VPNBook is a free VPN that’s packed with some great surprises. Although the service doesn’t have its own app and lacks a large number server locations, it’s very good at getting into video streaming services. So, if you just want a VPN to get into Netflix USA, this could very well be the one for you!
The company is based in Switzerland, with its customer support department located in Zurich. Switzerland is a good location for a VPN because it is legal to download copyrighted material there without paying as long as it is for personal viewing only. That said, the service does have restrictions on P2P downloading.
Free (advertising-supported) service
Third-party OpenVPN app for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux
VPNBook is completely free. Unlike many free services, there is no paid version, so you won’t be constantly reminded about the opportunity to sign up and get a better service. The website of the VPN states that the income stream of the VPN comes from advertising. However, I didn’t see any intrusive adverts while using the service.
The features of the company’s package are:
Servers in four countries
No activity logs
P2P allowed on two servers
No data throughput limits
A big problem for Brits abroad is that the VPN doesn’t have any servers in the UK. The servers that are available are located in Manassas in Virginia, Montreal in Canada, Frankfurt in Germany and Bucharest in Romania.
The company doesn’t use its own app, but relies on users downloading OpenVPN GUI. This is a free piece of software provided by the organization that administers the OpenVPN standard. One problem with this interface is that it requires you to enter a username and password every time you connect to a server.
VPNBook offers PPTP for manual setup and OpenVPN via the OpenVPN GUI interface. The OpenVPN implementation uses AES encryption with a 128-bit key. Most VPNs use a 256-bit key for their AES encryption. Those that advocate 128-bit keys explain that the encryption has never been cracked with a 128-bit key. As such, there is little point creating lots of extra work when this encryption provides sufficient protection.
AES is a symmetrical key system. This means that the same key is used to encrypt and decrypt messages. That signifies that both sides of the connection need to have the same key. In OpenVPN implementations, it is standard to use RSA encryption to protect the distribution of those keys.
Logs & Legal
The RSA cipher used by VPNBook has a 1024-bit key. This is weak and represents a potential security risk. RSA itself warns users that 1024 is probably a risk because it seems that some organizations, particularly the Chinese government, are close to cracking this level of security.
Most VPNs use a 2048-bit key for their RSA encryption and the top VPN companies in the world have started using a 4096-bit key. So, VPNBook is a little behind the pack in this respect.
Although it is not particularly a bad thing that VPNBook relies on the free OpenVPN GUI program for its interface, the lack of a custom app means that the company was unable to build in extra safety measures that are common among VPN services. The main security feature that should be added to the interface is a kill switch to prevent apps from accessing the internet without the VPN being active on the line. Another useful security measure that other VPNs include is automatic WiFi protection, which VPNBook doesn’t have.
Is VPNBook Private?
You don’t have to give any information about yourself in order to download and run this VPN. The company is fine with customers downloading with P2P networks on its two Romanian servers, but bans the activity everywhere else.
The company states that it does not keep activity logs. Unfortunately, it does keep connection logs, which include an IP address and timestamps. This information is all that copyright lawyers would need to trace your activity through to your door. The company keeps those connection logs for one week and despite their honorable intentions, they would have to hand those records over if they were presented with a court order.
Anonymous have accused VPNBook of being a honeypot, set up by the US authorities to trap transgressors. This is because records of connections through VPNBook turned up in the trial of a number of that organization’s members. However, it could just be bad luck that the authorities managed to get in a court order for records during the week that VPNBook retains its connection logs.
The website of VPNBook is not very slick and it looks like the site of a free service. However, it contains just about all of the information that you should need to install and use the VPN. The menu bar of the page is fixed, so it stays in place when you scroll down the page.
The username and password that you need when you connect to a server is posted on the Home page of the site and also on the Free VPN Accounts page.
VPNBook Customer Support
You can ask a question of the support team either through a contact form on the website or by sending an email to the support address, which is given on the Contact page
A big downside of asking for help is that this will blow your anonymity. You have to give your name and an email address in order to communicate. Without the need to contact the support team, you do not have to give the company any of your personal details. The Contact page also has a very small FAQ section.
As you don’t need to sign up for the service, your first task is to download the OpenVPN GUI program. If you have subscribed before to a different VPN service that uses the OpenVPN GUI, you probably already have the program on your computer. If you use several VPN services that employ OpenVPN GUI, you can keep them all going simultaneously. The connection entries for any OPVN file contained in the config directory of OpenVPN will show up in the menu of the interface.
You can access the OpenVPN GUI software through a link in the Home page. There is also a link in the Free VPN Accounts page.
The How To page of the site contains links to set up instructions for the VPN software. Once the program is installed, you need to download configuration files. These are all available on the Home page and on the Free VPN Accounts page. Click on each link to download a zip file. Once each file downloads, click on it to open the directory in Windows Explorer. Click on “Extract All” and press the Browse button to enable you to navigate to C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config.
Repeat this process for all of the downloaded zip files to stock up the config directory.
Now you are ready to use VPNBook.
The VPNBook Windows VPN client
The installation of OpenVPN should have created a shortcut on your desktop. Right click on this and select “Run as administrator” from the context menu.
You won’t see an app screen open because OpenVPN GUI operates entirely in its minimized state. Look to the system tray of your Desktop for an icon that shows a computer screen with a padlock on it. If it isn’t there, click on the up arrow to reveal hidden icons.
Right click on the icon to get the OpenVPN GUI menu. Each server has four entries in the menu. This gives you the option of two ports for each of UDP and TCP.
When you move your pointer over one of the entries in this menu, a controls submenu will appear.
Click on Connect in the submenu to access a server. You will need to enter the username and password posted on the Home page of the website.
Once the VPN is connected, the icon for the program will turn green and you should see a system notification appear in the bottom right corner of your Desktop.
You have to disconnect from one server before connecting to another. The messages that appear in the connection window can be accessed later by clicking on “View Log” in the server controls submenu.
The settings system doesn’t give you any meaningful VPN options. However, you can change the language of the app.
VPNBook Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)
The speed tests of the VPNBook service were conducted while using the company’s OpenVPN implementation, using UDP over port 53. In each case, five test runs were performed with testmy.net from a location in the Caribbean. Connections to the USA were made to a server in Miami and the Germany tests went to a server in Frankfurt.
I used IPLocation.net to test the actual location of the VPNBook servers that I accessed. The US1 server was unavailable, and so tests on connections to the USA ran without a VPN and then through connections to the VPNBook US2 and Canada servers. Transatlantic tests ran through the VPNBook server in Frankfurt-am-Main.
When using a VPN to get into overseas video streaming services, you need to be sure that the VPN doesn’t slow down the connection so much that it is too slow to watch streaming video comfortably. You need about 2 Mbps to watch SD video and 3 Mbps for HD video.
As you can see from the results, the US server slowed down the connection to below the necessary speeds for streaming video. However, I was able to watch videos from US sites – they just took a long time to load. The local internet speeds were not very fast, and so if you are in a location with slightly better underlying internet, then the impairment of VPNBook would not make it impossible to watch streaming video from the US.
The download speeds through the Canadian server were much better and would make it possible to watch SD video over the internet. However, the upload speeds on the same connection were inexplicably slow. I disconnected and reconnected several times and tested the speed of the unprotected line again each time to make sure that this performance was not due to faults with the underlying internet service. However, these slow upload speeds occurred every time when I was connected to the VPNBook Canadian server and not on the unprotected line.
More tests were performed with ipleak.net while I was connected to the VPNBook server US2, to check DNS leaks and the WebRTC bug. This site reported my location as Manassas, Virginia and all of the DNS servers that the test site recorded were in the United States. So, VPNBook successfully hid my identity.
While still connected to the US2 server, I accessed the test site doileak.net which also detected my location as being in the United States. This test site could find no WebRTC inconsistencies or DNS leaks.
My internet service provider does not use IPv6 addresses and so I was unable to test for IPv6 leaks.
VPNBook Streaming Services
I tested access to videos at the websites of Netflix, ABC, and NBC while connected to the VPNBook US2 server. Netflix and NBC let me watch videos, but ABC detected the VPN and blocked access. Although Netflix is generally regarded within the VPN industry as having the toughest access controls, ABC can often be even harder to crack. The ability to get into Netflix USA from abroad is impressive. This is a task that only about twenty VPN services in the world can achieve.
I was unable to test access to UK TV sites because VPNBook doesn’t have any servers in the Britain. Instead, I checked out Germany’s online entertainment while connected to the VPNBook server in Frankfurt. I was able to get into the website for Netflix Germany, but the content delivery server detected the VPN and wouldn’t let me watch a video. ARD Das Erste and ZDF both let me watch videos.
VPNBook can be used with the OpenVPN GUI interface on Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, and Linux. The company also runs PPTP servers, which you can connect to through a manual set up on Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, and Linux.
VPNBook Review Conclusion
VPNBook is not perfect, but its ability to get into Netflix USA is a remarkable achievement that puts this service ahead of a lot of very expensive VPNs.
It would be nice if the company could design its own app and include a kill switch and automatic WiFi protection. It would also be nice if they could make a UK server available. Stronger encryption for both RSA and AES would be a good idea if the company wants to attract users from China and the Middle East.
The company is very open about its retention of connection logs for a week. It would be good if they could find a way to monitor their systems without having to keep these logs. It is also good that the company makes it clear on the website which servers can be used for P2P downloading and which cannot.
Gets into Netflix
Option of UPD or TCP
I wasn’t so sure about
US1 server not working
Slow upload speeds on Canadian server
No UK servers
VPNBook has a lot of positives. The company could easily make it up into the ranks of the best VPNs in the world with just a few tweaks.