Psiphon is a free, open-source, Canadian-born VPN that started as a project to bypass censorship in 2008 at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Today, Psiphon has grown to become an independent corporation offering VPN and proxy services among digital civil rights groups such as Access Now.

It is “a circumvention tool that utilizes VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy technology, to provide you with uncensored access to internet content.” It uses L2TP/IPsec for VPN tunneling and provides extra data security using AES 256-bit encryption.

Psiphon has a VPN mode and proxy mode and works on Android, macOS, iOS, and Windows.

I tested its speeds, streaming, torrenting abilities, security, ease of use, and customer support.

I found that while Psiphon is easy to use, it is considerably slower and less private than most of the other VPNs we have reviewed in the past. It logs user data, which may be a red flag for a VPN from a 5 Eyes Alliance country.

Although Psiphon unblocked BBC iPlayer, it couldn’t unblock Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney+.

Psiphon has different pricing options for its apps. It also offers a 7-day free trial, so you can test it out before committing to a subscription plan.

Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings

 

Psiphon VPN Features — 2023 Update

💸 Price2.99 USD/week
📆 Money Back Guarantee2 Days
📝 Does VPN keep logs?No
🖥 Number of servers1000+
💻 Number of devices per license1
🛡 Kill switchNo
🗺 Based in countryCanada

Streaming — Generally Poor With Lots of Buffering

I tested Psiphon on both VPN mode and proxy mode. All tests in VPN mode defaulted to a New York server. I selected the server country at random while testing on the proxy mode.

Psiphon only unblocked 1 streaming platform. I found server speeds generally slow when streaming, and I wasn’t able to watch in HD.

Unblocked: BBC iPlayer

I was able to log into BBC iPlayer with Psiphon’s UK server while in proxy mode.

It took a long time to load Baptiste and although the show finally played, there were several periods of long buffering.

BBC iPlayer worked with Psiphon, but only on the UK server

Blocked by: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and HBO Now

I tested Hulu on the VPN’s default New York server and got this message: “It looks like you’re using an anonymous proxy or VPN”. When I tried to log in a second time, I was redirected to this account creation page.

Hulu blocked any attempts to log in

I tested Amazon Prime Video on the same server and got this message: “Traveling? Some titles may be unavailable in your current location”. On my second attempt on the same server, Amazon Prime Video kept loading captcha screens, and I couldn’t go past the log-in.

Amazon Prime Video kept loading captchas

Netflix also blocked Psiphon on the New York server during my tests. I was rather disappointed with this round of tests as I was really hoping to catch up on some shows, starting with the Borgias. If you’d like a more reliable service, I’d suggest taking a look at these VPNs that work great with Netflix.

US Netflix detected I was using a VPN and blocked me

Next, I tested it on Disney+ with the default US server. I got past the landing pages without Disney+ detecting Psiphon.

I got to this point quite easily

However, the screen froze when I tried to stream Jungle Cruise. This happened even after multiple server changes.

Disney+ blocked my attempts to stream Jungle Cruise

Unlike Disney+, HBO Max immediately detected that I was using a VPN connection and blocked me even though I was connected to a US server.

HBO Max detected I was using a VPN and blocked me

Finally, HBO Now also blocked me on the New York server and it generated this error message:

HBO NOW gave me an error message while connected to Psiphon

Speeds — Slow, Particularly on the Free Version

I tested Psiphon’s free plan on a New York server and experienced a 61% download speed loss on Windows. The upload speed came down to 18 Mbps and the ping went up to 258 ms.

Psiphon significantly reduced my internet speed

The slow speeds could be due to Psiphon’s automatic server selection that only happens on VPN mode, not on proxy mode. It selected a New York server for me, which is quite far from my real location.

Speed tests on Psiphon Pro for Android yielded different results. I performed a speed test on a US server and although upload speeds dropped by 50%, download speeds went up by 29%.

Speed tests on Android with Psiphon

You can pay for a premium subscription on mobile (both on iOS and Android) to increase to maximum speeds (5 Mbps). Psiphon Pro also gives you the option to use a speed/time pass or PsiCash if you want better speeds for a limited time but don’t want to subscribe to Psiphon Pro’s premium packages.

Are Psiphon’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? No

The speeds on Psiphon’s free plan aren’t enough for gaming since it got me a ping of over 258 ms. You need a ping of 40 to 60 ms for smooth gaming.

I think you are better off using other VPNs that give you better speeds for gaming at a fraction of the cost you pay for Psiphon.

Server Network — Limited Number of Server Locations

Psiphon has servers in Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, and these countries:

AustriaBulgariaBelgiumCzech RepublicGermany
DenmarkEstoniaSpainFinlandFrance
HungaryIrelandIndiaItalyJapan
LatviaNetherlandsNorwayPolandRomania
SerbiaSwedenSingaporeSlovakiaSwitzerland

Unfortunately, it has no server presence in South America and Africa.

Server locations depend on the app you’re using. On Windows, you can access servers in 20 countries. Android doesn’t support Slovakia and Switzerland, while Denmark is available on Android, but not on iOS.

Psiphon claims to have a wide server network but doesn’t disclose the exact number of IPs and servers, or how many of them it controls. It just says that most of them are hosted with cloud providers.

On Psiphon’s website it says that it has 1000s of proxy servers

Security — Decent, but Not Best-In-Class

Psiphon states that it “does not increase your online privacy and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.”

While most other VPNs use Obfsproxy to make OpenVPN or Tor traffic look like regular traffic, Psiphon uses proxy configurations to hide your IP address and browsing activity, and it also avoids detection by using transport protocols to hide that a VPN is in use. SSH is set as its default transport protocol and adds on obfuscation encryption (the result being the SSH+ obfuscated protocol) to protect against protocol fingerprinting.

It also uses SOCKS and HTTPS over port 443 to tunnel data in proxy mode. Enabling L2TP/IPsec in Transport mode activates VPN tunneling to provide double encapsulation.

Psiphon offers AES 256-bit encryption and SHA1 cryptographic hashes to secure data, although these hashes set a lower data integrity bar than PGP encryption.

Psiphon owns its DNS servers. However, I decided to conduct a WebRTC/DNS/IP leak test on a US server, and I found that my data was leaking on the VPN mode, but not on the proxy mode.

I detected DNS leaks only on Psiphon’s VPN mode but on proxy mode

Although the 2017 Psiphon audit conducted by Cure+53 found no major vulnerabilities in Psiphon’s protocols, a DNS leak could reveal your activity to your ISP.

Psiphon is not equipped with a kill switch, which means that if your VPN connection gets interrupted during a browsing session, your IP address will be exposed.

To end this on a good note — being open-source, Psiphon gives you the opportunity to check its code yourself and see what’s recording.

Privacy — No Guarantees

Psiphon collects and stores personal information such as user activity data and aggregated data.

However, it notes that user activity logs are very general and that the kind of information logged includes: your ISP, city, country, session length, sites visited, and bytes transferred.

Psiphon logs general data to help improve the service

In addition, Psiphon only keeps individual activity data for 90 days, after which such data is grouped with similar data. For example, all user data from Iran may be aggregated for general analysis.

The only logged data visible on the Windows client is connection data such as time and protocols.

Data logs as they appear on Psiphon for Windows

Psiphon doesn’t share the user activity data with third parties. Despite this, I’m still concerned, because being based in a 5 Eyes country, logging user data is a red flag.

Torrenting — Not Good

While torrenting with Psiphon, I experienced significant slowness. Furthermore, my connection was frequently interrupted. Given that Psiphon lacks a kill switch and maintains user activity logs, I had concerns about potential data leaks.

For more secure torrenting, try other VPN alternatives that guarantee faster torrenting and better security.

Disclaimer! While torrenting is meant to encourage peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of files, torrenting of copyrighted material is illegal and vpnMentor doesn’t condone or encourage it. Torrenting files from unknown sources might also expose you to malware, data phishing, and other hack attacks.

Does Psiphon Work in China? Yes

Psiphon is popular in China, Iran, Turkey, North Korea, and other countries with a history of imposing censorship rules.

You can access blocked content from China using Psiphon’s proxy service but not the VPN service. This is because Psiphon’s VPN Transport Mode (L2TP) is not strong enough to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.

Do not use L2TP/IPSec in China

On the other hand, Psiphon’s proxy servers use the SSH obfuscation protocol to avoid DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), which is why they work in locations like China.

Only government-approved VPNs are allowed in China, so you cannot access Psiphon’s website there. Psiphon’s simple solution to this problem is to send you the installation file via email. I sent an email, and almost immediately, Psiphon sent me links through which I could download the app in all of its supported languages.

Psiphon will email you all these links when you request access through email

Simultaneous Device Connections — Multiple on the Free Version

Psiphon’s free version supports multiple simultaneous device connections.

To find out whether Psiphon’s premium plan offers simultaneous device connections, I consulted customer service about it by sending an email to [email protected]I received this autoresponse and no further assistance after that.

Device Compatibility — Wide Compatibility Across Major Devices

Psiphon works on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. The Windows version supports 41 languages, making it more accessible.

The list of languages that Psiphon supports

The macOS version only works on devices released after 2020 (Macs that have Apple Silicon processors and Apple M1). If your Mac is older, you can try out these VPN options for macOS.

Psiphon has a browser app for iOS that only works in proxy mode, and tunnels information accessed through the browser. It supports the HTTPS Everywhere browser add-on, which provides extra security by encrypting your data when using a public internet connection.

Psiphon doesn’t have apps for gaming consoles, Linux, or Chrome OS. It also doesn’t have browser extensions for Chrome, Explorer, Firefox, or Safari, and it doesn’t work on routers.

It automatically selects and connects you to the best performance server on all of its VPN apps. You can change this selection if you are using the proxy mode, which is enabled by default. To enable VPN mode, you have to go to Settings, click on Transport mode, and then click on L2TP/IPSec mode.

The settings menu of Psiphon for Windows has several options, including minimizing it to the notifications area (system tray), activating split tunneling, and choosing a server location. You can also allow or disallow automatic local proxy port selection and traffic alerts, and disable timeouts for slow networks. If you are on an institution network, you can set up an upstream proxy to receive all outgoing web requests redirecting to a destination server.

Settings on Psiphon’s Windows app

Psiphon allows you to use split tunneling to route traffic from websites in your country outside Psiphon’s servers to make them load faster. You can enable split tunneling in the settings section of the Windows app.

Split tunneling on Windows will not proxy websites in your home country

On Android 5.0 onwards, you can tunnel your entire device or specific apps. Whole device tunneling enables VPN mode. You can enable this by going to Options, VPN settings, and then choosing an app to include or exclude from Psiphon. If you don’t opt for the tunnel all apps option, you can only browse securely using the Psiphon browser. The Psiphon browser is built into the Android client, and it tunnels through Psiphon even when VPN mode is disabled.

Split tunneling options on Android

You can also select a language and customize the settings for your HTTP/S requests by enabling “connect through an HTTP proxy” in the proxy settings.

You can add custom HTTP headers on the Android app

Besides these server settings, you can set vibration and sound notifications; this is a simple but useful feature that enhances usability.

Connecting on my Android phone was a bit challenging; the speeds were slow, and it served too many ads. I also couldn’t use some apps or tether my connection while still connected to Psiphon.

I consulted Psiphon’s FAQ section and found that some apps don’t work due to port restrictions. The tethering restriction was also possibly happening because some traffic could not go through Psiphon.

Installation & Apps

Set-Up & Installation — Very Easy and Quick

Within less than a minute, I successfully downloaded and installed Psiphon directly onto my PC. It is worth noting that email registration is not required for using Psiphon.

Be careful because there are fake versions of Psiphon’s app, so make sure you download the right one for your device from the Google Play Store, Apple’s App Store, or from Psiphon’s website. If you live in a highly-censored country, Psiphon’s customer support can send you Psiphon via email.

Here are the steps I followed:

  1. Click “Get Psiphon” on Psiphon’s website.
  2. Scroll down to “direct downloads” and select Psiphon for Windows. The installation file will download to your computer.
  3. After installing the file, open the app and click “Connect” to use Psiphon.
Installing Psiphon on Windows is a simple 3-step process

When downloading the Windows app, you will notice these words in brackets “A legacy build for Windows XP and Vista is available.” Psiphon is also sometimes referred to as “XP Psiphon” as it was originally created for Windows XP. This legacy Windows version is still available for download. However, Psiphon cautions users to upgrade to the latest version.

Psiphon is also just as easy to set up on Android. Once you launch the app, you will be greeted with a user-friendly and easy-to-use UI. Connecting and disconnecting Psiphon is just a matter of clicking a button.

That said, uninstalling the software is quite easy. Simply delete it from the downloads file. If you are using Psiphon on your phone, just delete the app.

Pricing

Psiphon offers a free and a paid plan. There is no data transfer limit on either plan, although the free version caps your speed at 2 Mbps and serves you with ads. The paid plan is faster, ad-free, and only available on mobile.

Psiphon for iOS allows you to upgrade to a premium plan by paying weekly, monthly, or annually (this plan will save you 20%).

Premium plans on Psiphon for iOS

Psiphon Pro has 2 plans: a basic plan which gives higher speeds, and an unlimited plan for unlimited speeds. Both plans remove ads and allow access to unrestricted ports. Psiphon Pro also offers higher speeds through speed packages (time passes). Pricing on Psiphon Pro only shows in local currency.

Psiphon Pro premium plans and time passes

Another way to get a speed boost is by using PsiCash, Psiphon’s in-app currency. PsiCash is the only performance upgrade option available if you aren’t using an Android device. Every time you use Psiphon, you accumulate PsiCash. 100 PsiCash will buy you a 1-hour speed boost. You cannot transfer PsiCash to other accounts or devices, and once you delete Psiphon, you lose your Psicash.

PsiCash is Psiphon’s in-app currency

Payment methods are limited to PayPal and credit or debit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. You cannot pay through other popular payment options like Alipay and UnionPay, or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. You can also buy a Google Play gift card and use it to pay for your Psiphon Pro upgrade or speed pass.

You have the opportunity to explore the paid version of Psiphon on Android and iOS absolutely free for a duration of 7 days. If you discover that the application does not meet your requirements, you can easily cancel your subscription either through the Google Play Store or directly within Psiphon’s iOS app.

Psiphon gives refunds, and you can request one through the Google Play Store or the App Store, or you can contact customer support via this email: [email protected]. You might have to wait up to a week to receive your money back.

Reliability & Support

Psiphon offers customer support primarily through email. However, it would still be great if they could offer 24/7 live chat or phone support.

I sent an email asking a couple of questions about the service. I received an automated email response thanking me for contacting Psiphon and directing me to a download link for the app. A couple of days have passed, and I still haven’t heard from Psiphon customer support.

Email exchange with Psiphon customer support

After several failed attempts to contact Psiphon through email, I looked around and was pleasantly surprised to find that it maintains a social media presence. I sent the same message through Facebook Messenger.

I received auto-replies here, too:

Psiphon’s auto-response on Messenger

Psiphon has, however, made up for its limited support by offering an FAQ section that covers issues around downloading, installation, user queries, privacy, and security among others.

The Bottom Line

Final Verdict

As far as free VPNs go, Psiphon does a decent job at censorship circumvention.

This VPN service is accompanied by a few drawbacks, such as having limited servers, slow speed, data collection practices, and an inability to unblock streaming platforms like Netflix. Additionally, the quality of torrenting through this VPN service is not up to the mark.

If you are looking for a solution to help you bypass censorship, this is your tool. But if privacy and security are on top of your needs, I’d suggest you look elsewhere.

FAQs on Psiphon

Is Psiphon safe?

Yes, but only to some extent. Psiphon VPN logs user data and also leaks DNS data. It is therefore not the safest option in the market. You can see my DNS leak test results in the security section.

Can Psiphon unblock Netflix?

No. Psiphon’s encryption is just not strong enough to get around Netflix’s geo-restrictions. Jump to the streaming section for the details.

Will Psiphon slow my speeds down?

Yes. Psiphon has been shown to considerably slow speeds down. However, you can get a speed boost using Psicash (Psiphon’s in-app cash) or by upgrading to Psiphon Pro. I tested its speeds and elaborated on the results in the speeds section.

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