Steganos Software is a Berlin-based developer which has been producing quality software since 1996. Current products include a password manager and encryption package, and Steganos Online Shield, a beginner-friendly VPN.
The service has apps for Windows, Android, iOS and Mac. While that's good, there's no support for manually setting up the service on routers or other platforms, or using anything other than the official apps,
- Want to try Steganos Online Shield? Check out the website here
MySteganos Online Shield VPN is aimed more at the ordinary user than VPN experts. Apart from a brief mention of AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN and IKEv2 support, the website ignores talk of VPN-specific features to talk about its privacy-related add-ons: ad-blocking, protection from social media tracking, automatic cookie deletion when a session closes.
You're probably not going to be won over the extremely short feature list, then, but there's a lot to like about the pricing: just $7.99 billed monthly, and a tiny $2.50 per month on the annual plan, significantly cheaper than most of the big-name competition.
Whatever you think of Steganos' relatively basic specs, the company does at least show some confidence in its service by offering a risk-free 7-day trial, and a 30-day money-back guarantee offers further protection if you sign up.
Privacy and logging
A thorough no-logging statement explains that there's no recording of the addresses you access, the content you download, or the IP address associated with an action. Or, as the document puts it: "It is not possible for Steganos to determine what contents Steganos Online Shield calls up. Neither the IP addresses of the users nor the IP addresses of the called server is saved."
The service doesn't require personal details such as an email address. Instead it generates a ‘pseudonymous User ID’ based on the public key of your computer MAC address.
If you do provide an email address, the company has an opt-in system for sending mails, but you can unsubscribe at any time and the address is never sold or traded with anyone else.
There are some familiar clauses about the company website, and how it uses Google Analytics and cookies – not ideal, but similar to other providers, and not something which impacts on the core service.
Unlike some of the top competition, MySteganos Online Shield hasn't gone through any form of privacy or security audit to verify its claims. That's normal for smaller VPNs, though, and as Steganos is a well-known company with a long track record in IT, we're happier than usual to take its words on trust.
MySteganos Online Shield is refreshingly easy to try out. There's no complicated purchase process to complete, no demands for your email or any other personal details, you just hit 'Download Free Trial' and follow the links to grab the Windows, Mac, Android or iOS apps.
As the service creates its own unique ID based on your device, there's no need to create or remember a username or password, either. You'll be ready to explore within seconds.
The app interface has a simple location list, a connect/ disconnect switch, and four buttons to enable or disable its various privacy settings: blocking ads, preventing tracking, automatically erasing cookies or anonymizing your browser type (that is, changing its user agent.)
Although this is easy enough to understand, it's probably not the best use of screen real estate. We suspect most users won't want to turn the ad-blocking switch on and off for individual connections, for instance. It would make more sense to tuck these options away on a Settings screen, where you would only see them if necessary.
Meanwhile one very important VPN-specific part of the client, location selection, gets almost no attention at all. The current location is displayed with a tiny flag icon, smaller than a single letter of app's font, and the list is a simple menu with no sorting or filtering options, no server load or ping time figures, no Favorites system or anything else.
This does at least keep basic operations very, very simple. Once the privacy settings are set up as you'd like, there's nothing more to do than choose a location, tap Protect Connection to get connected, and tap it again when you're done. The client interface and desktop notifications let you know when the VPN connects and disconnects.
If you need more control, tough: there are barely any advanced options at all. No choice of protocol (it's OpenVPN only), no choice of DNS, no custom leak protection settings, no automatic protection when you access an insecure network.
The Windows client does have a feature called AlwaysProtected, which sounds like a kill switch (the Steganos changelog describes its effect as 'your IP address stays hidden even if VPN connection interrupts unexpectedly.')
The Settings box caption for the settings presents this in a confusing way, though: 'AlwaysProtect: the unsecured connection will not automatically be restored if a VPN connection fails.' If you're a VPN newbie, or just in a hurry, you may not realize that means 'block my internet access if the VPN drops.'
Whatever we might think about the translations, there's nothing wrong with the technology. No matter how we closed the VPN connection, the client stepped in, blocked our internet connection and quickly reconnected. It doesn't raise a notification to warn the user, which is a small issue (it's always best to know what's going on), but MySteganos Online Shield scored where it matters by protecting our privacy at all times.
Steganos' Android app looks a little different to the desktop build. There's no Connect button, for instance - instead, you drag a shield up the screen to connect, down to disconnect.
It's short on functionality, too, without even the ad and tracker blocking you'll get on Windows. And although we don't normally pay too much attention to ratings, as they're too easily manipulated, Steganos' 2.7 is so bad it deserves a mention.
MySteganos Online Shield's apps don't make any major mistakes, and the effective Windows kill switch is a plus. But they don't really excel in any area, either - they'll get you connected, but that's about it.
Our speed tests found Steganos' local UK servers delivered a capable 55-60Mbps on a 75Mbps test line. We'll typically get around 10Mbps more from the big VPN names, but that's still more than fast enough for most purposes.
Results tailed off significantly as we moved further away, though, with for example US locations averaging 20Mbps, and our lowest UK to Australia speed was a dire 367Kbps.
Testing from one location can never tell you the entire story, so we also benchmarked the VPN from a French server. Our speed with the VPN turned off was 550Mbps; with the VPN turned on, it dropped to 60-70Mbps. That's also relatively poor compared to the best of the competition, but depending on your needs, it might be good enough.
Our unblocking checks got off to a bad start when the service didn't get us access to BBC iPlayer, disappointing as it worked during the last review.
But in a major turnaround, Online Shield then got us in to US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and even Disney, which defeats most VPNs.
The good news continued in our final privacy tests, as multiple privacy-checking websites showed no sign of DNS, WebRTC or other leaks.
MySteganos Online Shield VPN doesn't have the locations, speed, features or configurability to match the best of the competition, but low prices and capable unblocking performance make it a decent choice to stream US Netflix from anywhere, and the 7-day trial is a hassle-free way to see if it works for you.
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