Psiphon is a VPN service that has been in operation since 2008. It started as a project at the Citizen Lab, University of Toronto. From there, it grew to become a commercial VPN service, helping millions restore their internet freedom. Psiphon operates out of Canada (5 Eyes alliance member), but unlike most VPNs, it doesn’t promise you internet privacy or anonymity. Rather, it is meant to be a circumnavigation tool – something it does very well. In this Psiphon review, we’ll explore the VPN in detail and help you decide whether it fits your needs.
Compared to most of the top premium VPNs, Psiphon doesn’t offer many security features. Here’s a list:
- Encryption (unspecified)
- SSH and L2TP/IPSec protocols
- Obfuscation technology (stealth protocol)
- Split tunneling
- Self-owned DNS servers
The default SSH protocol is not very secure: organizations such as the NSA are known to be able to decrypt SSH traffic. This means the protocol may not be good enough for sending sensitive content. It is, however, sufficient for bypassing censorship.
Psiphon also provides the option to use L2TP/IPSec, which is more secure, but reportedly also vulnerable.
Obfuscation technology is one of the main features of Psiphon VPN. It disguises VPN traffic to make it appear just like regular VPN traffic, making it possible to avoid Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). Sadly, this feature is only offered under the default SSH protocol.
Psiphon offers a split tunneling feature that will allow you to choose which apps will go through the VPN tunnel, and which will not. This means that you can access such sites without having your traffic encrypted or your speed reduced.
We were glad to see that Psiphon doesn’t have any DNS leaks. All your DNS traffic is safely redirected to secure servers.
Does Psiphon keep logs?
Psiphon is not good at providing security or privacy. The provider is open about this:
Psiphon is designed to provide you with open access to online content. Psiphon does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.
Although the VPN encrypts your traffic, Psiphon records and stores logs, which are then analyzed to increase performance. Moreover, Psiphon shares your data with advertising companies, something that undermines the whole idea of privacy.
Speed and performance
To give you an idea of the extent to which you will be compromising your speeds, we did a few speed tests for this Psiphon review.
Here’s our baseline speed test (without a VPN):
We then connected to a server in a nearby country and ran a speed test.
- Download: 8 Mbps (74% drop-off)
- Upload: 7 Mbps (77% drop-off)
Then, we connected to a distant server.
- Download: 3 Mbps (90% drop-off)
- Upload: 3 Mbps (90% drop-off)
As you can see, the speeds take quite a hit and can be seen as average at best. The Psiphon Pro Android version should provide better speeds, but we’ve come across many complaints that the improvement is not significant. If you’d like better speeds, you can have a look at our list of the best VPNs.
Psiphon VPN server coverage
Psiphon VPN offers servers in 21 different countries. However, we noticed that it doesn’t reveal the total number of servers in the network. We’ll guess this means the number is close to the number of countries.
The countries covered are the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, Japan, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Hungary, India, and Italy.
This is quite a small fleet when compared to any premium service (such as NordVPN with 5,000+ servers in 60+ countries). Then again, Psiphon is a free VPN, and so you can’t expect much.
Ease of use and multiplatform support
Psiphon provides apps for the following platforms:
The Android app has a Pro version that you can upgrade and a limited access regular one. The mobile apps can be downloaded from the various stores, while the Windows client is available via the website.
For this Psiphon review, we decided to test out the Windows and Android VPN apps.
The Psiphon Windows client is a lightweight program that installs within seconds. After the automatic setup, it launches and connects you to the nearest server.
You can also choose a country from the available options.
On the Settings button, you’ll find some options to customize your VPN. If you’re using a proxy network, you need to set it up under “local proxy.” However, the main feature here is the L2TP/IPsec option, which can tunnel all your computer traffic, rather than only the apps that use Windows’ local HTTP and SOCKS settings.
Each option is well explained, which is great for ease of use.
We tested both Psiphon Android apps for this review, and they are very similar. They all use ads and only work in SSH mode.
The major difference in Psiphon Pro is that it provides an option to upgrade the speed (over the 2 Mb/s limit), and this is the only place you get the option.
The other options let you check your usage stats as well as choose a connection country.
Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms
Psiphon is able to unblock most websites, but it can’t be relied on for streaming as it doesn’t work with some of the major streaming services (like Netflix and BBC iPlayer).
For streaming, you can check out our list of the best VPNs for Netflix.
P2P and torrenting
Psiphon doesn’t say whether P2P traffic is allowed on the network. Nevertheless, it’s easy to conclude that Psiphon is not a great choice for P2P and torrenting. For starters, the speeds are not great, which can be frustrating when downloading large files. What’s more, your activities will be logged and there’s a chance that the info will be handed over to law enforcement upon request.
For the best possible P2P experience, we offer you to choose one of the best VPNs for torrenting.
Online censorship in China and elsewhere
Psiphon is a bad choice for China. While it has the obfuscation technology to avoid Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), it works only when using SSH protocol which has not been secure for ages. It might be fine if you won’t be sending or receiving any sensitive content, but putting yourself at risk while in China is not recommended.
Instead, we suggest you pick one of the best VPNs for China and other restricted, censorious countries. Even if you don’t want to spend a penny on your online safety, better give one of these top free services for China a try.
The two options for customer support are:
Being primarily a free service, Psiphon VPN doesn’t offer much support. There’s no live chat or phone assistance like you would find with most VPNs, but there’s an email you can always contact. You should, however, not expect a quick answer.
Alternatively, you can navigate to the FAQ section of the website to see if your queries have already been answered.
Psiphon for Windows is entirely free and there’s nothing you need to pay to use it. This does not apply for Android.
On the Google Play Store, Psiphon has two different apps, Psiphon and the incredibly expensive Psiphon Pro. The former can’t be upgraded, whereas the Pro version gives you an option to remove the 2 Mb/s limit placed on the free version of the VPN.
You can subscribe to one of the exorbitant Psiphon Pro monthly plans:
- High Speed: $4.99/month
- Maximum Speed: $9.99/month
All these subscriptions have a 30-day money-back guarantee, and so you can still cancel your subscription and avoid charges.
You can also buy passes for the Maximum Speed package. These do not require credit cards and can be bought with Google Play gift cards.
- 7-day pass: $4.99 ($20.00/month)
- 30-day pass: $9.99 ($10.00/month)
- 360-day pass: $119 ($10.00/month)
Psiphon is decent at unblocking websites. However, being a free VPN, it has quite a number of shortcomings. You won’t be able to rely on this tool for privacy or anonymity, and you will also have to contend with the speed limits they impose on their network.
You might have to look elsewhere if you are interested in streaming, torrenting, security, or privacy.