Last update: 11.12.2018
Promising top-of-the-line safety and complete anonymity, CactusVPN aims to be a contender in an increasingly crowded VPN market.
Is CactusVPN truly sharp enough for all your anonymous browsing needs, or is it actually closer to a spineless house plant? Read our CactusVPN review to find out.
The ever-growing need for browsing the internet anonymously has led to the creation of numerous VPN software solutions and services. Our CactusVPN review will tell you everything you need to know to make an informed buyer’s decision. We will talk about how safe CactusVPN really is, how effective it is at unblocking geo-restricted websites, the safety it can provide, and much more.
TL;DR: CactusVPN is a simple, yet functional VPN service. Although CactusVPN features a complex encryption system, its number of servers is on the lower side, which may reduce the speed of your connection during peak hours. Their simple and straightforward website interface is informative and easy to navigate. However, CactusVPN is pretty vague about using their service in China.
You can try CactusVPN for free before choosing your payment plan, with options available from $4.99 a month.
Is CactusVPN safe to use?
CactusVPN supports 6 different encryption protocols including OpenVPN, which is the most widespread and one of the most recommended. The company uses the AES-128 cipher with an RSA-2048 handshake and SHA-1 HMAC authentication. Not a fan of obscure technical abbreviations? In simpler terms, it’s a level of encryption that should remain unbreakable until the invention of quantum computing (which should be a long while).
This VPN service does not keep logs of your online activities and offers DNS leak protection. In other words, the company doesn’t store any data that can lead back to you or identify you as an individual, while the VPN itself prevents your IP address from leaking to your ISP or any other parties.
Speed & Performance
CactusVPN offers 23 servers located in 14 countries, which is a fairly low number compared to the bigger VPN brands on the block. The company looks to solve this problem by offering their Smart DNS service, a method that tricks a geo-restricted website by changing your DNS settings to appear to be local instead of re-routing your internet connection traffic through a VPN server.
When we performed a connection speed test for this CactusVPN review, the overall average wasn’t that great, which might be due to their lack of server numbers. The speeds in the UK and U.S, however, were particularly good. Since consistent speed is not one of CactusVPN’s strong suits, be sure experiment with different servers to see which ones work best.
How to download and install CactusVPN
To download and install the CactusVPN client on your computer, you first need to register to get an account on their website (www.cactusvpn.com). You’ll be provided with login credentials after you pay to use the VPN service. On their website, just click the “Download” tab and choose your operating system.
- When the download is complete, double-click the downloaded setup file to run the installation. Click “Next” on the first window. Note: some anti-virus programs might find the app suspicious. Don’t worry, CactusVPN is safe to run.
- Read the License Agreement, select “I Agree” and click “Next”. A pop-up window will appear, click “Install”.
- When the installation is complete, click on “Next”, then tap “Finish”.
When you run the client, you’ll see a window asking you to choose whether you want to sign in to use the VPN or the Smart DNS service. Choose between the “VPN” and “Smart DNS” tabs. If you purchased the VPN-only version, choose “VPN” and input your login details.
Installation is similar for every operating system.
How to use it
After signing in, select the VPN server location you want to connect to, then click “Connect”. Once you’re connected, your IP is changed and your connection is encrypted. The “Sort by speed” feature will allow you to find the fastest servers. In the “Settings” tab, you can make several configurations, such as choosing a VPN Protocol. We recommend opting for the OpenVPN protocol. Also, you can toggle on the “Run at Start-up” option to automatically run the software whenever your OS starts.
The “Connect VPN on sign-in” option automatically connects the VPN using the last used location and protocol. The “Stop internet traffic if VPN connection is dropped” option, a.k.a. the “Internet Kill Switch”, terminates your active internet connection if the VPN connection drops. There are many other configurations to consider, which you can experiment with as well. In the “Apps Killer” tab, you can choose which applications will be automatically stopped when the VPN connection drops.
Special CactusVPN review ProTip: be sure to add your BitTorrent app to that list.
Apps & Extensions
CactusVPN has dedicated clients for Windows and Mac operating systems, but as of yet, there’s no client for Linux. You can also use CactusVPN with PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One devices. Plus, there’s a custom client built for mobile devices that run on Android and iOS. Surprisingly, CactusVPN has a client for Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.
Many VPN platforms have a limit on the number of devices you can connect to the VPN server, and CactusVPN is no exception. You can connect several devices, but this number is limited, and you cannot connect them to the same server. However, to mitigate this restriction, you can use CactusVPN on a router, which is great if you happen to own a lot of devices. Using a VPN with your router helps to safeguard all your devices, and makes it seem as if you are only using a single device.
CactusVPN for torrenting
As you’re probably already aware, torrents are one of the best file sharing options. Torrenting in CactusVPN, however, is only allowed on the European servers.
While it might be a non-issue if you’re based in Europe, we would hesitate to recommend CactusVPN to non-European BitTorrent users.
CactusVPN for Netflix
If you want to gain access to geo-restricted internet services, your usual go-to solution is to use a VPN server. This, however, might not be a foolproof solution, since certain platforms (including Netflix) began blocking known VPN servers in order to combat this practice. For streaming enthusiasts looking to avoid cycling through dozens of VPN servers, CactusVPN offers a premium option: Smart DNS.
Smart DNS can unblock websites from a variety of regions at the same time without restriction. As an example of Smart DNS in action, you can stream a US-exclusive show on Netflix while you keep a live news report on BBC iPlayer running in another browser tab in the background. Moreover, using Smart DNS to stream is usually faster, since your traffic is not routed through servers as it is with VPNs. Also, Smart DNS is easy to set up and configure, and you don’t have to possess deep technical knowledge to do so.
CactusVPN offers both the VPN and smart DNS options, which you can get separately or as a bundle (more on that in the “Pricing” section). For streaming Netflix via CactusVPN, we recommend getting the Smart DNS service.
Can you use CactusVPN in China?
China is one of the few countries that have placed certain restrictions on internet activities for their citizens. If you’re going to be living in or simply visiting the country, odds are you’ll want a great VPN to help you access all the sites and services you want to while still preserving your privacy and anonymity.
Oddly enough, we did not manage to find any specific information regarding China on the CactusVPN website. This deliberate vagueness might indicate that CactusVPN cannot bypass China’s “Great Firewall”. However, we could not positively ascertain this at the time of writing our CactusVPN review. Thus, we cannot duly recommend using CactusVPN in China.
As far as actual customer support is concerned, CactusVPN offers customer service that mainly operates through a ticketing system (a practice that has become ubiquitous in the industry). After submitting a ticket, you should expect a prompt answer to your query – if you ever need to reach CactusVPN’s staff, that is. When we contacted the response desk for this CactusVPN review, we found them to be very helpful.
If you prefer to make your own research first, however, their official website has dedicated user help sections. These include tutorials for setting up the CactusVPN apps on different platforms, a complete FAQ section, and an official Learning Centre.
Unfortunately, their live chat help and support are somewhat limited. Although CactusVPN does provide live chat customer support, it’s not a 24/7 service. You can only reach them Monday through Friday. VPN companies which provide 24/7 live chat tend to get more customers, and it’s easy to see why.
CactusVPN offers several pricing options: there’s a plan for the US (4 US servers) and the UK (4 UK servers). Or you can choose the Liberty plan with 4 servers in the Netherlands, 2 servers in Romania and a single server in Germany. They also offer a SmartDNS-only plan. All four plans have the same price which is $5 per month, $13 quarterly, or an annual fee of $39.
The VPN+Smart DNS plan is priced at $7 monthly, $18 for 3 months, and $55 for a year. This plan gives you access to all 23 servers, Smart DNS, and VPN in one package. All plans come with a 30-day money back guarantee. A nice addition is that the one-day free trial for this plan has no restrictions, allowing you to test both the Smart DNS and the VPN service without bandwidth limits. You do not need to fill in your payment details until you decide to subscribe. You can pay for your subscription through PayPro, your debit/credit card, and PayPal. Or, if you prefer your payments to be completely untraceable, CactusVPN gives you the cryptocurrency option with BitPay. Remember to use your email address at signup.
Note: CactusVPN allows you to use up to 3 different devices at a time. However, you cannot connect the different devices to the same server at the same time.
Bottom line of our CactusVPN review
Let’s see how this VPN fared in the “sharpness vs. house plant” analogy from the intro section of our CactusVPN review.
However, as we’ve mentioned previously in this CactusVPN review, we would refrain from using it in China at the moment.