VPNGate Review

VPNGate is a VPN network developed by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. It is a volunteer run VPN network that was designed in order to research the potential for “a good distributed VPN system.”

VPNGate costs nothing to use, and it allows you to connect using either the SoftEther VPN protocol, or more conventional VPN protocols. While it is generally considered safe to use for non critical projects, questions do surround the use of volunteer exit nodes for privacy purposes.

On the other hand, this is a superb resource for anybody living in a location that suffers from hard core government censorship, because it can allow them to escape those online restrictions without needing to pay for a VPN connection.

Our Score
3 / 5
Free option
Available
Simultaneous connections
1
Server Locations
11 countries
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)
1 Mbps
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Features

Users can freely connect to any of thousands of servers run by volunteers around the world. As I write this, there are 13,781 registered public VPN relay servers, of which 95 are online. This number will vary somewhat from day-to-day, but there will always be lots of them to choose from.

server list

Servers are located primarily in Japan, with a few servers in Korea, the USA, and the UK. However, from our experience you do not get a wide selection of server locations to pick from (as you do with a paid VPN service). This does somewhat limit your options with geo-spoofing. A full and up-to-date server list is always available.

The SoftEther server software used by VPNGate VPN relay servers can accept connections using the SoftEther VPN protocol (see below), OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP, and more.

In practice, SoftEther and OpenVPN are the best-supported VPN protocols.

SoftEther

SoftEther is a free and open-source alternative VPN platform. The SoftEther VPN protocol is also referred to as SSL-VPN. This is because it is based on HTTPS and therefore uses SSL/TLS encryption and TCP port 443.

This makes SoftEther VPN traffic all but indistinguishable from regular secure HTTPS traffic. Thus it is very difficult for firewalls to block. The SoftEther SSL-VPN protocol is therefore great for overcoming various forms of VPN blocks.

SoftEther

In addition to using its own VPN protocol, SoftEther VPN Server software accepts connections using a variety of other VPN protocols. This allows connections to be made by people on a variety of Operating Systems, including Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD and Solaris. As well as Android and iOS devices using a supported protocol. Its developers claim that SoftEther is faster than OpenVPN.

Visit VPNGate  

Speed and performance

Each VPNGate server is privately run by a volunteer, which means that you should not expect performance consistency across those servers. In addition, the geographic distance between you and a chosen server will affect the performance of the VPN. 

For this reason, the results published in this review should be viewed as a rough indication of the kinds of speeds you might expect when using VPNGate. Servers were chosen at random, based on location and advertised performance metrics. However, it is worth noting that I was unable to connect to roughly half of the servers that I attempted to use.

The servers I tested were:

  • Japan (Line speed 207.7 Mbps, Ping 21,21)
  • United States (Line speed 32.7, Mbps Ping 11,11)
  • UK (Line speed 16.1, Mbps Ping -,-)

Download speedsUpload speeds

The graphs above show the highest, lowest and average speeds for each server and location. Those speeds were acquired by using the online speed testing tool testmy.net, because (due to the fact that the volunteer nodes are constantly changing) we cannot consistently test VPNGate server locations using our usual server-based system (which we use to test premium VPN services).

The results we encountered using this free VPN do not compare favorably with any top-tier commercial VPN services. In fact, during our tests, we found VPNGate servers to be considerably slower than the Tor Network (which is notoriously slow). Download speeds were often down to a just a few Kbps, which definitely rules VPNGate out for streaming, for example.

It should be noted, that the fastest servers are located in East Asia. So if you are geographically closer to places such as Japan and South Korea, you may encounter better performance than us.

IP Leak Tests

I tested VPNGate for IP and DNS leaks using a fresh install of Windows on a virtual machine. During those tests I detected no IPv4 DNS leaks or WebRTC leaks while using SoftEther VPN.

Please note that my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6, so I could not test for IPv6 leaks. This may mean that anybody with an IPv6 connection needs to revert back to IPV4 manually to prevent any leaking. So please test the connection yourself using our VPN leak testing tool if your ISP is providing IPv6 connections.

If connecting via OpenVPN, you can download .ovpn files that specify a suitable DNS server in order to prevent DNS leaks.

US Netflix did not block me when using the US server I tested, but the connection speed was so poor that video playback was impossible in practice. If you can find a US server that is fast enough to stream video content, then you will probably be able to do so using VPNGate. However, it seems unlikely that you will find a volunteer node providing the necessary speeds from our experience. 

Price

VPNGate will NEVER be a paying service in future.

Much like the Tor Network, volunteers run all VPNGate servers. As a result, VPNGate is completely free to use. This is what the VPNGate website says about why it is free:

The Japanese Telecommunication Law requires any 'paying network service' to be registered to the government, and to comply with the order of the minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. Thus if VPNGate becomes a paying service we will be interfered with by Japanese Government. To avoid it, we don't want to be a paying service. The factor that VPNGate consists of a lot of volunteers around the world should make the situation more difficult to become a paying service.

As you can see, there are multiple reasons for VPNGate to remain free, which means that this is unlikely to change at any time in the future.

Visit VPNGate

Ease of use

Signing Up

No sign-up or personal details are required. Available servers are listed on the VPN Servers List page. Each server provides a guide and any relevant configuration files necessary to connect using the protocols supported by that specific server location.

Server stats

The server list shows a summary of stats, such as throughput server ping time, to help you chose a server that is suitable for you.

The Windows SoftEther VPN Client

The easiest way to use VPNGate is to download and install a special version of the SoftEther VPN Client. This has the "VPNGate Client Plug-in" pre-configured – which allows you to connect to VPNGate servers using the SoftEther VPN protocol.

Client manager

Once installed, simply select “VPNGate Public VPN Relay Servers”…

Public VPN relay servers

And you are presented with a list of servers! Various stats are available, and servers can be sorted depending on your priorities. 

Connection status

Once you have decided, just double-click on a server entry to connect to it

Recent servers

When running, many of SoftEther VPN’s key functions can be accessed by right-clicking its notification icon

One issue I noticed is that when I disconnected from a VPN server, my DNS settings did not revert to their previous defaults. For this reason, I had to reset them manually each time in order to access the internet as usual – which is a bit of a pain in practice.

The website

VPNGate is a side-project SoftEther VPN, developed by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. It therefore not surprising that the website (and related SoftEther VPN website) is stuffed full of useful technical information. After all, the guys at Tsukuba University are very keen to show off their technology!

The information is well organized, and key concepts are well explained. Infographics and screenshots are generously used to illustrate points made.

Although the English used occasionally falters a little, I never had any problem understanding what was being said.

Support

VPNGate is not a commercial service. So there is no support team on call to assist you if you run into problems. There is, however, a VPNGate User Forum where you can post questions.

This is quite active, and most sensible (non-spam) questions seem to get a reply. Please remember, however, that all assistance is voluntary on the part of forum members.

Privacy and security

Privacy

The most important thing to understand about VPNGate is that it is run by volunteers. This means anyone can volunteer to operate a VPNGate server. And any volunteer can therefore spy on your internet activity (unless it is hidden by HTTPS). This rules out this VPN for privacy purposes, because it is impossible to ascertain whether your traffic is being subjected to a honeypot.

On the VPN Servers List page, each entry clearly states that particular server’s logging policy. At the time of writing, all available servers appear to be logging connection and usage data for two weeks. 

Logging policy

Unfortunately,  there is no way to guarantee that this logging policy is followed, and it is entirely possible that some servers are collecting data – either for their own use – or for the purposes of creating a revenue stream by selling data on to a third party.

In addition to this, as part of its anti-abuse policy, the University of Tsukuba keeps connection logs (not usage logs) for “three or more months.” These logs include:

  • Date and time
  • ID, IP address and hostname of destination VPN server
  • Type of action (connect or disconnect)
  • Raw IP address and hostname of the source VPN client computer
  • Type of VPN protocols (SSL-VPN, L2TP, OpenVPN or SSTP)
  • VPN client software-name, version and ID (if available)
  • Number of packets and bytes during a VPN connection, and debug information of communication errors

This information is automatically transmitted to the University’s logging server by each individual VPNGate server.

“Analyzing VPN Connection Log is helpful to investigate the source global IP address of him. We will disclosure the VPN Connection Logs to a policeman, a prosecutor, a lawyer or a court who is authorized by applicable laws.

As a result, VPNGate is not suitable for anybody seeking privacy (let alone “anonymity!). If you want privacy, you must stick to a reliable and trustworthy commercial no-logs VPN service.

To gain online anonymity, we generally recommend using a Tor VPN service (and Tor). In fairness, privacy is not what VPNGate is for. It should instead be seen as an anti-censorship tool (and anti-public WiFi hacking tool).

Technical security

OpenVPN
L2TP/IPsec

SoftEtherVPN accepts a variety of encryption options.

Encryption methods

Each VPNGate server operator is free to choose which encryption options to use on their server.

Encryption selector

Up to a 256-bit AES cipher with RSA 4096-bit key encryption, SHA-1 HMAC hash authentication with Perfect Forward Secrecy (various Diffie Hellman groups) is supported.

It is difficult to tell, however, what encryption each server uses in practice. For what it’s worth, I downloaded and inspected a number of OpenVPN config files from random VPNGate servers. In all cases, AES-128 with SHA-1 HMAC hash authentication was used.

In theory, then, VPNGate servers can use very strong encryption. However, in practice it is safest to assume that they don’t. Given that VPNGate is not really about privacy, anyway, this is unlikely to be a major problem for most users. On the other hand, it is worth always remembering that the encryption you get while using VPNGate could potentially be vulnerable to attack.

Mirrors

One of the best uses of VPNGate is as an anti-censorship tool. Because some governments’ firewalls (such as those in China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria) block access to the VPNGate website, a number of mirror sites are available (see also here).

China in particular regularly blocks the IP addresses of known VPNGate servers. Apparently, any server that has been online for more than a few hours or so will likely be blocked. Users in China are therefore advised to sign up for daily email notices containing the mirror URL list (using an international email service).

Mirror servers

Torrenting

Whether P2P torrent downloading is permissible seems something of a gray area (judging from the website’s forums). The system allows it, but tech-savvy node operators can block it using third party software. 

Torrenting using servers where P2P downloading is illegal could get the operators in trouble, and therefore seems very rude. And the operators would likely pass on offending IP addresses to copyright enforcement bodies if served DMCA or similar notices.

Downloading using servers in countries where it is legal to do so may be fine, but we generally recommend not doing so due to the potential dangers involved both for users and server providers.

Final thoughts

As a free, volunteer-run, anti-censorship tool, VPNGate is easy to recommend. And, if you do need the use of a VPN to access content that has been censored, we definitely recommend giving it a try. 

Unfortunately, in practice, we found VPNGate far too slow to be worth using for anything other than accessing news content. Thus, if you have more data-hungry needs, we recommend sticking to a paid VPN service that can provide the kinds of secure and fact connections necessary.

Visit VPNGate

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Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

15 Comments

Austin Wong
on November 1, 2017
Reply
VPN Gate is not safe at all. Once I used it to play Minecraft and my account got stolen in the same day.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Austin Wong
on November 2, 2017
Reply
Hi Austin, As I explain this review, VPN Gate is a volunteer-run VPN network. This means anyone can volunteer to operate a VPN Gate server. And any volunteer can therefore spy on your internet activity (unless it is hidden by HTTPS).
Born Just in Time to Browse Dank Memes
on July 22, 2017
Reply
I don't think this review is fair in saying it's painfully slow. I sorted the list by ping, and picked the best one (which was hosted by the actual website itself, I believe.) and tried an online game using it. The free trial of Tunnelbear wouldn't let me connect to the game, so I didn't expect this to work either. It'd time out during the initial "connecting" phase. And even though I expected my US (me) to South Korea (VPN) back to US (game servers) route to go super slow, the worst I experienced was a 1/2 second to 1 second delay before an action (such as going through doors or interacting with things). Even loading web pages was LIGHTNING fast compared to Tor. And I didn't experience any problems after I disconnected and went about my normal business.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Born Just in Time to Browse Dank Memes
on July 24, 2017
Reply
Hi Born Just in Time to Browse Dank Memes, Its not a matter of being fair or unfair. I ran speed tests, and those are results I got. In the review I freely admit that being based in the UK (which is far away from most VPN Gate servers as its possibly to get!) might be big factor. But I can only report as I find. I am glad you get better results in the US, but for me, Tor is much faster.
guider nhatelo
on July 18, 2017
Reply
i am from mozambique i would like to if can i use this service and not pay my local network or any contract is it free also for peoplo who are in mozambique
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to guider nhatelo
on July 19, 2017
Reply
Hi guider, VPN Gate should be available in Mozambique, although I imagine it would be very slow there (I found it all but unusable where in the UK!). More importantly, I fear you misunderstand the technology. A VPN will hide what you get up to on the internet from your ISP (your local internet provider), but it won't allow you to have free internet access. You still need an ISP in order to connect to the internet, and that ISP will always know how much data you use (even if it can't see what it is).
Max
on April 10, 2017
Reply
How about a write-up on the best free vpn services?
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Max
on April 11, 2017
Reply
Hi Max, For reasons such as this and this, ProPrivacy advises against using free VPN services. Legitimate free services do exist, but they are invariably very limited, as they invariably exist to promote their Premium plans (after all, a VPN must pay for itself somehow!). We do however, have a 5 Best Free VPNs list.
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