Review

SaferVPN Review 2017


SaferVPN is not terrible, but there are enough serious problems with the service that it is hard to recommend. Thanks to being an Israeli company and keeping extensive connection logs, privacy-heads should certainly stay clear. In addition to this, mediocre speed results and an IP leak mean that I cannot really recommend SaferVPN to more casual users. I also found talking to Support to be rather a frustrating experience, although staff members were very friendly.
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Review of: SaferVPN
VPN by:
SaferVPN

Reviewed by:
Rating:
2
On July 3, 2017
Last modified:July 19, 2017

Summary:

In this SaferVPN review I find a VPN service that is not terrible, but which has enough serious problems that it is hard to recommend.

In this SaferVPN review I find that this Israeli Virtual Private Network (VPN) service offers some interesting features. These include good encryption, 24/7 live chat support, a Chrome extension, and an innovative “WiFi Protection” option.

Unfortunately, there are few worse countries in which a privacy company can be based. While not SaferVPN’s fault per se, this likely accounts for the large number of connection logs that SaferVPN keeps.

What is SaferVPN’s fault is the Internet Protocol (IP) leak I detected, the very average speed test results, and the fact its support was disappointing.

  • ProsPROS
  • Servers in 30 countries
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • Chrome extension
  • WiFi protections looks interesting
  • Strong encryption (assuming perfect forward secrecy is used)
  • ConsCONS
  • Israel is a terrible country to be based in with regards to privacy (*disputed)
  • Extensive connection logs
  • IP leak detected

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Pricing and Plans

SaferVPN offers two plans. The standard plan currently costs $8.99 per month, with heavy reductions for one or two year purchases. This price is billed as a limited time offer, but is the same price that was quoted when we published a SaferVPN review a year ago.

The premium plan is not advertised on the website, but is available on request.

The only difference between the standard and premium plans is that the standard plan allows four simultaneous connections, while the premium plan allows seven. This is quite generous.

In my view, two simultaneous connections is very measly, and compares poorly to most other providers on the market. The price for five simultaneous connections, however, is rather high (and I am talking about the “limited time offer” price, not the “full” price quoted on the website!).

A 24-hour free trial is available, which is nice. No credit card details are required for this. SaferVPN also offers a 14-day money-back guarantee.

Payment can be made via credit/debit card, Paypal, or Bitcoin. More obscure payment options are also available courtesy of Paymentwall.

Features

SaferVPN offers the following features:

  • 400+ servers in 30 countries
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • Support for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2), and OpenVPN protocols
  • Automatic location selection algorithm
  • Four simultaneous connections (or seven on premium plan)
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) torrenting is permitted (Netherlands server only)
  • WiFi protection
  • Chrome extension

Servers are located around the world, with some in more unusual locations such South Africa, Brazil, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Automatic location selection algorithm

This is a feature that SaferVPN appears very proud of, but which leaves me rather perplexed.

We have a diagnose fix feature that runs in the background and selects the best VPN protocol to be used based on the system configuration. In the most cases, we use IKEv2 over IPSEC (AES 256) and falling back to OpenVPN (AES 256).

Under almost any circumstance, OpenVPN with AES-256 is best protocol. IKEv2 is good, and is particularly great when regularly switching between WiFi and mobile or different WiFi networks, but OpenVPN is always our default recommendation. Please see my VPN Encryption Guide for a detailed discussion on this subject.

This feature is entirely optional, however, so if you don’t like it then no big deal.

WiFi Protection

SaferVPN offers an interesting automatic WiFi security feature. This detects when you connect to an secured public WiFi network and immediately protects you by connecting to a VPN. I did not have the opportunity to test this feature, but is sounds  rather nifty.  This feature is availble on all apps and clients.

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Privacy

SaferVPN is based in Israel, which is terrible from a privacy perspective. All companies that provide encryption products in Israel are required by law to apply for a license. This includes VPN companies. The terms for being accepted for such a license are undisclosed, but I think it fair to assume that the Ministry of Defense will require access to the encrypted data.

More generally, Israel’s history as a state under constant military threat means that government online surveillance carried out by the National Cyber Authority is extensive. Israel also cooperates very closely with the United States’ NSA in its mass surveillance operations.

Now… this is my assessment of the situation. SaferVPN strongly disagrees:

I would like to stress that Israel is one of the most privacy oriented country. We have never applied for any license — the link you have shared refers to Telecom licenses and does not relate to VPNs in any way. Most of the top security companies are Israeli companies like Check Point and Fireglass (acquired by Symantec for $300M last week) and Israel is a hub for great technology.  All these claims are simply put not true.

Moreover, we have partnered with an NGO “Advancing Human Rights” to give free VPN for dissidents in closed societies. I strongly encourage you to read the piece on IndieHackers that tells our journey.”

On its home page, SaferVPN says:

No Logging Policy! We value and respect your privacy — in and out of the web. We never log or monitor your VPN network traffic.”

However… although no usage logs are kept, very extensive connection logs are kept. According to its privacy policy, the following data is logged:

  • A time stamp when you connect and disconnect to the VPN service;
  • The amount of data transmitted (upload and download) during your session;
  • The IP address used by you to connect to the VPN;
  • The IP address of the individual VPN server you use.

So everything apart from the actual websites you visit is logged. This is more than enough information to perform an end to end timing (traffic correlation) attack. Please see our Five Best No Logs VPNs feature for a full discussion on VPN logs and logging.

Security

SaferVPN uses the following OpenVPN encryption: AES-256 for data channel cipher, RSA-2048 for the Transport Layer Security (TLS) handshake, and SHA-256 for control channel hash authentication.

OpenVPN Encryption
Cipher
AES-256
Data Auth
HMAC SHA1
Handshake
RSA-2048
Control Auth
HMAC SHA-256
Forward Secrecy
?
Logs & Legal
Connection
Extensive
Traffic
None
Country
Israel

Support was unable to tell me any more details, so I will guess that SHA-1 is used for the data channel handshake (which is fine). I was unable to find out if perfect forward secrecy (PFS) is used. Given that the encryption is otherwise very good, my hunch is that it is. But I don’t know this.

Assuming that PFS is used, this is a strong OpenVPN setup. The SaferVPN Windows and MacOSX app also include DNS leak protection and a kill switch. Interestingly, SaferVPN’s Android and iOS apps are the only ones I know of to also also include a kill switch (although OpenVPN for Android can be configured act in a similar way).

The Website

The website looks very smart, and offers a variety of well-presented setup guides. There is also a blog, which features some interesting-looking articles. Technical details are a little light on the ground, but the page explaining encryption for the different VPN protocols is quite good.

SaferVPN Support

Other than the setup guides, support is primarily via 24/7 live chat. A ticketed email system is also in place. When I contacted SaferVPN’s support via live chat, responses were almost instant, and very friendly.

I do not consider it fair to expect front-line support staff to have in-depth technical knowledge, but I was a little annoyed to be repeatedly given “I can assure you that we use the best possible encryption” answers when asking for details.

More importantly, when my queries were escalated via ticketed email for attention by more knowledgeable staff members, I found the answers rather unsatisfactory. Good examples of this are when I asked about Chrome extension security, and when I unable to discover if perfect forward secrecy is deployed.

The Process

Signing Up

As already noted, a 24-hour fee trial is on offer before you need to provide any payment details. This requires only a valid email address. If you wish to pay anonymously, you can do so using properly mixed Bitcoins. Please always remember, however, that a VPN will always know your real IP address, regardless of how you pay.

Once signed up, you will receive a welcome email with account information and download links.

The SaferVPN Windows VPN Client

The SaferVPN client is quite simple, but looks nice and gets the job done.

It is not clear which protocol is used when the default “Automatic” is selected. Support was unable to tell me this, either.

The SaferVPN Windows client has a kill switch. I tested this by force-closing the app in Windows Task Manager, but found myself still connected to the internet.

This means that the kill switch is reactive – it shuts down the internet when it detects that the VPN has disconnected. It does not work, for example, if the VPN client itself suffers a crash.

A firewall-based kill switch that prevents any connections outside the VPN would be better, although any kill switch is preferable to none.

I did notice that the client connects to VPN servers very quickly, which is nice. As already noted, thr  Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection.

WiFi Protection

SaferVPN offers an interesting feature that I have not seen before. WiFi Security will alert you whenever you connect to an unsecured WiFi network, and will automatically enable the VPN if it is not active.

I have not been able to test this feature, but it certainly sounds like it could be useful.

Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)

All tests were performed on my Virgin Media UK 80 Mbps/5 Mbps fiber connection, using the OpenVPN protocol. There is no option to select between OpenVPN User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or OpenVPN Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), so my guess is that the faster UDP is used.

I allowed SaferVPN to auto-select servers in a given location.

The graphs show the highest, lowest, and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more details.

I have seen worse results, but meh.

Most of the time, DNS resolution was correctly performed by third-party servers. SaferVPN uses Google DNS for this, but the results are proxied to prevent Google from knowing who made them. Although not as good as a provider performing its own DNS resolution, I think this is fine.

That UK IP address, however, shows an IP leak when connected to a Netherlands server.

Please note that Private Use RFC IPs are local IPs only. They cannot be used to identify an individual, and so do not constitute an IP leak. Unfortunately, my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not yet support IPv6 connections, so I am unable to test for IPv6 leaks at this time. This is a situation that will hopefully change in the near future.

I was able to stream BBC iPlayer when connected to a UK server, but was unable to stream Netflix when connected to a US server. This applied even when connected to SaferVPN’s special “US Streaming” server.

Other Platforms

SaferVPN offers custom apps for Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. The mobile apps use OpenVPN with the same encryption settings as the desktop apps. SaferVPN also provides good manual setup guides for Linux, Blackberry phones, Windows phones, numerous routers, and various media steaming platforms.

Android App

I own an Android phone, so I downloaded the Android app from the Play Store.

No app needs this many permissions, let alone one that purports to provide “anonymity.”

It also looks good.

I detected no IP leaks while using the Android app.

Chrome Extension

SaferVPN offers a Chrome browser extension, which works well for changing your location.

We do not explicitly use the encryption within our Chrome extension. The Chrome itself (internally) use SSL as security layer on top on http protocol to secure a user session data from being stolen by “bad” people.”

I think this means it uses HTTPS, but am far from sure. If you want an encrypted connection then stick with using the full VPN client.

I’ll just note that I would prefer to see a browser extension for open source Firefox rather than for what is basically Google spyware.

SaferVPN Review: Conclusion

I liked:

  • Servers in 30 countries
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • Chrome extension
  • WiFi protections looks interesting
  • Strong encryption (assuming PFS is used)
  • Good cross-platform support
  • 24-hour free trial
  • 14-day money-back guarantee
  • P2P permitted (Netherlands server only)
  • Support for IKEv2
  • Kill switch (but reactive only)
  • Good for BBC iPlayer

I wasn’t so sure about:

  • Support did not seem very knowledgable, even when queries were “escalated”
  • Two simultaneous connections is low, while price for five is high
  • Very uninspiring speed tests results

I hated:

  • Israel is a terrible country to be based in from a privacy standpoint
  • Extensive connection logs (despite use of misleading language that suggests otherwise)
  • IP leak detected
  • Android app asks too many permissions

SaferVPN is not terrible, but there are enough serious problems with the service that it is hard to recommend. Thanks to being an Israeli company and keeping extensive connection logs, privacy-heads should certainly stay clear.

In addition to this, mediocre speed results and an IP leak mean that I cannot really recommend SaferVPN to more casual users. I also found talking to the support team to be rather a frustrating experience, although staff members were very friendly.

Visit SaferVPN »


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

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