Psiphon VPN Review - 2021

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Psiphon is a Canadian provider since 2008. It started as a project at the Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto, and then grew into a company offering censorship circumvention.

Why Choose Psiphon VPN


Psiphon uses a mix of VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy to switch you automatically to the most efficient connection to bypass censorship in your region. The company states from the get-go that it’s not a tool you should be using for security, privacy or anonymity.

Best VPN for


  • Netflix, Hulu, and streaming online
  • Torrenting and downloading
  • Security and privacy

Works on


Mac

Windows

Android

IOS

Routers


Pros:

  • Free
  • Supports Windows, Android, and iOS
  • Offers installation files delivered by email
  • Transparent about logging

Cons:

  • Logs session and usage data
  • Shares logs with third parties
  • Canadian
  • Does not disclose server locations
  • No way to manually choose a server location
  • Weak security
  • Paid plans are expensive

Pricing and Plans

Psiphon comes as a free utility for desktop and an app for mobile devices. It is ad-supported but free for all users. It also comes with a bandwidth cap of around 2MBps to ensure everyone can enjoy an unrestricted access to information. You won’t be streaming or gaming with it, but you can access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and news websites around the world.

If you install its mobile app, you gain access to its in-app purchases that let you remove the bandwidth cap. These prices are not disclosed anywhere else, and you can only make the purchase via the iTunes or Google Play. Here is the breakdown of available plans - $9,56/mo for Maximum Speed, $4.99/mo for High Speed, $4.99 for a 7-day Pass, $9.99 for a 30-day Pass, and $113,99 for a 360-day Pass.

All paid subscriptions come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The premium service is expensive considering it’s not geared toward privacy at all (logging, ads, no kill switch).


Features

Psiphon offers a native client for Windows (XP and older), a mobile app for Android, and a browser for iOS devices. You can install the apps from the iTunes or Google Play, but if they are blocked in your region you can download the Android app directly from the provider’s website and side-load it.

iOS users are left without options if Psiphon is blocked in their regional iTunes, however. I’m not sure if there is a workaround for jailbroken devices, but since you can request the installer file by email from [email protected], you can inquire about that, too. Don’t count on a prompt reply since the support relies on automated replies.

For general inquiries and technical guides, you can check out the FAQs and user guides.

One question that kept nagging me was their server locations – something the company does not disclose. The app connects you automatically to the optimal server. Each time, you get a new IP. But I managed to get a glimpse of the locations available at the moment from the Logs section of the Windows Psiphon app.

Available regions include Czech Republic, Spain, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Romania, Italy, France, Canada, Germany, and the US. There are more countries that pop up in the logs at different times. The main point is Psiphon routes you through regions with a mild censorship climate.

The Windows app is neatly organized into six expandable tabs – logs, language (a wealth of options!), about (with links to the download page and FAQs), feedback, settings, and the main tab with the Connect/Disconnect button.

The Android app is similarly intuitive, but bundles an additional tab for stats that display the amount of sent and received data. Its options tab lets you choose whether to tunnel the whole device’s traffic through Psiphon, or just the browser embedded in the VPN app.

The Windows-based app’s settings are jam-packed with expandable toggles, but you’ll have no problem identifying what they stand for – each toggle expands into a brief explanation.

For instance, Transport Mode uses L2TP/IPSec without obfuscation; Upstream Proxy lets you specify a proxy to use; Local Proxy Ports lets you configure your local port numbers manually; Split Tunnel does not route the websites within your home country through the VPN, freeing more bandwidth for the websites outside your country that may be blocked. Also, you can disable timeouts for slow networks to minimize dropped connection issues.

The Android Psiphon app comes with an extensive settings tab, too. Besides simple things like playing sound notifications when the connection status changes, you can customize how Psiphon connects – through an HTTP proxy, as well as use custom settings for the host address, port, proxy authentication, and domain.

The browser embedded in Psiphon mobile app is downright spartan (for example, you can’t set it to request a desktop version of websites) but it works.
There is no DNS leak protection or a kill switch in either of Psiphon’s iterations, but the overall feature set is extensive for a free tool.


Tests

Since Psiphon clearly states its bandwidth is limited, my speed test results came as no surprise but were rather acceptable.

My initial speed was sluggish:

It didn’t come down to a crawl with Psiphon enabled, however. In fact, it even improved in a US connection:

While the Spanish connection was not affected at all:

Psiphon did not leak my DNS, even though it relies on Google DNS:

Likewise, it passed my WebRTC and IPv6 leak tests:

Psiphon is not apt for streaming simply because it’s geared toward a totally different thing, but it managed to stream HBO (with aggravating buffering times):

Alas, Psiphon didn’t get me through to Netflix or BBC iPlayer.


Privacy and Security

Psiphon is a Canada-based provider with roots in the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which occasionally gets its funding from entities like the US State Department and the European Parliament. On top of that, Canada is a part of the Five Eyes and Fourteen Eyes mass surveillance alliance.

Psiphon’s Privacy Policy re-iterates time and time again that it does not increase your online privacy or security. Since it serves you ads, there are beacons and cookies, advertising partners and Google Analytics involved.

The company logs and keeps your IP addresses, user agents, timestamps in the Amazon S3.
Amazon has access to these logs. Psiphon developers aggregate and analyze the data, and then delete it at some point.

Unfortunately, Psiphon also logs user browsing activity and discloses it to third parties:

So censorship circumvention comes at the cost of privacy. Should you risk and put yourself out there for the logging and aggregation? I think you shouldn’t because there are better options for most regions known to block the Internet freedom.

On the technical front, Psiphon is open-source, but SSH, HTTP Proxy or IP2Sec aren’t made for security or anonymity. If you suspect you might be targeted by surveillance agencies, do not rely on Psiphon to conceal your traffic.

Knowing how totalitarian regimes and international intelligence agencies monitor social networks (especially during crises), you shouldn’t rely on Psiphon to use social networks for communication or activism.


Final Thoughts

Psiphon is a censorship circumvention tool catering to millions of people in oppressive regimes. But the best thing you can do with it is read The Sunday Times. Don’t use it for privacy and security because it clearly states it offers none. Nor is it apt for streaming or gaming. There are better options for censorship circumvention.

Alex Grant