Although VPN Gate offers the benefits of a VPN, it is not a commercial service and its main focus is to serve as academic research on “Global Distributed VPN Relay Servers”. Run by volunteers, this project developed by the University of Tsukuba in Japan has gained the attention from people who want to bypass geographical restrictions or disguise their location and the fact that it is free, makes it even more appealing. VPN Gate is based on SoftEther, an open source multiprotocol VPN that was created by the University of Tsukuba as well. We’ll find out more about VPN Gate in this review.
SoftEther (on which VPN Gate relies), is a highly secure VPN solution that uses 256-bit AES encryption with RSA 4096-bit key encryption and SHA-1 hashing, although the ciphers can be different depending on the server operators. VPN Gate uses a network of VPN relay servers located worldwide and these are hosted by volunteers. This makes the service less reliable than commercial options and also affects the privacy of your connection.
The data is transmitted to VPN Gate from every server volunteer and although VPN Gate doesn’t monitor your online activity, connection logs are kept for at least three months, as part of their measures to prevent abuse of the service. If they receive a request from the authorities, they would hand over this data. Additionally, each server volunteer decides for how long they want to keep logs. Of course, it is not possible to know who is behind each server and there is no guarantee that they will delete the logs when they claim to do so.
Understandably, the possibility of organizations like the NSA infiltrating VPN Gate servers raises concerns. This is why, it is advisable to only use VPN Gate as a way to bypass censorship and to add a layer of security to your connection when you are using public WiFi hotspots. If privacy is your main concern, you would be better off using the Tor network or a commercial VPN service that promises not to keep any logs.
The SoftEther VPN software is compatible with Windows, Linux, OS X, FreeBSD and Solaris. Windows users can connect to the VPN Gate netwok using the SoftEther VPN client in combination with VPN Gate Plugin. The service can be easily configured and after downloading the software, you just need to unzip it and install it on your computer.
OpenVPN, L2T/IPsec and SSTP are the protocols available for Windows, while those using Android, iOS and OS X can connect to the VPN Gate network using OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec.
Since governments that impose a tight control over internet (such as China, North Korea and Iran) target tools that help to circumvent their measures, access to VPN Gate’s website may be blocked on these locations. To address this, there are mirror sites and users can get daily notifications with a list of mirror URLs.
Although in theory, you can use VPN Gate for P2P, it is important to keep in mind the privacy concerns that we previously mentioned. Additionally, the speed of the service wouldn’t be ideal for this task and some server operators disable this option. Furthermore, if a server operator receives a DMCA notice related to your usage of P2P services, they are likely to give away your IP address.
Since VPN Gate relies on volunteers, the availability of the servers is not consistent. However, they have a good selection that includes Japan, Sweden, Moldova, Spain, United States, South Korea, Russia, United Kingdom, Austria, Vietnam, Australia and Luxembourg. The speeds and performance vary due to the fact that the servers are run by volunteers, although the majority of servers are located in Asia and offer good speeds for users located there.
VPN Gate is a practical option for users who want to defeat geographical online restrictions and censorship. It is free, open source and designed to offer features that you would normally have to pay for. However, it is not a reliable option as the performance and speed of the service may vary between servers. The fact that this project is giving internet users across the world a chance to bypass blocks should be recognized. The network of volunteers also shows that many people are willing to help others to enjoy internet freely. However, if you are after a high level of protection for your privacy and the option to use P2P without hassle, you should consider a commercial VPN that doesn’t keep logs.