Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 21, 2016

Opera VPN is a free VPN service that works with the fifth most popular browser in the world, Opera has always maintained a small but loyal fan base. This is in large part due to it pioneering cutting-edge technologies that are actually useful, such as Opera Turbo (compression technology designed to speed up web browsing) and built-in ad-blocking.

Given that Opera acquired Canadian VPN service SurfEasy last year, it is hardly surprising that Opera has decided to integrate VPN technology into its flagship browser. According to Steve Kelly, Vice President of Marketing at Opera, the reason for the move is to improve users’ privacy and security,

Everyone deserves to surf privately online if they want to. Today, it is too difficult to maintain privacy when using the web, and way too many people experience roadblocks online, like blocked content. By releasing an integrated, free and unlimited VPN in the browser, we make it simple for people to enhance their privacy and access the content they want.

Pricing and Features

It is 100% free to use the VPN bundled with Opera, and there are no data limits. This in itself makes the service one of the most generous free VPNs around. Whether Opera will continue to offer this level of free service is, of course, anyone’s guess.

Five VPN server locations are available – Canada, the US, Germany, the Netherlands, and Singapore. This is more limited that most commercial VPN services, but hey… it’s free! It also covers a good selection of popular VPN server locations, although the UK is conspicuously missing.

This means that you will not be able to use Opera Free VPN to watch iPlayer. Unfortunately, those wanting to access the US version of Netflix are also out of luck… when I tried, Netflix successfully detected that I was running “a proxy” and refused to play.

 Conclusion

I liked

  • It’s 100% free!
  • No data limits
  • Pretty fast
  • 5 server locations (but not UK)
  • Ad-blocking on mobile devices
  • WebRTC leak protection

I wasn’t’ so sure about

  • Opera is based in Norway (good), but SurfEasy is based in Canada (bad)
  • Almost no details available on security or logs kept (so who knows?)
  • Some connection logs (and use of Google Analytics)
  • No P2P

I hated

  • Nothing, if taken on its own terms

Security and Privacy

OpenVPN Encryption
Cipher
AES-256
Data Auth
?
Handshake
?
Control Auth
?
Forward Secrecy
?
Logs & Legal
Connection
Some
Traffic
None
Country
Five Eyes

The only information availible is that the VPN uses AES-256 encryption, which to be honest doesn’t really tell us much. AES-256 encryption is good, but the devil is in the detail.

The cipher (OpenVPN I assume, but this is nowhere confirmed), the RSA handshake keys, authentication method, and whether Perfect Forward Secrecy is used, etc. are not known.

For a full discussion on what these terms mean, please see VPN encryption terms explained (AES vs RSA vs SHA etc.).

It is also not clear whether any logs are kept. For what it’s worth, in its Privacy Policy SurfEasy states that,

“SurfEasy does not store users originating IP address when connected to our service and therefore cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers. Additionally, SurfEasy cannot disclose information about the applications, services or websites our users consume while connected to our services; as SurfEasy does not store this information.

Some exceptions are noted, however, the most important of which is,

The SurfEasy clients may use in-app analytics technologies, like Google Analytics, to help improve and simplify the overall app, design and service.

Hmm. It is quite possible, however, that none of this applies to the VPN used in the Opera browser.

Opera Software is based in Norway, but SurfEasy is based in Canada. The Norwegian government does perform some surveillance and is known to cooperate with the NSA, but is relatively free of such issues.

Canada, on the other hand, is a member of the NSA-led Five Eyes Anglophone spying alliance, and is now subject to the terrifying Bill C-51 (Anti-terrorism Act, 2015).

Please see our Canada VPN guide for further discussion on the surveillance situation there. The poor “Country” rating in the chart reflects the fact that SurfEasy is based in Canada, as it is safest to assume that Opera is subject to Canadian law via its ownership of SurfEasy.

Visit Opera »

Support

There is little in the way of support for the VPN feature, although it is so simple to use that it hardly needs it.  If for any reason you do get stuck, you can ask questions on the Opera forums.

The Process (Windows)

Download and install the Opera browser.

Enable Opera VPN

Once the software is installed, you must enable the VPN feature by going to Menu -> Privacy & security -> VPN -> Enable VPN. Note that I had an old version of Opera installed, and needed to uninstall it and reinstall the latest version in order for this option to become available

opera-2

Using the VPN is then just a matter of clicking on the “VPN” label to the left of the Search/URL bar, selecting a server location, and clicking “On”

It is worth noting that the VPN feature looks very similar to the SurfEasy browser extension (although this should hardly come as a surprise). Unlike that extension, however, the VPN bundled free with Opera does not have a 500MB data limit.

Other platforms

Opera has removed its free Android and iOS apps from their respective stores. Unlike the desktop feature included in the browser, these were are true VPN apps. But this is academic as they are no longer available.

Performance (Speed, DNS leak and WebRTC tests)

Speed tests were performed on a 50Mbps/3Mbps UK broadband connection using TestMy.net.

Opera speedtest download

Opera speedtest upload

These results are pretty darn good, especially when you consider that the service is free! Color me impressed!

Opera WebRTC leak protection

WebRTC leak protection is now built-in. This is great!

DNS resolution is performed using Google DNS servers located in same country as the VPN server you are connected to. So when connected to a US VPN server, DNS resolution is also performed using US DNS servers. This is good for geo-spoofing.

From a privacy perspective, as far as Google is concerned your DNS requests will appear to come from Opera (rather than your real IP address).

Opera VPN Review Conclusion

I liked

  • It’s 100% free!
  • No data limits
  • Pretty fast
  • 5 server locations (but not UK)
  • Ad-blocking on mobile devices
  • WebRTC leak protection

I wasn’t’ so sure about

  • Opera is based in Norway (good), but SurfEasy is based in Canada (bad)
  • Almost no details available on security or logs kept (so who knows?)
  • Some connection logs (and use of Google Analytics)
  • No P2P

I hated

  • Nothing, if taken on its own terms

Free is everyone’s favorite price, and in many ways, Opera’s free “VPN” delivers a fantastic service  (although it is really a proxy for the browser, not a VPN). Unlike most free VPN services, it is both unlimited (no data limits) and fast. For those simply wishing to bypass censorship, geospoof their location, or protect their browsing while using public WiFi hotspots, Opera may hit just the spot.

It is not, however, a good choice for anyone who uses a VPN to protect their privacy, who wants to watch Netflix, or who wants download torrents safely. For these you need a proper VPN service, so be sure to check out our list 5 Best VPN Services.

Visit Opera »