With a name change (from PrivatVPN) and a new lick of paint on its website, Swedish VPN provider PrivateVPN offers a great no logs policy and the possibility strong encryption and shared IPs. Despite what is in many ways an excellent Windows client though, we found a number of problems with the service, although nothing which is too critical or which can’t be fixed. We think that PrivateVPN may soon be an excellent VPN choice, but that people should hold off for a bit until it updates its Windows client, provides better cross-platform OpenVPN support, and files a couple of rough edges off it service. Definitely one to watch.
Pricing and Features
PrivateVPN has a simple all inclusive pricing plan, starting at €7 (approx. $10) per month. This isn’t the cheapest available by a long shot, but is in line with many other providers. If you drop it a line, PrivateVPN will send you a code for a 24 hour free trial, which should be enough time to get a feel for the service.
For your money you get the choice of OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec or PPTP connections to any of PrivateVPN’s servers in 16 different countries (we only advise using OpenVPN, and will concentrate on OpenVPN support throughout this article). There is no limit to how many times you can switch servers, and (rather excellently) you can connect up to four devices simultaneously
PrivateVPN is fine with P2P downloading, although it recommends doing so from Sweden. Regarding DMCA notices, it told TorrentFreak,
‘This depends on the country in which we’re receiving a DMCA takedown. For example, we’ve received a DMCA takedown for UK and Finland and our response was to close p2p traffic on those countries.’
The website and customer service
Along with changing its name recently, PrivateVPN has completely overhauled its website, which looks very smart and cleanly laid out, has a good FAQ (although see our comments in Privacy and Security below), and explains most necessary things well. That English is not PrivateVPN’s first language is occasionally evident, but this is only a minor quibble.
Google Maps integration (see picture above) is quite funky, but even better is the fairly detailed server information on offer.
Customer support is available via email and Live Chat. During the time we tested the service Live Chat remained offline, but response to our emails was fairly quick (half an hour or so turnaround), helpful, and ready to ready to answer technical queries, so we are perfectly happy.
Privacy and Security
PrivateVPN scores a huge amount of kudos with us thanks to its excellent ‘no logs’ policy,
‘We NEVER produce logs of any data traffic. The only thing we store is your user name, password and your email address.’
PrivateVPN does accept BitCoin which is great news for those who wish to make anonymous payments.
On the technical side, PrivateVPN scores very well as long as you are willing to take setup matters into your own hands. Pretty much all of its servers support 256-bit AES encryption with 2048-bit Diffie-Hellman key exchange, and allow use of shared IPs (where many users share the same IP address, making matching an individual to any online behaviour very difficult) when connected using TUN. This is all very good (although we would really like to see VPN providers move away from NIST certified standards such as AES), but is not supported by PrivateVPN’s client.
The client at present only supports TAP connections with 128-bit Blowfish encryption (and 2048-bit DH key exchange) and dynamic IP addresses. However, PrivateVPN has told us it is working on a new version which will allow users to select encryption level and what kind of IP address they want.
Those wanting the extra features offered by a TUN connection now, can download the OpenVPN config files and configure a generic OpenVPN client manually.
The signup process is simple enough, and minimal information is asked for. You can pay using PayPal, Payson Direct, Plimus and BitCoin.
The Windows Client
Although (and importantly) you are stuck with 128-bit Blowfish encryption and dynamic IPs when using PrivateVPN’s client, it does have some very funky features that we rarely see elsewhere, and which make our mouth water for the updated version.
The settings area provides some great options, and we particularly like ‘Reconnect automatically on connection failure’. The ‘Bypass firewall’ feature connects you through port 443 TCP, which is usually open even when the system is fully firewalled
Our favorite feature however is the connection guard. Even better than an internet kill switch in our view, this allows you to specify that certain programs shut down when the VPN connection drops. You can even have them start again automatically when a VPN connection is re-established, an especially powerful when combined with ‘Reconnect automatically on connection failure’
The ‘TV stations’ window is admittedly rather naff, and simply links to some TV websites
Aside from the custom Windows client, OpenVPN is only explicitly supported for Linux, where detailed setup guides are provided (mainly using Ubuntu). We were surprised not to even see a setup guide for the generic OpenVPN client for Windows, but the OpenVPN config files (TUN and TAP) can be downloaded, so OpenVPN can be configured for most platforms if you can work out how to do so on your own.
Android, iOS and Mac are given L2TP/IPsec guides. This lack of setup guides for OpenVPN is somewhat surprising, but may be down to the fact that the revamped website is new, and they simply haven’t been completed / posted yet.
We tested performance using our 20 Mb/s UK broadband connection. In all but the last two tests we used the custom TAP-only Windows OpenVPN client (128-Blowfish and dynamic IPs).
As you can see, the TAP results are excellent. The TUN results are not quite as good, but are nevertheless quite acceptable. We also ran the service through DNSleaktest.com, and it passed with flying colours.
- Great no logs policy (based in Sweden)
- Up to 256-bit AES encryption (but not supported by Windows client)
- Shared IPs
- Great Client – the Connection Guard is particularly fantastic
- Can connect up to 4 devices at once
- Good server info on website
We weren’t so sure about
- A bit pricey
- Windows client doesn’t support 256-AES
- Dreadful support for OpenVPN on most platforms
There is much to like about PrivateVPN, and it’s excellent no logs policy inclines us to give it the benefit of the doubt, which unfortunately it needs as we have a number of issues with the service. On paper, technical security is great, but to take advantage of it you need to use an open source client, for which no configuration guides are supplied for any platform. The Windows client has some excellent features, but then you lose the security advantages of the TUN connection, a problem which will hopeful cease to be an issue when the new client is released.
That users of OSX, iOS and Android are so poorly served on the OpenVPN front is very poor show, but will hopefully also be remedied in the near future. TUN connection speeds could also do with a little improvement.
At the end of the day all these problems are quite easily fixed, and if PrivateVPN does so then it will have fine service to offer. In the meantime we will keep our fingers crossed, and watch developments.