AirVPN Review

AirVPN was the top write-in choice on our VPN survey, and today we're pairing our own test results with your reader assessments.

Introduction

Based on open source software, AirVPN has a strong anti-censorship and pro-net neutrality stance and maintains security and anonymity as a top priority.

When we asked Tom’s Hardware readers to rate some of the top VPN choices, we weren’t expecting to see such a strong and positive response from AirVPN supporters. Although AirVPN did not receive the most ratings (PIA won with over 170 reader ratings), it was the top write in choice with 18 reader responses. The VPN service also had the most positive score with an average overall rating of 4.78 and no ratings below 4 stars, beating PIA at 4.39, TorGuard at 4.57, IPVanish at 4.45 and HMA at 4.07.

Overall, readers were most impressed with AirVPN’s reliability and speed, claiming solid connections and a good privacy and security policy. Several readers commented on the service's ease of use, proactive customer support and regular engagement with AirVPN’s community. Though many seemed to think AirPVN offers a good amount of servers and locations, one reader pointed out that most of the currently available servers are based in North America and Europe, with few or no options in Asia, Latin America and Australia. Also, a couple of responders commented on the lack of a DNS leak tool and poor documentation on how to fix DNS leaks.

Features & Specifications

Supported Encryption

OpenVPN4096-bit RSA keys size, AES-256-CBC Data Channel, 4096-bit Diffie-Hellman keys size, HMAC SHA1 Control Channel, TLS additional authorization layer key: 2048 bit.
Perfect Forward Secrecy through Diffie-Hellman key exchange DHE. After the initial key negotiation, re-keying is performed every 60 minutes (this value can be lowered unilaterally by the client).

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Interface & Setup

AirVPN offers an open-source client under the GPL license for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. After you log in to the app, you're given the choice to connect to a recommended random server in the Overview tab or select one from the Servers tab at the top of the application.

In the Servers tab, you can order the servers by Country, Score, Location (city), Latency, Load or Users, which makes it easy to select exactly the kind of server you want. Then you can double-click on one of them.

Next to the Servers tab, there's a Countries tab as well, where you can whitelist or blacklist certain countries. This can be useful, for instance, if you never want to (randomly) connect to a server in some of those countries. Most are from Europe, a few from Asia, and of course North America (U.S. and Canada). Right now, AirVPN doesn't seem to have servers in the Middle East, Central or South America.

There is also a Speed tab, where you can see a real-time graph of how much bandwidth you're getting at any given time, a Stats tab and a Logs tab, which shows what kind of actions AirVPN is taking in your PC.

In the top-left corner, when you click on the AirVPN name, you also get a menu with links that seem to open only in Internet Explorer, as well as a Preferences option, where you can further customize your connection settings.

One strong point in AirVPN's care for security is that, even though the recent LogJam paper said up to 66 percent of VPN services could be affected by the vulnerability, AirVPN said that it was never affected by this issue. The company has been using 2048-bit DH primes since its birth in 2010. Then it switched to 4096-bit primes in 2014. It also didn't use the same default primes millions of other sites and services used, which made them most vulnerable to LogJam. Therefore, AirVPN has always been safe against both of the security issues reported in the LogJam paper: using a default prime or one of a small size (under 2048-bit). AirVPN even uses a different 4096-bit for each of its servers.

Another recent paper exposed some security vulnerabilities that could allow DNS hijacking and IPv6 address-leaking by VPN services. AirVPN claimed it wasn't vulnerable to DNS hijacking because the vulnerability only affected an older version of OpenVPN (2.0.9), which the company had already stopped supporting. For those who want to avoid IPv6 address-leaking, the quickest way to do it with AirVPN is to "Activate Network Lock" with a single click. The Network Lock mode also blocks network connections that don't go through AirVPN's secure tunnel (whether you're connected to a server or not) to ensure no other data leaks. 

Although not directly related to its VPN service's security, AirVPN's website gets an A+ on Qualys' SSL Labs test, which once again shows the company's commitment to using best-in-class cryptographic protocols. Users would probably be less likely to trust a VPN service that doesn't even use HTTPS for its website, for instance, which is why care for such things matters. Plus, information that identifies users could also be gathered by attackers from those who visit an unencrypted or poorly encrypted VPN website, thus weakening the service's promise of privacy.

AirVPN offers a choice of 17 countries and more than 100 servers, which makes it easier to hide your IP and location. The VPN service also changes your DNS server to DNS servers from other countries so that the domain names you visit aren't resolved by your local ISP, which could help identify you. AirVPN supports the OpenNIC DNS servers, which are part of a project that aims to circumvent censorship and protect people's privacy. Additionally, AirVPN doesn't keep any logs of its users' traffic, so nobody can later hack into its servers or request the logs because the company doesn't have them in the first place. 

AirVPN has also taken a strong anti-censorship stance, especially when it comes to what the company considers abusive domain seizures from the past few years by the U.S. ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) division of the Department of Homeland Security. The VPN service allows all types of protocols, including P2P protocols. It also helps its users get around geo-location bans imposed by some Web services. The circumventing of geo-location restrictions is a major reason why many people use VPN services, so this comes as no surprise. If some ISPs try to disrupt the OpenVPN connections, users of AirVPN could connect over SSH or SSL, which means those ISPs won't be able to differentiate VPN traffic from regular browser traffic.

Test Results

SourcesTargets
Alblasserdam, NetherlandsAlblasserdam, Netherlands
London, UKLondon, UK
Phoenix, AZ (U.S. West Coast)London, UK
Miami, FLLondon, UK
London, UKHood River, OR (U.S. West Coast)
*London, UK*Miami, FL
*Phoenix, AZ (U.S. West Coast)*Hoover River, OR (U.S. West Coast)

*Source/target combos are comparable to the five other VPN services we've reviewed.

We connected to one of AirVPN's servers in its home town of Alblasserdam, Netherlands, and then pointed Speedtest.net to a location in Alblasserdam as well to test the maximum speed and minimum latency. Speedtest showed a 37.60 Mb/s download speed, a 33.47 Mb/s upload speed and a ping of 48ms, which was close enough to the one shown on AirVPNs Servers window of 45ms.

We then did a London-to-London test by choosing the usual TreudlerGroup's server. This resulted in a 25.50 Mb/s download speed, a 27.90 Mb/s upload speed and a 63ms ping, which was higher than the 50ms ping shown in AirVPN.

Selecting the Phoenix (U.S. West Coast) server in AirVPN and then the same London server on Speedtest.net resulted in a 4.42 Mb/s download speed, 8.67 Mb/s upload speed and a 362ms ping.

Choosing the Miami server in AirVPN with the same London target in Speedtest.net showed a download speed of 4.54 Mb/s, an upload speed of 9.91 Mb/s and a ping of 284ms.

When we reversed roles and went with the London location in the AirVPN client and then selected Hood River, Oregon (U.S. West Coast), the download and upload bandwidth, as well as the latency, improved greatly to 23.05 Mb/s, 18.28 Mb/s and 204ms, respectively. The numbers from London to Miami are even better at 28.88 Mb/s download speed, 35.28 Mb/s upload speed and only a 160ms ping.

Finally, with the AirVPN client connected to Phoenix and with the Hoover River, Oregon (U.S. West Coast) server selected on Speedtest.net, we can see a download speed of 6.20 Mb/s, an upload speed of 2.05 Mb/s and a ping of 257ms.

The reason the download and upload speeds are so much lower and the latency so much higher when testing the American servers is because the test was done within Europe. Therefore, the links to the U.S. show significantly worse throughput and latency compared with the tests done with European servers (for both AirVPN and Speedtest.net). Users in North American that connect to the U.S. AirVPN servers should see much better download/upload speeds and latency (similar to those seen within Europe). However, when connecting to a European AirVPN server before routing back the U.S., the speeds should decrease and the latency should increase because of the traveled distance.

AirVPN looks like a solid VPN service, especially if what you care most about is security and privacy. The latency between U.S. and Europe is not that great, so you probably shouldn't game competitively over the VPN service, but for browsing the Web or watching streaming video (which is usually buffered before it starts anyway), it should work quite well.

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Five-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: The client software works well with an easy installation. Speed doesn't suffer significantly if I let it choose a foreign node (for example, Canada from the U.S.). By default, the client chooses a connection in a country other than the one I connect from.

Cons: So far, nothing.

☁ Comments: Many locations to choose from and good speeds over VPN.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: AirVPN is easy to set up and use, and provides fast connections.

Cons: Its documentation on how to fix DNS leaks, which seem to be more of a problem with Windows than with AirVPN, is too light.

☁ Comments: Inexpensive, solid connections, and doesn't keep logs.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Port Forwarding / DDNS and Geolocation routing - In order to bypass discriminations based on IP address geo-location, they execute only strictly necessary double-hops to an additional server (for example to access BBC iPlayer even from non-UK servers).

Cons: Price is a little high.

☁ Comments: They go the extra mile by offering OpenVPN, are OpenVPN over SSH and OpenVPN over SSL.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Granular control of all VPN parameters with network locking feature (prevents leaks), port forwarding, based on OpenVPN, accepts BitCoin and very open and straightforward on the forum. Very good latency and speeds overall.

Cons: Servers are based mostly in North America and western Europe, very little in Asia and nothing in Latin America or Australia.

☁ Comments: They are serious about privacy and security.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: They absolutely keep no logs and do not comply with any requests for such. I have use them for years and can get 95% of my available bandwidth. Supports multiple clients. Cost is cheap. Privacy is paramount.

Cons: Absolutely nothing, honestly - This IS the best VPN service out there bar none - I guarantee it.

☁ Comments: Exceptional speed, reliability, cost, and security with a large selection of countries.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: No logs, fast speeds, improving networks over time (3 new servers were launched just 2 months ago), and admins that are true idealists about a free and open internet.

Cons: Like all VPNs, you suffer an Internet speed hit as all of your traffic is slowed. However, this is a gripe against VPNs in general not just AirVPN. Of the VPNs, AirVPN has the smallest impact on performance of the VPNs that I have tested.

☁ Comments: Easily my favorite VPN of all time.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Very secure, reliable and fast. Very engaged with its community. Follows well-formed best practices.

Cons: I have found nothing to complain about thus far.

☁ Comments: Very proactive and responsive service that operates from a properly paranoid perspective.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Strong encryption. Powerful options.

Cons: Somewhat expensive. Limited to three simultaneous connections (although up from one previously).

☁ Comments: Tons of servers. Great privacy. Can pay in btc.

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Four-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Easy to use with pro options for transparency and customization. 

Cons: Logs IP address during session.

☁ Comments: Solid service with good security policy.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Server in different country, possible to enable port forwarding (p2p, server app-friendly).

Cons: No DNS leak tool.

☁ Comments: Unlimited usage, fair price, accept Bitcoin.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: OpenVPN.

Cons: Sometimes patchy, but they run status updates if you care to look.

☁ Comments: Fast, lots of locations, best privacy of any I have found, allows torrents.

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Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering News.

Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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  • mamasan2000
    Did not see Astrill mentioned.

    Watch that video to get an idea of it's performance (it's very good).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9bhbEm7JAk

    That's what I'd go with. VPN always makes you loose bandwidth, the question is how much. Less the better.
  • getochkn
    On my PC, using the PIA client, I only go down less than 10mb. I get 100mb/s without VPN, 92mb/s with VPN. The problem is trying to get it running on a router, then the speeds drop down to 20-30mbs. Router CPU's just can't handle VPN's with full speed yet. Sucks because I rather my router is VPN'd, then everything that connects goes through that connection. Most VPN's don't give you like 30 accounts and when you have a ton of devices in your house, it sucks. Also things like chromecast, roku's, etc, can't connect to a VPN directly without using a router, then I loose 70mb/s.

    Someone needs to make a VPN router. lol.
  • Urzu1000
    I'm a little surprised to see this article. I just finished a free three-day trial of AirVPN last night.

    I've been testing out multiple VPNs over the past year, and I've gone from TorGuard to Private Internet Access, to IPVanish. All three of those were "Meh" in terms of the quality of their services.

    Then I tried AirVPN, and no pun intended, I was blown away. It had a proper client, lots and lots of transparency, stability, and best of all, speed.

    The other VPNs have been pretty inconsistent speed wise. IPVanish in particular was a bit odd. I did a speed test, and the speeds appeared amazing. However, in practice, I got much less than that on downloads. It could have been coincidence, considering how much that service lost connection, but it still seems a little shady.

    All in all though, I'm going to be purchasing a quarterly subscription to AirVPN later today.
  • JacFlasche
    Well Tom's suggestion that PIA was a good service was totally wrong if you are interested in actual P2P speed. As I said in my response to the other article my actual download speed is 15 times faster over iPredator than the damn PIA account I bought on your advice. Unless you do download tests with actual movie files, what does it matter what the speed is, if the service is downgrading or filtering P2P activity. I tried every connection on PIA and the best I could get on a popular movie over P2P was 23Kb compared to over 600 on iPredator.

    What do you think the average person uses VPN for? It sure as hell ain't playing games online.

    Do a real test with a download over P2P
  • Urzu1000
    Anonymous said:
    Well Tom's suggestion that PIA was a good service was totally wrong if you are interested in actual P2P speed. As I said in my response to the other article my actual download speed is 15 times faster over iPredator than the damn PIA account I bought on your advice. Unless you do download tests with actual movie files, what does it matter what the speed is, if the service is downgrading or filtering P2P activity. I tried every connection on PIA and the best I could get on a popular movie over P2P was 23Kb compared to over 600 on iPredator.

    What do you think the average person uses VPN for? It sure as hell ain't playing games online.

    Do a real test with a download over P2P


    I can confirm that P2P downloading is extremely fast with AirVPN. They don't throttle it. During my three day trial, I downloaded ~80GB of files via torrents. They weren't the most popular in the world, with only a handful of seeders each, but I got on average around 3-5 MB/s download speed, which leads me to believe they don't throttle it at all. I was lucky get get 800KB/s with the others.
  • getochkn
    Well I guess Tom's isn't interested in the movie torrent piracy aspect of VPN testing.
  • ToineF
    When you click on the AirVPN logo, it doesn't bring you to the right website I think... or is it just me?
  • paolob
    There is a critical mistake in the article, ToineF is right... when you click on the AirVPN logo or in the "Buy" icon you are directed to a totally different VPN web site which has nothing to do with AirVPN! The correct web site is airvpn.org
  • Fabrizio76
    In more than one week, the article author Lucian Armasu don't read any comment on his article? Unbelievable.
  • paolob
    Links have been fixed (Oct 7).
  • bastien_
    I'm a long time user of AirVPN (5+ years now) and really love them.

    They are extremely responsive and helpful when you need them, i contacted them 3/4 times since using the service and have received detailed answers fixing my issues within a few hours.

    I also really appreciate that they are operating with the healthy amount of paranoia you want to see in someone you trust with your privacy, and it seems to me that this is the #1 concern in everything they do.

    They listen to their users and opened a server in a country they didn't cover when a handful of users (me included) asked for a way to bypass geo blocking.

    With regard to the DNS leaks management comments in the article, i think they actually do a solid job. They operate ipleak.net, just go to the ipleak site at any time to see if you have DNS leaks or not. If you do it provides recommendations (for anyone, not just their users). And if you enable the network lock option which is front and center on the client, this should take care of it anyway.

    Also love the fact their client works on Android and iOS devices, it's great when traveling.
    Great service at the right price in my opinion.