Alternative Choices for You
AirVPN only offers servers in 21 countries, and most of those are located in Europe (other than those in the US, Canada, and Hong Kong). Compared to its competitors, this is a little lackluster, and limits how useful this VPN will be for accessing international content.
The lack of servers also massively restricts the number of international users who can use AirVPN to gain privacy while still accessing locally geo-restricted services in their own country. Thus, if you do happen to live somewhere other than Europe or North America, you will need to look for a subscription elsewhere.
AirVPN only supports the OpenVPN protocol, which to our mind is a positive attribute of the service. The decision to avoid PPTP and L2TP/IPsec automatically forces users to gain better privacy and data security. Though, admittedly, AirVPN's lack of innovation (such as introducing WireGuard) could be taken as a sign that this VPN is not working to develop its platform in the same way as many of its competitors.
However, this is a relatively minor quibble because there is no doubt that the technical side of this service remains highly trustworthy. And, given that OpenVPN is available on all major platforms (except Blackberry and Windows Mobile) – this is unlikely to cause issues for the majority of users.
For those who own multiple devices, AirVPN permits up to five simultaneous connections – perfect for connecting your PC, phone, tablet, and a couple more devices at the same time. This makes it a great option for people living in a family household or for those who want to use their VPN while on public WiFi.
However, it is worth noting that although five simultaneous connections were the industry standard a few years ago; many VPNs now permit seven, ten, or even an unlimited number of connections. Check out our VPNs for multiple devices page for further discussion on this.
More and more streaming services are blocking users from bypassing geo-restrictions with a VPN and other geo-spoofing technologies. However, AirVPN’s has an advanced DNS routing system that “double-hops” your connection through two internal servers to get around these restrictions.
As a result, this is a great VPN for accessing US streaming services like Hulu. Even when connected to VPN servers outside of the US this VPN worked with Hulu or Netflix. However, during our tests, this VPN failed to work properly with BBC iPlayer even when connected to UK servers. Take a look at our VPNs for iPlayer page for a list of services that work with the streaming service.
VPN through Tor
Along with BolehVPN, AirVPN is the only service we know of that offers VPN through Tor; where you connect first to the Tor network and then to AirVPN.
When also using an anonymous payment method (for example properly mixed Bitcoins), this makes it much harder for AirVPN to know who you are, as it does not see your real IP address when you connect to its servers (though you are logged into the app, and it could potentially still know your IP address from the sign up phase if you did not conceal it at that time).
VPN through Tor affords high levels of anonymity, which is something not usually possible with a VPN. It is therefore usually regarded as the best way to combine the privacy benefits of VPN and Tor. With that said, AirVPN represents a fixed point in the chain – which might be compromised.
Finally, AirVPN also provides instructions for using the Tor browser to achieve secure Tor through VPN (which is much more secure than the “transparent bridge” Tor through VPN feature offered by some other providers).
Alternative ports, SSL and SSH tunneling
It is rare for VPNs to be blocked, but it happens in places such as China and Iran (although this is usually only partially effective). AirVPN allows you to counter such measures by running OpenVPN traffic over TCP port 443, which is the same port used by regular SSL traffic (the encryption standard used by the whole internet to make websites and internet services secure). This makes OpenVPN traffic look just like regular SSL traffic, which both hides it, and makes it very difficult to block (as doing so effectively breaks the internet!)
Port settings are easily changed in the client. In addition to TCP port 443, you can evade censorship by switching to a variety of ports that are unlikely to be blocked A very determined adversary, however, can perform sophisticated deep-packet inspection to discover that VPN encryption protocols are being used (and places such as China are not above breaking the internet for users!).
AirVPN’s answer to this is to allow users to wrap their OpenVPN encrypted data inside yet another layer of encryption (SSL or SSH). This should foil pretty much any method employed to detect the use of VPN (the NSA may be able to decrypt the old SSH protocol, so I recommend SSL tunneling if required). SSL and SSH tunneling makes this a great VPN in China and more than capable of defeating the Great Firewall of China, but it should be noted that both require additional processing power for the additional layer of encryption, which will slow down your internet connection. Remote port forwarding is also available for users who require up to 20 open ports for incoming connections, which is useful for self-hosted websites and games servers.
Speed and performance
At ProPrivacy.com, we test VPNs regularly as part of our rigorous testing methodology. This allows us to give you highly accurate and up-to-date speed test comparisons between all the world's leading VPN providers.
For consistency, we test VPNs using the OpenVPN UDP protocol. We test servers in the UK, USA, Hong Kong, and South Africa for download speed averages and burst (maximum) download speeds. Below, you can see the results of our tests.
|ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)||43.9||100||85.9|
As you can see, AirVPN is fast, and it performs in range with some of the world's fastest VPNs. The results reveal it to be much faster than the vast majority of consumer-facing VPN services, and while it is slower than some of our favorite service – it is without a doubt fast enough for streaming in HD, gaming, making video conferencing calls, and other data-intensive tasks.
Admittedly, the lack of international servers available with AirVPN may restrict some people's ability to connect to a server nearby (which will always result in better speeds). However, for most people in the US and Europe, this VPN is a superb option that will be more than fast enough.
IP, DNS and WebRTC leaks
Next, we tested for leaks using our reliable in-house leak test system. Even without the Network Lock feature enabled we encountered no DNS leak issue, and as noted previously, Eddie prevents IPv6 leaks and (if Network Lock is enabled) WebRTC leaks. It is also worth noting that during our use of AirVPN, we rarely suffer VPN dropouts – which to our mind increases the reliability of this privider
AirVPN charges €7 (approx. $8 USD) for a single month’s subscription, with the usual discounts available for lengthier subscription plans. The cheapest of which is €2.75 per month (approx. $3.23 USD) for a three-year subscription. A 3-day subscription is available for €2, which lets you trial the service for next to nothing if you want to.
In addition, those who pay for a subscription get 30-days to change their mind – as long as they haven't broken the terms of service or used more than 5 GB of data during that time.
All subscriptions provide full access to all of AirVPN’s features, which makes AirVPN a low-cost option as long as you are willing to subscribe for a longer period. Though, even a 1-year subscription, which costs $4.08 per month, cannot be considered costly.
AirVPN accepts payment via PayPal and an impressively wide range of payment processors, meaning that users in parts of the world, otherwise often discriminated against when making international payments, should encounter no problems when purchasing a subscription. It also accepts payment via not only Bitcoin but also via almost any other cryptocurrency you can think of.
Ease of use
AirVPN support mobile users with a VPN app for Android as well as an iOS VPN app too. AirVPN also a VPN for Mac, Linux, and Windows users. The Linux VPN client has a GUI, which is identical to the Windows and OSX versions.
Signing up for AirVPN is easy and painless, with the only personal information requested being a valid email address (AirVPN actively encourages users to deploy a disposable email address for this). Bitcoin payments are made via CoinBase, while other cryptocurrency payments are handled through CoinPayments. Once payment is made you will receive a welcome email containing some useful links. Unlike some providers, no account details are sent via plaintext email – you choose your login name and password during sign-up.
The AirVPN Windows VPN client
AirVPN calls its custom Windows VPN client (they also offer this VPN for Mac OSX Mavericks and Yosemite, and Linux) “Eddie”, and the first nothing to note it about is that Eddie is fully open source. This means that it can be independently audited to ensure nothing untoward is going on, and I wish that more VPN providers would open-source their software. Eddie features DNS leak protection, dynamic server selection, and lots of stats to help you decide on the best server to connect to.
Thanks to its real-time logs, it is even possible to keep an eye on exactly what Eddie is doing (if you have the knowledge to understand them!)
The lock to the top right of the app indicates that “Network Lock” is enabled. This creates a firewall that prevents any traffic from entering or exiting the computer outside the VPN tunnel to AirVPN’s servers. AirVPN offers good DNS leak protection even without Network Lock enabled (I have never encountered a DNS leak using the service), but Network Lock should ensure DNS leaks are impossible, while also acting as a kill-switch.
This setup should also prevent IP leaks due to the WebRTC “bug”, but on my system the Network Lock firewall conflicts with my regular firewall, preventing this feature from working. As this cannot be resolved without completely uninstalling my firewall (something I am not willing to do) I have been unable to check, but in theory this feature should work fine for most people. With that said, it is probably worth checking for WebRTC leaks on your own system to ensure that you do not need to plug them manually to shore your conenction up.
As with most VPNs, Eddie does not properly route IPv6 requests. Instead, it disables IPv6 to prevent DNS leaks (it is difficult to slam AirVPN too hard over this, as other than Mullvad and hide.me, no providers actually handle IPV6 requests yet).
The only real issue I have with Eddie is that it changes the Windows DNS settings. This is usually a good thing as it ensures all DNS requests are resolved by AirVPN’s servers, but if for any reason the client shuts down suddenly, I need to reset my DNS settings before I can connect to the internet again (Control Panel -> Network and Sharing Center -> Change adapter settings -> right-click connection -> Properties -> select Internet Protocol Version 4 -> Properties -> Preferred DNS server: 22.214.171.124). This is a fairly annoying bug that makes this VPN unsuitable for VPN beginners and non-techy users.
Eddie is one of the most fully featured VPN clients I have ever used. As with most things related to AirVPN, though, it has a techy focus, and uses terms that even an experienced VPN user such as myself sometimes needs to research in order to fully understand. This largely rules this VPN out for casual VPN users and beginners in need of something that is easy to use and straightforward.
Support is mainly provided via AirVPNs extensive forums. Unfortunately, the discussions tend towards the very techy, and it is not surprising that many users might find them highly intimidating (do you see a theme developing here?).
On the plus side, the forums provide a treasure-trove of VPN related knowledge, and the AirVPN team’s willingness to discuss intimate details of their operation (backed up by what is clearly strong technical knowledge) is a breath of fresh air in an industry where support often either only provides simple answers to complex questions – or even worse, does not seem to have a clue what it's talking about!
In addition to posting questions for the forums, users can email (ticket system) the AirVPN team directly. I have tried this in the past and found that it can take up to a day to receive a reply, but that the reply is invariably comprehensive.
On the other hand, you do not get live chat support on its website, which is one of the major drawbacks of this service for anybody who wants to be able to quickly ask questions 24/7. This is one of the major limitations of the service and is definitely something that massively restricts the value for money you get with a subscription.
Privacy and security
AirVPN uses very strong encryption. It almost goes without saying that AirVPN keeps no logs and uses shared IP addresses, and is one of the very few VPN providers to implement Perfect Forward Secrecy (without which OpenVPN should not be considered particularly secure). For this it uses 4096-bit Diffie-Hellman keys, which are refreshed every 60 minutes (or can be set to more often via the client). Thanks to this, AirVPN was always immune to the potential Logjam attacks exposed by researchers last year.
It was also immune to the recent "port fail" vulnerability that affected many VPN services, thanks to its use of separate entry and exit IP addresses on each VPN server. Furthermore, AirVPN is one of the very few VPN providers to protect users against the WebRTC bug (and as we shall see, DNS leak protection and a kill-switch are also provided courtesy of the desktop client).
As discussed above, AirVPN also offers various (optional) technologies that make using VPN extremely secure and private (and thanks to VPN through Tor, potentially even truly anonymous – especially given the wealth of anonymous payment methods that AirVPN accepts). In my view, in terms of both technical innovation and excellence, plus its attention to detail in protecting customers’ privacy, there is no other service out there that can touch AirVPN.
It is worth noting, however, that the language AirVPN uses to describe both the purpose of its technology, and how it should be set up, can best be described as terse and jargon-laden. Looking through AirVPN’s documentation, it soon becomes clear why mainstream users might run away!
Another potential issue is that AirVPN is based in Italy, a member of the Fourteen Eyes spying alliance that cooperates with the NSA and GCHQ. This is definitely not ideal, and Italy is also not very friendly when it comes to copyright piracy. On the other hand, though, even before the EU Data Retention Directive was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice on human rights grounds, Italian VPN providers were not required to keep any logs. AirVPN says if any such demands were ever made of it by any EU country it operates in, it would bring the case in front of the ECJ. AirVPN is happy for users to P2P download from any of its servers.
Describing what the myriad of AirVPN’s features can do serves to demonstrate the strengths of this service, but also why many users may struggle with it.
In terms of dedication to privacy, cool features, and technical know-how, AirVPN is impressive. However, it also clearly fails to engage with a wider audience due to its impenetrably tech-heavy focus.
Thus, while it does seem churlish to criticize a service for its meticulous attention to detail and for offering a slew of features rarely available elsewhere – there is no doubt that this VPN is less suited to beginners looking for something that is approachable.
With this in mind, it seems fair to say that AirVPN should probably be regarded as a niche service aimed at tech-heads and privacy junkies, rather than one suitable for a mainstream VPN audience.