StrongVPN gives you a service that could be heaven or it could be hell. The company assigns each customer to a default or ‘home’ server, some of which are rubbish and set to PPTP. This means that the VPN is insecure and slow unless you complain. However, if you do complain the service gets a lot better. This is a schizophrenic service that made me angry and isn’t suited to beginners.
StrongVPN is a VPN provider based out of South Lake Tahoe, California. Beginning operations in 2005, the VPN company evolved out of a PC store, which expanded into internet services. If you want to go straight to the VPN’s website, simply click on the button below. However, we recommend taking a few minutes to read through our assessment of this service before you do.
The VPN assigns each customer to a default server. Unfortunately, some of those servers don’t work very well. Fortunately, the company made sure that its customer service department was one of the best in the world.
StrongVPN has streamlined its plans. The company used to have many different packages targeting different internet activities. Thankfully, that layer of complication has now gone. The only decision any buyer now needs to take is whether to subscribe for one month, three months, or a year.
The company includes a smart Domain Name System (DNS) application for free with its VPN packages. This service selectively redirects the traffic from your computer depending on the type of site that you want to visit. The strategy relies on the use of a customized IP address lookup table. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and hotspot owners don’t allow users to nominate a DNS server, so this feature might not work for you.
You get a five-day free trial with each subscription offer, so you have some time to assess the service before you fully commit. You can pay for a subscription with a credit or debit card. The company also accepts Bitcoin and can process payments through PayPal and Alipay.
You get unlimited usage of StrongVPN with a subscription. That means that the system is available 24 hours a day and you won’t get hit by data throughput limits or speed throttling. The main features of the service are shown below.
The free addition of a smart DNS is implemented through a browser extension for Google Chrome. A smart DNS service doesn’t give you the full privacy and security of a VPN, but it’s useful for getting around regional restrictions. The system is implemented by a lookup table. This diverts calls from your browser that go to sites with regional restrictions. Instead, these requests pass through the StrongVPN server. Meanwhile, all of your other traffic goes direct to the target servers.
For more information check out our Smart DNS guide to see how it differs from a VPN.
The server network offers plenty of locations in the US. There are also many servers in Europe. Each of the markers on the map below shows a city where StrongVPN has servers. Many of those locations are the sites for multiple servers.
The set of rules that two computers follow to make a connection is called a “protocol.” There are many different protocols for VPN connections. StrongVPN implements the major systems.
The most widely-used protocol in the industry is OpenVPN. This relies on the same encryption procedures that HTTPS uses. HTTPS protects websites where you enter personal details. Before we get into the technical details, if you would like to learn more about how a VPN protects you online, check out our ultimate encryption guide.
OpenVPN is the main method of privacy employed by the StrongVPN app. It encrypts all of the messages that come out of your computer with an encryption cipher, called Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). OpenVPN implements AES with a 256-bit key. This is very strong encryption and is judged to be uncrackable.
AES is a symmetrical key system, so both sides in a communication need the same key in order to encrypt and decrypt messages. VPNs uses a second channel of communication to get around the problem of coordinating AES keys. This channel uses public key encryption with a 2048-bit key. This is a typical configuration of Transport Layer Security (TLS) implementations – the underlying security method that the OpenVPN library uses.
Alternative Encryption Implementations
StrongVPN also includes implementations of Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). Microsoft created PPTP in the early days of VPNs’ development. This integrates very easily, by entering just a few pieces on information into the set up of a computer. PPTP uses a proprietary encryption method. Nowadays, the new kids on the block have surpassed it.
SSTP is a very good alternative to OpenVPN because it uses the same underlying encryption methodology. Microsoft created it to replace PPTP. You can implement it through a manual setup on Windows computers. However, when I connected to the VPN using SSTP, IPLocation.net reported my original IP address. Thus the StrongVPN implementation doesn’t afford any privacy at all.
L2TP uses an alternative encryption system called Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). This is not as secure as OpenVPN. However, users of mobile devices often prefer it because all of the encryption work of OpenVPN quickly drains a phone’s battery.
Privacy experts are nervous about VPNs based in the US. The laws on data disclosure are no more draconian in the US than in other parts of the world. However, the ability of government agencies and lawyers to put pressure on business makes VPNs in this country vulnerable. Copyright holders in the US entertainment industry are becoming increasingly forceful in imposing their rights.
This makes downloading with torrents in the US perilous. US lawyers are more likely to go after copyright abusers in their own country than in far-flung locations. A VPN protects your identity, so if lawyers note down the IP addresses of downloaders (which are visible in most torrent clients), all they will see is the address of the VPN. However, if a law firm gets a court order and pressures the VPN company to disclose the details of who was using that particular IP address, then it could trace you. StrongVPN swears that it does not retain any logs of users’ activities linked to IP addresses after the termination of each connection. Ultimately, you have to assess whether you can believe that statement.
The StrongVPN website uses a black, white, and blue color theme.
There are two navigation menus. The main menu gives access to the key pages of the site. A secondary menu is shown on a strap at the very top of the site. This smaller menu strip includes a report on the viewer’s current IP address and location.
The two top menus in the header of the site are fixed, so they remain in place when you scroll down. Further quick links are available in the footer of the page.
You can access the support desk through the chat box at the bottom right of the website.
Clicking on this tab opens up a message window where you can ask a question. StrongVPN staffs its live chat support around the clock. It is a major feature of this VPN. The live chat has a queue, so you might not get through straight away. A message in the chat screen shows your position in the queue.
The main menu in the header of the site has a support option, which takes you to the help center. Although the website is only available in English, the support section is available in Russian, Mandarin, and Spanish as well.
You can read through advice article to find solutions to your problems, or click on the support tab to contact the help team.
You need to enter your email address in the support form screen.
When I paid, StrongVPN inexplicably denied me the OpenVPN service. I tried out a connection with SSTP and discovered that it didn’t hide my IP address. I was furious. When I contacted the live chat support team, I was rude, to say the least.
The support team operator who had the misfortune to deal with me was Svetlana. She dealt with me very well before passing me to the technicians.
I didn’t have to wait from an email response from the IT team – I got a response from top techie Tema Belokursky immediately on the live chat channel. Tema hosed me down. I got great advice and everything worked instantly.
StrongVPN resolved the mistake of assigning me a PPTP server within minutes. I salute the customer service team for their competence and patience. However, they should not have to work so hard – the system should work correctly!
Make sure you have a clear diary for the week after you sign up for the StrongVPN service. You have five days to try out the VPN and still ask for your money back if you don’t like it. As such, it would be a mistake to start the clock ticking when you don’t have enough spare time to test the service.
The “Join Now” button in the main menu bar gives you access to the sign up screen. Click on the subscription period that you want and enter your email address.Select a payment method and then click on the Continue button in the pricing statement box.After your payment clears, you then have to verify your identity.Despite this requirement, you will immediately receive an email with your account details and links to software downloads.When your account is created, you will be assigned to a default “home” server. This will appear first in the list of available locations. Unfortunately, in my case, StrongVPN allocated me to a PPTP server. I don’t know why – I didn’t ask for that. The support operative told me that the VPN assigns the home server randomly. However, OpenVPN is the best protocol available, so why are some people randomly palmed off with a sub-standard system?The moral of this story is that you should specify OpenVPN when you get on the live chat to confirm your account. Otherwise, you will have a lot of hassle trying to get the system to work.Click on the download button for your operating system in order to install the app.You can set the install wizard to show messages in English or German. After you’ve installed the app, the wizard will install additional software. This includes the network adapters that the app needs in order to run properly.
The StrongVPN Windows VPN Client
You need to enter your account credentials the first time you use the app. However, if you click on the “Save Login” check box, you won’t have to do this again.The password is the one that StrongVPN sent to you in the welcome email. These credentials also get you into the customer area on the company website, where you can manage your account.The app is pretty straightforward. You need to select your preferred VPN protocol, select a server from the drop-down list, and then click Connect.There is a settings page. However, given that getting the account to work is so complicated, it is probably better not to mess around with these options too much.You get to the settings by clicking on Advanced in the app’s main screen, and then clicking on the Options tab.The only things you need to change here are the “Allow direct traffic when reconnecting” check boxes. Unchecking these gives you a kill switch, which prevents others from spotting your real IP address if the VPN protection drops.
SmartVPN Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)
For speed tests, I connected to New York from the Caribbean with a StrongVPN server in Miami, and the again with the StrongVPN server in Toronto, Canada. You will also see in the graph the speeds for a connection to Miami without the VPN engaged. I also tested a connection to London without a VPN and then with the StrongVPN server in Nottingham, UK applied to the line.In each case I tested the connection five times, using testmy.net.The graphs show the highest, lowest, and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.This VPN couldn’t improve download speeds on a poor local internet service – some can. However, the company was able to give better service for upload speeds. You can see from the graph that the unprotected service was very consistent in its upload speeds. The upload speed on the Miami VPN server was very variable.An “IP leak” is where you try to prevent your real IP address from being visible, but it slips out anyway. StrongVPN is very IP leaky. When it assigned me to a PPTP server, IPLocator.net could see my real address.With the OpenVPN service, I had a better chance of being private on the net. BestVPN.com tests for IP leaks using several websites: ipleak.net, test-ipv6.com, IPv6 leaks, and doileak.net. I accessed all of these servers while I had an OpenVPN UDP connection to the StrongVPN server engaged. It passed all the tests. My ISP doesn’t include IPv6 translation, so those tests weren’t possible.
The StrongVPN app is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. Manual setup instructions are available for all of these platforms. Linux, Ubuntu, and Chromium OS operating systems can also integrate the StrongVPN service via manual installation. You can also access the VPN from routers running DD-WRT, Tomato, and Sabai router operating systems.
StrongVPN Review: Conclusion
StrongVPN works very well if it assigns you an OpenVPN server. No other VPN in the world uses this table allocation. You pay $10 and StrongVPN might give you a good service for the month, or they might not.
When StrongVPN assigned me the rubbish service, I threw all of my toys out of the pram and made the lives of the customer support operatives a living hell. Within minutes, everything worked. Why didn’t I receive the good service straight away?
Thankfully, after this review, you now know how to prevent yourself from being mired in an awful service. With StrongVPN, you can have a useless VPN that doesn’t work or a top quality service that will get you into every streaming site in the world.
Netflix is the hardest streaming service in the world to watch cross-border with a VPN. This is because the company has invested plenty of money into detecting VPNs. I got into Netflix and watched videos for both the US and UK services. StrongVPN also got me in to ABC.com and NBC.com successfully. In the UK, I not only got into Netflix, but was also able to watch videos on BBC iPlayer and Channel 4.
StrongVPN needs to sort out its ridiculous server allocation process. New customers shouldn’t have to throw insults at the support team in order to get the service to work.
Five days to test the service
Amazing support team
Five simultaneous connections
Gets into Netflix(!)
I wasn’t so sure about:
Server network isn’t that big
Lack of Windows 10 instructions
Server allocation lottery
Throw the dice and see whether you should ask for your money back. I will. This company offers its customer a senseless gamble. You could win, but being on the wrong side of the bet makes you an argumentative victim.