CactusVPN Review

CactusVPN is a service that has a lot going for it, but due to suspiciously high speeds and weak security we recommend you pass on it. If, however, you're feeling adventurous, you do get good streaming performance and a nice UI, as you can read in our full CactusVPN review.

By Brian Murray
— Last Updated: 19 Feb'19
2017-07-27T08:25:55-08:00
Table of Contents Rating
Features
75%
Good
Pricing
80%
Good
Ease of Use
85%
Very Good
Speed
20%
Terrible
Security
60%
Fair
Privacy
50%
Poor
Streaming Performance
75%
Good
Server Locations
50%
Poor
Customer Service
85%
Very Good
User Reviews & Comments

Decent
Starts from $ 217 per month
Visit CactusVPN
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If you saw our previous CactusVPN review, you know we were impressed with the relatively young upstart. We noted that it had potential, but needed to grow before it was ready for our best VPN list. With that in mind, we decided to check on it again to see how it is doing.

Things have changed with CactusVPN, but not all of the changes are for the better. The customer service system is different, virtual private network protocols have been added and the server list is growing — though it is still far too small.

Our curiosity drove us to investigate whether the changes being made at CactusVPN were going to be enough to propel it to the top. Honestly, the answer is no, but there is still something there for certain users. Read on to find out if you’re one of them.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Competitively priced
  • Excellent speeds
  • Wide variety of VPN protocols
  • Helpful customer service

Weaknesses:

  • Only reaches geoblocked content via unprotected Smart DNS
  • Very limited server selection
  • Questionable privacy policy


Alternatives for CactusVPN

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top features

Features

75% - Good

CactusVPN is feature-rich in some areas, but lacking in others. Starting off with the positives, it offers a lot of VPN protocols, which we’ll discuss more when we address security. It also supports many platforms including macOS, Windows, iOS and Android.

CactusVPN also offers a smart DNS service that allows users to change their DNS to access websites that would otherwise be blocked. It uses a different approach than most providers, though, which we will address in greater detail shortly.

That brings us to the things that CactusVPN is lacking. It does not have split tunneling, which is a feature that’s surprisingly hard to find despite how useful it is. If you’re interested in split tunneling, take a look at our ExpressVPN review. ExpressVPN is one of the most feature-rich VPNs out there and we recommend it.

CactusVPN also lacks browser extensions, malware blocking and ad blocking. It sports the most important features that most consumers demand, and it works quite well. It’s missing a lot of the “nice to have” features, though.

CactusVPN Features Overview

Starts from$ 217per month

General

Payment methods
PayPal, Credit card, PayPro, Crypto currencies
Accepts cryptocurrency
Simultaneous connections
5
Supports split tunneling
Unlimited bandwidth
Free trial available
1
Refund period
30 days only if you cannot use the service for some reason
Worldwide server amount
23
Desktop OSes
Windows, MacOS
Mobile OSes
Android, iOS
Browser extensions
Can be installed on routers

Streaming

Can access Netflix US
Can access BBC iPlayer
Can access Hulu
Can access Amazon Prime Video

Security

Encryption types
Encrypted by default (varies by protocol and not configurable)
VPN protocols available
OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, SoftEther
Enabled at device startup
Allows torrenting
No-logging policy
Passed DNS leak test
Killswitch available
Malware/ad blocker included

Support

Live Chat
Email support
24/7
Phone support
User forum
Knowledgebase

Pricing

80% - Good

CactusVPN is competitively priced and offers several plans. All of the plans come with up to five simultaneous connections and unlimited bandwidth. The plan most people will be interested in — VPN with Smart DNS — is $6.99 a month.

It also offers quarterly and annual plans, which are cheaper on a per-month basis the longer you go. The pricing for these time frames is good, but CactusVPN does not provide users with the option to sign up for two or even three years at a time like some companies do.

If you plan to use your VPN for three years or more, take a look at our NordVPN review. NordVPN offers a three year plan for just over $100, which is a better value than paying $54.99 a year for CactusVPN.

U.S. VPN
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
6-months plan $ 2.17 / month
$12.99 billed every 6 month
Save 57 %
1-year plan $ 3.25 / month
$38.99 billed every year
Save 35 %
UK VPN
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
6-months plan $ 2.17 / month
$12.99 billed every 6 month
Save 57 %
1-year plan $ 3.25 / month
$38.99 billed every year
Save 35 %
Smart DNS Only
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
6-months plan $ 2.17 / month
$12.99 billed every 6 month
Save 57 %
1-year plan $ 3.25 / month
$38.99 billed every year
Save 35 %
VPN + Smart DNS
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
6-months plan $ 3.00 / month
$17.99 billed every 6 month
Save 57 %
1-year plan $ 4.58 / month
$54.99 billed every year
Save 34 %

CactusVPN also offers Smart DNS as a standalone product, as well as U.S.-only and UK-only plans. Those VPN plans let you use the servers in the respective countries, and only those servers. Though cheaper, the use case for that seems narrow.

All of CactusVPN’s plans allow you to connect up to five devices at once, which is sufficient for most people. If you want your family to get VPN protection or have tons of devices, though, consider checking out our CyberGhost review after reading this one. CyberGhost offers up to seven simultaneous connections, which is hard to beat.

CactusVPN accepts many forms of payment, including credit cards and PayPal. It also allows customers to pay with cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, Ethereum and a handful of others.

It has a 30-day refund policy, but there are caveats. The refund policy does not allow you to get a refund for simply being unhappy with the service. It explicitly says there must be something preventing you from using the service in order to get a refund.

 

Ease of Use

85% - Very Good

The CactusVPN website is well-designed and makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. In the middle of the screen is a “start now” button that takes you where you can select a plan, but if you scroll down, you will see the “try VPN for free” and “try Smart DNS for free” options.

Selecting either of the “try for free” options will send you to a form that only requires your email to set up. From there, you’ll receive an email that lets you set your password and offers links on how to set everything up.

Setup is easy. Simply download the client, install it and log in. Once logged in, you’ll see that the interface is rather plain, but in a good way. The layout makes the most important things easy to find and leaves out potential clutter. The choice of dark colors is also nice because it helps the client stand out against other windows behind it and reduces eye strain.

There are four tabs at the top: VPN service, Smart DNS, settings and app killer. In the VPN tab, you’ll find a drop-down menu that lets you select from a list of cities, a button to its right that allows you to sort the cities by speed and a connect button. Below the connect button is a line of text that tells you whether you are protected.

CactusVPN Smart DNS

The Smart DNS tab has a single button that reads, “enable Smart DNS.” Below that is a short line of text that indicates whether the Smart DNS is enabled. That is an improvement over the previous version of the client, where you had to login for the VPN and Smart DNS separately.

Under settings, you’ll find some run-of-the-mill options that you can configure. What is great about the design of the client’s settings window is how clearly worded each option is. Some of the toggle switches have labels that are more verbose than your average client, which helps make it clear what each thing does.

The app killer lets you construct a list of programs that you want to be terminated if the VPN connection drops.

There is a small icon in the top left that appears to be a first aid kit. It connects you to support, which we’ll talk more about later.

What’s also nice about the client is that the Cactus icon in your system tray lets you know whether you are tunneling through the VPN. If you are connected to the VPN, the cactus is a nice, natural green. If you’re not, it is gray.

Speed

20% - Terrible

As always, we tested CactusVPN over a few locations after gauging our unprotected speed. A quick look at the speed chart suggests that it is easily the fastest VPN around, but our score, and us, would have to disagree. Cactus didn’t work with OpenVPN and, because of that, there was little to no encryption on our connection to affect speed.

Location:Ping (ms)Download (Mbps)Upload (Mbps)
Unprotected (Virginia, United States)1572.146.01
Tokyo16169.163.78
London8571.214.48
Chicago4271.195.9

We tested the VPN with several protocols in cities around the world. The performance from protocol to protocol seemed consistent at first, but we hit a snag when we tried to use OpenVPN. While trying to use OpenVPN, we could not connect to any city.

Every other protocol performed admirably, though, which is not surprising given the nature of the subpar protocols we were able to use. It was able to make the connection in about four seconds on average, which is good, and it was responsive. The browsing experience was so unaffected by the VPN that it was hardly noticeable.

Ping time increased based on our distance from where we were tunneling to, but not too much. You might not want to play competitive first-person shooter games while using the VPN, but it was no problem for work, browsing or streaming. If you’re looking for a low ping VPN, read our best VPN for gaming roundup.

CactusVPN Download Speeds

Download speeds were practically unaffected, even at great distances, while upload performance took a hit. When connecting to Tokyo, which is about 6,800 miles from us, we lost almost half of our upload speed. This is pretty impressive.

Before ranking it amongst the fastest VPN providers, however, we do worry about the slightly too good performance of CactusVPN. Considering that OpenVPN simply does not work, we’re a bit worried about the level of encryption present. We would associate the speed drops we experience with unencrypted proxies rather than secure VPN tunnels.

As it’s difficult to test for the level of encryption present, the above will have to remain suspicions, but we do have some doubts stemming from the above results. While capable of quick speed with subpar protocols, this section can simply be summed up as “not applicable” as there’s no basis for comparison.  

Security

60% - Fair

When it comes to security, CactusVPN is simply not good. It does not allow you to choose the level of encryption for your connection, and we’re not sure if it even is encrypted, judging by the speed results, above. The type of encryption depends on which protocol you use, but for the most part is 128-bit AES.

As for protocols, it offers a stunning selection. That lets you tailor your VPN to your needs in regards to weighing security versus speed or any other aspect. The downside is that we couldn’t get OpenVPN, which is arguably the most secure protocol, to work during our testing.

The client has several security features that can enhance the level of protection the VPN offers. The settings let you configure it to run on start-up or to stop internet traffic if the connection to the VPN is lost. Those are essential for security.

There is also DNS leak protection which we tested with this DNS leak test and was proven to work. The app killer is also nice to have. It allows you to set up a list of programs to kill if your VPN connection is lost.

Privacy

50% - Poor

CactusVPN says several times on its website that it has a no-logging policy. It says no data is stored regarding your activity while using the VPN, including IP address, traffic logs, timestamps, bandwidth used and the like. It claims there is no monitoring or recording.

That said, there are sections in the privacy policy that paint a different picture. For starters, it says it could “share some non-personal data to optimize the usability and promotion of our services and website with services like Google Analytics or Facebook.”

You will also find a section where CactusVPN reserves the right to collect data and use personal data when it is necessary to protect itself from legal fault. There are other clauses where it says it will disclose “any information about you” to law enforcement and government officials.

Clauses littered throughout the privacy policy could be highly concerning to potential customers and, in some cases, even seem to go against the repeated claims of no logging. If you want a VPN that offers exceptional privacy and security, take a look at our Private Internet Access review.

Streaming Performance

75% - Good

When we tested the streaming performance of CactusVPN, we encountered an interesting situation. On the website, there is a list of over 230 geoblocked websites that the VPN allows you to access. When we booted up the client and connected to the VPN through the London server, though, it didn’t work with BBC iPlayer.

We contacted support, which was a good experience that we’ll address in a moment, and were told that the Smart DNS was responsible for allowing access to geoblocked websites. We set up the Smart DNS, which required configuration, including turning off IPv6, and got into BBC iPlayer, U.S. Netflix and other typically geoblocked websites.

Unfortunately, you can’t run the Smart DNS and VPN at the same time in the CactusVPN client. You are limited to one or the other. That means you can reach and use geoblocked websites with the Smart DNS service, but your connection will not be secure. Smart DNS does not tunnel you through to a local server, encrypt your connection or improve security.

The upside to the setup is that the resolution and speed of your streaming experience will be unaffected. The delay and sluggishness you could see streaming something with a VPN will not be present because you are using your normal internet connection rather than bouncing your connection around the globe.

Netflix and the BBC iPlayer were snappy and defaulted to the highest resolution. During the hour or so of our testing, there was no buffering and no resolution drops. Everything performed well, but not using a VPN makes it easy to get caught (among the other dangers).

If you are looking for a way to beat the Netflix VPN ban then we suggest checking out our best VPN for Netflix guide. Alternatively, if BBC content is what you’re after, we have an article covering the best VPN for BBC iPlayer. We suggest looking into them instead of using an unprotected Smart DNS.

Server Locations

50% - Poor

Last time we looked at CactusVPN, it only had 20 servers. That is an anemic quantity of servers. Many VPN providers have more in a single U.S. city.

Since then, it has upped its game, but not in any meaningful way. It now has a whopping total of 23 servers worldwide. In one way, that is a good thing because it shows improvement. Twenty-three is not impressive by any measure, though.

The locations of the servers are predictable and include four US cities, four servers in London, and a total of 17 total locations elsewhere. It has cities in Asia, Europe and the U.S. covered, but there are no servers in Africa or South America.

Despite the low number of servers, CactusVPN offers strong performance, as we saw in our speed tests. That said, if it experiences rapid growth in user base and cannot upgrade its infrastructure quickly, it’s likely speeds will suffer.

Customer Service

85% - Very Good

As we mentioned, we had to contact customer support to ask how we could get geoblocked websites to work. We said we were a normal customer who was using the free trial to test the service and wanted to use BBC iPlayer. Our question was answered within a minute and we were given a five-day free trial of the Smart DNS service.

The response time and willingness to help was impressive. We asked a few more questions regarding the client, as well, and got good answers, all within a minute of asking.

The knowledgebase is also good, with a thorough FAQ and several clearly written how-to guides. That said, there is no phone line and when our last review was written there was an on-site live chat feature that is no longer present.

The Verdict

Our conclusion is similar to the one we came to last time with CactusVPN. There is plenty to like about it. The customer service is excellent, the client is reliable and easy to use and the number of protocols and other features is great. The pricing is competitive and the VPN is fast, but it cannot run OpenVPN, which is arguably the best protocol for most people.

That said, CactusVPN needs to grow some more before it is ready to compete with the likes of ExpressVPN and NordVPN. The privacy policy is enough to make almost anyone feel uneasy and the number of servers is unacceptable.

Only time will tell whether CactusVPN will grow to become a titan of the VPN industry. The potential is there, but it has a long way to go.

If you have experience with CactusVPN, let us know how it went in the comments below. If you’re looking for something better, we’re sure you’ll find the perfect VPN for you in our VPN reviews. Thanks for reading.

CactusVPN Review

A suspiciously fast service with weak security.

CactusVPN is a service that has a lot going for it, but due to suspiciously high speeds and weak security we recommend you pass on it. If, however, you're feeling adventurous, you do get good streaming performance and a nice UI, as you can read in our full CactusVPN review.
Starts from$ 217per month
Visit CactusVPN
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