Review

VPN Gate Review November 2017


As a free volunteer-run anti-censorship tool, VPN Gate is difficult to knock. So respect to the VPN Gate developers at the University of Tsukuba, and all VPN Gate Sever volunteers. Unfortunately, in practice, I found VPN Gate far too slow to ever be worth my while using.
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Review of: VPN Gate
VPN by:
University of Tsukuba

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On November 23, 2016
Last modified:January 10, 2017

Summary:

As a free volunteer-run anti-censorship tool, VPN Gate is difficult to knock. In this VPN Gate review, however, I find it too slow to be worth using.

Welcome to this updated VPN Gate review. VPN Gate is a volunteer-run VPN network. It was designed to research “a good distributed VPN system,” and is a side-project of SoftEther VPN. This is free and open source multi-protocol software, developed by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. VPN Gate users can connect using the SoftEther VPN protocol, or using more conventional VPN protocols.

  • ProsPROS
  • Free
  • Open source
  • Lots of server locations
  • No DNS or WebRTC leaks
  • ConsCONS
  • Extensive connection logs kept
  • Painfully slow
  • A huge deal of trust is required in the volunteers

Visit VPN Gate »

Pricing and Plans

VPN Gate will NEVER be a paying service in future.

Much like the Tor Network, all VPN Gate servers are run by volunteers. This means that VPN Gate is completely free to use.

“Moreover, the Japanese Telecommunication Law requires any ‘paying network service’ to be registered to the government, and to comply with the order of the minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. Thus if VPN Gate becomes a paying service we will be interfered by Japanese Government. To avoid it, we don’t want to be a paying service. The factor that VPN Gate consists of a lot of volunteers around the world should make the situation more difficult to become a paying service.”

So “free” really does mean free! This is everyone’s favorite price. Yay!

Features

Users can freely connect to any of thousands of servers run by volunteers around the world. As I write this, there are 9,111 registered public VPN relay servers, of which 96 are online. This number will vary somewhat from day-to-day, but there will always be lots of them to choose from.

VPN Gate Review Server list

Servers are located pretty much everywhere! A full and up-to-date server list is always available.

The SoftEther server software used by VPN Gate VPN relay servers can accept connections using the SoftEther VPN protocol (see below), OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP, and more.

In practice, SoftEther and OpenVPN are the best-supported protocols. Please see here for more information on VPN protocols.

SoftEther

SoftEther is a free and open source alternative VPN platform. The SoftEther VPN protocol is also referred to as SSL-VPN. This is because it is based on HTTPS and therefore uses SSL/TLS encryption and TCP port 443.

This makes SoftEther VPN traffic all but indistinguishable from regular secure HTTPS traffic. Thus it is very difficult for firewalls to block. The SoftEther SSL-VPN protocol is therefore great for overcoming various forms of VPN blocks.

softether1

In addition to using its own VPN protocol, SoftEther VPN Server software can be connected to using a variety of other VPN protocols.

SoftEther VPN is available for Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD and Solaris. Other devices can connect to SoftEther VPN servers using a different supported protocol. This includes Android, iOS, and other devices.

Its developers claim that SoftEther is faster than OpenVPN.

 

Visit VPN Gate »

Privacy

The most important thing to understand about VPN Gate is that it is run by volunteers. This means anyone can volunteer to operate a VPN Gate server. And any volunteer can therefore spy on your internet activity (unless it is hidden by HTTPS).

On the VPN Servers List page, each entry clearly states that server’s logging policy.

vpn-gate-server-logging-policy

In practice, this is usually for two weeks.

There is no way to guarantee that this logging policy is followed, however, and it is entirely possible that some servers act as honeypots.

In addition to this, as part of its anti-abuse policy, the University of Tsukuba keeps connection logs (not usage logs) for “three or more months.” These logs include:

  • Date and time
  • ID, IP address and hostname of destination VPN server
  • Type of action (connect or disconnect)
  • Raw IP address and hostname of the source VPN client computer
  • Type of VPN protocols (SSL-VPN, L2TP, OpenVPN or SSTP)
  • VPN client software-name, version and ID (if available)
  • Number of packets and bytes during a VPN connection, and debug information of communication errors

This information is automatically transmitted to the university’s logging server by each VPN Gate server.

“Analyzing VPN Connection Log is helpful to investigate the source global IP address of him. We will disclosure the VPN Connection Logs to a policeman, a prosecutor, a lawyer or a court who is authorized by applicable laws.

VPN Gate is therefore not suitable for those wanting privacy (let alone “anonymity!). If you want privacy, then use a good commercial no-logs VPN service or the Tor Network instead.

In fairness, privacy is not what VPN Gate is for. It should instead be seen as an anti-censorship and anti-public WiFi hacking tool.

Security

softether-encryption-options

SoftEtherVPN accepts a variety of encryption options.

softether-server-encryption

Each VPN Gate server operator is free to choose which encryption options to use on their server.

Up to a 256-bit AES cipher with RSA 4096-bit key encryption, SHA-1 HMAC hash authentication with Perfect Forward Secrecy (various Diffie Hellman groups) is supported.

It is difficult to tell, however, what encryption each server uses in practice. For what it’s worth, I downloaded and inspected a number of OpenVPN config files from random VPN Gate servers. In all cases, AES-128 with SHA-1 HMAC hash authentication was used.

In theory, then, VPN Gate servers can use very strong encryption. However, in practice it is safest to assume that they don’t. Given that VPN Gate is not really about privacy, anyway, this is unlikely to be a major problem for most users.

The Website

VPN Gate is a side-project SoftEther VPN, developed by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. It therefore not surprising that the website (and related SoftEther VPN website) is stuffed full of useful technical information. After all, the guys at Tsukuba University are very keen to show off their technology!

The information is well organized, and key concepts are well explained. Infographics and screenshots are generously used to illustrate points made.

Although the English used occasionally falters a little, I never had any problem understanding what was being said.

Support

VPN Gate is not a commercial service. So there is no support team on call to assist you if you run into problems. There is, however, a VPN Gate User Forum where you can post questions.

This is quite active, and most sensible (non-spam) questions seem to get a reply. Please remember, however, that all assistance is voluntary on the part of forum members.

The Process

Signing Up

No sign-up or personal details are required. Available servers are listed on the VPN Servers List page. Each server provides a guide and any relevant configuration files necessary to connect to it via any of the protocols it supports.

vpn-gate-server-stats

The server list shows a summary of stats, such as throughput server ping time, to help you chose a server that is suitable for you.

The Windows SoftEther VPN Client

The easiest way to use VPN Gate is to download and install a special version of the SoftEther VPN client. This has the “VPN Gate Client Plug-in” pre-configured. This allows you to connect to VPN Gate servers using the SoftEther VPN protocol.

vpn-gate-softether-3

Once installed, simply select “VPN Gate Public VPN Relay Servers…”

vpn-gate-softether-2

…and you are presented with a list of servers! Various stats are available, and servers can be sorted depending on your priorities.

vpn-gate-softether-3

Once you have decided, just double-click on a server entry to connect to it.

vpn-gate-softether-4

When running, many of SoftEther VPN’s key functions can be accessed by right-clicking its notification icon.

One issue I noticed is that when I disconnected from a VPN server, my DNS settings did not revert back to their previous defaults. I therefore needed to reset them manually each time in order to access the internet.

Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)

Each VPN Gate server is privately run by a volunteer, which means that you can expect no consistency in performance between servers. And this is even before you take factors such as geographic distance from you into consideration.

These results should, therefore, be viewed purely as a rough indication of the sorts of speeds you might expect when using VPN Gate. Servers were chosen more or less at random, based on location and advertised performance metrics.

Note that I was unable to connect to roughly half of all servers I tried connecting to. The servers I did test were:

  • Japan (Line speed 207.7 Mbps, Ping 21,21)
  • United States (Line speed 32.7, Mbps Ping 11,11)
  • UK (Line speed 16.1, Mbps Ping -,-)

softether-downloads

softether-uploads

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

These results are unlikely to keep any commercial VPN providers awake at night! In fact, in my tests, all VPN Gate servers were considerably slower than using the Tor Network. Download speeds were often down to a just a few Kbps!

It should be noted, however, that the fastest servers are located in East Asia. So if you are geographically closer to places such as Japan and South Korea, performance may be much better.

IP Leak Tests

vpn-gate-dns-leak-test

I detected no IPv4 DNS leaks or WebRTC leaks while using SoftEther VPN. Note that my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6, so I cannot test for IPv6 leaks.

If connecting via OpenVPN, you can choose to download .ovpn files that specify a suitable DNS server in order to prevent DNS leaks.

US Netflix did not block me when using the US server I tested, although the connection speed was so poor that video playback was impossible in practice. If you are able to find a US server that is fast enough to stream video content, then you will probably be able to do so using VPN Gate.

Other Platforms

As noted earlier, SoftEther VPN is available for Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD and Solaris. Other devices can connect to SoftEther VPN servers using a different supported protocol. This includes Android, iOS, and other devices.

Mirrors

One of the best uses of VPN Gate is as an anti-censorship tool. Because some governments’ firewalls (such as those in China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria) block access to the VPN Gate website, a number of mirror sites are available (see also here).

China in particular regularly blocks the IP addresses of known VPN Gate servers. Apparently any server that has been online for more than a few hours or so will likely be blocked. Users in China are therefore advised to sign up for daily email notices containing the mirror URL list (using an international email service).

mirrors

Torrenting

Whether or not P2P torrent downloading is permissible seems something of a gray area (judging from the website’s forums). The system allows it, but tech-savvy node operators can block it using third party software.

Torrenting using servers where P2P downloading is illegal could get the operators in trouble, and therefore seems very rude. And the operators would likely pass on offending IP addresses to copyright enforcement bodies if served DMCA or similar notices. Downloading using servers in countries where it is legal to do so may be fine, however.

VPN Gate Review Conclusion

I liked

  • Free
  • Open source
  • Lots of server locations
  • No DNS or WebRTC leaks

I wasn’t so sure about

  • Extensive connection logs kept by both University of Tsukuba and each VPN Gate server volunteer

I hated

  • Painfully slow
  • A huge deal of trust is required in the volunteers

As a free, volunteer-run, anti-censorship tool, VPN Gate is difficult to knock. So respect to the VPN Gate developers at the University of Tsukuba, and all VPN Gate server volunteers. Unfortunately, in practice, I found VPN Gate far too slow to ever be worth my while using.

Visit VPN Gate »


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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9 responses to “VPN Gate Review November 2017

    1. Hi Max,

      For reasons such as this and this, BestVPN advises against using free VPN services. Legitimate free services do exist, but they are invariably very limited, as they invariably exist to promote their Premium plans (after all, a VPN must pay for itself somehow!). We do however, have a 5 Best Free VPNs list.

  1. Something to keep in mind if you use this service. From their website:

    “Compliance with Local Laws and Cooperate with the Authority

    We are an academic project at National University of Tsukuba. We recognize that we have responsibility to consider relationships with foreign governments.

    If you are the authority of a specific region or country, and you have a request to limit using of VPN Gate from residents on your administrative region by requirement of your region laws, please consult with us. We can consider the request and can cooperate with the authority if we found there is a valid reason to comply local laws.”

    Also there’s no way of knowing what each ‘volunteer’s’ VPN server setup exactly has on there as they are not accountable paid services.

    1. Hi anonymous,

      Thanks for pointing out that text – it is indeed something worth keeping in mind. I have discussed the fact that there is no way to guarantee what volunteer nodes really get yo to in the articles.

    1. Hi SomeName,

      Thanks for letting us know. Unfortunately, my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6, which makes performing IPv6 leak tests tricky. This problem also affects many of our team members. We have now run tests on a connection that supports IPv6, but only on a Mac (which does not support SoftEther).

      Using OpenVPN with VPNGate we detected no direct IPv6 leaks, although WebRTC did leak our IPv6 address. I will note, though, that given this, and the fact that you just have to trust volunteer server operators not to spy on you, VPN Gate should never be used for privacy reasons anyway. It is an anti-censorship tool, pure and simple.

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