VPN.AC is on the smaller side of VPN corporations, but I believe it is in the Goldilocks Zone of VPN providers. With servers strategically located across 16 countries, it provides plenty of nodes, but is small enough that you communicate directly with the engineers who deploy and maintain its network.
Packages and Pricing
VPN.ac offers a simple ‘all-in-one’ package for $9 per month (with discounts for block bookings), and although not as long as that offered by some companies, the 7 day ‘risk free’ money back guarantee is very welcome. There is also a trial account available for just $2 which is valid for one week, and which seems like a very good deal to us!
The package includes access to servers in 12 counties (in Europe, North America and one in Hong Kong), the choice between PPTP, L2TP/IPsec and OpenVPN (both TCP and UDP) VPN protocols, and ‘virtually unlimited’ traffic (i.e. there is a 1TB per month cap, which we think is entirely reasonable, and exceeds what even dedicated downloaders are ever likely to need).
P2P downloading is permitted in ever location but it’s recommended you use on of the optimised locations- NL, RO, SE, CH, LU, FR, SG, HK. Up to 3 devices can be used with the service at the same time (this is something we particularly like, as it is often neglected by VPN providers).
The website and technical support
The website design is understated, perhaps even to point of being boring, but is well laid out and provides pretty much all the information you need. The FAQ is better than usual, answering most things we wanted to know in some detail, the Blog section has some genuinely interesting articles, and the VPN Node Status, which displays server load information, is very welcome.
Customer service comes in the form of Live Chat (not always online), a ticket system, email or Skype chat. We contacted support using the ticket system, and received a detailed response within minutes, so top marks.
There is also a ‘Knowledgebase’ wiki section, but this is sparsely populated at the present time.
On the technical security side, they are pretty good too. OpenVPN encryption is 256-bit AES (with some technologies not implemented much elsewhere), L2TP/IPsec encryption is 256-bit. Now, until recently we would have been more than happy with this, but Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent to which theNSA has undermined and compromised VPN protocols means we would now prefer to see at least 256-bit OpenVPN encryption, and avoid L2TP/IPsec altogether.
However for most people’s needs, 128-bit OpenVPN and 256-bit L2TP/IPsec are probably more than enough, so we won’t make too big a song and dance over it. VPN.ac also makes up for it a great deal by using shared IP addresses. This means that multiple users are assigned the same IP address to access the internet from, making it very hard (and all but impossible if, as is claimed, no usage logs are kept) to correlate an individual with any online behaviour.
Signing up is easy enough, and you need only provide your real name if you pay using PayPal. We paid using Bitcoins, so just used a Mickey Mouse name and disposable email address. Alongside this they accept over 70 types of payments including many prepaid cards.
Confirmation emails will supply your account details and links to setup instructions.
The Windows client
VPN.ac uses generic open source software on all platforms. This means that that you get a more a much more ‘bare bones’ experience than you do with providers who have fancy custom clients featuring things like DNS leak protection, port forwarding and VPN kill switches. The upside however, is that this code is freely available for inspection, making it less likely to contain backdoors and suchlike, which can be more easily concealed in proprietary software. However they also supply their own software for Windows, Mac and Android if you want something easier to use.
1. Download and install the OpenVPN client.
2. Download the configuration files, and unzip them into the OpenVPN config folder. We chose the default UDP files, although individual profiles and archives can be downloaded from VPN.ac’s repository.
3. Start OpenVPN GUI (double-click icon on the Desktop), right-click it’s icon in notification bar, select the server you wish to connect to, and click ‘connect’.
4. Enter your username and password (VPN.ac will have sent you an email with them), and the icon will turn green to show that you are connected to the VPN.
VPN.ac provides detailed setup guides (plus in many cases video tutorials) for the various VPN configurations in Windows, OSX, Linux, Android and iOS. In all cases it makes use of the OS’s built-in VPN capabilities (PPTP and L2TP), or for OpenVPN, free and open source (FOSS) third party software.
Although no guide is provided for setting up DD-WRT routers, when we contacted technical support they provided detailed text instructions.
In their FAQ, VPN.ac states that it is working on a proprietary VPN client, so we look forward to having a look at it when it becomes available.
We put the VPN connection through its paces with speedtest.net using our 20 meg UK broadband connection.
With VPN to UK server. Note that we also tested the second UK server and got much more disappointing results, so it’s worth playing around. We decided to be generous and have gone with the more favourable result, but it is point worth bearing in mind
As you can see, the results are not fantastic, but are liveable with if you start with a reasonably fast connection. If you start with a slow connection however, this level of speed loss will likely be unacceptable.
VPN.ac does say that its service is optimised to use L2TP/IPsec for fastest performance, but as we do not consider the protocol to be secure anymore, we will confine ourselves to OpenVPN (L2TP/IPsec may still be secure if properly implemented, but it is so often poorly implemented that we can longer trust it).
We also checked for DNS leaks at DNSleaktest.com, and VPN.ac passed with flying colors
VPN.ac also provides a proxy plugin for people using the Chrome browser. The proxy allows just your internet traffic to be encrypted and the rest of your activities to be coming from your normal IP. The VPN.ac proxy allows you to browse using 5 different locations: US, UK, JP, DE and CA. Unlike the speeds of the VPN, the speed of the proxy was great and there was no issues with IP location. The DNS leaks were all over the place unfortunately but this didn’t impact on the performance of the system but it can have minor security implications.
- Based in Romania
- P2P downloading ok (from NL and Romania servers)
- Accepts Bitcoins
- Great customer support
- Uses shared IP’s
- Allows up to 3 simultaneous connections
- Good website
We weren’t so sure about
- No port forwarding (a problem if you need it, not if you don’t)
- Encryption is not as good as we would like in this NSA-ridden age
- Speedtest.net results were meh at best
- As a company, VPN.ac are an unknown quantity
- Nothing (depending on how you feel about the performance results)
However, VPN.ac does falter somewhat on the technical side of things. The use of shared IPs is excellent, but these days we really do prefer to see stronger encryption standards used. Although we can live with this, we are less sure about whether we can live with the speed hit the service caused to our connection speeds.
Nevertheless, we always think that a good attitude is more important than any technical issues, as technical issues can be resolved, but a bad attitude rarely so. VPN.ac seems to have a very good attitude, and if it can sort out the technical side of things, is shaping up to be an excellent VPN provider.