Windscribe VPN Review: Blown Away or a Light Breeze?

Is the Windscribe VPN Right for You?

Do you need a VPN? If you’re looking at any VPN service this question should be one of several at the forefront. Is signing up to this service the best solution to the privacy challenge you face?

A virtual private network (VPN) can help to protect your privacy, defend against electronic surveillance, and protect your device from intrusion. But it’s not a complete solution itself. Other strategies, such as improving your security practices (for example, stringent passwords, personal data encryption), should take priority over VPNs.

For domestic users, VPNs are ideal for adding encryption to open Wi-Fi networks, hiding your IP address, and avoiding tracking and throttling by ISPs. A VPN can also help to improve security when downloading from the torrent network. It will also let you watch region-blocked streamed video content, as well as bring some security to online gaming.

What a VPN cannot do, however, is deal with close-quarters surveillance. A family member or domineering spouse can monitor your activity regardless of a VPN. If you’re concerned about such a threat, use learn about the security of your home network hardware, change passwords regularly, and use encryption wherever possible.

As useful as a VPN subscription service can be, it is largely aimed at domestic users. While private VPN servers might prove useful to political dissidents and journalists, and anyone in a country where VPN use has been ruled illegal, other solutions should be considered alongside (or in some cases, in place of) a VPN. Contemplate encrypted messaging services like Signal, or the Tor network, as some initial examples.

Who Are You Buying From? Facts About Windscribe VPN

It’s a good idea to know a bit about the company you’re dealing with. This is as true buying takeout food in person as it is when choosing security software.

The VPN industry in particular has seen its share of fly-by-night operators running servers for the express intention of earning Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. Their attention to detail is scant; they have no particular interest in VPNs or privacy and will happily profit from selling your personal details.

These are the VPNs you need to avoid. Windscribe, happily, seems to be far more genuine.

Windscribe is a Canadian company, which means that it is subject to the surveillance laws of the Five-Eyes alliance of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In short, these countries share surveillance data, so if Windscribe is subpoenaed to divulge information about customers, it will be available to all five nations. In theory, a no-logs policy should protect users—the reality is more ambiguous. A no-logs policy is one of the weakest chain links protecting your identity.

Windscribe’s CEO is Yegor Sak. You can see video of Sak below:

The VPN sets out its manifesto in the About page, identifying how the internet has been subverted, and suggesting a solution.

We at Windscribe believe that what is happening is wrong and fixable. Since the Internet is a product of technology, these problems can be solved by applying other technologies in a smart way.

To this end, they intend to develop easy yet powerful tools. In short, VPNs, designed to protect people from surveillance, criminals, and marketers, as well as avoid censorship and region blocks.

My conclusion is that Windscribe seems to be in the hands of good people. Its About page reads: “Let’s bring back the Internet as it was meant to be.”

Free and Pro Windscribe VPN Features

Windscribe VPN comes in two flavors: Free and Pro. All the important encryption features are included with the Free package, but the choice of VPN servers is restricted to locations in just 10 of the 60 countries. The Pro version also offers unlimited data (as opposed to 10GB in the Free package), a config generator for OpenVPN, IKEv2, and SOCKS5, and the R.O.B.E.R.T. malware, advertising, and tracker blocker.

Internet Kill Switch

VPNs that include a kill switch help preserve your online privacy. The principle is simple: a dropped VPN connection will reveal your IP address. A kill switch blocks the internet connection until data can once again be routed via VPN.

Windscribe VPN calls its kill switch a firewall. Three settings (the default automatic; always on; and manual) protect your connection. This feature, found in the Preferences menu, appears to work well, kicking in whenever the connection drops and the computer awoke from standby.

SOCKS5

Many VPNs offer SOCKS proxy server support, directing unencrypted traffic via a proxy server. So, while your location remains partly hidden, your browsing activity can be monitored by a third party.

Windscribe VPN features support for the latest SOCKS version, SOCKS5. This can be used to access geo-blocked content and restricted material.

Region Blocking

Avoiding geo-blocking is a key purpose for many VPN subscribers. Services like Netflix offer different video libraries in different countries. A VPN can help to access these. For example, a UK viewer can watch Netflix US using a VPN based in New York.

For many VPNs this works well. Unfortunately, Windscribe VPN proved unable to connect to Netflix US from the UK, via two servers (based in New York and Salt Lake City). Attempts resulted in the Netflix Error Code: M7111-5059.

Netflix streaming error

In its defense, Windscribe VPN has published a page confirming that streaming services are blocking VPN traffic.

OpenVPN Configuration

The open source VPN implementation is a popular option for platforms that lack an official VPN client.

OpenVPN support is available and configuration files for your preferred Windscribe VPN servers can be generated on the website with a Pro account. This can then be downloaded and used with an OpenVPN client on any suitable device—for example, a router running DD-WRT.

Device Availability

You can install the Windscribe VPN client on Windows (7, 8, 10), Mac (macOS 10.11 and later), and Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, CentOS).

Windscribe VPN Windows client

Browser add-ons/extensions for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are also available. The browser extension (which can be used with free accounts) encrypts using TLS 1.2, ECDHE_RSA with P-256 key exchange and AES_128_GCM cipher.

It also includes ad blocking and anti-tracking tools but note that it only encrypts data sent while browsing the web. Other internet activity is not encrypted while using the Windscribe VPN browser extension, so for full encryption, use the desktop client.

WIndscribe VPN browser plugin

For mobile use, iOS, and Android apps are available (there’s even a BlackBerry app).

Windscribe can be installed on your TV, with versions for Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, and Kodi. There is also support for DD-WRT and Tomato-compatible routers.

Client apps are simple to use, with clear menus and easy-to-find advanced features. This is a design principle that is applied across all devices.

Note that installing a VPN on your router is the best way to enhance the privacy of every device in your home. This is particularly vital in the age of the Internet of Things and smart home hardware.

Security and Privacy

The security and privacy of your online activity is crucial to choosing a VPN. What does Windscribe VPN bring to the table to keep you safe online?

Encryption

Arguably the most vital element of a VPN, Windscribe VPN encrupts your data to and from the VPN server with AES-256 cipher with SHA512 auth and a 4096-bit RSA key.

This is the feature that will bring a whole new dimension of privacy to your internet experience. Open Wi-Fi networks will cease to be a security risk with VPN encryption.

Note, however, that encryption only exists between your device and the VPN server. The connection between the server and the destination website will be encrypted only by the website’s own HTTPS connection. So, for example, if you’re signed into the website (Facebook, perhaps, or Amazon, as two obvious cases), your activity can be tracked by those services.

Windscribe also features Split Tunneling, enabling you to specify which apps should avoid the service. This is useful for any website that rejects VPN connections, for example.

DNS Leaks

DNS leaks have been shown to be a major problem for VPN companies. Capable of displaying the VPN user’s identity, DNS leaks essentially negate a key reason for encrypted, private communication.

Does Windscribe VPN leak DNS details?

To find out how Windscribe VPN handles DNS leaks, it was checked using the IPleak.net web tool, while connected to a VPN server in Ireland. This revealed the service as comparatively secure, although no result was available for IPv6, apparently unsupported by the ISP.

Windscribe’s R.O.B.E.R.T. Service Speeds Up Your Internet

There’s also a system called R.O.B.E.R.T. the “customizable server-side domain and IP blocking tool” which lets you manage a white list, block ads, malware, botnet and C&C servers, and also manage what type of content is viewed on devices on your network. Block lists are also offered, covering gambling, adult material, etc. This is an additional service and as such commands a slight increase in price. However, selecting the malware option is free.

Windscribe VPN Speed Tests

One of the key impacts of using a VPN is on the speed of your internet connection. No VPN maintains the high speeds of a fiber broadband connection. There is always going to be some decrease in speed.

But is it a decrease you can work with? To check the effect of Windscribe VPN on my broadband fiber connection (FTTC – Fiber to the Cabinet) I used the Speedtest.net service, checking speeds with the VPN enabled and disabled. A VPN server in the same country was used, selected using Windscribe VPN’s Best Location feature.

Windscribe VPN speed test

Three time periods were tested: daytime, early evening, and late evening.

  • Daytime: standard internet use for work purposes only. With the VPN enabled, download speed averaged 46.53Mbps with a 25m/s ping. Without the VPN, the speed was 48.99Mbps and 20m/s ping.
  • Early evening: standard internet use and some minor video streaming. As illustrated above, 36.84Mbps download and 27m/s ping using Windscribe VPN; 49.09Mbps download, 19m/s ping without.
  • Late evening: software was downloading on a computer while video streaming in HD to the TV (so using the same connection, but a different device). The download speed with Windscribe VPN is 35.00Mbps average, and 28m/s ping. Without, 41.80Mbps and 24m/s ping.

What Does the Speed Test Mean?

While we’ve run the internet speed test with one of the most popular tools available, there is a chance of variance. The trio of tests should provide a better idea, but VPN servers in your region may present different results.

Summarizing that using Windscribe VPN reduces internet download speed by around 10 percent is a good rule of thumb. Note that upload speeds are less heavily affected.

Windscribe VPN Customer Service Tested

Three avenues for customer service communication are available with Windscribe VPN.

Along with options for Self Help (Setup Guides, FAQs, and the obligatory Knowledge Base), Windscribe provide tech support via:

Sadly, there is no apparent telephone support option.

All three contact-based support processes result in a fast response.

Support via Subreddit

To gauge the speed of support on Reddit, I signed into my account and found the Subreddit. I then posted a query about managing server favorites in the Windscribe client app.

The arrived on the same day.

Reddit support for Windscribe VPN

Regrettably the respondent did not appreciate the actual question, but the information was otherwise useful in a more general sense.

Garry the AI

To test the capabilities of the AI, I posted a question about the number of devices supported by a Windscribe VPN account.

Windscribe VPN's live chat support is AI controlled

As you’ll see by checking the timestamp, the response was both instantaneous and useful.

Support Ticket

On September 12th, I posted the Support Ticket:

Support ticket from Windscribe VPN

A response for further detail on the router was received around six hours later.

Based on the quality of assistance from Windscribe VPN across Reddit, Garry, and the standard support ticket, it’s clear that the company has an appreciation of the importance of fast, professional, and informative customer service.

However, it would be even more reassuring to have telephone and email contact options for customer support.

Should You Subscribe to Windscribe VPN?

A VPN’s logging policy and their physical location is vital in making a purchase.

VPN users consider the logging of their details as a major privacy risk. After all, if the VPN has been recording activity, this can be shared, either by court order, or sold to marketers. A VPN bought by a rival company would likely pass on such information to the buyer.

Windscribe’s privacy policy informs that it uses the “bare minimum for a customer to actually use” its service. Additionally, it doesn’t “store any historical logs on who used which IP address…”

Information that is retained is the total data transferred in a 30-day period and a timestamp of activity on the network. However, historical VPN sessions, source IP addresses, and sites you visited are not, according to Windscribe’s privacy policy, logged.

Third party payment processors are used, and the transaction ID is retained for “30 days for fraud prevention purposes.”

Amusingly, the privacy policy concludes with:

If drastic policy changes are required due to a race of giant spiders enslaving all of humanity and forcing us to log our users under the threat of consumption.

Then again, we have the issue of Windscribe’s Canadian heritage and legal obligations. Not least among these is that data requested by the courts will be shared by other members of the Five Eyes Alliance.

If you’re looking for a fast VPN with the best available encryption, consider using Windscribe VPN. It operates quietly in the background and requires little interaction. While the Five Eyes issue might be a concern, the customer service is good and the logging policy clear. The lack of region blocking for video streaming is unfortunate, perhaps relegating Windscribe VPN to a second-rate VPN in the eyes of many potential customers.

However, it remains a reliable, professional VPN service that can be considered trustworthy.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Windscribe VPN
7.5
Christian Cawley specializes in security-related topics, Linux, DIY projects, programming, and explaining technology. He also produces The Really Useful Podcast and has extensive experience in desktop and software support. A contributor to Linux Format magazine, Christian is a Raspberry Pi tinkerer, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.