Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

April 11, 2017

It has been quite some time since we first reviewed the BTGuard Virtual Private Network (VPN). Originally, BTGuard rose to prominence due to an endorsement by TorrentFreak. Since then, however, consumers have often shot down the service, complaining of poor connection speeds and instability. Our original reviewer had found it to have fast speeds, but the complaints kept coming, so we stuck a warning on the review.

Then, a few years ago, news emerged that BTGuard VPN had been storing passwords in plain text and emailing them unencrypted to customers. That is absolutely terrible behaviour by a firm that is supposed to provide privacy and security for its subscribers. Such a massive failure forced us to update the BestVPN.com review, retracting our support and recommendation of the service.

In the interest of being up to date, however, and because a lot of time has passed (and all VPNs deserve a second chance) we thought it only fair to update our BTGuard review to properly reflect its current service. The result? I found it to be an appalling, overpriced service that doesn’t even come close to competing with other VPNs available on the market at a similar price.

PROS:
  • BitTorrent proxy or VPN available
CONS:
  • Slow connection speeds
  • Very overpriced
  • Weak OpenVPN handshake
  • Third-party OpenVPN software must be used
  • Very bad customer care

Visit BTGuard »

Pricing and Plans

BTGuard VPN offers two separate plans. These can be paid for monthly or yearly (with a 25% price reduction for paying annually). The first is a proxy service that is primarily aimed at BitTorrent users (the BT part of their name stands for BitTorrent). The second is a full VPN service with servers in Toronto, Amsterdam, and Singapore.

BitTorrent Proxy

This plan is aimed at BitTorrent users who wish to download files anonymously. It does so by providing a proxy Internet Protocol (IP) address with which users can hide their true IP address. This is an extremely useful tool for protecting your identity from other users on any peer-to-peer (P2P) network. In addition, BTGuard provides encryption for users who are having their bandwidth throttled by their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

To get people up and running, BTGuard VPN comes with a pre-configured version of the uTorrent BitTorrent client. Furthermore, it provides instructions for manually configuring other torrent clients with its proxy servers. For anybody wanting to hide their identity while file-sharing, this proxy service will certainly do the job. However, please bear in mind that at $6.95 per month it is very pricey. In fact – for that price (and less) you could get a full VPN service elsewhere, so why settle only for a proxy service?

BTGuard VPN Service

This plan costs $9.95 per month, which is billed at a reduced rate of $27.95 for a three-month subscription (5% off), $49.95 for a six-month subscription (15% off), or the best value plan of $89.95 for a year (25% off).

All three plans are identical in terms of the service offered: un-throttled use of just three VPN servers. This is very expensive, and with no VPN servers in the UK, the US, and many other useful places, the service is insanely limited considering the sky-high price. In fact, as far as I am concerned, you can flick away from this review now: BTGuard VPN is a rip off (and the rest of the review proves it conclusively).

Features

BTGuard VPN is very low on features, and the ones it does have all come as standard with the third-party software that subscribers must use to connect to the VPN. Allow me to explain.

BTGuard VPN runs on the third-party OpenVPN software. This software is open source and is very good at its job. With that in mind, it is a very effective way of connecting to BTGuard’s three servers. Furthermore, that open source software is reliable and nowadays provides Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection (though I couldn’t get that version to actually work with BTGuard’s .ovpn files, and had to use an outdated version with no DNS leak protection).

However, most world-class VPNs provide custom VPN software that has pro features such as a kill switch and auto connect, to protect subscribers’ identity should the VPN connection drop out. Due to the fact that BTGuard runs on third-party OpenVPN, these features are nowhere to be seen. Considering the cost of the subscription, this is infuriating. Why does it cost so much, for access to just three averagely-located servers?

Three Server Locations

Servers are located in only three places: Canada, the Netherlands, and Singapore. As such, this VPN is not good for unblocking purposes, such as watching the UK’s BBC iPlayer or US Netflix. Only subscribe if you want access to those three locations.

Protocols

BTGuard provides access to its servers via only two protocols. Due to the fact that Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) has been proven to be insecure for quite some time now, we strongly recommend that subscribers never use it. The good news is that users can connect to BTGuard’s servers using the best VPN protocol: OpenVPN. However, as mentioned above, to do subscribers will need to use the third-party OpenVPN software.

Visit BTGuard »

Security and Privacy

BTGuard is based in Canada – a place that is no longer considered particularly great for data privacy. In the last few years, Canada has passed a number of invasive laws, which make it a far-from-ideal place for a VPN to be based. In addition, it has the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement to contend with.

OpenVPN Encryption
Data Channel Cipher
BlowFish-128
Data Auth
HMAC SHA1
Handshake
RSA-1028
Control Channel Cipher
AES-256
Forward Secrecy
DHE
Logs & Legal
Connection
Some
Traffic
None
Country
Ok

That aside, BTGuard claims to keep no logs, which is good. Sadly, it does keep some personal information on file for billing purposes. In addition, the privacy policy isn’t written in the clearest language possible, which is a little concerning. At least it specifies that no data will be shared with third parties, unless permission is granted by the subscriber.

However, what worries me about that part of the privacy policy is that, if it is truly a zero logs provider, there shouldn’t be any data to share in the first place. This implies that some connection logs are being kept, so I would suggest that BTGuard really means that no usage logs are kept.

Encryption

Encryption is handled via PPTP, which is an outdated protocol that is not recommended, or OpenVPN. OpenVPN implementation is as follows:

The data channel uses Blowfish-128 cipher with keyed-hash message authentication code (HMAC) Secure Hash Algorithm 1 (SHA1) data authentication. This isn’t great, but is arguably unimportant because to get to the data channel (what the actual data is encrypted with), you need to first break the control channel, or Transport Layer Security (TLS) connection.

The TLS connection is encrypted as follows: AES-256 (Advanced Encryption Standard) with RSA-1028 handshake and perfect forward secrecy (PFS) courtesy of a Diffie-Hellman Exchange.

Sadly, the RSA-1028 handshake is not considered strong enough by today’s standards, so the overall implementation of OpenVPN on BTGuard falls somewhat short of the best VPN providers. The verdict? This VPN is far too costly and doesn’t provide the strength of privacy that it ought to.

The Website

The BTGuard website looks really slick and has a lovely-looking Flash animation on its home page. This does the job of making it seem much much better than it really is. The black logo and website is definitely designed to instill an extremely professional feel to the well-branded VPN.

However, it only takes a click or two to find out that this branding is not continued throughout the website. It is just a cunning sales technique designed to suck consumers in. The support pages and FAQ present users with a generic forum interface that is ugly and drives home the message that this VPN is all about depriving people of their hard-earned cash for little in return.

It also rapidly becomes obvious that the entire website is extremely sparse in terms of features and information. Sure, what is available is correct and does fulfill its job. However, other VPNs have blogs about developments in the VPN industry and privacy in general. Other VPNs also attempt to inform their subscribers about updates to the platform. This type of thing is unavailable with BTGuard. It provides the most basic service it possibly can, with no attempt made to update or improve this entirely basic service.

Customer Support

Customer support is also basic: just a ticket-based email service. Again, considering the high cost of the service, in my opinion this isn’t appropriate. Most VPNs of a similar cost provide 24/7 customer service. Some even have a live chat feature on their website.

Even more disconcerting is that when you put in a ticket request, BTGuard advises that it will take from one to three days to respond. I put in a ticket with various questions about the service, to see what sort of response time I would be subjected to. The ticket system gave me an error notice, but when I checked in ‘active tickets’ I did have active tickets. Unbelievably, neither my pre-sales messages nor the two tickets I submitted (one marked as urgent) ever got a reply!

This is insanely lousy and pretty scary considering the high price that people pay. Without a doubt some of the worst support I have ever encountered in the VPN industry.

The Process

Signing Up

Signing up is easy. Only an email address and payment details are required to subscribe. Payment is accepted via PayPal or credit/debit card. In addition, we are happy to say that since the last time we tested the service, the VPN has added bitcoin as a payment option.

As previously mentioned, BTGuard does not have its own VPN software. Instead, users must connect to one of its three servers using third-party open source OpenVPN software. Getting that software is easy – it is available on the Google Play Store for Android, through iTunes for iOS and Mac, and from the OpenVPN website for Windows. In addition, BTGuard links to all of those versions, so picking them up isn’t a struggle.

I tried installing the latest version of OpenVPN 2.4.1, as that one has excellent features such as DNS (including Internet Protocol version 6 – IPv6) and Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak protection. Sadly, despite installing all signs of OpenVPN and its network tap (TAP) drivers, and reinstalling it, BTGuard simply would not connect using the latest version. For this reason, I had to opt for an older version (openvpn-install-2.3.14-I601-x86_64.exe) to get it to run.

This version worked like a dream BUT it lacks those excellent newer features. This is really sad because when I tested for DNS leaks using ipleak.net, I did get DNS request leak (and it appears that they use GoogleDNS anyway).

Compatibility Issues

I tried contacting BTGuard to see why their .ovpn files were not compatible with the newer version of OpenVPN, but I didn’t get a response. Making sure that their .ovpn config files are compatible with the new OpenVPN client is something that should be a no-brainer – it is very easy to do.

Once the software is installed on the user’s platform, the subscriber must download the .ovpn files from the download area of the website. Those files must be extracted onto the device and then imported into the OpenVPN software using the import feature (in the app) or placed in program files > OpenVPN > config on Windows.

The entire process is easy, and BTGuard has a guide to walk people through the process. However, if you run into any problems, communicating with BTGuard is not 24/7 like it is with many many other VPNs in the same price range.

Once the software is installed and the .ovpn files have been imported, connecting is easy. Right click the icon on the desktop and run as administrator, then right click on a server and select connect. You will be asked for your username and password.

Once it is running, right click the icon in the system tray in the bottom right of the screen (on Windows) or use the Connect button in the various smartphone apps. Simply select the desired location and connect to the server.

Once a connection has been established, the icon goes green to let the user know that everything is working as it should be.

Once connected, it is a good idea to use ipleak.net to make sure that the connection is working properly. DNS leaks should also be tested for (for these, see the speed tests section below).

The BTGuard Windows and Android VPN clients

Due to the fact that BTGuard does not have a custom client, there is nothing to put in this section of the review. Users have to use third-party open source OpenVPN software to connect to BTGuard.

Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)

I tested BTGuard using testmy.net on a 50 Mbps internet connection. Usually, BestVPN.com tests a UK server, US server, and Netherlands server. Sadly, due to the fact that BTGuard doesn’t have a US or UK server, this was impossible.

For this reason, I tested Canada from a US (San Francisco) test server, Singapore from a Singapore test server, and the Netherlands from a UK test server (to give some idea of the speed difference between my UK non-VPN test, and the speeds with the VPN turned on as close as possible). Of course, bear in mind that some of the speed loss is because of geographical distance.

As you can see, there was a massive drop in speeds. That drop-off was similarly huge on every server, even when taking into account speed loss due to geographic distance.

Due to the fact that I couldn’t get BTGuard to work with the latest version of OpenVPN, there was no DNS or WebRTC leak protection in the software. This is a real shame. I used ipleak.net and found there to be no IP address or WebRTC leaks.

However, I did detect DNS leaks to a number of DNS addresses, including GoogleDNS (which keeps logs). This is an abject failure from a firm that claims to provide privacy for its users.

BTGuard Review Conclusion

I liked:

  • OpenVPN encryption
  • BitTorrent proxy service or VPN available

I wasn’t so sure about:

  • No custom VPN software for any platform
  • Unclear privacy policy

I hated:

  • Only three server locations
  • Immensely overpriced
  • Weak OpenVPN handshake
  • Worst customer care ever (non-existent)
  • Doesn’t unblock iPlayer
  • Doesn’t unblock Netflix

BTGuard is a VPN that has been around for years. As such, the Canadian-based service has no excuse for providing such a poor service. BTGuard VPN fails, time and time again, to provide a respectable VPN service. Its website is designed to entice consumers with flashy looks, but peel back the curtain and just like in Oz it is all a bad illusion.

This VPN service is as expensive as many world-class VPNs that provide servers in upwards of 50 countries, yet it offers so little: a poorly-worded privacy policy; poor encryption implementation; no custom client; AND a lack of compatibility with the latest OpenVPN software. Plus, the worst customer care I have ever experienced while reviewing VPNs. BTGuard VPN is not recommended to anyone under any circumstances.

Visit BTGuard »