Created by “hacktivists and activists”, AirVPN goes the extra mile when it comes to privacy enhancing features.
Based in Italy, AirVPN says that it all started at a Pirate festival in Rome as a project by:
“A very small group of activists, hacktivists, hackers in 2010, with the invaluable (and totally free) help of two fantastic lawyers and financing from a company interested in the project and operated by the very same people.”
Privacy is one of the main concerns of the AirVPN team. Needless to say that no logs are kept and shared IP addresses used.
I am using AirVPN personally for over three years now and it has become an asset throughout all my online activities. It employs excellent encryption and security measures, great privacy enhancing features, such as VPN over SSL and VPN through Tor.
AirVPN offers about 200 servers in 18 countries, at the time of writing, plus internal servers in 10 countries used for double-hop to avoid geolocation censorship.
The AirVPN client dubbed ‘Eddie’ is a OpenVPN wrapper and fully open source under GPL3 license. Eddie is currently available for Windows, Linux and macOS. In addition you can set AirVPN up with OpenVPN for iOS, Android or routers. Three simultaneous connections per account are allowed. The PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols are not supported, considered as being too insecure.
Let’s have a closer look:
Eddie is easy to use and protects against leaks as well. Just install it, login with your account credentials and click ‘Connect to a recommended server’. We advise to activate the network lock (kill switch) as well. The network lock shuts down all internet traffic if your VPN connection unexpectedly drops, leaving your privacy and anonymity intact.
Once you are connected, Eddie will show you the name of the connected server and your public exit IP, among other information. Please note the now closed padlock symbol in the top-right corner. On a side note, all AirVPN’s servers are named after stars.
Transparency is another feature that distinguish AirVPN from many of their competitors. Detailed server information, on latency, status, load and connected users gives you an indication which server to choose, if you for whatever reason prefer to opt-out of the dynamic server selection. Servers can also be blacklisted and whitelisted. AirVPN guarantees that every user has a minimum guaranteed allocated bandwidth of 4 Mbit/s download, and 4 Mbit/s upload.
The countries overview is showing the number of available servers in a particular country, as well as status, load and connected users. You can also select one or more countries and if you do, you will be only connected to servers in those countries. In our example we have marked U.S. servers and thus Eddie will connect us only to servers located in the U.S.
Let’s check out the preferences, or the inner workings of Eddie. In the general section you can, among other settings, decide if AirVPN should connect at startup and if the network lock should be activated at startup as well. I always leave both options activated, to make sure that AirVPN is up and running after a system restart.
The ports section is a significant feature of AirVPN! Here you can select the VPN through Tor option (simply called Tor), where you connect first to the Tor network and then to the VPN. Only a very few VPN providers, along with AirVPN, are offering this option. Paying for AirVPN with properly mixed bitcoins means AirVPN cannot know who you are, as it does not see your real IP address. VPN through Tor provides a the highest level of true anonymity. Unfortunately the VPN through Tor option is not working if the network lock is activated.
AirVPN also supports connecting to the internet through both SSL and SSH tunnelling. This wraps the OpenVPN encrypted data inside yet another layer of encryption (SSL or SSH), hiding the fact that VPN is being used from any deep-packet inspection attempts (i.e. hiding the fact that OpenVPN is being used at all).
It should be noted that both SSL and SSH tunnelling involve additional processing power, and their use is therefore likely to slow down your internet connection. Still very useful for evading censorship in places such as China and Iran.
Finally, AirVPN supports dynamic port forwarding on ports 80 TCP / UDP, 443 TCP / UDP and 53 TCP / UDP. Of these, forwarding on port TCP port 443 is probably the most useful, as this is the same port used by SSL traffic, and therefore makes OpenVPN traffic look like regular SSL traffic.
This is not as resilient to deep packet inspection as using an SSL tunnel, but will fool most systems, while being much easier to implement, and does not come with the performance overhead that comes with tunnelling.
There are more options to choose, as the use of proxies and network routing. We concentrated in our review on the main features. Please check the AirVPN website for reference on the other features.
AirVPN matches its outstanding privacy policies with some of the best encryption offered by any VPN provider: 256-bit AES-CBC encryption, with 4096-bit RSA key encryption.
We have contacted AirVPN’s support twice with some rather dull questions. One answer received was referring to a forum post, which exactly covered the question asked and the second reply was a rather very tech-heavy one. Nothing a VPN noob could understand, even with a lot of imagination and the help of Google. As tech writer Douglas Crawford once mentioned:
“All aspects of the service suffer from assuming that users have a PhD in arcane VPN configuration lore.”
But – both support requests were answered within a very few hours during European office hours. So job well done!
Other features worth to mention are that P2P is allowed and AirVPN’s DNS routing system: With more and more streaming services blocking users from bypassing their geo-restrictions by using VPN and other geo-spoofing technologies, AirVPN “double-hops” your connection through internal servers in order to bypass such censorship.
A few weeks back while preparing the IPVanish review, we’ve noticed a rather poor clearnet suitability: Google asking for almost all search requests to solve a captcha first and some websites rejected IPVanish traffic at all. Among them Craigslist and PHPJunkyard.
No such issues with AirVPN. We have performed at least a hundred Google searches in the last couple of days and we can connect to both, Craigslist and PHPJunkyard.
We could even perform a credit card via PayPal transaction, while on a AirVPN server far away from our usual location known to PayPal – and that means something!
On the downside we observed some speed issues, if connected to servers located outside Europe (we are located in Europe). Servers in the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden or Germany are pretty fast for us, but servers in the U.S., Canada, Australia or Hong Kong are not.
AirVPN is and remains the VPN of choice for privacy seekers and a perfect companion for Tor. The amount of features on offer are unmatched by any other VPN provider we know. Our only criticism are the mentioned speed issues, if connecting to servers outside of ones region and their highly technical focus both on their website and in support replies. However Eddie, AirVPN’s client is easy to use as described above. Download, open it, add your credentials and ready you are to go. AirVPN offers a free trial, requests must be submitted to the administrators via their contact form.
- Intuitive client software
- 256-bit AES-CBC encryption, with 4096-bit RSA key encryption
- VPN through Tor
- SSL and SSH tunnelling
- Port forwarding
- DNS leak protection
- Network Lock (Kill Switch)
- 3 simultaneous connections on multiple devices
- Based in Italy
- Support to tech-heavy
- Far-away servers might be slow
- Limited server locations