What is VPN Gate and should you trust it?

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(Image credit: Unsplasu / Firmbee)

VPN Gate is an open-source VPN project that was originally created at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. It offers internet users access to secure VPN networks from anywhere in the world. Being an academic project, VPN Gate - sometimes stylized as VPNGate - is free to use, which might be its most appealing aspect.

This is especially so if you’re less keen to head in the direction of those paid-for best VPN solutions, which often require a monthly subscription or annual payment in order to enjoy the best they have to offer. It’s also the reason, however, that they are generally a better option, particularly as they also come with comprehensive support options.

That’s always a bonus if you’re less keen to carry out much in the way of tinkering, which can frequently be required to get the best out of free VPN software.

VPN Gate is also anonymized and private, which could be seen as both a good and bad thing. That’s because you have no idea who any of the volunteers operating the servers you’re using are, so it’s something to be wary of. Users do not have to sign up to use the service, and anonymous connections are accepted. This might appeal to internet users who want to increase the anonymity of their web browsing, but who still want an open-source and free VPN solution. 

Why was VPN Gate created?

The team at the University of Tsukuba created VPN Gate in response to three problems they’d identified:

The first was that government firewalls often limit access to certain websites or streaming services - one of the reasons why using VPNs in China has become so popular.

The second was that internet users can be identified by their IP address when they’re not using a VPN, thereby creating legal liabilities for whistleblowers, dissidents, or people trying to access internet content unavailable in their country.

The third was the ongoing risk of cyber espionage or hacking when using an unsecured public network. 

How does VPN Gate work?

VPN Gate’s network infrastructure is completely powered by volunteers who allow their VPN servers to become a part of this global experiment. Without volunteers, VPN Gate would cease to exist. On the other hand, however, it also makes it something of a security risk as we’ve mentioned above.

From a technical point of view, VPN Gate works with several VPN protocols including SSL-VPN, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, and Microsoft SSTP. This is what enables VPN Gate to be used on iOS and macOS devices, as well as Windows and Android devices.

Anyone wanting to make use of the VPN Gate platform will also need to install the SoftEther VPN software. This open-source software is another University of Tsukuba project that enables users to connect to one of the VPN Gate servers located throughout the world.

However, if you’re planning on connecting with an iOS or macOS device, you’ll need to download VPN software specific to these platforms. OpenVPN is an obvious choice. Once you’ve downloaded a VPN client, you can follow the instructions found on the How To section of the VPN Gate website.

Should you trust VPN Gate?

In principle, making use of the features and functions inside VPN Gate seems fantastic. Even more so if you don’t want to spend any money. The fact that it is open-source and community-powered is appealing, as is the way it was originally created by an academic institution and not a corporation. Being free for internet users all over the world at the point of use merely adds to the attractiveness of the package.

But is it really as good as it seems? More importantly, should you trust the platform to protect you when you’re online? This is where you should exercise a little more caution. While VPN Gate appears to be exactly what it purports itself to be, and there is no apparent commercial agenda or data harvesting operation, there are issues with it that may make you decide to sideline it in favor of a paid-for VPN solution.

Should I be nervous of VPN Gate?

There’s no doubt that the VPN Gate platform is not as secure and private as premium VPN services such as ExpressVPN . One of our biggest security concerns with this software is that not all of VPN Gate’s volunteer servers may be trustworthy. When you connect to a server, that owner of that server will have access to your connection and usage logs (unless encrypted with an HTTPS protocol).

What’s more, it’s important to be aware that some servers on the platform may be honeypots. In other words, they could be a trap set up by a potential cyber attacker.

We’re also concerned that VPN Gate collects and stores connection logs for a period of three months. The team behind VPN Gate has said they do disclose this data to authorized law enforcement officials. Nevertheless, there are enough negatives surrounding this aspect of VPN Gate to make you wary if security is your top priority, which it should be.

What else should I consider about VPN Gate?

There are other aspects of VPN Gate that come across as less appealing too. Due to the fact that this is free software, created by enthusiasts rather than as a commercial venture, there is a lot less day-to-day refinement. So, alongside the data logging aspect, there are things missing, such as a kill switch for when you don’t want to use it and the software also lacks native apps, which limit its appeal somewhat. 

That can mean opening a whole can of worms if you’re not sure how to install it, with the need to call on other third-party apps to get it installed and up and running. If you’re less of a tech-savvy user, or hate having to start tinkering with software then an off-the-shelf VPN solution may make a lot more sense. It’ll be a lot more straightforward to start using too.

The other thing with VPN Gate is that its functionality is pretty limited, especially if you wan to use a VPN for accessing streaming sites, or for torrenting. VPN Gate isn’t designed to let you do either of these things, which will undoubtedly limit its appeal for many potential users. Of course, VPN Gate does offer up private web browsing, but the other issue with it, alongside many other VPN packages, is that it does tend to run rather slowly.

This is noticeably so if you try it alongside a premium VPN package, like ExpressVPN as an example. It’s a vital point, which is well worth noting if you’re keen to retain a decent level of performance, for the sake of shelling for a small monthly subscription fee.

What is VPN Gate and should you trust it - in brief

Ultimately, VPN Gate - or VPNGate - could be an ideal free choice for bypassing geo-blocking and ISP throttling, but its appeal is rather limited. In fact, some of its features, or rather the lack of them, along with those underlying security concerns might be enough to sway you towards a paid-for VPN solution.

While the team behind the platform certainly seems trustworthy and we love the concept, it isn’t entirely private and shouldn’t be used if you’re after highly secure, anonymized browsing that the overall best VPN providers out there can offer.

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Darcy French
With contributions from