CactusVPN Review

CactusVPN is a fairly small Moldova based VPN provider who gets a lots of things right. Its privacy policy is good (no usage logs), it uses excellent encryption, it proved very fast in our speed tests, and it is cheap (even for the more fully featured package). Add to this some great customer support, and that has the only VPN client we have come across to feature an Applications Killer, and we’re sold!
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Review of: CactusVPN

Reviewed by:
On September 20, 2013
Last modified:October 14, 2016


Pricing and Plan features

CactusVPN has 16 servers in four countries: four in the United States, six in the United Kingdom, and a total of six in Romania and the Netherlands. You can subscribe to any one of these geographic areas for $4.99 per month, or gain access to all four plus CactusVPN’s SmartDNS service, for $6.99 per month. You can also purchase the SmartDNS service on its own for $4.99 per month. Discounts are available for longer billing periods.

Those who like to try before they buy will be pleased know that a 24 hours free trial is on offer, giving you full access to the range of services offered by CactusVPN during the trial period. While nowhere near as generous as that offered by some providers, this is still very welcome, and allows you to test the service out before handing over any hard earned cash.


Every VPN package allows you connect to via PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, SSTP, and by Proxy. A nice bonus feature is AutoProxy (which we will discuss in a bit), and SoftEther has recently been added to the list of available protocols too.

P2P downloading is fine, as long as you do it through the Netherlands or Romanian servers, but port forwarding is not offered.


We Liked

  • Low cost
  • No usage logs
  • P2P downloading
  • 256-bit AES OpenVPN and SSTP encryption
  • Blazing fast
  • Neat client with Application Killer and integrated SmartDNS
  • AutoProxy

We weren’t so sure about

  • We would prefer it if no logs of any kind were kept at all
  • No OpenVPN support for iOS or Android
  • No port forwarding (a problem if you need it, not if you don’t)
  • SmartDNS works well

We hated

  • No Bitcoin option

Simultaneous Connections

CactusVPN has a slightly unusual policy when it comes to how many devices can be connected at once. Basically, you can only connect one device to each server, so while you can’t connect two devices to the NL server for example, you can connect your laptop to the NL server to do a bit torrent downloading, your tablet to the UK server so you can watch iPlayer programs, and your phone to the US server for a bit of Pandora streaming.

While not as good as the unrestricted-by-server multiple connections offered by some other providers, this is a big improvement on the no simultaneous connections limit imposed by many.

The website and customer service

The CactusVPN website is very smart and professional looking. The support area provides beautifully presented setup guides, and has a FAQ area that while good at answering general VPN account questions, left nus having to contact customer support to find out details such encryption type used, country of jurisdiction etc. Customer support did, however, respond to these queries in a helpful and timely manner.


We also had some technical issues, which at the end of the day appear to be the fault of our ISP. CactusVPN’s support response was, again, prompt and helpful, so top marks.

There’s also a new Learning Centre on the website explaining the basics of VPN technology and online anonymity, which when completed will cover everything from why anonymity is valuable through to explaining different types of encryption.

Privacy and Security

On the privacy front, CactusVPN looks pretty good, as they keep no logs about what you do on the internet or what you upload and download., although connection logs are kept for 3 days for troubleshooting purposes. We prefer a ‘no logs whatever’ policy, but think this compromise is quite acceptable. Unfortunately CactusVPN does not accept Bitcoins (or the like), so anonymous payment is not possible. This is a shame, because even if you don’t want to pay using the crypto-currency, accepting it is a sign that a VPN takes privacy seriously, and is a hallmark of a good provider.

CactusVPN operates under the jurisdiction of Moldova. Despite considerable efforts, we have been unable to determine what this means in terms of data retention laws, accountability to DMCA takedown notices (and similar), or government surveillance. However, the difficulty of obtaining this information strongly suggests that there is very little legal oversight of VPN providers in Moldova, and that it is therefore a good place for a VPN provider to be based.

On the technical security front CactusVPN also does very well, offering 256-bit AES encryption with 2048-bt key authentication on OpenVPN connections, 256-bit SSL key encryption on SSTP, and 128-bit to 256-bit (selectable during manual setup) encryption on L2TP/IPsec connections.

Other than not accepting Bitcoins, we are generally very happy with CactusVPN’s regard for customers’ privacy and security.

Visit CactusVPN »

The Process

Signing up for the free trial takes seconds, and all that is asked for is a name and email address. If you go forward and purchase the service, then a few more details are required.

cv signup

As we noted earlier, CactusVPN does not accept Bitcoins, but it does accept a variety of other forms of payment.

signup 2

The Windows Client

The client is very smart looking, cleanly laid out, and easy to understand. The main tab lets you choose server location and protocol, although we don’t see any reason to use any protocol other than the highly secure OpenVPN.


The settings menu has the usual sort of things you might expect…


What we really love though, is the ‘Apps. Killer’, which goes one better than the ‘internet kill switch’ found on some clients, by only closing specific applications (which you choose), rather than shutting off the entire internet for your system in the event of VPN connection failure.

We tried this feature out using uTorrent, and it worked well. It will even restart the closed application when you reconnect!

Other Platforms

There is an OSX version of the custom VPN client, and some great guides to manually setting up Windows (PPTP, L2TP/IP sec, OpenVPN and SSTP), OSX (PPTP, L2TP/IP sec and OpenVPN), Ubuntu (PPTP and OpenVPN), and DD-WRT routers (L2TP/IPsec only).

iOS users have it great as CactusVPN has recently released an app to help them out. While Android users will (at least for the moment) have to stick to a manual setup – they provide great guides for PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN for this.

Tutorials are also provided for SmartDNS (see below) and Proxy setup.


We tested the OpenVPN service using our 20Mbps UK broadband connection.

spw8 before stw8 uk stw8nl
Without VPN Connected to UK VPN Server Connected to the NL VPN server

As you can see, these are cracking results.

We also checked to make sure there was no DNS leakage by going to

dns leak

We were connecting from the UK to CactusVPNs NL server, so it gets a clean bill of health

Smart DNS

In addition to its VPN service (and bundled in with the more premium but still low cost VPN package), CactusVPN offers its own DNS service.

This means that CactusVPN resolves your browser’s DNS requests when you access web pages (i.e. it translates the into a numeric IP address used by computers). This allows you to ‘fake’ your geolocation in order to make it look as if you are accessing the internet from the US (great for Hulu, Pandora and the full Netflix catalogue) or the UK (great for iPlayer and 4oD).

The main use for this is to access geo-restricted media services. You can do this using VPN, but as no encryption is involved the connection is faster (which is very useful when streaming media from a large distance away).

Setup is quite easy, involving just logging into your CactusVPN account page to retrieve your SmartDNS key and entering it into the VPN client’s SmartDNS tab (you have to log out of the VPN to see it).


Once you change the adaptor settings, you can toggle your DNS server from within the client, selecting from USA, Europe or Asia.
In general we found SmartDNS worked well, although some sites refused to play ball.


Like many similar services, CactusVPN offers a proxy service. We don’t normally spend much time discussing this we are VPN review site, and VPN is usually a superior option anyway. However, CactusVPNs AutoProxy deserves mention because it is rather nifty

Rather than changing your IP for every site you visit (as most Proxy services do), AutoProxy allows you to configure your browser so that your IP will only change for a list of certain websites (such as BBC, Pandora, Spotify etc.). This allows you to seamlessly access many of the most popular geo-restricted sites, while leaving the rest of your internet browsing experience alone. Very nifty.


We Liked

  • Low cost
  • No usage logs
  • P2P downloading
  • 256-bit AES OpenVPN and SSTP encryption
  • Blazing fast
  • Neat client with Application Killer and integrated SmartDNS
  • AutoProxy

We weren’t so sure about

  • We would prefer it if no logs of any kind were kept at all
  • No OpenVPN support for iOS or Android
  • No port forwarding (a problem if you need it, not if you don’t)
  • SmartDNS works well

We hated

  • No Bitcoin option

We really liked CactusVPN. Its privacy policy, while not perfect, is good enough for us, it uses great encryption, is very fast, and has a per-application kill switch in its rather flash VPN client. Its setup guides are also very clear and well presented, although we do think that OpenVPN guides for iOS and Android should be included.

Another issue is the lack of a Bitcoin payment option, so those wanting total secrecy should look elsewhere. These are nevertheless quibbles, and overall we are very impressed by CactusVPN.

Visit CactusVPN »

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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16 responses to “CactusVPN Review

    You can pay for this service anonymously by buying a VISA gift card at any drugstore and using that. For the CactusVPN account, itself, I use a pseudonym so I can retain anonymity. I’ve done this for 2 years and it works perfectly.

    1. Hi K-man,

      It is great that CactusVPN accepts anonymously purchased gift cards – it improves privacy, as CactisVPN does not know your real name and/or contact details. Please do be aware aware, however, that no VPN service provides true anonymity, as it can always see your real IP address (unless you connect to the VPN through Tor).

    I have to say that I found Cactus VPN to be the best on the market and the fastest, even when using Open-VPN and watching movies. I have tried nearly all of the VPN services out there and this is honestly the best I have tried, and just recently they changed to no logs what so ever. I can watch all the sites I want without even using their great Smart-DSN. Cactus VPN is so easy to use and you have an application killer. It has a green task bar icon to let you know you are connected and has a friendly dashboard that puts you in control in an instant. Click on settings and you can change your protocols and ports. It has TCP and UDP and 4 ports to choose from. VPN protocols: SSTP OpenVPN L2TP and PPTP. I have had no connection problems and that depends a lot on your internet provider. I have found the service great and very helpful. They don’t turn their back on you until everything is fixed. On March the 25th on their facebook page they said this. “We have decided that not storing connection logs for our users is the way forward, so we are now a completely log free VPN Service! ” Cactus VPN you are the best, and I have tried out 15 other VPN software’s.

    The connection kept dropping out, thus leaving me exposed. I mentioned my previous vpn service to them, whose software had never done that, and they suggested that the other vpn’s software had and I just didn’t know about it. What a bunch of liars. They don’t care. Stay far away from cactus vpn.

    1. Hi mabel,

      It is true that every VPN service can be subject to occasional drop-outs, but this should not happen too often. I strongly advise ll VPN users to use a kill switch of some sort to protect themselves when this happens,

    How do you switch between protocols on their dashboard and if you can not what protocol is used if you are using their free service. I can not seem to find an answer to this anywhere??? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi John,

      When I reviewed the service (some time ago, it has to be said) you could change protocols easily in the client under Connection tab -> VPN Protocol. If I remember correctly, the free service uses OpenVPN, but I am not 100% sure about this.

    Okay, this is my first VPN and I decided to try it from a good review on a different site and their 80% discount sale going on right now.

    I paid the 6.99 for the VPN+ smart DNS, immediately after my payment I had the email/my login information. Install/setup/getting online was very easy and straight forward. While I have no way to test the security features I chose the LA server and an whatismyip lookup showed me from LA, California so it seems great on that part.

    It advertises strong protection though though so I’ll take that at face value. Also I read the part in their FAQs about keeping connection logs for 3 days for customer support reasons so no surprises there.

    Amazing vpn services. I’m using the liberty vpn and it’s incredibly fast!

    Low pricing and great customer support! I’m using the vpn on my iPhone and desktops with the cactus software.

    Great app!

    they have very few servers and speed is not as high as industry standards. streaming hd content can be a pita due to high latency and inconsistent speed.
    as for the smart dns service, it works w/o a problem and that’s what saves the day because it doesn’t require vpn connection so there’s no degradation in streaming speed.
    proprietary application gives no option for protocol selection (tcp/udp) and encryption method.
    application kill option does its job. so as the name suggests, in case of a connection drop, it kills apps on the kill list.
    had no experience w/ customer service so can’t make no comment.
    very small company, so if you need vast server coverage and/or consistent high speed for hd streaming, look elsewhere, otherwise it’ll do ok.

    I have found Catctusvpn to be an efficient friendly supplier of VPN. I have found their speeds to be good, especially when connecting using Softether. I am no computer expert and I found that when I had a problem which frustrated and baffled me, their support staff easily fixed it.

    Thank you again Cactus for your immediate response to my cry for help. As usual a prompt service that sorts out problems for a technically challenged person like me!

    We’ve used CactusVPN for some time now, signed up for the full year after the first month.

    Generally they get the job done. Price is low. However, don’t expect things to work as stated. I’ve had problems with manual Win7 connections — their response is to use their software. Sometimes L2TP will work, other times you have to use PPTP, etc. . .

    Customer service will respond rather quickly, just don’t expect them to fix the problem — they will most likely just as you to apply a workaround method, thus I’m no longer able to manually login on my Win7 machine.

    Speed is generally good, though I mostly use it for usenet and p2p. There are times when speed become unbearably slow for their Amsterdam servers, but generally it you can find a time where you will get decent speeds.

    The price is the main attraction. If you don’t need it for much more than p2p and usenet, I would say you really can’t beat it. However, I can’t say much about their US servers.

    So, for basic p2p use it is OK. If you are going to really need something 100% dependable, and technicians that actually fix the problems instead of telling you to “work around it” with x, y, z, you will need to look elsewhere.

    Hi Andrey,

    As we make clear in the review, CactusVPN does not keep and _usage_ logs, but does keep _connection_ logs for 3 days. This is an important distinction, and one I think quite well explained by CactusNPN itself (from its FAQ):

    ‘We keep only connection logs for 3 days for troubleshooting. But we assure you:

    we do not track and do not know about what you’re uploading/downloading while using our services, and there are no logs including this information;
    we don’t know or register sites you are visiting;
    we don’t know which applications you use.’

    Connection logs are what time you connected, how long you connected for etc., and are quite distinct from usage logs, which monitor what you actually get up the on the internet…

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