StrongVPN Review

Disclaimer: The below review is my opinion, which I will try to provide as many examples for and as much evidence as possible to support.  Readers can learn more about how I conduct my reviews, my methodology, etc – here.  More information on review badges here.

This review’s roll was #40 (at the time of the roll, StrongVPN)

 

Apologies to everyone waiting so patiently for this review.  I had every intention of putting a lot of time into these this summer but other responsibilities took precedence.

 

Written Aug 13, 2017

Signing up for the service: When looking at pricing models for VPN Services, I often find, that in a supposed attempt to push people to longer terms, that shorter terms are exponentially more expensive than longer ones.  There is a reason I don’t say, “the longer term is exponentially cheaper”, because many services do indeed offer fairly even pricing across tiers – including low prices for short terms.  Sadly, the former is the case with StrongVPN, with a month’s worth of service costing $10 (a high price point).

I’ve grown more and more wary of committing to a long term and equally wary of subscribing to a service with such pricing models.  As a consumer, you have the most recourse when keeping a service on its toes and when they are constantly pressured to provide a solid service if they want to keep you (as it should be).  A slight diversion, but I strongly suggest avoiding “lifetime” subscriptions, especially from new services for this reason among others.

Back to the review.  StrongVPN does something absurd that I rarely ever see in a VPN service, and that is forcing you to “verify your account” via live chat or phone.  This shouldn’t be considered in my opinion if you want a VPN for privacy purposes.

They also sent my password to me via email in plaintext.  Even after resetting the password, and having it resent (via plaintext in email), the password provided did not work and I received a message on the site complaining as I tried logging in.  I was also barraged with (a few duplicate) emails complaining about how the email address used to sign up (with one email address) and the payment info email (with another address) were different – and an ADDITIONAL layer of checking needed to be completed via phone despite manually authorizing the signup using the latter account.  It’s a mess.

During this phone call you have to enter a 6 digit code from a website you are redirected to, as well as include a recording of your voice stating your full name and billing address.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a privacy-unfriendly service during sign up, and that’s saying something.  Frankly, this is unacceptable.  I won’t even wait until the final comments section to say it, stay far far away from this service.  Essentially no other VPN requires these things and it’s creepy.

I sent an email asking why I couldn’t log in (partially playing dumb in hopes I’d get a feel for their support, in order to at least be able to review it), and to my surprise – right when I thought the review was over, I received a reply letting me know that they decided to manually accept the order and approved the account for use.  Any guise of requiring a phone number and recorded voice sample for security immediately flew out the window.  On the plus side, at least I guess I was able to continue the review without having to provide what had previously been required?

 

Configuring the service: The user portal for StrongVPN contained a few prominent “Refer a Friend” and “Referral System” links, which was obnoxious.  Under VPN Account Summary, there was a note indicating that “You have no OpenVPN/IPSec accounts”, despite the plan that I signed up for (1 month) clearly showing it listed as a feature of that package.  I again submitted another support ticket, asking why I didn’t have access to the OpenVPN feature that I had paid for.  I received a reply quickly indicating that I must change my VPN Account to an OpenVPN one by going into that page and manually selecting one of the servers. After changing the account settings, I was greeted with a message implying that the change would have to manually reviewed and approved.  I later received an email indicating that my account had changed and had a package upgrade performed – which really seems like a sneaky, behind the scenes attempt by support to quietly fix the issue.

This is such a screwed up system and I’ve never seen anything like it.  Having to pair my account with the server I wish to use seems like such a poorly thought out idea and an insulting hoop to jump through.  I can’t emphasize enough how big a pain this service was to navigate.  The user must re-pair the service with the server they wish to connect to… manually… through their web portal… every time they want to change it.

Furthermore, the server info revealed that the server I was connecting to was a static IP, which is also terrible for privacy purposes.  I’ll be honest, I feel like at this point, the best possible results in the speed test section would not sway my opinion of StrongVPN, and therefore, I will be skipping it.  I have no desire to manually change my account and wait for approval the number of times it would take to perform them, nor do I think that information has much value at this point given everything you’ve already read and are about to.

 

Speed & Stability tests: As above, no speed tests were performed for this service.

 

Getting support: I reached out to see if I could get someone to help me get the login issue resolved.  As I was not willing to provide what they asked for, even for review purposes, I fully expected the review to be over at this stage, but to my surprise, as explained above, their support team approved the account for use…  Again, after getting blocked in the user panel, support was quick to help, as noted above.

If there’s one ray of hope in this review, it’s that StrongVPN’s support team was very quick and very efficient at resolving the immediate concerns I had. The replies were what they needed to be – quick, efficient, professional, and helpful.

I might have awarded a Support badge, if it weren’t for what seemed like some shananigans early on with the “upgrading” of my account to make OpenVPN accessible and contradictory responses from the support team to cover it up.  (Again, this is speculation, but I think there’s enough evidence to raise an eyebrow, namely the email telling me the account was being upgraded).

 

Getting a refund: I reached out to see if I could obtain a refund, hoping that the quick support I had been receiving paid off.  The representative indicated that I would have to follow a link to cancel, which I did.  The buttons and UI in this process were very unprofessional, using broken English in places (for example: “Cancel Marked” is what the button reads to finalize the cancellation).  StrongVPN then plays on the users emotion as much as it possibly can, listing all the “great” features you’ll be missing out on, then finally presenting with a giant blue button, I Want to Stay Protected”, followed by relatively small muted text, “I don’t want to protect my privacy”.  After clicking the latter, the user is asked why they are leaving, followed by StrongVPN then begging you to stay, offering a free two months worth of service to not leave, “Redeem Your 60 Free Days”, and another big button on the same page “Keep My Account”, again followed by small text, “I still want to cancel”.  Luckily, within minutes after submitting my cancellation, a refund was granted.

 

Concerns in Terms & Conditions / Privacy Policy: So many concerns here.  The terms are long, drawn out, and obtuse.

to subscribe to our Services you must create an account and register with us. In general, we collect the following limited information from users and only use it in order to process payments: Account Information. To create an account, you may need to provide certain personal information, such as your name, billing address and e-mail. You will also need to select a username and password and provide us with payment information.

1) In theory, you are required to provide a voice recording of your full name and billing address to boot.  2) You do not select your password.  They create one for you and email it in plaintext.

 

We use security measures that are consistent with industry standards to protect your personal information from loss, theft, misuse or unauthorized access or disclosure or destruction.

Except for sending your automatically generated passwords in plaintext.

 

We may engage third parties, such as Google Analytics

Google Analytics, beware.

 

We may add to, change or remove any part of these Terms, at any time without prior notice to you other than listing of a later effective date than the one set forth at the top of this policy. Such modification shall be effective immediately upon posting at the Site. As your next visit to a Site or use of the Services may be governed by different Terms, we encourage you to look for a new effective date on these Terms when you visit the Site or use the Services. It is your responsibility to check these Terms periodically for changes. If we make any material changes to these Terms, we will endeavor to provide registered users with additional notice of any changes, such as at your e-mail address of record, when you log-in to your account, or when you log-in to the Services.

If a company’s terms of service can change at any moment without prior notice, they are not there to serve as a two-way protection mechanism or contract between company and customer – they are an excuse to dismiss any claim or grievance you have with the service.  Copout words like “endeavor” are obvious  attempts to absolve themselves of any responsibility if there is an issue or complaint.

 

We may, but do not have any obligation to, block information, transmissions or access to certain information, services, products or domains to protect the Services, our network, the public or our users.

Implying traffic shaping in the name of “protecting the public”.  This is eerily vague.

 

StrongVPN may also at any time modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, all or any part of the Services or your account, with or without notice, and you agree that StrongVPN will not be liable to you or any third party for any such modification, suspension or discontinuance.

Buyer beware!

 

However, the Services may be subject to unavailability for a variety of factors beyond our control including emergencies, third party service failures, transmission, equipment or network problems or limitations, interference, signal strength, and may be interrupted, limited or curtailed. Delays or omissions may occur. We are not responsible for data, messages or pages lost, not delivered, delayed or misdirected because of interruptions or performance issues with the Services or communications services or networks.

They could summarize 90% of their terms by saying “We are not responsible for anything and if you don’t like it, tough nails” and saving everyone an hour and a half of reading.

 

There are plenty more crappy terms of service where the above came from, but hopefully this should be sufficient.

 

Final thoughts: On top of everything else, StrongVPN appears to have an extensive referral program with little to no standards for those who represent it.  This includes maintaining affiliate relationships with resellers that have stolen content from my own site as well.  It’s like adding fire to more fire at this point, but they are clearly…

Stay far far away from StrongVPN.  There are dozens of VPNs with more privacy friendly services at a lower price.  This service doesn’t appeal to any niche or use case that I can think of based on this, and therefore earns, without question, the Pile of Junk stamp of shame.

If I were to find anything nice to say, it’s that maybe the website itself looks nice on the surface, and is decently polished, but the backend and design in the user section are a labyrinth of poorly thought out systems and choices.

Support was the best thing about the service: they replied quickly and efficiently and was the one thing making me not want to call the review early, but I was a little annoyed that they weren’t up front about the reasons for my trouble.

The behind the scenes experience and privacy-unfriendly systems and are ill thought out and shameful for a company claiming to provide a VPN for privacy.  I can’t express how blown away I was by StrongVPN’s faults.  If it helps, imagine the Pile of Junk stamp below saying “Dumpster Fire” instead.

 

FROM THE VPN COMPARISON CHART
CATEGORY VPN SERVICE StrongVPN
JURISDICTION Based In (Country) USA
Fourteen Eyes? Five
Enemy of the Internet Yes
LOGGING Logs Traffic No
Logs DNS Requests
Logs Timestamps
Logs Bandwidth
Logs IP Address
ACTIVISM Anonymous Payment Method Email
Accepts Bitcoin Yes
PGP Key Available No
Gives back to Privacy Causes Yes
Meets PrivacyTools IO Criteria No
LEAK PROTECTION 1st Party DNS Servers No
IPv6 Supported / Blocked No
  Offers OpenVPN Yes
OBFUSCATION Supports Multihop
Supports TCP Port 443
Supports Obfsproxy
Supports SOCKS
Supports SSL Tunnel
Supports SSH Tunnel
Other Proprietary Protocols
PORT BLOCKING Auth SMTP
P2P
SPEEDS US Server Average % 0
Int’l Server Average % 0
SERVERS Dedicated or Virtual
SECURITY Default Data Encryption
Strongest Data Encryption
Weakest Handshake Encryption
Strongest Handshake Encryption
AVAILABILITY # of Connections 1
# of Countries 21
# of Servers 387
Linux Support (Manual)
WEBSITE # of Persistent Cookies 0
# of External Trackers 0
# of Proprietary APIs 30
Server SSL Rating A
SSL Cert issued to Self
PRICING $ / Month (Annual Pricing) $4.99
$ / Connection / Month $4.99
Free Trial No
Refund Period (Days) 5
ETHICS Contradictory Logging Policies
Falsely Claims 100% Effective Yes
Incentivizes Social Media Spam
POLICIES Forbids Spam No
Requires Ethical Copy Some
Requires Full Disclosure No
AFFILIATES Practice Ethical Copy No
Give Full Disclosure No

 

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