if someone is charging me. I’m also using IF sim but there’s no notification if I will be billed o not. I heard some news that a Filipina was held in the airport before leaving the country and let her pay $30,000 for using Psiphon. If it’s free internet why she was charged? Is free internet means not free? Im using psiphon for months now but I keep worrying every day. The IF is silent. how can I know my billing? I’m using a prepaid sim?

            Kindly reply because I cannot sleep with this news. Thank you.

            This is my email : jonaskimberlyabroad@yahoo.com

          2. Hi Kimberly,

            Psiphon is free. The internet is not. Psiphon does not provide free internet. IF (your mobile provider) will charge you for whatever data you use, depending on your contract or pre-paid plan. If you are using a prepaid sim, then you cannot be charged more than you have pre-paid on the sim. I’m afraid that I don’t know anything about a Filipina being fined (it seems unlikely to me, but I don’t know). If you are still confused, there is a Psiphon Philippes Facebook page which might be able to help you.

        1. Hi Jhong,

          As far as I know, they can’t (but then I don’t understand how it is possible to access the internet after credit has run out…).

    Salam Sir,

    Sir it is very app , but it is not working now, it connected only for only 1 and half hour and then diconnected. i am from pakistan please send me solution, that it never disconnect.

    thanks

    Help, help Brasil precisamos deste software
    please,
    please,
    please !!
    bloqueado em abril de 2016 !!

    please!! Aguardo contato. Abraço .

    Moro em Pernambuco brasil cidade cabo de santo agostinho litoral.Cara a psiphon aqui
    virou febre, todo mundo usando net grátis ! Mas infelizmente agora no começo do mês de abril a psiphon parou de fucionar geral ! E eu como divulgador e distribuidor do software me deparei com essa situação! E agora pessoal como fazer ?
    Será esse o fim da psiphon aqui em Pernambuco ?
    Internet grátis para todos !! valeu !!

    my psiphon dosnt want to connect it refuses to connect or it writes failed to connect to network http proxy (10.199.212.2) (8080)..ECONNECT>>>>>>>>>>>>>>plshelp

    Is Psiphon free of charge? Cause here in taiwan we use it several months without charging anything. We just download it in an ordinary android phone using IF sim card and can instantly browse. Is it true one of our friend told us that Psiphon is not a free tool it can already charge us. Please reply.

    Is it true here in taiwan ..using psiphon thru taiwan sim like fareast sim wil charge u afterwards..pls reply…this s a very good app and it worries me since im using this for few months ..

    1. Hi Sansala,

      Psiphon operates over the internet, so if you use it on a mobile phone then you will be liable for any internet charges levelled by your ISP or phone provider.

    The Best vpn app ever but since thé begin Of 2016 it have not work ( déconnecte for each 8 mb ?)

    1. Mine keeps disconnecting any time i start downloading. And some times it would say “failed to connect to network http proxy”

      1. Hi Kaidi,

        When you say “downloading” I hope you don’t mean P2P. The Psiphon network is designed to evade censorship, and it use it for downloading movies etc. degrades the network for all other users, and may get the devs in trouble.

        1. I mean movie download like downloading from showbox app …but now it won’t connect again ….or it writes ……failed to connect to network http proxy 10.199.212.2:8080….ECONNECT (connection. refused)

    it was not working again cybercom block the Psiphon software for windows and android

    I really love Psiphon. The speed like awesome. Im using 3G HSPA (not H+), normal speed is 100-300kbps (on low signal town).

    I was in China in August and this seemed to work (at least sporadically) in China. The fact it makes a commonly slow Chinese-hostel internet connection ever slower can make one’s internet access almost useless nonetheless. If you’re an Android user accustomed to the Googledom, China can be extremely frustrating.

    I’ve try it but , this finish my airtime and after that it said connecting …..
    on logs said selecting server

    psiphon is not working in Pakistan anymore. what happened. plz fix it. i used to run it. was working great. but now it says connecting.. what should i do. plz help me

    Plz develope psiohon for windows phone also… Like android

    Works great…This is the app that very long time I’ve been looking for.

    A vital anti censorship means for people inside the china’s national lan. It’s also one of the only few tools that has just survived the update of chinese GFW.

    I tried it but when i turned off my wifi to test it , it didnt work at all it kept saying connecting…

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