TorrentFreak recently published the latest version of its annual roundup of which VPNs really protect their user’s privacy. The last thing you want to do is pay extra money to a VPN for the “benefit” of having them log your Internet activity anyways.
As with past such roundups, TorrentFreak is here relying on responses from the VPNs themselves, so this should be the start, not the end, of research you’d want to do on any VPN you’re thinking about using.
I still use AirVPN as my VPN, and am very happy with it. AirVPN allows BitTorrent connections, and has relatively high speeds for the price. However, my primary use case is to keep my activity private from ISPs and copyright authorities. If I were worried about 3-letter agencies or other state actors, I might take a closer look at other alternatives.
Anyway, here is how AirVPN answered TorrentFreak’s 12 questions.
1. Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user of your service? If so, exactly what information do you hold and for how long?
No, we don’t.
2. What is the name under which your company is incorporated, and under which jurisdiction does your company operate?
The name of the company is Air and it is located in Italy.
3. What tools are used to monitor and mitigate abuse of your service, including limits of concurrent connections if these are enforced?
We do not use any monitoring or traffic inspection tools. We do associate a connections counter for each account to enforce the limit of five simultaneous connections per account. We also promptly investigate any service (website etc.) running behind our service to prevent phishing and other scams (malware spreading, bot controllers, etc) if we receive a complaint about them. However, checking those services after a complaint or a warning from a third-party does not require any traffic monitoring.
4. Do you use any external email providers (e.g. Google Apps), analytics, or support tools ( e.g Live support, Zendesk) that hold information provided by users?
5. In the event you receive a DMCA takedown notice or a non-US equivalent, how are these handled?
They are ignored.
6. What steps are taken when a court orders your company to identify an active or past user of your service? How would your company respond to a court order that requires you to log activity going forward? Has any of this ever happened?
The matter is handled by our law firm which explains to the competent authorities how our system works and why it is not possible to track a user “ex-post” when such identification requires access to traffic logs, which simply do not exist. We have so far not received any order trying to force us to “log activity going forward” and we would not be able to comply for strictly technical reasons.
7. Is BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic allowed on all servers? If not, why?
Yes, BitTorrent (just like any other protocol) is allowed on all servers without any re-routing.
8. Which payment systems/providers do you use? Do you take any measures to ensure that payment details can’t be linked to account usage or IP-assignments?
Nowadays we use Coinpayments, BitPay, PayPal and Avangate. We accept a wide variety of cryptocurrencies and several credit cards. We also planned to accept payments in Bitcoin (and some other cryptocurrency) directly in late 2018, with no need for any third party payment processor, which anyway does not require any personal data to complete a transaction.
We do not keep any information about account usage and/or IP address assignments, so there can’t be any correlation with any payment. As usual a customer needs to consider that any payment via a credit card or PayPal will be recorded for an indefinite amount of time by the respective financial companies. We also accept cryptocurrencies inherently designed to provide a strong layer of anonymity.
9. What is the most secure VPN connection and encryption algorithm you would recommend to your users?
We recommend only and exclusively OpenVPN. A proper configuration must include TLS mode, Perfect Forward Secrecy, 4096 bit Diffie-Hellmnn keys, and at least 2048 bit (preferably 4096 bit) RSA keys. About the channels ciphers, AES-256 both on the Control Channel and the Data Channel is an excellent choice, while digests like HMAC SHA (when you don’t use an AED cipher such as AES-GCM) for authentication of packets are essential to guarantee integrity (preventing for example injection of forged packets in the stream), both on the Control and the Data channels.
Our service provides all of the above. About Elliptic Curve Cryptography, since it is finally of public domain that at least one random number generator (Dual_EC_DRBG) had a backdoor, and that an NSA program did exist with the aim to implement backdoors in some curves and then have exactly those curves recommended by NIST, momentarily we would suggest to drop ECC completely, just to stay on the safe side and according to Bruce Schneier’s considerations.
10. Do you provide tools such as “kill switches” if a connection drops and DNS leak protection?
Yes, of course. They are integrated in our free and open source software “Eddie” released under GPLv3. Anyway, usage of our software is not mandatory to access our service, so we also provide guides to prevent any kind of traffic leaks outside the VPN “tunnel” on a variety of systems.
11. Do you have physical control over your VPN servers and network or are they outsourced and hosted by a third party (if so, which ones)? Do you use your own DNS servers? (if not, which servers do you use?)
The VPN server management is never outsourced. Even the IPMI, which has proven to be the source of extremely dangerous vulnerabilities, is patched and access-restricted by the AirVPN core management persons only. The Air company does not own datacenters. Owning a datacenter would put Air in a vulnerable position in the scenario described in your question number 6 (second part: court order to start logging traffic).
12. What countries are your servers physically located? Do you offer virtual locations?
We do not offer “virtual” locations. No IP address geo-location trick, hidden re-routing or any other trick is ever performed. We do not use Virtual Servers at all. Currently, we have physical (bare metal) servers really located in the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.