Over the past 11 days we have been testing the service of LiquidVPN to bring you this comprehensive LiquidVPN Review. There are two available packages which are the Personal and Pro packages. The difference between the two is very minor and only relates to the amount of connections you can make at any one time. LiquidVPN are a US based company and are relatively new in the VPN market. We took a look at their service to see how they weighed up against the competition.
The Website & Packages:
The LiquidVPN website is rather unique in colour scheme with a off-grey/blue background and red logo which instantly gives branding to their site, in terms of aesthetics it is rather unique looking in the VPN industry. In layout it resembles some of the slicker VPN provider websites although on a more budget scale. Regardless of the look of a site the usability of it is far more important and this is where LiquidVPN compete well with other players in the market.
Access to the major social media sites are available at the top left hand corner of the site and taking a peek at their Facebook and Twitter accounts it seems they are kept well updated with news and service specific content. Too often companies set up social networking accounts which go heavily under used and the fact that they seem to keep them well stocked with information is a bonus to customers who prefer to keep abreast of updates through such sites. Below this are menus which link to a section on their custom software, a script library which is somewhat unique to the custom software, support, the usual information on how a VPN service works, usful for the new user, access to a wealth of set up guides and finally access to the control panel should you be a customer.
To the top right there are areas for downloading the VPN configuration files for those who wish to set the service up themselves, access to a location map of the servers available and at the end their blog which contains news and updates about the service and the VPN industry in general although the more recent posts relate mainly to service information and less on industry articles.
The website is easily understood and the important aspects of the site such as what they offer, their service prices et al. are easy to locate. The only negative side to the site is it is difficult to locate company information and the only reference I could find to their company address was in the “Legal Stuff” area and as such it might be nice if this kind of information was somewhere more prominent giving their company greater authority and trust with users accessing the site.
LiquidVPN have two types of package available which actually vary very little. There are no differences in server access, protocol type or any other major option that you could think of, the packages boil down to a simple difference of how many devices you require to connect at one time. Their packages are titled the “Personal” and “Pro” VPN Service. With the Personal package you can connect 1 device and the Pro extends to 4 devices at one time. The actual prices of LiquidVPN are somewhat unbelievably low and I see this as a huge selling point of the service. The lower end package clocks in at just US$4.99 per month with the higher tier package priced at US$9.50 per month. When you take out a full year package this is where you see the prices dramatically drop and these will set you back US$33 per year for the lower package and just US$62.70 per year on the higher package, this equals a jaw dropping US$2.75 p/m and US$5.23 p/m respectively. I imagine these prices are to entice a deal sealer due to the lesser known name and history of LiquidVPN but for a company that is making leaps and bounds with unique features as we’ll cover later in this review it may be a good time to grab yourself a bargain account.
Regardless of which package you sign up to they do not differ apart from as earlier stated the amount of devices you can connect at any one time. So no matter which you choose you’ll get access to exactly the same features. One of the most important features to consider is access via the standard protocol list of PPTP, L2TP/IPsec & OpenVPN is available. It is definitely a well thought out aspect of the service that the available features are standardised over the packages that are sold and a welcomed sight that you are not penalised in terms of features if you opt to take out a lower tier package, 4 devices connected at the same time are likely to add more strain to the network and it is appropriate and fair to have increased costs for those who are basically going to make more use of the network by having more devices connected at one time.
LiquidVPN offer software for making connection to their servers which is a custom version of Viscosity by the Australian company Sparklabs. Upon initially receiving the welcome email for the service I was redirected to the Client Panel to download their software. I was expecting to either be greeted with a link to download the software or it would directly start downloading, unfortunately this wasn’t the case and I was a little confused as to where the software was available. After a few seconds of bemusement and some accidental scrolling down I realised the software was available at the bottom of the screen. Not overly inconvenient but it may of been nice to have been directly at the part of the page that contains the downloads for that user experience ease. One of the welcomed features of the available downloads is that their custom software is available for both PC and Mac. Unfortunately there are currently no mobile solutions for either Android or iOS which would be a nice addition for the future. OpenVPN configuration files are available to download in the same download area if you wish to use OpenVPN directly and further set-up guides and configuration files can be found in the downloads area of the website for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS allowing you to be up and running with a system of your choice with relative ease. Non technical minded users might want to consider some minor work is required to get these extra devices working and aside from Windows and Mac no one click solution is available although for those who don’t mind some minor effort then it can be easily achieved.
Installation of the custom software brings no major surprises and is a fairly straight forward process. One issue that was faced on installation was the requirement to find a “licence” file. This would be rather confusing for a new user as there is no indication what this is regarding. The process involves using a file browser to select a licence file in the same folder as the program itself and nothing more, however the purpose behind this process seems unnecessary.
Upon loading the custom software you are presented with an information screen which explains in simple terms about the notification area icon and how this can be used to access the software. There are two further options which include “Getting Started” and “Troubleshooting” which allow access to those areas on the LiquidVPN website. The troubleshooting link is handy for quick access should you face any issues although it appears that the “Getting Started” link is currently set to visit a page that is now non-existent and needs to be rectified.
Following on from the introduction screen the software can be accessed from the notification area, the layout of the GUI uses a simple folder based navigation which should be easily enough to follow for all technical abilities due to its consistency and similarity to a usual computer folder hierarchy. Access to the three connection protocols is available with each server being listed in its own folder based on protocol from PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN. Although I would always recommend using OpenVPN to connect where possible it is helpful to have quick access to the other protocols for use in situations when these may be required for your needs. Double clicking on the notification area icon brings up a more in-depth windowed display although the folder selection option for protocol types and server required follows through to this mode. Further options available on the custom software are standard features such as the ability to load the software automatically on boot, reconnect active connections on wake, automatically disconnect after X amount of time of inactivity. Final options include the possibility to customise the notification area icon plus the ability to disable IPV6 when connected.
The custom software is slightly different to other providers in that not all features of it come as standard. It uses a modular system with which you can add features and options by installing various scripts. This allows you to build the software up with your own requirements and allows expansion of the feature set. While this is an ideal solution for those who are more technically minded the newer user may struggle to understand the system behind it, although at the same time the types of features that are able to be added with the script based system are unlikely to be areas of interest for the newer user anyway so this type of modular feature addition system shouldn’t cause too much concern for all abilities.
Making connection is a simple affair with the process involving right clicking on the notification area icon, hovering above the protocol you require and then clicking on the server type you require. Within 30 seconds connection is made and you are free to access the internet under the VPN connection. LiquidVPN are slightly different to other providers in that not only do they offer multiple server locations they also allow multiple IP types when connected which include Dynamic, Shared and Modulating. To those who haven’t used LiquidVPN the final option of the three, “Modulating” may be a little of a puzzle. It is actually one of the most intriguing features of the service and something that personally I see as a massive selling point. In a nutshell the Modulating IP connection changes your IP each time you send a new request to access an internet service. For example, if you visited a website the website would see your first IP eg; 184.108.40.206, when you send the next request, ie; click a link on the same website to access a new page it would now see a new IP eg; 220.127.116.11, access another page it would see a third IP eg; 18.104.22.168 and so on. Each new request that is sent will be done so on a new IP address thus increasing the privacy and security of your internet access. When browsing we found very little if anything wrong with the system and the speeds achieved faired very well compared to a standard VPN connection. The thought behind it is quite revolutionary and as we all search for ever increasing privacy it is definitely a huge step in the right direction.
Now I am sure you’re imagining a system where one minute you have a UK IP, the next a US one, an Australian one and so on conjuring up some fantasy world spanning spider web which would put mid 90’s movie “Hackers” to shame. Unfortunately it is not that far fetched and the IP range is limited to a block of around 5-10 different addresses on either their Romanian or US servers. I would love to see an increase in the available pool of IP addresses including not only changes to the latter half of the address but also including some completely different IP addresses. I imagine IP address modulation spanning different countries would introduce too much speed loss and may not even be technically possible but if such a system was possible or even one that cycled between neighbouring countries then it would improve an already unique feature tenfold. Regardless of the limitations of the technology, it is still in its infancy which is what makes the system rather exciting and definitely a selling point for LiquidVPN.
The remaining two connection types are Dynamic and Shared, Dynamic assigns you a new IP each time you connect that only you make use of for your connection period while Shared assigns an IP that many users are sharing, the theory behind it is the more users connected at one time the more the data used by that IP address is intertwined making it difficult to single you out as the particular user who was accessing XYZ service with that particular IP. For the intermediate and up user these three options are rather refreshing and it is rare that you are given so much choice from a provider not only in these areas but in further areas which I will cover later in this review, so from that viewpoint it offers excellent choice. I do however have concerns that the abundance of available options would be confusing to a novice and the choice of three different IP standards on one server would only lead to confusion. If you’re less technically able then you may want to consider if these choices are overkill for your understanding although the basics of the differences are covered in this review and also helpful information about the differences can be found on the website of LiquidVPN.
For those who prefer not to use custom software and use OpenVPN directly, configuration files are available in the VPN Configuration Files area, although on a slightly confusing note the configuration files in the user download area appear outdated missing current servers and containing configurations for servers no longer in service. Extra solutions are also available from the script resource library for fixing such things as DNS leaks when using OpenVPN, little extras made available like this are handy additions to the service and remove the need for further research on how to resolve such issues by the end user. In regard to DNS issues while making use of the custom software we suffered no DNS leaks and although making use of the DNS servers of Google as standard from our side it is possible to specify your own DNS servers in the settings of the custom software.
Not forgetting that LiquidVPN are a relatively new company leads to a lesser number of access points based on country. Currently as it stands 7 different locations are available which thankfully offer 2 in the US and 1 in the UK allowing the possibility of accessing TV streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player etc. with further locations available in the Netherlands, Germany, Russia and Romania. Having access to servers in Romania, the Netherlands and Russia makes accessing torrents a possibility and further in this regard they have recently shut down two servers, one in the US and one in the Czech Republic because of DMCA notices followed with the statement “LiquidVPN is not interested in policing our network for bit torrent users“. A nice stance on this subject and one that I am sure will be welcomed by users of their service. Although fewer servers are available than on some of the bigger providers the standard required base countries are well covered for pastimes such as accessing TV streaming services to those more copyright friendly and as such is a good selection for the time being, I would much prefer a lesser number of good quality servers than a smaller company spreading themselves too thinly over a bigger range of servers which may not be well maintained. The only minor downside to this is if you are a frequent worldwide traveller who requires secure internet access on more localised servers, no connection points are available in Asia or the Oceania region and so if you require servers in those areas then this service would not be suitable for you.
A rare feature of the servers is that the SMTP protocol is allowed meaning if you use a desktop email client that connects directly to your email servers then you’ll still be able to send emails like normal. This type of service is widely blocked by VPN providers due to the tendency for spammers to sign up to the service and abuse such a system. The benefit of this is that the VPN servers IP address will be attached to your emails rather than your personal one giving you greater privacy.
Accessing the full range of servers I found no issues in regard to browsing, using Skype or online TV streaming services such as Hulu. The modulating technology is fast and when browsing any speed loss is barely noticeable which is a good sign for anyone wishing to make use of that type of connection on a regular basis. The only issue faced was on the Romania – Shared server at which only 1 third of our internet speed was achieved when the rest of the servers could offer max speed. I spoke in length with Dave, the owner and we worked through various tests to try and resolve the issue. He wasn’t able to replicate the issue his end but equally neither could I put it down to anything other than the server, every other server worked fine, even ones using the same port and shared IP type. Regardless, it could be just one of those things and at the time of writing it hasn’t currently been resolved although Dave continues to look in to the issue. Aside from that no browsing or downloading speed issues were incurred.
As with all our reviews we downloaded a freely available 1GB test file from a UK website via each of the VPN servers mentioned below at both on and off-peak times in the GMT time zone. The download was made via a download manager due to the increased speed this provides over downloading directly in a web browser. Our own internet connection speed is 30Mb/s. We are physically located in the United Kingdom and so speeds could vary for yourself depending on your location from the server.
The server speeds listed in order are Germany – Shared, Netherlands – Shared, Romania – Dynamic, Romania – Modulating, Romania – Shared, UK – Shared, US South – Dynamic, US South – Modulating and US South – Shared and can be seen in the far right column.
LiquidVPN Peak Speeds
LiquidVPN Off-Peak Speeds
The Encryption & Policies:
One of the more surprising but pleasing features of LiquidVPN is they are currently experimenting with other types of encryption and not just the general standards that are currently employed by most providers. Currently they are making use of the Camellia cipher on their Russian and German servers only. For those unaware Camellia is a non-NIST cipher. National Institute of Standards and Technology is a US institution that ratified the common and widely used AES cipher as a standard and although there is no suggestion that AES contains any back door the situation with it being connected with a US institution and with recent revelations regarding the NSA and US tech companies there are those who would welcome a move away from NIST standard ciphers. This is definitely not a requirement but is a nice step in the right direction and general consensus would lead to believe that moving away from US connected cryptography can only be a positive move. However the choice to test implementing non-NIST ciphers feels slightly at odds with the company in general and seems a slight misnomer as LiquidVPN themselves are a US based company. Regardless, it again shows LiquidVPN are not afraid to push the boundaries and offer something different to what the majority of the rest of the market are doing, how well this proceeds as they continue to grow and expand will be left to be seen.
Although the experimental nature of the service is good in one regard on the other hand it can be seen as a downside. There seems to be no one standard encryption on any of the servers which range from CAMELLIA-256-CBC to BF-CBC to AES-256-CBC and although each is good enough in its own right it makes you question where LiquidVPN stand regarding the encryption that they employ, if we should use non-NIST ciphers then what does that say about the servers that make use of NIST ciphers and vice versa and if there is negligible difference between the two then why not just settle on one and deploy it across the range of servers? Although a bonus to have a selection to some, it appears that they may be trying to be the all to everyone service and although this might not be such a bad thing I am not sure how possible that will be to sustain as their user base grows and puts further demands on them to offer these more unique features. Following up on a similar subject it was disappointing to see only 1024 bit RSA keys being used on the UK and the Netherlands servers when other servers on their network are making use of 2048 bit RSA and some other VPN providers are rolling out 4096 bit. NIST themselves announced the end of life of 1024 bit key sizes at the end of 2013 due to the ever increasing possibility of them being factored. I was told by LiquidVPN regarding a different query that the UK server was somewhat older and hopefully this is something that can bring up to speed and standardise across their network in the near future.
Looking through the policies of LiquidVPN there appear to be no overly huge issues. The usual range of restricted activities from hacking, spam, terrorist activity plus more is present and to be expected. One area to be aware of is the condition of “You will not use our service to illegally distribute any pirated copyright material” as this could relate to seeding across P2P networks. Although in general the policy of torrents being allowed is the general consensus that I gather but should be restricted to the European servers and perhaps not on the UK server. It is made clear that LiquidVPN “does not maintain any user or traffic logs on any of our VPN servers” which is the basis of what you want from a VPN provider.
One area that is a little more disturbing and needs clarity to ease my nerves is the statement that follows the piece about not logging traffic :-
“We may from time to time enable logs temporarily to troubleshoot performance issues or locate a subscriber abusing the service if the abuse is having a negative impact on other subscribers. We do not enable logging based on our moral values or because of your moral values. It is none of our business. The decision to temporarily enable logging is something we do not take likely and will only be used as a last resort.“
While it is a positive that they will only enable logging if someone is abusing the service as this could impact on others using the service it also means that at any point logging could be enabled without you having the ability to know this. The issue is a double edged sword faced by many VPN providers and I imagine that many say nothing and perhaps do it anyway rather than opening this kind of can of worms. I salute LiquidVPN for being open and honest regarding this but further clarity might ease the situation or announcements before logging commences, again this can cause the provider problems as if a subscriber was aware of the logging they may stop carrying out their abuse and recommence it when it is announced logging is disabled, as such the service couldn’t catch and disable the perpetrators account. Either way I feel clarity is still needed as it sits uneasy that logging can just be enabled willy nilly with the flick of a switch.
Support is provided either by Live Help or a Ticket based system. Live Help is available for a good portion of the working and evening hours in mid-US so is easily accessible from late afternoon until late on in to the night for those based in Europe. Although it is not 24 hours per day there is a good chance you’ll be able to make use of Live Help at one time or another. Generally live based help is answered by the owner and although this shows the size of the organisation it also allows you to quickly get to the heart of any problems with someone who has a passion for his business. At the end of the day you’re his bread and butter customer so you can be guaranteed a good resolution to any issues you face. In terms of ticket support we received a response within 2-3 hours on a Saturday.
The Verdict aka tl;dr:
LiquidVPN are a small but personable company, having direct access to the owner, someone who seems passionate about the service which his company offers gives a better ability to rectify issues and put forward suggestions for changes that are more likely to get implemented over some of the bigger companies who would have to run such changes through a network of people to have them ratified. The service in terms of speed and usage is excellent and aside from one issue with the Romania – Shared connection we found speeds to be at the peak speed of our internet connection and thoroughly enjoyable to use. One concern about a smaller company may be their inability to offer good infrastructure but this is definitely not the case with LiquidVPN as the servers are reliable and fast.
One of the most interesting features of the service is the IP modulation system and something which is a unique selling point for the company. I hope to see this technology expanded on in to the future and LiquidVPN are showing that they are ready to stamp their authority on the market with exclusive services. Coupled with this is the willingness of them testing new ciphers and although for the time being this varies a little too much over the range of servers again shows that they are willing to push boundaries and move away from the norm.
In their current state and due to the variations between servers the service would be ideal for the intermediate and up user, it offers ciphers little seen by other providers and so for those with an interest in security and non-NIST standards it will be a refreshing change. It is definitely possible for the beginner to make use of their custom software although the selection of differences between servers and ciphers may lead to confusion and an inability to understand the wealth of information that would be found when researching the differences between them. LiquidVPN are a US based service and this may be the biggest reason why some may not wish to consider them due to revelations about the NSA etc. If like most you’re after making use of the service for entirely legal reasons and don’t mind the location then there really is no other reason why not to consider them.
I would definitely recommend LiquidVPN, speeds are excellent, prices are ultra cheap, support although not 24 hours is very good and with the addition of some unique features makes for a very interesting provider. I am sure as they continue to grow we will see more locations available and more unique services making them definitely one to watch. If you can handle the fact they’re based in the US then they are definitely a service to consider. LiquidVPN may be a small company but they are certainly holding their own punching above their weight.
|Price:|| (5 / 5)|
|Reliability:|| (5 / 5)|
|Speed:|| (4.5 / 5)|
|Servers:|| (3 / 5)|
|Policy:|| (3 / 5)|
|Support:|| (4 / 5)|
|Average:|| (4.1 / 5)|