Psiphon anti-censorship tool review
Psiphon is an open source project designed to assist users across the globe to circumvent censorship and other access restrictions.
The project maintains clients for Microsoft Windows, Android, and iOS, and supports VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy functionality. The Windows and Android versions can be downloaded directly from the project website, the mobile versions are also available in the official stores.
The service is available as a free version and a pro version. The free version has no bandwidth limits and does not even require registration. It is speed-limited, however, to 2 Mbps at the time of writing. That's good enough for browsing the web and watching videos up to 720p without much buffering. The Pro version is available for about $14 per month. It removes the speed limitation and appears to be only available for mobile devices.
The service is based in Canada. Windows users have access to several alternatives: there is the free Windscribe VPN option, and some browsers, Opera for instance, provide access to a browser-based VPN as well.
Psiphon is refreshingly honest about privacy stating that it does not improve online privacy and that it has been designed primarily as a circumvention tool.
Psiphon does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool.
While Psiphon encrypts connection data when you connect to its servers, it is not "designed for anti-surveillance purposes" the company notes.
The service does not log full page URLs but it appears that it does record domain names (which could reveal personal information, for instance when you access your personal domain).
Psiphon does encrypt the connection through SSH by default which protects the data so that the Internet Service Provider or other clients in a network cannot see or record these connections or activity.
One of the greatest strength of Psiphon is that it does not require registration; this makes it dead easy to use as you can just download the client and run it to get started.
I looked at the Windows client specifically and the following report is based on the client. The client's size is surprisingly small and it does not require installation.
Just run the program to get started. The service connects to the fastest server automatically on start and opens an "your IP address is" page in the default web browser to show that to the user. Some users may dislike that and there is no option to disable that feature in the client.
The client interface displays the connection status as well, and it would be better in my opinion if it would highlight the new IP address there.
You can select a different server on the "connected" page. Psiphon supports 20 different regions including United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, or India. The client disconnects and connects to a server in the new region when you pick a different one from the listing.
Note that a new browser tab is opened to show the new IP address whenever you switch servers.
Speed-wise, you get the advertised 2 Mpbs (a bit more actually but not much) as far as download speed is concerned. It is rather surprising that the service does not limit upload speed. A quick test using various regions supported by Psiphon revealed that; while speed tests revealed a cap of about 2.2 Mbps for downloaded data, upload speed managed to push about 6.3 Mbps to servers on the Internet.
The situation was the other way around for select servers. A connection to Switzerland resulted in download speeds of about 6 Mbps and upload speeds of 1.2 Mbps. You may want to experiment with different connections to find the most suitable one that gives you the best experience.
The speed is good enough for browsing the web and accessing content. While you can watch videos and make larger transfers as well, the experience may not be optimal at all times. Video services usually pick the right quality based on the connection; don't expect to stream in 1080p or higher quality though.
As far as bypassing censorship is concerned: this works only if the Psiphon servers are not blocked or limited in the region. It is a problem that all VPN providers face on the other hand and not limited to Psiphon in general. Considering that you don't need to sign up to start using it, it may be worth a shot.
The Windows client supports several options of interest:
- Set the desired region for the initial connection (fastest server is the default).
- Option to disable timeouts to avoid being dropped (useful for very slow connections)
- Set transport mode to L2TP/IPSec.
- Configure upstream proxy if the Windows PC uses a proxy already.
- Set local proxy ports (default automatic).
- Split tunnel to use the VPN only for other regions but not the user's region.
The Pro version does away with the advertisement and thus most of the privacy concerns. The price Psiphon charges for it is quite high, and it appears to be only available for mobile devices and not for Windows.
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