Cyberghost VPN Review
Thanks to a combination of offering lots of low price ‘special deals’, and having a genuine regard for users’ privacy, Romania based CyberGhost has become a big name in European VPN providers. Although it doesn’t make a big song and dance about it, the client also boasts a ton of potentially useful features, although as we shall see, these proved something of a let-down for us. Nevertheless, the fact that CyberGhost offers genuine privacy with decent connection speeds makes it a winner in our eyes.
Also noteworthy is CyberGhost’s free service, which we found so good that casual users may not need anything else.
CyberGhost offers a number of different pricing plans, including a free one. This translates (in $USD) to:
- Introductory offer: $14.00 yearly
- Premium: $6.99 monthly or $69.99 yearly
- Premium Plus: $10.99 monthly or $109.99 yearly (approx. $10 or $100 USD)
Free service features:
- It’s free!
- Access to a limited number of servers in 13 countries
- OpenVPN encryption
- No logs
Premium services add the following features
- Access to servers in 26 countries
- Up to five simultaneous devices (Premium Plus)
- Accepts Bitcoin
- P2P allowed
- L2TP/IPSec available for devices that do not support OpenVPN
The Premium services edge towards the pricier end of the spectrum, although the fact that P2P is permitted on many premium servers is a definite bonus. In an age when most of us use at least a desktop/laptop computer, a smart phone, and also likely also a tablet, we feel that Premium Plus is the most useful plan; although it should be noted that the introductory offer is ridiculously cheap!
This review will mainly concern itself with the paid-for service, but as CyberGhost’s free service is an important part of what it does, we will say a few words about it here.
The main limitations of the free service are:
- Waiting times to connect – apparently these last for at least 17 seconds, but certainly did not seem to us any greater
- Ads – CyberGhost shows free users an ad every 120 minutes – again, we found this to be a minimal distraction
- Forced disconnection – every three hours CyberGhost will kick you off its network, but there is nothing to stop users immediately logging back on again
- No P2P – almost certainly the biggest downside to using the free service, but a quite understandable one.
Although P2P is not allowed, and the service is probably too slow for streaming media content from abroad, CyberGhost’s free service is remarkably good, and is more than fast enough for users who just want to protect their connection or evade Accepts while surfing the internet. Color us relatively impressed.
CyberGhost is a ‘no logs’ VPN provider, as it explained to TorrentFreak,
‘We do not log, keep logs, protocol surfing behaviors or record content, visited websites or IP addresses of our users! Why? People in non-democratic countries are in real danger, just for expressing their opinions. If we implemented backdoors, deep packet inspections or store information about our users and share those with authorities regardless their origins, we would risk the lives of people. We will not do that! Ever!’
CyberGhost not only keeps no usage logs, but (almost) no connection logs,
‘CyberGhost VPN just records the log-in of an anonymous account for statistical purposes. We do this once a day (all other log-ins will be ignored) and sum up each daily log-in for one month. The daily log-in data will be deleted after 24 hours, the monthly sum at the end of each month.’
This sounds excellent, and the website backs up these claims with an example of how CyberGhost was unable to hand over logs to authorities in Germany when they demanded it do so. While there is no way to verify this story, it does seem CyberGhost has its heart in the right place.
CyberGhost is based in Romania, a country which very reluctantly and only with a great deal of resistance, accepted the now-defunct EU-wide Data Retention Directive, but as we understand it, this was never applied to VPN providers in Romania anyway (although the situation appears to be a little grey).
We also like the fact that CyberGhost regularly publishes a Transparency Report detailing the number of DMVA and police requests received, and the number of malicious activity events recorded.
CyberGhost uses strong 256-bit AES-CBC OpenVPN encryption, although the MD5 authentication is a somewhat weak, and we have no information on the (RSA) handshake encryption used, which does not leave us overly impressed.
On the other hand, CyberGhost now accepts payment in Bitcoin (which if used carefully allows for highly anonymous payment), and uses shared IP addresses to make identification of any web activity with an individual very difficult (as many users share the same address).
Custom OpenVPN apps are available for Windows, Mac OSX and Android. A custom app is also available for iOS devices, but it only configures the built-in L2TP/IP client (no custom iOS client we are aware supports OpenVPN, although the open source OpenVPN Connect app can be used to configure a device manually).
OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP settings are provided for a range of other devices, including Linux, and DD-WRT and Tomato routers.
The Windows client (OpenVPN)
The desktop client offers an impressive set of features:
- Pretty interface
- Anti Fingerprinting system
- Built-in content blocker
- Ability to add exceptions
- Can be used as an HTTP or SOCKS5 proxy
- DNS leak protection
- IPv6 leak protection (disables IPv6)
Browser fingerprinting is one of the sneakiest and hardest to avoid ways of tracking internet users, as they surf the web, so it is great to see CyberGhost trying to combat what is becoming a major threat to internet users’ privacy. When activated, we had to restart out browser in order for the necessary changes to our proxy settings to take effect.
To test it, we visited the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)’s Panoptoclick tool.
Another neat feature (at least in theory) is the ability to exclude certain websites from the VPN.
We were initially impressed by the number of features on offer, but disappointingly, many of them simply do not work! We also found connection times could be a very slow (over a minute), and missed having a VPN kill switch in case the connection drops when we are not around.
Obviously, any major VPN services who likes to take a stab at the competitive market has an app in their product portfolio. Cyberghost’s Android app works very well and looks good.
The front-end of the website is a slick looking affair but provides little in the way of concrete information, although a very smart server overview page is available.
The shiny new website is back-ended by an older, forum style Help and FAQ area that looks ugly and is not user-friendly, but does contain a surprising amount of useful information if it is actively searched for (although some of it is rather old).
As far as support goes, the main option seems to be through the Live Chat app on the web page, although no-one was ever online during the review period, and when we sent a couple of technical queries, we were warned that a response could take up to 72 hours. In practice though, support got back to us in around two hours, and seemed knowledgeable and helpful.
We also have to say that the payment process using PayPal was unnecessarily confusing and fiddly, with payment processing being handled by a separate company (Cleverbridge), and which required waiting around for half an hour before the payment could be processed.
We tested speed performance using the HTML5-based Testmy.net tests using its UK server on our 20MB/s UK connection. We used the CyberGhost Client’s ‘Automatic’ setting to set a specific simulated server IP.
These are perfectly decent speeds, although we did notice that it is important to choose a server with the fewest possible users online to get the best results.
CyberGhost gets the most important things right – it has a great attitude to privacy, lots of servers all over the place, and performance is good (as long as users take the time to find a good server). These facts easily outweigh any disappointment, we feel that some of the software’s theoretically funky features just don’t work. Oddly enough, for users unconcerned with P2P, CyberGhost’s biggest competitor is its own free service, which is so good that users may not feel a need to upgrade. Overall, though, highly recommended