More and more users are turning to VPNs to ensure their security and privacy online. Proton VPN bills itself as a robust VPN offering that puts privacy and security front and center. Do these claims hold up in reality? In this in-depth review, we’ll examine the service’s security features, server locations, company history, pricing, and more in order to find out.
|Company Location||Geneva, Switzerland
VPN security is often a difficult thing to evaluate when comparing between providers. We’ve taken an exhaustive approach to the issue and distilled it down to five essential elements to consider when choosing the most secure VPN in the UK.
ProtonVPN is built from the ground up with security and privacy in mind. The company being the software, Proton AG, also runs ProtonMail, an end-to-end encryption email service, so the company’s pedigree for security is quite impressive, even relative to other popular VPNs.
Notable features like a built-in network killswitch, a strict no-log policy, the latest WireGuard protocol, and Secure Core servers (more on these below) come together to create an extremely compelling package. Additionally, Proton AG is headquartered in Switzerland, a country with relatively strong data protection laws.
The service also includes an option for Tor over VPN, allowing you to route all of your traffic through the Tor anonymity network for even greater privacy.
One of the tentpole features of ProtonVPN is its Secure Core servers. These servers are said to provide an extra layer of security by routing your online traffic through multiple locations, essentially making them “multihop” servers. Other VPNs offer these types of servers in many cases, but Proton VPN does a few things with them that are unique.
For one, it only routes traffic through countries with very strong privacy laws, and only uses servers it physically owns. These are in secure locations (including one that is reportedly within a decommissioned military base).
The idea here is that if a VPN server you are connected to was somehow hijacked by a malicious actor, they would not be able to retrieve any information from you as it would appear that your connection was coming from the Secure Core server.
In principle, this is similar to how Tor works, though the latter is far more sophisticated and includes many more “hops” between your local environment and the destination.
VPN technology has continually progressed through the years, and many different types of VPN “tunneling” exist today. These are known as encryption protocols, and make up the backbone of every VPN.
Previously, Proton VPN has used the OpenVPN and IKEv2 standards, which both have excellent reputations. The newest, widely-touted standard is called WireGuard, and Proton VPN adopted it in October of 2021. WireGuard is not enabled by default, and needs to be selected in the preferences section of the desktop app. You can freely choose between any supported protocol, or opt for the “Smart” mode, which will automatically choose an optimal standard relative to the server you choose.
Proton VPN has a fairly wide variety of server locations (1700+) spread across over more than 60 countries. This is more than the usual average of around 50 countries covered in the industry as a whole, which is nice.
It’s also worth noting that the service features servers in regions often overlooked by competitors, including Ukraine, Africa, South America, and India. Proton VPN also allows users to request new country locations.
Some VPNs employ the use of virtual servers that are configured to show up in a country other than where they are physically located. There are pros and cons to this setup, but it isn’t necessarily a negative. That said, according to Proton VPN, the company only uses “bare metal” servers that are actually based where they are labeled.
Proton VPN offers what is easily one of the best free VPN services on the market today. Unlike virtually every other competitor, the service offers unlimited bandwidth and a fully-featured experience with no ads embedded. The one limitation is that you can only choose servers from three countries.
If you opt for the pad version of Proton VPN, you have a few simple pricing options to choose from. Each tier comes with the full feature-set of the service – there are no tiers to choose from. It just comes down to paying monthly, or in advance.
A 1-month plan costs £7.93 ($9.99). If you’d like to lower that, you can opt for a one year subscription for $x.xx and a two year option for $x.xx
Another option is the Proton suite, which includes access to ProtonMail, Calendar, and Drive.
Within Proton VPN, there are a few additional features that are worth breaking down.
NetShield: An ad and malware-blocking function you can toggle.
Custom Profiles: A feature that lets you create profiles to quickly choose from that act as configurations of settings and servers for various use cases.
Preferences: You can select the behavior for the auto connect feature, setting it to the fastest location or a random one. You can also decide whether you want Proton to connect on startup.
Our primary testing computer is a 2021 MacBook Pro. We also tested the iOS app and Windows versions of the service. Upon opening the desktop version, it’s immediately clear how to connect and get going with the most basic features, thanks to a straightforward, intuitive tour feature.
The server browser can be found directly under the quick connect button, as can the essential security features like the network kill switch, Secure Core, and NetShield. The latter has a few options for blocking malware, or malware, ads, and trackers. In our experience, the ad blocking functionality worked pretty unevenly across sites. Sometimes it would block 100% of on-page ads, while other times it would miss some, including pop up ads. Still, the feature is a welcome addition that widens the value proposition for Proton VPN.
When it comes to choosing a server, you can scroll through the list manually, or search for specific locations in the search bar. We particularly liked that you can search for specific cities here and not just country locations.
Proton VPN has a solid number of UK-based servers to choose from. In total, there are just over 50 servers available across Manchester and London. It would be ideal to have a few more locations within the UK accounted for, but this is still a decent spread for the majority of UK users.
Additionally, the Tor compatibility, airtight no-log policy, Secure Core servers, and other features make this a compelling option for those looking to avoid the potential snooping of the UK government. Keep in mind, we haven’t tested any of the VPNs against these specific actors, so your mileage may vary.