Is Proton VPN legit? An honest analysis of the service and its parent company

Proton VPN interface on various platforms
Proton VPN offers some exceptional apps for the privacy conscious (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Proton has carved out a reputation over the years as a company that takes privacy seriously. Offering a suite of privacy-first products such as Proton VPN and Proton Mail, it’s a favorite of activists, journalists, and political dissidents of all stripes.

However, despite the fact we regularly rank it as one of the best VPNs on the market, it’s never been as big a name as competitors like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Part of this is down to the way Proton VPN markets itself; the company never seems to have the same sponsorship clout as its competitors. There's also concern about how Proton, Proton VPN's parent company, has complied with Swiss law enforcement in the past and handed over user details to the authorities.

I'll take a look at Proton VPN, dig into the service, warts and all, and talk about whether it's worth your hard-earned cash.

About Proton VPN

Unlike many other free VPNs that have a decidedly cavalier attitude towards security and privacy, Proton VPN's paid and free versions are services that don’t just pay lip service to online safety. It offers dedicated tools and powerful features that show it can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Proton VPN Free is a great tool for folks looking for additional online security who don’t want to shell out for a premium service or tie themselves into a subscription. While it does offer unlimited bandwidth, and no monthly data limits at all, it still has limitations. The biggest is that you can only install it on a single device (while the paid plan supports ten). You also can’t choose a specific server location to connect to. Instead, you’ll be assigned to a random server, which isn't ideal if you’re interested in accessing specific geo-restricted content.

Want to learn more?

Check out our guide to how VPNs work for a jargon-free guide to these handy bits of security tech.

Stumping up for the paid plan gives you a whole raft of additional features – like the Secure Core technology. This is similar to the double VPN service offered by NordVPN and Express. Secure Core routes VPN traffic through a secure server, then onto a server in the user's location of choice, and this double encryption makes users less vulnerable to cyberattacks and IP address tracking. Secure Core servers are also deliberately based in privacy-friendly nations to further maximize privacy benefits for Proton's users.

Proton VPN has its own obfuscation service which it has called Stealth protocol, the purpose of which is not just to protect you online, but to conceal the fact that you're using a VPN at all, which is critically important for getting around country-level bans and censorship. Some other VPNs just tweak OpenVPN and call it a stealth protocol while Proton VPN did the hard work and created its own from scratch.

Finally, and unlike most of its competitors, Proton VPN is fully Open Source, which means anyone can check its code for vulnerabilities or audit it themselves. The company also manages its own servers, which gives it full control over both the service and the infrastructure behind it, further boosting the product's security.

Proton VPN logging policy

Proton VPN is based in Switzerland, a privacy-friendly location with strong security laws. It's also outside of US and EU jurisdiction and not part of the infamous 14 Eyes Alliance.

Proton VPN’s logging policy states:

"Proton VPN does not keep logs of your online activity. We do not store, collect, or track any information about your connection logs, IP addresses, session lengths, or location."

We've also verified that Proton VPN engages in the bare minimum of session logging. The only data it holds is the timestamp of your last login attempt, which gets overwritten when you log in again.

Fighting for privacy

In addition to creating a secure and reliable VPN, Proton VPN has proven that it's on the front lines in the fight against digital censorship and ever-increasing levels of intrusion into our lives by private companies and government agencies alike by developing the following tools:

  • Direct access to the Deutsche Welle news outlet, a critical source of independent news for people all around the world. The site is blocked in many countries, which led to Proton VPN teaming up with the outlet to roll out dedicated servers that can be used to check out stories and video content, regardless of whether you're a free or paid user.
  • The Proton VPN Observatory tracks surges in the numbers of people signing up for VPNs which could indicate a new instance of censorship happening somewhere around the world.
  • Perfect Forward Secrecy, which adds an extra layer of security to VPN sessions.

Proton VPN controversies

There are, however, a few blemishes on an otherwise sterling track record. While none of these directly impact Proton VPN, its parent company has assisted the Swiss authorities on a number of occasions by providing data to law enforcement. In 2024 a backup email provided by Proton Mail resulted in the arrest of a protestor in Spain. Unsurprisingly, this has prompted other protestors and activists to wonder if their data is truly safe when they use Proton's products.

Proton's cooperation with the authorities isn't a recent change in policy, either. Back in 2021, ProtonMail handed over a user's IP address to the Swiss authorities which led to the arrest of a French climate activist. In 2022 there was a similar incident where Proton again handed over a user's IP address to French authorities at the request of Swiss authorities.

Concerning its cooperation with law enforcement, Proton states:

"Using Proton services for activities that break Swiss law is against Proton’s terms and conditions. Under Swiss law, we're required to cooperate with law enforcement agencies on criminal investigations within the framework of Swiss laws and privacy regulations."

Remember: the most important thing to note is that none of these situations involved Proton VPN. VPNs are not affected by the BÜPF law, unlike telecommunications.

Bottom line – it's a proven privacy tool

Its claim to never log any user data has been tested and confirmed not only by our TechRadar team, but through an audit undertaken by independent security experts at Securitum. If you're concerned about your online privacy, and want a VPN that takes those concerns seriously, Proton VPN is still a great choice.

Shaun Rockwood
VPN Expert

After graduating from Stirling University with a qualification in Education, Shaun accidentally fell into the technology sector in the late 1990's and has stayed there ever since, working for companies such as PSINet, IBM and ProPrivacy in a variety of roles from Systems Administration to Technical Writer. Being around since the birth of the modern internet, he's seen the way that technology has expanded to become an integral part of everyday life, and how people's understanding and ability to retain any kind of privacy has lagged behind.

Shaun is a strong believer in the rights of the individual to have their personal data protected and their privacy respected – a belief made all the stronger in an age of surveillance from both governmental bodies and private companies all around the world.

He spends his spare time cooking, riding his motorbike and spending far too many hours in Star Trek Online hunting Klingons and Borg.