Although not a full VPN service, Ultrasurf might the right solution for the privacy, security and freedom you’re looking for while online. Read our review to find out.
Is Ultrasurf really a VPN?
Ultrasurf functions in many of the same ways as a traditional VPN, but is fundamentally different. Before getting into whether this product is a good fit for you and your needs, we will have to touch upon some of the areas that many people use VPNs for.
Security, for one thing, is always of utmost importance and Ultrasurf seems to deliver in that department quite well. It is also a tool that has proven itself successful in bypassing The Great Firewall of China. Being a free service that was created with the sole intention of helping users bypass internet censorship and geo-blocking, it may not, however, be the best service to use for things like streaming online video and downloading torrents.
Ultrasoft is a simple, yet powerful tool that is easy to use and does a great job at encrypting internet traffic, no matter where users happen to be. Could this tool be your new best friend? Read on to learn more.
Now for the question: is Ultrasurf really a VPN? In a sense, yes. When compared to traditional VPN services, however, you will notice many differences.
For one thing, Ultrasurf does not offer the range of tools that many other services can. It is very focused on doing what it does well, and really doesn’t try to complicate things for itself or its users. It is also a little more similar to a network of proxy servers, given the fact that the encrypted tunnel is only available through the browser connected to the program. Ultrasurf could be perfect for some.
Is Ultrasurf safe to use?
Ultrasurf is safe, provided that it is used appropriately. As with any online privacy tool, it is very important to read all the FAQs and instructions for every new configuration type that you set up. Each platform is structured differently, which means to be truly secure, users must understand how privacy tools interact with their systems.
Ultrasurf works by only allowing HTTPS traffic through their servers, while ignoring the less secure HTTP traffic, directing those through your normal Internet Service Provider (ISP) instead. Essentially, Ultrasurf is more of a proxy, and less of a VPN. A new IP address is issued to you whenever you start up Ultrasurf. As an example of something you would need to better understand about privacy tools, is the fact that since Ultrasurf only secures traffic through a browser – you must check that specific browser you’re using for security flaws as well.
Assuming that you are using Ultrasurf in the prescribed way, it will do a great job at masking your IP, and protecting your identity from getting into the wrong hands. One thing to be very careful about, however, is whether or not your browser is getting around the Ultrasurf connection (more on that in a bit). If used as intended by the developers of this great tool, Ultrasurf does many things to ensure online safety – and the price (free) is unbeatable.
Good to note: Although Ultrasurf was created with the sole purpose of circumventing internet censorship, that does not necessarily mean they condone illegal online activity. In fact, right there in their privacy statement they make it very clear that they do not want anyone using their tool for illegal activities.
Ultrasurf is located in the US and, if asked, they will share whatever information they have with the authorities. What and how much they can share largely comes down to the user, though, as they do not require personal information upon signup.
Ultrasurf Speed and performance
When Ultrasurf’s servers are not overloaded as a result of increased need in some part of the world, the speed and performance is unrivaled by any other free service.
In fact, Ultrasurf has been known to be even faster than some paid services, which is quite a feat. What sometimes drags Ultrasurf’s speeds down is system overload. Major international events where users depend on the tool’s ability to mask their connections cause a lot of stress on the servers.
Slowdowns are temporary though, and users see swifter connections before long. However, Ultrasurf has recently posted a message on the main page of their website apologizing for chronically slow speeds and crashes, due to an overload as a result of spiked demands in Iran. In the message, Ultrasurf thanked users for their patience and promised that they are working on a solution.
How to download, install and use Ultrasurf
Downloading and installing Ultrasurf is a very simple thing to do.
On Windows, users simply need to go to the Download section in the Ultrasurf website, where they will find instructions as well as a download link. Clicking the link will download a small zip file to your computer, which you should than extract. Once extracted, you just need to put the .exe file somewhere on your computer (or a portable drive) where you will be able to find it later. When the file is safely in your system, all that you need to do is double click the file to run it. A small screen will pop up with options to run Ultrasurf in Internet Explorer or Chrome, as well as options to choose between the given proxies.
There are three proxies that show up and they each have a speed rating. Ultrasurf automatically selects the fastest one for you, but in case of any stability issues, it’s nice to have the other two available. Clicking on one of the browser buttons in the Ultrasurf client will launch your browser of choice. You should only consider traffic moving through the browser that was opened during the current Ultrasurf session, to be secure.
Another thing to keep in mind while using Ultrasurf is that it does not encrypt HTTP traffic between its servers and the web servers. The only encryption that the service carries out is on traffic moving from users to its own servers. That means using a tool like HTTPS Everywhere is very necessary.
Apps and extensions
Apps are a bit limited with Ultrasurf, as there are only options for Windows users and Android devices. The app for Windows is a small executable file that needs no installation. The good news is that you can put Ultrasurf on a thumb drive and deploy it on the go. Many people use this method to protect themselves at internet cafes and on public WiFi.
The Android app is also easy to use, and can be found on the Google Play store by searching for “Ultrasurf VPN.”
Extensions are an important part of using Ultrasurf. Browsers can sometimes cause serious leaks despite whatever privacy service a user has employed. The most notable of these is the WebRTC leak which is known to be an issue with Google Chrome. Even when using a very strong VPN, WebRTC can cause your identity to leak.
Since Ultrasurf uses the Incognito Mode of Google Chrome as its vehicle, it is important to install a WebRTC blocker/disabler and allow it to run in Incognito Mode.
Does Ultrasurf work for torrenting and Netflix?
A VPN’s ability to handle P2P traffic and torrenting is a major deciding factor for many people when it comes to deciding on which online privacy tool to subscribe to. Unfortunately, the way that Ultrasurf is set up leaves it as a non-option on Windows.
The encrypted tunnel only runs through a session-based browser, and there is no way to allow a BitTorrent client to utilize the connection. Theoretically, however, Android users could use it since the Android app secures the entire connection, but speed could be an issue.
Netflix users who are trying to stream content from the US Netflix servers are going to get a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to their user experience. Since Ultrasurf is based in the States, and since it is more like a proxy than a VPN, it is possible (most of the time) to access the American version of Netflix from outside the US.
Sounds like good news, right? Well, the service can be a little unreliable when Ultrasurf’s servers are overloaded, which equates to poor viewing quality, or none at all.
Does Ultrasurf work in China?
Torrenting is a no-go, as is Netflix (usually), but what about access to the World Wide Web in China? The news in this department is all good. In fact, access from China is the entire reason Ultrasurf was created back in 2002, and the service is still going strong behind the Great Firewall of China.
Due to the fact that Ultrasurf utilizes a large, global network of proxy servers, it is able to operate under the Chinese government’s radar. Where VPN protocols are targeted by censors, Ultrasurf’s network is not.
Customer support and pricing
When it comes to customer support, Ultrasurf is not really as up to the challenge as other more established VPNs in the industry. Maybe that’s because it is a free service, or maybe it’s because of the fact that the tool is so simple in nature. At any rate, when users experience questions, problems, or difficulties, there are a couple of places that they can look for answers.
The first place to look is the question mark icon on the tool itself. Clicking the question mark icon opens up a browser window with a long list of categorized information that can help with troubleshooting processes.
The other option is to reach out to the development team via email and just wait for a response. The folks behind the service make promises as to how fast they will respond to queries, and as far as we saw from our trials they were quite efficient, answering within a day of our message.
As for pricing information, that one’s simple. Ultrasurf is completely free, always.
Ultrasurf VPN is a fantastic tool that does more than you might expect from such a small file. It is a tool that could really be helpful in specific situations and the fact that it is small, light, free, and portable makes it almost a no-brainer to keep a copy around for those times when you need it.
That being said, some people may find Ultrasurf to be a little limiting in that it has such specific usage requirements. Many VPNs these days – including the free ones – secure and encrypt the entire connection, while Ultrasurf does not. That means people should be especially aware of the strengths and weaknesses of this tool before putting all their trust in it. Ultrasurf is a tool that is at its best when used by people who have done their homework a bit.
It is not necessarily a good fit for beginners, or for those who do not understand how VPNs and proxies work.
To summarize, Ultrasurf is a service that has its fair share of limitations, but there are many positives that come with the service as well. As Ultrasurf was created to get around China’s firewall, it remains one of the only good free options that works, and it is portable and easy to install.
As for cons, it does not really work for many of the things that many people use VPNs for, like torrenting and Netflix.