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Windscribe is an interesting VPN service based in Canada. While it is not really a market leader, this VPN has some decent features to offer. But it also has some notable drawbacks, which we will closely examine in this Windscribe review.
Perhaps most concerning is the recent Windscribe security breach in Ukraine, where they left servers unencrypted. Because the servers were left unencrypted, Ukrainian authorities were able to obtain Windscribe’s private key when they seized the VPN servers.
While this incident demonstrates that Windscribe does not follow “industry best practices” (by their own admission), they have pledged to beef up their security. But before we dive into all the details of this Windscribe VPN review, let’s first cover an overview of the Pros and Cons.
- User-friendly applications
- Good leak protection features
- Ad blocker (ROBERT)
- Free plan with 10 GB of data per month
- Browser extensions
- Slow speeds
- Server security issues
- Uses IKEv2 as default protocol
- Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
- AI-based support system
- Issues with professionalism
Additional research findings:
- Windscribe logging policies
- Does Windscribe work with Netflix?
- Is Windscribe good for torrenting?
- Windscribe prices and refund policy
Now let’s get into the results of this Windscribe review.
1. User-friendly applications
For this Windscribe review, I tested out both the Windows and Mac OS VPN clients. The VPN apps were user-friendly and simple, while also having some nice features.
Here was the Windscribe Windows VPN client I tested:
Clicking the three lines in the top-left corner of the VPN client will open up additional options and features for you to select. You can select startup options, auto-connection, customize notifications, and also modify the layout of the VPN client.
Overall I liked the look and feel of the Windscribe VPN clients. They are simple, clean, and intuitive. Although I did not test the Windscribe mobile apps for this review, they look similar and also have a decent rating (4.3) in the Google Play Store.
2. Good leak protection features
Another “pro” with Windscribe is the leak protection features.
In both the Windows and Mac OS clients, Windscribe offers a “Firewall” setting to block traffic if the connection is not active. The Firewall feature gives you three options: Manual, Automatic, and Always On.
Windscribe also allows you to configure DNS settings within the client. Below you can see both the Firewall options and DNS settings in the Windows VPN client. The “Firewall Mode” basically functions as the VPN kill switch.
Ok, now on to the tests.
I ran Windscribe through a round of basic VPN tests and checks to identify any issues. The test results were good. I did not identify any leaks with Windscribe.
Here I’m testing the Windows client for IP address leaks and DNS leaks:
Above you can see that everything checks out (no leaks). I also ran the Windscribe Mac OS client through the same basic tests and the results were the same: no leaks.
Encryption – The Windscribe VPN desktop client uses an AES-256 cipher with SHA512 auth and a 4096-bit RSA key. The browser extension uses TLS 1.2, ECDHE_RSA with P-256 key exchange and an AES_128_GCM cipher.
WireGuard – Windscribe announced in July, 2020 that they now support the WireGuard VPN protocol. WireGuard is a protocol that aims to be much faster and more reliable than legacy protocols, while also upgrading the security. We’ve found that VPNs with WireGuard can really outperform those using legacy protocols, as you can see in the NordVPN vs ExpressVPN speed comparison.
In terms of basic security settings, Windscribe does well.
3. Windscribe’s ad blocker (ROBERT)
Another cool feature that Windscribe offers is an ad blocker. The Windscribe ad blocker is called ROBERT. I’m not sure if “ROBERT” is an acronym for something, but either way, it does quite a bit of blocking.
Windscribe offers basic filter lists, which will block the following categories of URLs:
- Ads + Trackers
- Social media
- Fake News + Clickbait
- Other VPNs
This is a pretty robust filter feature. It is similar to the TrackStop filter, which we covered in the Perfect Privacy review. However, one cool aspect with Windscribe’s ROBERT is that it is customizable. In other words, you can create custom white-lists for domains or IP addresses as well as custom block-lists.
This is a server-side ad blocker, which means it works independently of the VPN client with any device you are using. If you want a good VPN ad blocking solution, this may be an option to consider.
4. Free plan with 10 GB data/month
The last “pro” we will examine in this review is Windscribe’s free plan. Windscribe offers a free plan with the following restrictions:
- Only 10 GB of data allowed per month
- The ROBERT feature only includes the “Malware” filter list (no blocking of ads or trackers)
- Limited number of servers
On a positive note, Windscribe does give you a few different ways to increase your bandwidth allowance, including through promotional tweets and inviting friends.
While I generally do not recommend free VPN services, this may not be a bad option if you don’t need very much data. This is arguably the best free VPN with a free plan at 10 GB, while most others have a smaller data limit.
5. Windscribe browser extension
When you go to download Windscribe, you notice that they recommend downloading both a VPN application and a browser extension.
More and more VPNs are offering browser extensions that can be used with VPNs. We covered this trend in our guide on the best VPN for Chrome browsers. Some VPNs use the browser extension as a proxy. Others use it just to control the desktop VPN client.
So why use the VPN together with the browser extension? Windscribe shows some of the benefits of combining the desktop client with their browser extension below:
Using a browser extension may be good in certain situations. However, it’s also important to note that a browser extension is not a VPN. Instead, it is an HTTPS proxy, which does not offer the full protection of the VPN, such as firewall protection against IP leaks. This is noted in the table above, even though they refer to the proxy extension as a “browser-only VPN client”.
Now let’s examine the cons of Windscribe.
1. Windscribe slow speeds
One big drawback with Windscribe is the performance with the OpenVPN protocol. To check for speeds with Windscribe, I used a 160 Mbps baseline (non-VPN) connection and tested many VPN servers throughout the world. My physical testing location was in Western Europe.
Note: I configured the VPN client to only use OpenVPN UDP, which offers better performance over OpenVPN TCP.
The Windscribe VPN client gives you the option to connect to the “Best Location”, which should offer the best speeds. Here were the results:
“Best Location” speed test with a nearby Windscribe server in Germany: 28 Mbps
This is definitely not a good test result for a nearby server, which should be offering near full capacity bandwidth.
Next up was a Windscribe server in Switzerland, which gave me even slower speeds around 18 Mbps.
I also tested a few Windscribe servers in the UK, which gave me about 30 Mbps.
If you want a fast VPN for the UK, Windscribe would probably not fit the bill. There are certainly better options to consider.
Next, I tested Windscribe servers in the United States. The test results were equally disappointing.
Here is a Windscribe server in New York giving me about 10 Mbps.
Even with the longer distances, this is still very slow.
Fortunately, there are a few different options for you. You can skip on OpenVPN and select the IKEv2 or WireGuard VPN protocols, which may be faster than OpenVPN.
Comparison – The fastest VPN we have tested so far is NordVPN. We were able to hit speeds up to 445 Mbps on a 500 Mbps internet connection.
2. Windscribe server security issues
We wrote a detailed article on the Windscribe security breach right after learning how it unfolded. You can read the original article, but here are the main highlights:
- Windscribe left its VPN servers in Ukraine unencrypted and unsecured.
- When Ukrainian authorities seized the servers, they also obtained Windscribe’s private key.
- With the private key, Ukrainian officials could decrypt traffic and spy on Windscribe users.
- Windscribe admitted that it does not follow “industry best practices” with its server network, but promised to change.
- Windscribe is in the process of upgrading server security and hopefully undergoing a security audit.
This incident highlights a major flaw in how the VPN itself is operated. We have seen other VPN services, include ExpressVPN and Perfect Privacy, also undergo server seizures. However, these other VPNs actually secured and encrypted their servers properly, which resulted in no customer data being affected.
Fortunately, Windscribe promises to upgrade security. However, the damage to its reputation is done, similar to IPVanish after the IPVanish logging incident.
3. IKEv2 is default protocol (rather than OpenVPN)
Another interesting thing with Windscribe is that it uses the IKEv2 protocol as the default option in the VPN clients.
While IPSec/IKEv2 is generally considered to be secure, it does have some noteworthy drawbacks. For one, IKEv2 is not open source and has not undergone extensive auditing like OpenVPN. Within the privacy and VPN community, OpenVPN is generally considered to be the gold standard.
If you examine the Windscribe VPN client, you’ll see that the default option is set to IKEv2, rather than OpenVPN.
Windscribe probably decided to make IKEv2 the default because it offers better speeds than OpenVPN. Once again, however, there is a security tradeoff here and OpenVPN should probably be used as default.
Switching to a more secure protocol is easy. Simply open the settings, then select “Manual” and choose the protocol you want to use.
4. Based in Canada (Five Eyes)
Another drawback with Windscribe is that it is based in Canada, which is not a good privacy jurisdiction.
As we have discussed before, Canada is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance, along with the United States, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
Canada also has mandatory data retention laws and abusive surveillance practices. We discuss these issues more in my guide of the best VPNs for Canada. Jurisdiction is an important consideration when choosing a VPN because this determines what laws and governance the VPN must operate under.
Copyright violation laws are another aspect to consider with jurisdiction. Canada has some strict laws against copyright violations, along with data retention that is used to prosecute piracy (copyright infringement) cases.
5. AI-based support system
One thing that I found rather annoying with Windscribe is that they are using a robotic AI-based support system, which they call “Garry”. When attempting to get help with some connection problems, I fired up a chat window. Garry did provide some suggestions and tips, but ultimately I wanted to speak with a human, rather than an AI bot.
After growing frustrated with the AI bot, Garry eventually offered me the option to “talk to a human”. This opened a screen where I could submit a support ticket and get help via email. There was no option to chat with a human.
Most of the top VPN providers, such as NordVPN and Surfshark, offer 24/7 live chat support with real humans. On a positive note, however, someone did email me some suggestions within 24 hours. Nonetheless, live chat support with a human being would be a lot better.
6. Issues with professionalism
One strange thing I noticed with Windscribe is that it really seems to be lacking in the professionalism department.
The first red flag I noticed was during the Windows client installation process. If you choose “Custom Install” you will see the following options under the “customize the experience” tab:
- Slow down the connection
- Disconnect randomly
- Show random errors all the time
Below this, you see in light grey letters, “Just kidding. These checkboxes actually don’t do anything.”
I guess this is Windscribe’s idea of a funny joke. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but given the importance of security and privacy, I don’t see this as the best venue for jokes about VPN errors and problems.
But that’s not all…
When you uninstall Windscribe, you are redirected to a page with a monkey picture, profanity, and a YouTube video of the 90’s boy band N’ Sync. At the bottom of the uninstall page, you’re greeted with this message:
Additional research findings
Below are some additional findings for this Windscribe review.
Windscribe logging policies
In my previous Windscribe review, I called them out for falsely claiming to “delete everything” – a claim that does not align with their own policies.
Previous false claims:
On the Windscribe features page, you can see they are now claiming to have “no identifying logs”.
Current logging claims:
So let’s examine the fine print.
At the very bottom of the Windscribe End User License Agreement (EULA) you find the following:
“When you use Windscribe, we keep the following data associated with your account:
- Total amount of bytes transferred in a 30 day period. Bandwidth reset date is in your “My Account” section.
- Timestamp of your last activity on the Windscribe network.
This data is used to enforce free tier limitations, prevent abuse and weed out inactive accounts.”
Verdict: In terms of logging policies, this isn’t too concerning.
Many VPNs record timestamps (see our ProtonVPN review) and/or data transfer, which alone cannot be used to identify users.
If privacy is a concern, there are also a handful of no logs VPNs that have been verified.
Does Windscribe work with Netflix?
Although Windscribe does indeed work with Netflix to a limited extent, it’s not the best VPN for Netflix I have tested.
First, I found that Windscribe does indeed unblock Netflix. I tested this with the Windflix US and Windflix Canada servers. Both worked without getting blocked.
I did run into some problems, however, with playback speed and buffering. The connection did not seem very stable and consistently fast. To verify these issues, I ran some speed tests with the Windflix US server, which gave me around 5 Mbps.
Overall, Windscribe might be an OK option for streaming, but it’s not the best VPN for Netflix due to the speed issues.
Firestick – Maybe you want a good VPN for Firestick, since this will help unlock stream channels. Windscribe VPN might be a good option because they have a dedicated app for Firestick in the Amazon Store. With that being said, the slow speeds may affect HD streams.
Is Windscribe good for torrenting?
Windscribe may not be the worst VPN for torrenting, but it’s also not the best. The main issue is the speeds. After all, torrenting with a slow VPN can be a real drag.
Windscribe’s official policy is that they allow torrenting on most servers. From their website:
You can use the Bit Torrent protocol in any Windscribe server location except India, Japan and WINDFLIX. Simply connect to any other Windscribe location in our desktop applications and use any torrent client as you normally would. That being said, we don’t condone using Windscribe for any illegal activity.
There are other good VPNs for torrenting, although Windscribe certainly is not the worst choice.
Windscribe VPN prices and refund policy
The prices for the paid plans with Windscribe are about average for the VPN industry.
The “Build A Plan” option allows you to select which server locations you want and pay accordingly.
Although Windscribe is not one of the cheapest VPNs, it still offers a pretty good value when you consider all the features.
Windscribe’s refund policy contains some fine print. Here are three important points to keep in mind before you purchase a subscription:
- The refund window is for 3 days.
- The refund policy only applies if you purchase directly from Windscribe (no third-party sites like StackSocial)
- If you use more than 10 GB of data your refund will be void.
This is certainly not a good refund window – but at least they don’t have a “no refunds” policy, which we discovered in our TunnelBear review.
A shorter refund window is not too surprising since they encourage people to test out the free service before going with a paid subscription. You see these trend with other free trial VPNs.
Windscribe review conclusion
Windscribe has both pros and cons, as we have detailed above in the review.
I’d say the biggest “pros” with Windscribe are the features, particularly the robust ad-blocking feature (ROBERT). The apps are also user-friendly and offer some great preferences and leak-protection settings.
With that being said, there are two remaining issues:
- Windscribe is based in Canada, a bad privacy jurisdiction.
- Windscribe is slow (at least based on my tests with the OpenVPN protocol)
- Windscribe suffered a major security incident
The Windscribe security breach, as we noted above, seriously undermines the reputation of this VPN service. Can it be trusted if it does not even bother securing its own VPN servers (and user traffic)? You can decide that for yourself.
The performance issues are another big drawback, as this affects browsing, torrenting, downloads, and even streaming Netflix. For a seriously fast VPN with consistent performance, consider one of the alternatives below.
While Windscribe has made some improvements, there are better options to consider.
Best alternatives to Windscribe
Click the VPN name below to read our full review – or grab the discount for the best savings. All three of these VPNs have a 30 day money-back guarantee.
You can also check out our guide on the Best VPNs for the latest recommendations.
If you have used Windscribe VPN, feel free to share your honest review (good or bad) below.
This Windscribe VPN review was last updated on July 31, 2021 with new information and test results.