Review

CactusVPN Review 2017


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:
Rating:
5
On August 11, 2017
Last modified:August 16, 2017

Summary:

What is CactusVPN?

CactusVPN is Moldovan VPN provider that launched in 2011. The company has constantly evolved since then, adding more servers to its network and improving its user interface. Moldova is a good location for a data privacy service because the country lies just outside of the EU. This makes it free from EU data retention obligations. It is also right next door to Romania, which is fast becoming a VPN powerhouse.

BestVPN.com is keeping an eye on the changes at CactusVPN and we regularly update our reviews of the service. Take a look at our latest assessment of this VPN and smart Domain Name System (DNS) utility.

  • ProsPROS
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • 24-hour free trial
  • No logs
  • Smart DNS option
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • ConsCONS
  • Small server network

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CactusVPN Pricing and Plans

It’s difficult to assess CactusVPN without referring to rival services in Romania. The service and prices that this company offers have to be considered as part of that group. Of the three Romanian VPN stars – CyberGhost, ibVPN, and VPN.ac – CactusVPN is a close match to VPN.ac.

CactusVPN has just 20 servers in nine countries, whereas VPN.ac’s network has 79 servers in 21 countries. The annual price for the top plan at CactusVPN is $54.99, which is just a shade cheaper than the VPN.ac price of $58 for a similar service. Both services offer a choice of plans that have different levels of facilities.

CactusVPN offers five service plans. If you don’t think you’ll need to access servers in nine countries, you can save money by selecting a cut-down service. You get an allowance of five simultaneous connections on all plans.

CactusVPN prices

As with most VPN services, longer subscription periods get discounts over the regular monthly price.

CactusVPN annual prices

You get a 50% discount if you buy more than one plan, so you can make the cost of this service cheaper by sharing the discount with friends. This is a better idea than trying to share a subscription because CactusVPN specifically bans that practice. If you get caught sharing your login credentials with others, CactusVPN will terminate your account and you won’t get a refund.

The 30-day money-back guarantee is generous.

As well as credit and debit cards, the company accepts PayPal payments and Bitcoin. You can also pay with a dazzling array of payment methods through Yandex Money, Webmoney, and Qiwi.

CactusVPN payment methods

CactusVPN Features

All plans have the following features:

  • Servers in nine countries
  • Simultaneous connections to different servers
  • Apps for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android
  • Manual installation for routers, set-top boxes, and Linux
  • OpenVPN, SoftEther, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), and Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
  • No activity logs
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) allowed on Romanian, German and Dutch servers
  • Automatic WiFi protection
  • Per-app and system-wide kill switch
  • DNS and IP leak protection
  • Pool of IP addresses
  • Server speed tests

The small server network is probably the biggest detraction of this service. If you specifically want to access websites in the UK or the US, then the cheaper, country-specific options are good choices. CactusVPN has multiple servers in those countries, so simultaneous connections would be possible by connecting one device to each server.

CactusVPN server locations

Smart DNS

If you just want cross-border access to streaming services and websites with regional restrictions, then the smart DNS service might be a better option for you. This service got me into Netflix US and UK from a foreign location. The Netflix service is notoriously difficult to get into from abroad. It not only blocks foreign access, but is good at detecting VPN traffic. Consequently, very few VPNs can get you into Netflix to watch content.

You can cut the cost of getting around regional restrictions by just selecting the smart DNS service. However, if you need the privacy afforded by a VPN as well, then you can get a combined bundle of the VPN and the smart DNS. Although, if you pay for the VPN, you might just end up using that for access to streaming services, because it works just as well as the smart DNS service for getting into US and UK sites, including Netflix. The smart DNS service has servers in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Check out our Smart DNS guide to see how Smart DNS works and how it differs to a VPN.

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Is CactusVPN Secure?

CactusVPN states that it does not hold “traffic, DNS reqs, timestamps, IPs, bandwidth, connection logs or any other type of logs that can be tracked to a single person.” This is possible because the home country of this VPN service is outside of the political mainstream of the West, where the threat of terrorism has overridden national commitments to privacy.

The company admits that it will hand over any data on file should the authorities arrive with a subpoena. Realistically, few private businesses would do otherwise. However, there can be no trace of your activities through the VPN service because the necessary connection data is not stored after disconnection.

Security

Unfortunately, the CactusVPN app doesn’t include the strongest security that the company provides. The app’s best security is provided by OpenVPN with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption. This implementation, however, only uses a 128-bit key for encryption. This is weaker than the industry standard of a 256-bit key for AES encryption.

For more information

This table from the CactusVPN site gives a summary of each of the VPN protocols available to users:

CactusVPN protocol advice

OpenVPN Encryption
Cipher
AES-128
Data Auth
HMAC SHA1
Handshake
RSA-2048
Forward Secrecy
DHE
Logs & Legal
Connection
None
Traffic
None
Country
Moldova

You can set up the VPN manually on your device. That will get you the option of using SoftEther instead of OpenVPN. This option includes AES encryption with a 256-bit key. The manual setup option is available for Windows, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, Ubuntu, Chromebook, Boxee Box, and routers.

The session establishment sequence of the VPN uses RSA encryption with a 2048-bit key. Although this is respectable, many of the key players in the VPN industry have moved up to a 4096-bit key for this cipher.

CactusVPN implements perfect forward secrecy (PFS), which means that new encryption keys are distributed for each connection.

A good security feature of a VPN is the kill switch. This blocks the Internet connection if the VPN is not engaged. CactusVPN offers two types of kill switch. The first is a system-wide block and the second is the ability to specify apps that should be blocked from accessing the Internet if the VPN is not turned on.

The Website

The website theme is based on the antics of a lovable cartoon cactus, which assumes various poses to illustrate the subject of each section of the site.

CactusVPN Review

The humor of the illustrations helps make the presentation of an essentially complicated topic easier to comprehend.

CactusVPN style

The main menu of the site remains fixed at the top of the screen as you scroll down. There are more links in the footer of every page.

CactusVPN footer

CactusVPN Support

There are three ways to get to the support ticket screen – this is where you ask the help desk for assistance. The first method is to click on the Support option in the top menu of the site. This gives access to the support hub, which has links to installation guides and tutorials, as well as a button through to the support ticket page.

CactusVPN support hub

The client area has a support section. This can be accessed from the left hand menu that is present in all of the screens in the client area.

CactusVPN website access to support

The support section of the client area shows current support issues that you have raised. You can open a new ticket by clicking on the “Support Ticket” button at the top of the screen.

The third method of reaching the support screen is to click on the “Submit ticket” button on the support tab of the app.

CactusVPN support access from the app

The support form is straightforward. Once you submit your query, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Answers will appear in the support page of the client area. CactusVPN will notify you by email when a new reply is available.

CactusVPN support page

The Process

Try out the system with the one-day free trial before you buy one of the plans. This trial gives you access to both the VPN and the smart DNS service. This is exactly the same as the company’s top service plan.

Signing Up

Click on one of the “Free Trial” buttons or links that are dotted about the site.

CactusVPN free trial button

You can use a Facebook account, or a Google+ account to get into the service. If you don’t want to allow the VPN company access to your Facebook or Google accounts, you can enter an email address instead. If you want total anonymity with this free trial, you can create a webmail account just for contact with CactusVPN. However, the email address you enter has to be real, because your account details will be sent to it.

CactusVPN sign up page

Look for the welcome email in your inbox. You will need to create a password for the client area of the website. This function is accessed via a button in the email.

CactusVPN welcome email

Your next task is to download the app. The download section of the website is difficult to find – it is actually accessed off the support page of the client area. The downloads are easier to get to through a link in the welcome email.

The CactusVPN Windows VPN Client

You can change your generated username and password in the website’s client area. Your log-in credentials for the client area are your email address and the password that you set up through the link in the welcome email. The VPN app requires different log-in credentials. These are generated strings of random characters, which you’ll never remember. Thankfully, you can change them to something comprehensible.

In the client area, click on the name of your active package.

CactusVPN Client Area

The first section of the package details gives you the opportunity to change your username and password.

CactusVPN change default credentials

The first time you access the app, you’ll need to enter those credentials.

CactusVPN app login

Make sure you tick the “Remember password” checkbox so you don’t have to log in again whenever you open the app.

The main screen of the app is very simple. However, resist the temptation to connect straight away – you don’t know which VPN protocol the app has been set to.

CactusVPN app

You can choose a protocol in the settings tab.

CactusVPN app protocol selection

Before you deal with the protocol settings, slide the “DNS leak protection” setting to On. This setting’s default position is Off.

Select the protocol from the drop-down list at the top of the settings page. We recommend using OpenVPN. This selection will open up two more fields, which let you choose between Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP). If you want to use streaming services or video chat, select UDP. This is a quicker, “connectionless” option that is preferable for interactive services. The second of the OpenVPN settings fields lets you select a port to connect to.

CactusVPN app settings

The Settings tab is the home of the kill switch. If you ant to turn it on, click on the slider next to “Stop internet traffic if VPN connection is dropped.” To specify kill switch block for individual applications, click on the “Apps Killer” tab at the top of the window.

To connect, go back to the connection tab. You can reorder the list of available servers by speed by clicking on the button next to the server drop-down list.

CactusVPN server selection

After selecting a server, click on the Connect button to turn the VPN on. Once the VPN is operating, the Connect button will change to a Disconnect button.

CactusVPN app connected

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

These speed tests were performed from Nottingham, UK, using the site, testmy.net. For each category, five test runs were performed.

The first test run examined the speed of an unprotected connection, to establish a baseline. This measured the performance of a Virgin Media internet service on a connection to London. The next two test conditions also connected to London, but through CactusVPN servers. In these two cases, the connection settings specified the use of OpenVPN with UDP. The first test connected with the CactusVPN server in London. The second test ran through the CactusVPN server in the Netherlands. The company recommends the use of its Dutch or Romanian servers for P2P downloading. The “Netherlands 3” server came up as the fastest of the company’s Dutch servers when the app’s speed check reordered the server list.

The last tests measured the performance of a connection to New York in the US, both without a VPN and with the CactusVPN server in Chicago mediating the line. Again, this VPN ran with UDP on the OpenVPN protocol.

CactusVPN download speed tests

CactusVPN upload speed tests

The graphs show highest, lowest, and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.

In all cases, the VPN gave a very respectable performance. When there are very slight changes in speed, those differences could easily be caused by the variable performance of the underlying internet service. Despite extra routing and work to encrypt and decrypt all transmissions, CactusVPN hardly impaired speeds at all.

Other Platforms

Cactus VPN produces its app for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. Manual setup is also available for those platforms, plus Windows Phone, Ubuntu, Chromebook, Boxee Box, and routers. If you are able to set up the VPN manually, you will get access to a better implementation of the AES encryption system than the application offers. This is because the SoftEther VPN implementation available for manual installation includes AES with a 256-bit key, whereas the OpenVPN option in the app uses AES with a 128-bit key.

CactusVPN Review: Conclusion

The CactusVPN system has improved a lot since its inception. The service gets around regional restrictions and the server network offers good speeds. The only detraction of this service is the company’s small server network.

I liked:

  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • 24-hour free trial
  • Kill switch
  • Good IP and DNS leak protection
  • Netflix access
  • Easy-to-use app
  • Decent speeds
  • Dedicated servers for P2P downloads
  • Strong privacy procedures

I wasn’t so sure about:

  • Small server network

I hated:

  • Weak AES encryption in the OpenVPN implementation

If you want to get around the regional restrictions on streaming services, you have to use a VPN server in the same country as the website that you are trying to access. As CactusVPN only has servers in nine countries, you may find that this service is not for you. Those who are catered for by the CactusVPN server locations will find the good speeds and competent cloaking of this VPN fulfil all of their requirements.

Visit CactusVPN »


Stephen Cooper Stephen Cooper is a techy geek with a social edge. Downshifting from a successful IT career in Europe, Cooper moved to the Caribbean and now keeps up to speed with Internet technology poolside.

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20 responses to “CactusVPN Review 2017

  1. I was using the CactusVPN for half a year with OpenVPN protocol and it worked fantastic.
    After 6 months it stopped working and they can not fix it + they dont want to refund me… “paypal does not accept refunds after 3 months”
    so i bought the service from another company i wont mention..but it works fine… so the technical issue is not on my computer.
    lost 25$ + time….

    1. Hi d1my4n,

      I must say that’s a very poor excuse not to give you a refund! Even if PayPal won’t do it, CactusVPN could always refund you directly!

    I’ve had cactusVPN for about 6 months now so I’m confident that I can rate their service.

    First, I purchased a year of service on their black friday sale at the bargain price of $25. Only a few VPNs can be had lower than that.

    Features wise this VPN offers allot. Torrent servers, streaming servers, and web browsing servers. 5 different protocols with no logs and excellent encryption. Not based in the US either. They’re torrent servers are fantastic, definitely in the Top 3 of all the VPNs I’ve tried. I haven’t had any problems getting good upload / download and browsing the web pretty quickly on their torrent servers. Even the heavier encryption protocols provide good speed for torrenting. Using 60/20 cable I was able to get 70% of my provider’s max speed under LPT2, which is pretty impressive.

    Their customer service was also excellent. Responses on the same day and issues usually solved within one day as well. The provided software has worked without a hitch and has nice options included.

    Overall I would highly recommend this service.

    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!
    John

    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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