Founded in 2010 by a group Italian ‘hacktivists,’ helped by a couple of sympathetic lawyers willing to work for free, AirVPN was a product of the Pirate Party festival in Rome, which says a lot for the fiercely pro-privacy, pro- data-protection, and pro- net-neutrality credentials of this small VPN provider. Offering a raft of features not commonly found elsewhere, such as complete transparency of service, acceptance of Bitcoin payments, VPN over Tor, and VPN through SSH and SSL tunnels, Air VPN impresses us with a dedication to maintaining users’ anonymity which is backed up with technological muscle to provide a simple yet elegantly effective core service.
We’ve created a video review where you can see exactly how AirVPN works.
Pricing & Features
AirVPN offers an one ‘all-in-one’ plan starting at €7 (approx. $9) per month, going up to €54 (approx. $70) for a year’s subscription. There is also a 3 day trial for €1 (approx. $1.30), although if you email them AirVPN will give you this 3 day trial for free. For payment they accept Paypal, all kind of credit cards accepted by Avangate.com and BTC by CoinBase.com and BitPay.com .
The service is an OpenVPN overload affair, with an extreme variety of advanced settings, robust technologies and an impressive commitment to anonymity. With POP (Point of Presence) servers in datacentres that connect directly to a Tier 1 backbone, the service is very fast (we achieved hardly any speed drop but a minimum of 4Mbit/s upload/download speed is reserved per customer), and support for VPN over Tor and VPN through SSL and SHH tunnels is noteworthy and impressive.
AirVPN maintain over 60 servers in 14 countries, mainly in Europe but also in the United States and Singapore.
AirVPN is very proud of the fact that it supports dynamic Remote Port Forwarding, which can, among other things, increase P2P performance and avoid restrictions placed on particular ports by ISP’s and is especially useful when using older P2P torrent clients such as eMule/eDonkey that are not able to perform NAT-punching.
The website & customer support
The AirVPN website is neatly laid out, if a little unexciting looking. There is a good amount of information available about the services on offer, but we did feel that a bit more, explained in a user friendly way, would have been helpful as AirVPN offer a lot of services that are not commonly found elsewhere, and some of them are quite technical for a laymen to get his or her head around. That said, there is an active forum where most questions are answered or new questions can be asked.
In addition to the forum, you can contact the AirVPN support staff directly via (form based) email. When we did this we got an extremely informative reply within a couple of hours. While this cannot compete with the 24/7 live chat support offered by some large VPN companies, it has to be remembered that AirVPN is a very small company, and we were therefore happy with the service.
AirVPN is righty proud of the fact that it is the only VPN company it is aware of to provide real-time usage statistics, and we can’t argue! This service is accessed through the website, and is opt-in only.
Another great feature of the website is real-time reports on server load and usage statistics that go into far greater (and prettier!) detail than we have yet to see any other VPN provide.
You can also keep track of server’s Ping results.
Privacy & Security
‘Operated exclusively by activists, privacy, data protection and security issues aware persons’, AirVPN scores extremely well on the privacy and security front, offering on a technical level 256-bit AES encryption. In addition to this, AirVPN can be used with the Tor network, or through an SSH or SSL tunnel for extremely high levels of security (see below for more details).
No logs are kept, and AirVPN make a big issue about conforming to European Union directives regarding protection of privacy (specifically the Directive on Data Protection 95/4C/EC and the Directive concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy 2002/58/EC). AirVPN also state in their ToS that they conform to the the best practices as recommended by the EU Art. 29 Working Party and the EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor).
VPN’s are not covered by the EU wide Data Retention Directive in Italy, and AirVPN state that they do not keep databases on any of their servers, and that the ‘accounts database is a clustered database in backend servers whose location is known only to AirVPN founders’.
All this commitment to anonymity is backed up by an acceptance of Bitcoin payments, which clients are encouraged to use from a disposable email address.
We have to say that we love this comprehensive attitude to keeping users identity as untraceable as technologically possible.
Signing up is very easy, and very little information is asked of you (name, email, login and password). Elsewhere on the website you are encouraged not to use your real name and email address, so top marks for lack of noseyness!
Once registration is completed you can chose your payment plan and then be ready to go.
The Windows VPN Client
Once payment has been accepted you receive an email with a link to the download page, and installing the Windows client is simplicity itself. One thing we liked was the prominent display and requirement to accept AirVPN’s Terms of Service. As we discuss in this article, many VPN providers hide their ToS away, so it is refreshing to see one that that is keen for you to check their small print.
It’s boring but you should read it!
Previously we were a bit let down by AirVPNs simple client – but now it’s completely the opposite! In fact it’s so full of features that, not only do we not know where to begin but we’re not even sure we’ve fully grasped all the possibilities yet!
Their Eddie software (which is fully open source) contains every kind of setting imaginable you’d like to use: leak protection, port/protocol settings, blocks, software settings. Alongside this it is the only open source software which allows OpenVPN over Tor, it also allows it over SSH and SSL too. If you’re looking for advanced features this really is the one and using their free trial you can find out about the whole list of features they have available.
Above, the simple every day use area of the software. Below the more complex, anything you can dream of settings.
With all these advanced features, dedication to security and privacy, it was no surprise to find that there was no DNS leaks, the IP checks were all fine and the speeds were great.
Other platforms & Connections
The AirVPN client is available for all major desktop platforms and they provide set-up guides for all other major platforms and devices..
Very interesting is setup instructions for using the VPN service in unusual ways.:
Tor – the Tor privacy network is the most secure means of staying anonymous yet devised, as your internet traffic is encrypted each time it passes through at least 3 other anonymous user ‘nodes’ across the world. By connecting to AirVPN through Tor you add an additional layer of security, and ensure that even AirVPN cannot see your IP (only the IP of the Tor exit node). In addition to this, you can access websites that usually refuse Tor connections. The price for this ultra-level security is very poor performance (and you should not use Tor for P2P filesharing as it helps to slow down an already very slow system for everyone else). This service is a very great solution for those to whom anonymity is absolutely vital, such as whistle-blowers and those reporting organized crime.
SSH tunnel – by connecting through an SSH tunnel you make it impossible to detect the fact that you are using the Open VPN protocol. This can be useful in countries such as China, which occasionally try to disrupt OpenVPN services.
SSL tunnel – like the SSH tunnel, an SSL tunnel protects your communications from deep-packet inspection by ISPs. Although OpenVPN encryption ensures that the ISP cannot ‘see’ your data, they can tell that you are using OpenVPN. However, if the OpenVPN tunnel is encased in an SSL (or SSH) tunnel, then the identifying ‘fingerprint’ is removed. Both forms of tunnel will result in a small performance hit.
String Encryption Tool
AirVPN provide a free string encryption tool on mywhisper.net, which provides an incredibly secure (backed up by 256-bit AES encryption) means of sending private messages to another person. They have also developed the fantastic tool ipleak.net which we use constantly in our line of work.
256-bit AES encryption
Accept Bitcoin payment
Dynamic Remote Port Forwarding
Awesome server statistics (resulting in complete transparency of service)
Real-time user statistics
Great overall attitude to privacy
Very good speedtest.net results
Support for Tor over VPN and VPN through SSH and SSL tunnels
Amazing and packed client
We weren’t so sure about
No live chat (but we really didn’t find this a big problem)
Some concepts and services could be better explained
Webpage (especially its navigation) could be made better
Basically, we loved this service! We loved AirVPN’s attention to detail when it comes to ensuring user’s anonymity, we loved the extras bits that would make even the biggest paranoia freak feel secure, we loved all the statistics that are as pretty as they are comprehensive, and we loved the basic, fast, and no nonsense core of the VPN service. Highly recommended.