EarthVPN has been making waves recently (pardon the mixed metaphors!) thanks to offering a very low cost service that keeps no logs and provides some very high-end features. Some people have thought the deal so ‘too good to be true’ in fact, they have accused it of being a honeypot (quite without any evidence whatsoever!). We obviously couldn’t wait to put this exciting new provider through its paces, and you will see we loved its dedication to privacy, low price and feature-set, but worried a little about some performance issues.
Pricing and Package Features
The basic VPN package comes in at an incredibly pocket-friendly $3.99 per month (or $39.99 annually), which makes EarthVPN just about the cheapest service we have yet reviewed. For such a low price you might expect a somewhat limited feature-set, but even its most basic package gives you access to features that many other VPN providers charge much more for *(or don’t offer at all), including PPTP / L2TP / SSTP / OpenVPN Protocols and access to 87 server locations in 32 countries (including servers throughout Asia, the US and Europe, and in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Panama and Brazil and Turkey).
Additional options can be purchased for $1.99 each per month, and include:
adding an additional device such a phone (up to 3 separate devices can be connected from the same IP address but not from spate locations without this option)
upgrading OpenVPN to 256-bit AES encryption
having a static IP address
SSH Tunnel/Socks proxy enabled
Although other providers may supply at least some of these features as part of their basic packages, given the ultra-low cost of EathVPN’s basic pricing we think these optional extras represent good value for money to those who need them (although if you want them all it starts to get a bit more pricey).
EarthVPN does offer no ‘free trial’ as such, but does offer a no quibbles 7 day money back guarantee, which is pretty close.
EarthVPN runs special offshore servers ‘on all continents’ which are specially optimized for P2P/torrent traffic, and where ‘DMCA or any equivalent does not apply’.
The website and customer service
The website is well laid out, professional looking (if not overly stylish), and easy to navigate. The public facing website features a Google map of its server locations, setup instructions, and an extensive and informative FAQ that answered all our usual queries regarding a VPN service. The customer area (which can be accessed from the sign-up page without actually signing-up) includes a moderately populated knowledgebase and, very usefully, a Network Status page with a service uptime history report. A speed test page is also included, but we prefer to stick with speetest.net to obtain accurate performance results.
Customer support comes in the form of a ticked email system. We did experience some issues during setup (see below) and it took around eight hours for the support team to get back to us (by which time our issues had resolved themselves).
Privacy & Security
Privacy is an area where EarthVPN excels. Based in Northern Cyprus. Although under the jurisdiction of Turkey, which does have mandatory data retention laws, it is our understanding that Northern Cyprus does not, and EarthVPN says it does not ‘log any usage or user activity. Neither us nor third parties are technically possible to match an IP address to an account.’ Also, as noted above, it is happy to let users’ download using P2P/torrent software, as long they use its special servers (and since P2P traffic is blocked on their other servers, this should never be an issue).
Encryption levels too, are good (although as usual we recommend avoiding PPTP with CHAPv2 authentication if possible). L2TP/IPsec uses either 3DES or AES encryption with a 256-bit key, while OpenVPN uses 128-bit AES with an SHA1 hash algorithm and 2048 RSA key authentication. As we discussed in the pricing section, it is also possible to upgrade OpenVPN to 256-bit AES encryption. Windows Vista SP1 or later users can also take advantage of SSTP, which uses TCP Port 443 (as used by standard SSL transmissions, which makes it very easy to block) and 2048-bit SSL encryption, making ideal for use in highly restrictive counties such as China, Iran and Syria.
All this is great, and is the sort of thing that warms the cockles of our heart here at BestVPN.
Users can pay anonymously using Bitcoins (if necessary precautions are taken) or with PayPal, Credit Cards, Bitcoins, Alipay, Unionpay and Webmoney. EarthVPN makes sure that transactions are not linked to users by generating a unique key for every transaction so it can verify payment for the account is made, and then deletes that unique key. This is a great procedure, and one we wish more VPN providers would implement.
All in all, EarthVPN appears to pay a great deal of attention to ensuring its user’s privacy, which leaves us impressed. Please review our note that the end of the article however, and follow the links provided before deciding to full trust EarthVPNs’s security measures.
Signing up couldn’t be much easier as all you are asked for is a first name, email address and password.
Once the order is processed and paid for, and confirmation / welcome etc. emails are received, you can go to the website’s setup area and follow the instructions to set the service up.
The Windows Software
The Windows client is a very simple and bare-bones affair that lets you choose which server you want to connect to, which protocol, and which port to use. This covers all the basics, but gives you none of the fancy DNS leak protection, internet kill switch, server statistics etc. seen on some other provider’s custom VPN clients.
By default the client connects over TCP, although we usually recommend trying a UDP port first
We did have a little trouble connecting at first, as the client would not accept our password. After some failed attempts to reset it (the reset process required you to enter the old password first, which is just bloody stupid), it started working just fine on its own.
Once you are connected, an icon will show in the Notification Area of the Task Bar to let you know everything is hunky-dory
EarthVPN is fairly comprehensive when it comes to setup options. At the moment it only has a dedicated VPN client for Windows (with OSX and Linux clients on the way), but it has detailed manual setup instruction with screenshots for Windows (PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, SSTP and SSH/Socks Proxy), OSX (PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, and SSH/Socks Proxy), Linux (PPTP and SSH/Socks Proxy) and DD-WRT routers (PPTP and OpenVPN). iOS (PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN on the way) and Android (PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN are also well supported).
Performance and Reliability
We tested the VPN connection using our 20 meg UK broadband.
Not connected to a VPN
Connected using OpenVPN TCP (default OpenVPN setting)
Connected using OpenVPN UDP (revised)
Connected using SSTP
Connected to Switzerland server using OpenVPN
We were very disappointed with the initial OpenVPN tests so we tried connecting using the UPD protocol instead (which is in theory faster). As you can see, the results were even more disappointing. The SSTP result however was very good.
We decided to the give the OpenVPN connection a bit more testing, and found the results were very server dependent, with many European servers proving faster than local UK ones. We did however sometimes have trouble connecting to some servers at all (most notably ones in the Netherlands).
As far as reliability is concerned, we had no disconnections during our test period.
One final test we performed was to check for DNS leakage, and were pleased to see EarthVPN pass with flying colors.
Note: following criticism from EarthVPN, we re-ran our tests on a large number of EarthVPN’s servers (including all UK ones). Again, our tests showed a great lack of consistency in server speed results, with a fair proportion (e.g. 2 of the 5 UK servers) not connecting at all. We therefore stand by our original results and the conclusions we drew from them.
AES OpenVPN encryption (with 265-bit available)
Accepts Bitcoin payment and has a robust system in place to prevent other transaction being linked to users
Up to 3 simultaneous devices (for a small fee)
Good SSTP speeds
We weren’t so sure about
If you want 2 or 3 optional extras the service is not quite such a bargain (although still reasonable)
Basic custom client (or use of open source OpenVPN clients for non-Windows platforms) means no bells and whistles
Inconsistent OpenVPN speeds
Customer support somewhat slow
Not being able to connect to some servers
By and large we are quite impressed with EarthVPN, although the inconsistent speedtest.net results when using OpenVPN (the usual recommended way to connect via VPN) are a bit worrying. However, EarthVPN provides a surprisingly fully featured service at a very reasonable price point, and have top-notch privacy credentials. When all is said and done it is this last point that scores most with us, as technical issues can be fixed, but bad attitude less so. We therefore recommend EarthVPN 9but see out note below), although we do think it important it looks into improving OpenVPN performance across the board.
Important note: Something of a spat has broken out on reddit regarding whether EathVPN has exposed both its public and private keys in its OpenVPN .crt file. If true, then this is an unforgivable error, but the issue has not been raised anywhere else on the internet that we know of, and is strongly denied by EarthVPN. We admit to being somewhat confused by the argument and counterargument, so we suggest that our readers check out the discussion themselves. For the purpose of this review we will assume everything is ok and judge EarthVPN accordingly, but we do feel duty-bound to bring this dispute to our readers’ attention, and if the accusations are found to be true, we remove our recommendation.