Based in Hong Kong, IronSocket started out life as ‘HideMyNet.com’ (HMN), but has recently completely overhauled its services and rebranded itself. IronSocket provides an excellent all-round service with top grade encryption, a no usage logs policy, great performance results, and servers all over the world.
IronSocket is a Hong Kong-based Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. It also offers Smart Domain Name System (DNS) and proxy services to its customers at no extra charge. The service started in 2005 under the name of HideMyNet. The brand changed to IronSocket in 2013.
The company prioritizes service to torrenters and has a selection of servers where it allows peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading. IronSocket subscribers get a choice of protocols that they can use to hide their identity.
Seven-day money-back guarantee
Servers in 40 countries
Additional Smart DNS service, HTTP and Socket Secure (SOCKS5) proxies
Choice of OpenVPN, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), and Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
IronSocket offers a single package that you can subscribe to for different periods. The cost per month of the service works out cheaper if you take out a longer subscription. However, you have to pay for the entire subscription up front.
You can pay for IronSocket with a credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, or store gift cards.
The features of the company’s package are:
Servers in 40 countries
Multilingual website and app
Popular for P2P downloads
A no logs policy
Smart DNS service
SOCKS5 and HTTP proxies
OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP protocols
Uses OpenVPN Connect app for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, iOS, and Android
Manual install for routers, set top boxes, games consoles, and Linux machines
The IronSocket server network includes locations in 40 countries. Many of the countries listed have more than one server location. There are 11 server sites in the US.
IronSocket offers Open VPN over User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), L2TP/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), and PPTP.
The OpenVPN implementation uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit encryption with SHA256 message authentication and 4096-bit RSA encryption for session establishment.
IronSocket’s L2TP option also uses AES encryption with a 256-bit key. This is exceptionally strong encryption for the L2TP system. Usually, L2TP uses 128-bit encryption and is a better option for mobile devices (where AES encryption can drain the battery).
IronSocket is based in Hong Kong. It has a reputation for protecting torrenters and it keeps no activity logs. However, it does keep connection logs. The problem with this is that the sites you visit and the systems you participate in cansee the IP address that the VPN company has allocated to you. If the VPN company has a record of when you were using the service, and records your real IP address, lawyers and law enforcement agencies could get a court order to seize that information. Once they have your real IP address, they can trace you to your door through your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which keeps logs on your activities. The retention of connection logs is a weak point in IronSocket’s privacy procedures.
The company flags some of its servers as suitable for P2P downloading. It warns users not to download with torrents on others.
The IronSocket website isn’t as slick as those of its major competitors. It could do with a redesign. Access to the client area is via a button at the top right of the screen. Other navigation of the site is via the menu bar at the top. This menu isn’t fixed, so you lose it as you scroll down the page.
One excellent feature of the site is the ability to switch the language to a long list of alternatives.
There are more navigation options in the website’s footer.
IronSocket’s support pages aren’t very sophisticated. There’s an FAQ page, which does contain very useful information. Other sections of the Help Center include installation guides and a link through to a server listing.
The simple web-form in this page is your main means of accessing the support team.
In order to subscribe to IronSocket, click on Pricing in the menu bar, or on one of the “Get Started” buttons that are scattered around the main page of the site. Click on “Order Now” below the description of your preferred subscription period.
To get an account, you just need to enter an email address and make up your own password. The email address should be a real one because this is where IronSocket will send your login details. If you don’t want IronSocket to know your regular address, just set up and use a free webmail account. If you really don’t want any email link between you and the VPN, you could get away with it because once your account is paid for, you can get your login details from the client area of the site. The email that you get when you pay for the service doesn’t actually contain the credentials. Instead, it contains a link to the page in the client area that displays those details.
The basic package gives you an allowance of three simultaneous connections. You can increase this up to eight for an extra fee.
After you choose your payment method, an overlay gives you the option of signing up one time for your chosen payment period or setting up a repeat payment to keep the subscription renewing.
After IronSocket has processed your payment, it will redirect you to the client area. It will log you in automatically. This page has links to the downloads and installation instructions for the company’s VPN, HTTP proxy, and Smart DNS services.
Over in your inbox, you should find two emails from IronSocket. The second of these has the subject line “IronSocket VPN Login Information – Important.” There are no prizes for guessing the contents of this email.
The password you set up when you opened your account, together with your email address, get you into the website’s client area. In order to log in to the VPN, you’ll need the generated username and password in the email.
The IronSocket Windows VPN Client
IronSocket doesn’t have its own app. Instead, it directs users to download the OpenVPN Connect app. The organization that manages the OpenVPN protocol produces this. This is not necessarily a bad thing. OpenVPN Connect gets you direct access to the definitive OpenVPN service. Many VPN companies use this interface, so IronSocket is not being uniquely sloppy. However, it has missed out on a big branding opportunity. Once you have the OpenVPN client on your computer, you can easily hop from one VPN service to another (with subscriptions). Thus IronSocket is not tying in its customers with familiarity.
After installing the app, it will start up. You won’t see anything on your screen. Instead, click the up arrow in your system tray to look at the icons of active programs. The symbol that looks like a keyhole is the OpenVPN Connect app.
Clicking on the OpenVPN icon doesn’t open up an app. The icon IS the app. When you click on it, you get a pop-up menu. This details the controls of the VPN client.
You’ll notice that there are no servers to connect to. The downside of using this generic interface is that it isn’t set up specifically for IronSocket. You have to go back to the server list to download a connection definition for each server that you might want to connect to. This is a very laborious task. It’s one of the reasons that the top VPN providers don’t rely on the OpenVPN interface, but invest in their own apps.
Click on the “Get Profile” button to download the files you need to connect to a specific server. It’s a shame that IronSocket hasn’t bundled all of these profiles into one download file. It would be a lot easier to set up the service if they could organize that facility. As things stand, if you want to activate your access to all of the VPN servers, you have a lot of work to do.
If you really don’t have the time, just install the profiles for the locations that you know for sure that you will use. For this review, I definitely needed to get the Miami, Canada, and UK servers running, so I just downloaded those.
After clicking on a profile download file, you get a pop up message. Click on the “Download Now” button on this. Once the configuration file is on your computer, you need to move it. Click on the OpenVPN icon in your system tray and select Import from the menu that appears. Select “From local file” and locate the config file in your default download directory. Click on Open in the file interface to load in the definition.
When you’ve followed the instructions to load in server definitions, you’ll see your connection options. Click on the OpenVPN Connect icon again to see the server list.
You can now connect. You can also change your username and password in the website’s client area to make them something more memorable. The first time you access a server, you have to enter your username and password. The login screens remember your username for subsequent visits. However, you have to enter your password every time you log in to a server.
The first time you access each server, you receive a warning message.
This warning doesn’t appear on subsequent connections to that server.
Once you’ve established the connection, a system message will notify you. In addition, the OpenVPN Connect icon changes to show a tick.
When the top VPN companies create their own apps, they build in extra security features such as a kill switch or automatic WiFi protection. IronSocket can’t offer these services because it hasn’t invested in its own controlling software.
Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)
I conducted speed tests for IronSocket using OpenVPN over UDP. In each case, I performed five test runs with testmy.net from a location in the Caribbean. The US tests were made to a server in Miami and the UK tests went to a server in London.
I used IPLocation.net to test the actual location of the IronSocket VPN servers that I accessed. I used the IronSocket US East Coast server, which IPLocation reported as being in New York. The report into the location of the IronSocket server in Canada was a little confusing. IPLocation reports the locations detected by five different sources. One of these identified the server location as being in Milan, Italy. Another thought that the server was in Moultrie, Georgia, in the US. The other three identified the server’s location as Vancouver, Canada. The IPLocation reports on the location of the IronSocket UK VPN server consistently located it in London’s Canary Wharf.
My local internet service isn’t great. Average download speeds of 3 Mbps are lousy in this day and age. Your home connection is probably a lot faster. However, when you go on vacation you may face such slow speeds. The speed of 3 Mbps is important, because HBO recommends a connection throughput of at least 3 Mbps in order to watch HD streaming video comfortably. It also states that you need at least 2 Mbps to watch SD streaming video.
Without a VPN, my local service would be good enough to watch US shows over the internet. The only problem is that video servers don’t allow access to their content from overseas. The IronSocket US East Coast and Canadian servers dragged down the transfer speeds to the point where HD video playback would stutter and pause for buffering. However, these speeds are good enough to watch SD streaming video.
The IronSocket London server had very variable performance, exceeding and undercutting the speeds on the underlying connection from test to test. The average speed of the UK VPN tests was lower than the lowest speed encountered in the five test connections to London without the VPN turned on.
I reconnected to the IronSocket East Coast location to continue testing. This time, IPLocation reports placed this server in Miami. Tests found no IP leaks, DNS leaks, or Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) disclosures. Tests consistently showed my location as Miami in the US, using a DNS server in in the same location (I was actually in the Dominican Republic). I performed the tests with ipleak.net to check DNS leaks and the WebRTC bug. Strangely, the site reported WebRTC leaks that indicated that I was in the UK.
The test site doileak.net is particularly keen on WebRTC leaks, but that site couldn’t detect my actual location. However, it detected my location as being in the Netherlands. If US streaming services picked up that information while I was connected to this VPN server, they would block me from watching videos. Despite that, before ending the session I checked at ABC.com, which has very strong VPN detection systems, and it let me watch a video.
My ISP doesn’t use IPv6 addresses, so I was unable to test for IPv6 leaks.
I connected to the East Coast US server and tested access to Netflix USA, ABC.com, and NBC.com and I got into all of them. I then connected to the UK VPN and tried out Netflix UK, BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub, and the Channel 4 website. In every case, IronSocket got me in and I was able to watch videos.
If you worry that might want access to a site that IronSocket can’t get into, you can check out a list on the site that shows the channels that the company is confident that it can get into. You can’t get access to this page until you’ve subscribed. However, you can look at a screenshot of the page here to see whether your favorite video services are included.
You can install the IronSocket VPN on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, iOS, and Blackberry operating systems. You can also install the VPN on routers, games consoles, set-top boxes, and smart TVs.
IronSocket Review: Conclusion
IronSocket has a fantastic ability to get into just about any video streaming service in the countries where it has servers. The SOCKS5 proxy, Smart DNS, and HTTP proxy services are interesting extras that you get to play around with for free once you subscribe to the VPN service.
You might find the allowance of only three simultaneous connections restrictive. However, IronSocket allows you to buy an extra allowance, expanding your number of simultaneous connections up to eight, which should be more than enough for a family.
Seven-day money-back guarantee
Skilled at dodging location access restrictions
Free smart DNS and proxies
Works on routers
I wasn’t so sure about:
No live customer support
Speeds not so great
No kill switch
Difficult to set up
If IronSocket redesigned its website and produced its own self-installing app, I would rank this as one of the five best VPNs in the world. As it is, the points scored by the service’s technical capabilities are dragged down by the difficulty of installing the app.