Over the past 10-11 days we’ve been taking a look at the service of VPN.ac to bring you this in-depth VPN.ac Review. VPN.ac are part of a Romanian company, the VPN service founded in 2012 and have recently been making important changes in regard to their security and encryption. They offer one package type which reduces in price depending on the length of service you choose to take. Read on for a full round up of their service, speeds, support and more…
The Website & Packages:
The website of VPN.ac sports a grey, blue and red colour scheme. Its layout as to be expected with most VPN providers is rather generic in a sense that it aims to have all the required information in view with access to further important areas within easy reach. The header of the site is dedicated to their latest news announcement which is handy for taking note of any major changes or information that you might want to be aware of. To the right of this section is access to Legal, Blog, VPN Node Status, Client Area and Contact Us. These are some of the most important aspects of any good VPN provider website so I was pleased to see they are clearly accessible.
Underneath this header area are further areas to access other essentials such as information about the company, their packages and pricing, features, FAQ, Tutorials and finally Support.
The upper most part of the site explains via a map image where their servers are located which is convenient for you to get a quick overview of the range of locations that they offer. The lower parts of the site contain general information regarding what a VPN service can offer, how it can secure you, details on their various payment options, packages and key features of the service. Overall the site is easy to navigate and the required information is well placed and at hand should you wish to sign up with them.
As explained at the start of this review, VPN.ac offer one account package type and depending on the length of service you wish to take reduces the price which can introduce quite a considerable saving if you take a yearly package over a monthly one. The standard monthly package retails at US$9 per month, 3 months offers an 11% saving at $24, 6 months offers a 33% saving at $36 and taking a yearly package offers the greatest saving clocking in at a massive 46% saving giving a total price of $58 per year. This works out at $4.9 per month which is extremely cheap and well worth considering if you’re after a long term service.
It is quite refreshing to see a 3 month package available and one service length that many VPN providers do not offer. This can be useful if you wish to make a saving over the monthly cost but don’t want to commit to a full 6 months or more.
As explained there is only one package type so regardless of how long you sign up for you get access to the same features. Payment is accepted via Paypal, Bitcoin and Cashu. While not a huge range of payment services the majority of people can pay via credit/debit cards using Paypal with the nice addition of Bitcoin being accepted for those who wish to be extra anonymous.
As should be expected the possibility to connect using the three main protocols, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec & OpenVPN is available which is rather standard across many providers. As usual I always recommend making connection via OpenVPN if available but the presence of the other protocols will be useful in certain situations so the availability of all is welcomed.
VPN.ac Custom Software
For those more experienced users the ability to connect directly via OpenVPN will always be first choice but for those who need quick access or don’t wish to concern themselves with set-up files then I am a huge advocate of VPN providers who offer custom programs to allow connection. Luckily from the start of testing the service VPN.ac have very recently started to offer their own custom software for Windows. If you’re new to the VPN world and confused by all the technical jargon then the custom software offered by VPN.ac is an excellent option and it opens up the service to more novice users due to the ease of using such software.
The software and other configuration files are linked to in the welcome email that you receive with your user name and password details, it is also possible to download the custom software as well as browse guides for other systems by directly visiting the website and accesing the Tutorials section. VPN.ac offer a good range of set up guides for systems such as Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. These guides cover the full range of protocols and for the desktop systems a range of video guides is also present which should aid those who find themselves at a loss of how to configure certain set ups. Although VPN.ac have only just released their Windows software, users of other systems and mobile devices may want to consider that currently there are no custom connection programs for other devices so if it is a requirement that you must have a one click software solution then at this point in time the service would not be suitable for yourselves. If you have a basic knowledge of computers and mobile systems then the guides and videos will be sufficient to get you set up on the majority of major systems.
Installing the custom software is one of the most pleasant features due to the fact, there is no installation, well, none in the sense that the custom software itself does not require to be installed. This is actually a brilliant feature in itself because you can just copy the .exe file to anywhere on your system and no extra bloatware is required to be able to run the software. If you don’t currently have the TUN/TAP driver installed then this will be required as it is a requirement of OpenVPN. This is the software based virtual network adapter and without installation then connection would not be possible. The custom software itself checks to see if you have the TUN/TAP driver installed and if you don’t then it will do this for you. If you already have this installed then no other installation is required. I actually find such a small detail a rather interesting feature and it would be nice to see other providers follow the lead of VPN.ac in this particular area.
The software itself is nicely laid out and presented all within one window. No extra settings and nothing to over complicate the process or confuse the newer user. At the top of the window is the area for your login/password to be entered with the options to save the password to remove the need for re-entering it in future, to the side of this is the ability to show the password so if you struggle to type in passwords while they are hidden by the standard bullet point type character then no doubt you will find this feature useful. The section directly below is dedicated to the actual server location, connection protocol and port. These are accessed in a drop down menu type fashion and a feature which is useful is servers that are either new or ones that should be used for accessing Torrents or P2P networks are highlighted as such. Attention to detail is evident and useful additions such as these will save you time rather than requiring you to scour their website to find out if P2P is allowed on a certain server or not. All three connection protocols from PPTP, L2TP/IPsec to OpenVPN are available on the custom software which allows easy access to connecting via the protocol that is most suitable for your situation.
Below these sections are the latest news with links to their website should you wish to read the full article plus another section below giving details on your current IP address, your connection to the VPN status and the location that you are currently at on either your home connection or when connected to a VPN server. Finally a large connect button fills the final section of the window which when connected changes to a disconnect button. Minimising the software sends the program to the notification area leaving your task bar uncluttered with the colour of the icon set to red when disconnected and blue when connected. Final links dotted around the edges of the window give access to signing up to a service, the client area, information on the various VPN protocols, the status of each VPN node, access to the log files on your system from the relevant protocol, a link to contact support plus the terms of service and acceptable use policy.
The software itself is very well rounded and the majority of features have been well thought through. For a very first public release VPN.ac have done an excellent job on the software side. It would be nice if the server selection list was able to ping the list of servers either automatically or on command so the user can gauge a better understanding of the latency to each server but aside from this most areas have been well covered.
One area of the service that will divide opinion is VPN.ac are one of the few providers that actually limit traffic in the sense of amount of data transferred. Although this introduces the obvious concerns about staying within their limits the amount of data allowed to be transferred is a rather respectable 1TB per month. To break this down in to terms more understandable it roughly allows you to download 256 standard DVDs per month or 8 per day or around 200,000 mp3s. From these general statistics you can appreciate that this is rather generous amount of data and for those who take part in general web surfing, Skype usage, gaming or accessing online TV streaming these kinds of services are unlikely to push you over those limits. The purpose behind such limitations is to allow the service to remain fast and reliable for all customers and so those who require extremely high data use then the service is unlikely to be suitable to your needs. For the average user the amount of data transfer allowed will be more than enough and unless you have a large household sharing the connection who are extremely data hungry then you shouldn’t fall fowl of their limits in the majority of cases. There is a slight margin for overuse and the FAQ of VPN.ac state that if you exceeded the limits by around 10-25% then they wouldn’t be overly concerned, above these percentages and you may be asked to come to an agreement to pay a little more for your usage.
VPN.ac offer only shared IP addresses which from a privacy point of view are considered some of the more secure types. Basically when you connect to a server you will be assigned an IP address, other users on the same server will also be accessing the connection under the same IP address, this somewhat muddles what you’re doing with what other users are doing. On a home connection you will be the only user with your IP address (or at least your family will be if you share a connection via a router) so any websites visited or activity that you carry out can be traced back to yourself as the IP address would be unique to yourself at that given time. By accessing the internet via a shared IP address provided by the VPN service any activity could be attributed to any number of users.
In terms of country locations VPN.ac offer 9 different locations which puts them on the lower end of the medium sized range compared to other companies. The selection of access countries is actually rather good and includes locations in the US and UK which are ideal for TV streaming services such as Hulu and iPlayer, the Netherlands and Romania are available for P2P use which is authorised on these servers only, from a privacy perspective server access in Switzerland and Hong Kong is available. The server selection list is finished off by France, Germany and Canada. Like many VPN providers of a similar size users based in Asian, Oceania or South American regions may wish to consider if the server locations available are suitable to their requirements. Those based in Europe are well catered for with a range of countries available including two locations in the UK and two in Germany. Hong Kong is also served by two locations with the US being widely covered from East to West with no fewer than 8 different locations available including their newly added US East, Ashburn location.
VPN.ac Server Locations
We found no real issues with the service although one minor area to take note of is on the New York server, possibility due to the hostname of the server it is not possible to access Hulu and you would need to access one of the other 7 US locations to watch Hulu.
VPN.ac have introduced their own private DNS network to further increase the privacy of their service and upon testing we found no DNS leaks either using their own software or OpenVPN directly using their configuration files. By introducing their own DNS server network this further increases your privacy meaning your requests are not passed to any third party such as Google which could be used to log the websites that you visit. Further security is provided due to the fact that VPN.ac state “we will generate random queries to 1 million domain names (noise queries) using a script, mixing these queries with “legit” queries from customers” … “This way we ensure that potential monitoring of our DNS resolvers will be totally inefficient.”
VPN.ac are based in Romania which makes them a non-US and non-UK provider, for those extra security conscious who make it a requirement to not use a service based in any of the “Five Eyes” connected countries then it may make them an attractive proposition. Although said, Romania has been part of the EU for the past few years and as such will be required to comply with any EU wide laws, however Romania is on the fringe of EU policy and it is sometimes considered that other areas of policy take greater precedent than anything that would cause concern for VPN use. Make of this what you will.
Over the course of the testing period a range of servers were used to test the reliability and speeds achieved. Upon testing I encountered no issues when using the service for general internet usage from web browsing, gaming, Skype etc. Connecting to servers was highly reliable and we found no issues regarding server downtime. A good feature of the website is the “VPN Nodes Status” area which gives an indication of the load on each server, from visiting this page on different occasions I did not notice any point when any server was over medium load and in the majority of cases the load was very little. This is a good indication that VPN.ac aren’t overloading servers with a mass of customers and the capability that they possess is adequate for their customer base. As an additional extra it would be nice to see the VPN Node Status feature somehow incorporated in to the custom software that is provided for seamless integration.
All servers produced a good speed at both on and off-peak times. We struggled to hit maximum speed on one of the Hong Kong servers although this with most providers is to be expected as from our physical location it is on the other side of the world. We have hit full speed on one other provider at such an extreme distance but the speeds achieved on such a long distance server are comparable to the majority of previous VPN providers that we have tested.
In all of our reviews for testing purposes we download 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. This download is 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 servers tested in order are Hong Kong, US – Los Angeles, US – New York, Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the UK. Full Peak and Off Peak speed tests are under the condition of a direct OpenVPN connection using BF-CBC 128 bit with 1024 bit RSA. As an example of speed achieved the third image relates to a test to the Swiss server at peak time making use of a direct OpenVPN connection using the newly added AES-256-CBC cipher plus 4096 bit RSA key size. As you can ascertain from this there is no difference in speed achieved with the recent upgrades implemented by VPN.ac.
VPN.ac Peak Speeds
VPN.ac Off Peak Speeds
VPN.ac AES-256-CBC plus 4096 bit RSA Swiss Speed
The Encryption & Policies:
Upon initially starting to test the service I was rather disappointed to see the standard OpenVPN cipher of BF-CBC which while is widely regarded as strong enough I feel that stronger ciphers give an edge to VPN providers that are ready to push the boundaries. I was even more disappointed to find that a 1024 bit RSA key size was being used which has recently been recommended to be shelved due to the ever increasing chances of this size being factored (cracked).
To my surprise within a day or two of starting testing the service and something that was already pre-planned by VPN.ac the roll out of the AES-256-CBC cipher and 4096 bit RSA keys began to appear over their range of servers. At the time of writing they have rolled out the upgraded security plans across around half of their servers and the remaining servers will be upgraded within the coming days as they elect to cause as little disruption by carrying out the upgrades at low traffic times. After consulting with VPN.ac the lower encryption standards will be accessible along side the stronger encryption for the near further at which point they will start announcing the demise of these lesser standards.
This is an excellent move by VPN.ac and will be a welcomed introduction by those interested in the security of their VPN provider and the added safety that such a high RSA key size brings.
One pleasing aspect of the summary is it states that VPN.ac … “are providing a security & privacy service, not a “bullet-proof” solution to protect criminals.” which is nice recognition against a movement of users who I have personally queried in the past in other articles who seem to be under the impression that a VPN service should be a crime enabler. By a provider suggesting that they do not care or monitor the activities of their users would only lead to criminal minded users to flock to such a service, the fallout of this would be extra interest from the likes of security services around the world and I would rather VPN providers discourage such activity in the way VPN.ac are doing via their policies attempting to distance themselves from those who wish to carry out criminal activity over a VPN network than risk added attempts to monitor the provider by said security services more so than necessary.
Aside from the usual and expected restrictions one area certain users may wish to consider is VPN.ac do keep connection logs which include your connection IP address, your connect and disconnect time and the amount of traffic transferred. These logs are kept securely on a separate system in an undisclosed location so you can be sure of added security in that regard. They are deleted fully after 1 day. Although many providers claim they do not log, the truth behind this is usually rather different and it would be impossible for a provider to troubleshoot any issues if they did not keep basic logs and from this perspective I feel that what VPN.ac are logging and in the manner they claim to keep this information secure plus the deletion time scale is more than acceptable. They do not log any of your usage for example the websites you visit or what you get up to while connected to their servers. Data amount transfer logs are kept for your records in your client panel area so you can understand how much data you have used in relation to your 1TB service limit.
For those with an interest in P2P or Torrent use the policies state that these such activities should be contained to either the Romanian or Netherlands servers and these types of activities are not permitted on any other server of their network. A minor consideration for those who may be physically located far from these two European based servers although in general these are the typical countries that P2P is allowed on at many providers.
One area that needs to be readdressed is that in both the Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy there are sections such as Prohibited Activity that are near word for word duplicates with minor differences which from a user point of view could become confusing and it is unnecessary for such details to appear in two different sections.
Support is available by ticket, email, Skype or Live help. Live help is available daily between 07:00 and 22:00 GMT with outside hours support offered by the other methods. On various occasions that we tested we found Live help to be prompt and knowledgeable. The email support was fast and even at 23:43 Romanian time we received a response within 1 minute to our query.
The Verdict aka tl;dr:
VPN.ac are a rather unassuming company based in Romania and very little spoken about them at the usual VPN internet haunts such as Reddit and other forums. Before the very recent security upgrades their service would of been the standard offering which is available from a wide range of providers. Due to the very recent introduction of stronger ciphers, stronger RSA keys, their own DNS servers plus custom software for Windows it pushes VPN.ac forward in terms of the interest and attractiveness of their service.
Throughout our testing we found very little reason to criticize their service and while the introduction of custom software for a greater range of systems would be a welcomed addition the positive moves that they have made within the past few weeks make them a worthy VPN provider. The price of their service per month is somewhat in the standard price range for the majority of providers but some large savings can be made when you elect to take take a longer service.
While there are no overly unique selling points to the service they are pushing hard in regard to encryption standards and when it comes to the basic principles of a provider this is one of the most critical areas to consider when making a purchasing decision.
VPN.ac offer an extremely good and robust service, the speeds achieved are consistent and in general of top quality, their technical staff appear very knowledgeable and the steps that they have taken in such situations like securing their server sided keys plus other measures is very reassuring. When it comes to a VPN provider having staff that are a wizz with anything with a keyboard but couldn’t for example, fix your kitchen sink then it is a great quality and one I admire. I would certainly recommend their service for those who require a good selection of server locations within the US and Europe and unless you are a wide ranging worldwide traveller then their service should cover your most general needs for daily use.
|Price:|| (4 / 5)|
|Reliability:|| (5 / 5)|
|Speed:|| (4 / 5)|
|Servers:|| (3.5 / 5)|
|Policy:|| (4 / 5)|
|Support:|| (4 / 5)|
|Average:|| (4.1 / 5)|
If you’re interested in checking out the VPN.ac service they have kindly offered us a discount for you, the reader which is recurring for the life of the account. For 20% off just follow the link below and enter the code “VPNCOMPARE20” at the checkout.
Kitchen Sink Image courtesy of zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net