Since 2011, Moldova-based CactusVPN has kept its network to a very small scale. Nonetheless, it appears to have a lot to offer in terms of providing a secure and reliable connection.
We’ve been trying the service to see if it’s worth considering for the average user. To help you decide if it’s right for you, in this review, you can find out about pricing, performance, security, privacy, customer support, and more.
The server selection you have access to will depend on which CactusVPN plan you go with, but for the full VPN plan, there are 23 servers in 14 countries. You can connect up to five devices at a time, with mobile apps available for iOS and Android and desktop clients for Windows and MacOS. There are also apps for Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.
Features and Pricing
CactusVPN offers a few different plans, and depending on your needs, you may be able to save yourself a couple of bucks each month. If all you’re looking for is access to US VPN servers, then the US VPN plan may be all you need. For $4.99 per month, you simply get access to four VPN servers located in the US.
This may be suitable if you’re located in the US and just want to secure your connection, or if you’re outside the US and want to access geo-restricted sites. However, none of the server options allow P2P. A similar package at the same price gives you access to four UK servers instead of US ones.
The next plan, the one we’ve been testing, is VPN + Smart DNS. This gives you access to all servers (although there are only 23 of them), including some that allow P2P. You can also use the Smart DNS proxy, which can help you unblock geo-restricted content while maintaining your regular internet speed, but doesn’t help with privacy or security. This package costs $6.99 per month. The final plan actually includes no VPN at all and is just the Smart DNS by itself, the price being $4.99 per month.
Discounts are granted to users signing up for longer terms. You can get 14% off a three-month plan and 35% off an annual term, bringing the cost of the VPN package to $17.99 (around $6 per month) and $54.99 (around $4.58 per month) respectively. If you want to buy a second plan, for example, if you need to cover more than five devices or want to gift someone a subscription, you can get 50% off the regular price.
CactusVPN advertises a 30-day money-back guarantee, but only if the software doesn’t work, for example, you can’t connect to VPN servers or Smart DNS services. So this can’t really be used as a “try-before-you-buy” tactic. However, there is a 24-hour free trial available for which you don’t even have to hand over any payment information. You’ll have access to all servers and there’s no bandwidth restriction.
Payment can be made using major credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies), Qiwi, Webmoney, Alipay, and a few other methods. Bitcoin and altcoin acceptance is always welcome news to those looking for an extra layer of privacy.
Servers and performance
As mentioned, CactusVPN operates a network comprising just 23 servers in 14 countries. This is tiny, especially when you compare it to a provider like NordVPN with more than 5,000 servers or ExpressVPN which covers 94 countries.
Most servers (14) are in Europe, with a handful in North America and a few in the Asia Pacific region. Servers are all physical and are leased rather than owned by the provider themselves, which is the most common setup in the industry. When you connect to a server, you will be assigned a shared static IP address. Sharing an IP address with other users adds another layer of protection as it makes it even more difficult to trace activity back to an individual.
If you need a fast connection, you can sort the server list by speed in all apps. If you’re worried about the load on each server, this information is available within the client area server list when you log in to your CactusVPN account.
We tested several servers to see how the connection performs while carrying out everyday tasks, such as streaming, browsing, and playing online games. On all servers, we were able to stream HD video with no buffering, as well as play online games with no noticeable issues. Server switching was quick and painless and the connection was reliable with no dropping. General browsing posed no problems and the connection speed didn’t appear to diminish.
CactusVPN speed test performance
One more task we tested the servers on is downloading, which is how we gauge the server speed. We run tests that are designed to be as empirical as possible by repeating them at three different times during the day. We download a test file (165MB in size) while connected to each server, and repeat the test without a VPN as a control. The tests are run from Toronto and the same ones are performed for other VPN providers so we can make comparisons.
The results are shown in the boxplot below. The median speed is the top line of the dark blue box. Lower is better. The box size can serve as a good indicator of how consistent speeds are. Smaller means more consistent. Hovering over each dot will show a popup that displays more information about that particular result.
Here you can see that CactusVPN did pretty well, especially when we connected to a geographically close server in the US East. Some of those results were only very slightly slower than the control speed. When connected to geographically distant servers in the US West and the UK, as anticipated, there were more pronounced slowdowns, but still not much to be concerned about.
The box size (representing the spread in results) is fairly small, which is a good sign that once you’ve been using the service for a while, you’ll know what you can expect from a speed perspective.
Note that these results can only serve as an approximate indicator of what you might actually experience when using the service. The volatility of the internet adds a factor of randomness, so the tests should be taken with a grain of salt. They were run while using a 60Mbps connection, so you may see longer wait times with a slower connection, and potentially smaller or larger discrepancies.
Does CactusVPN unblock Netflix and other popular streaming sites?
Yes, CactusVPN works with Netflix and can unblock some other popular streaming sites. With US Netflix being the most popular library, that’s the one we typically test out first. Indeed, CactusVPN unblocked Netflix US with its Manassas server.
It seems that this is the one that the company is focusing on because every other country we tried doesn’t work with Netflix. While this is not uncommon, it would be disappointing for users of the UK VPN package that only comes with UK servers, if Netflix access was something they were looking for. That being said, the UK servers do work with BBC iPlayer, which is notoriously hard to unblock. CactusVPN US servers unblocked Amazon Prime Video for us, but didn’t work with Hulu.
Does CactusVPN work in China?
Yes, CactusVPN should work in China, but it might be hit and miss. Even top-rated VPN providers have a tough time serving customers in the country, with the Great Firewall having been expanded to block VPN websites themselves. While VPNs aren’t illegal in China, their use is heavily restricted, and it can be difficult to even download and install your desired software.
What’s more, the firewall is designed to detect and block VPN traffic, so providers need to use advanced cloaking (obfuscation) technologies to hide it. CactusVPN claims that their VPN service works in China for some users with the SoftEther protocol. Although, this protocol is not built into the app so you’ll need to install the SoftEther client separately. CactusVPN does provide tutorials for this, but with so many VPN websites being blocked in China, it would be prudent to download the apps and any relevant instructions before you travel to the country.
Security and privacy
CactusVPN is based in Moldova, which is not one of the Five Eyes or Fourteen Eyes countries. This is a good thing as Moldova citizens are not subject to mass government surveillance by other member states.
Even though it’s a small provider, CactusVPN focuses heavily on providing users with a secure connection, and values the privacy of its customers as much as many of its top-rated, larger competitors.
CactusVPN’s logging policy states that: “We do not store any IP addresses, traffic logs, connection timestamps, used bandwidth or session duration information that could be traced to a single person.” This implies that aggregate logs may be retained, but since nothing is linked to an individual user, there isn’t anything to be concerned about here.
If the provider was ever asked to hand over information, for example to a government agency, there would be no link between the user’s identification and any connection history.
As mentioned, CactusVPN doesn’t skimp on security. It uses “military-grade” 256-bit AES encryption along with SHA256 authentication, 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange, and perfect forward secrecy.
It provides users with a multitude of protocol options to fit your needs: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, SSTP, and PPTP. We recommend OpenVPN or IKEv2, but the latter is generally faster at connecting and better for mobile. PPTP is pretty much redundant now due to security vulnerabilities, but L2TP/IPSec and SSTP have their use cases. There are also tutorials for manually setting up CactusVPN with the SoftEther protocol; this is well-known for working in China and indeed, this is the protocol recommended for use in China by customer support.
CactusVPN apps all come with DNS leak protection. It is disabled by default, but can be toggled on in the Settings screen. It uses private DNS servers so you don’t have to worry about Google or other third parties seeing your DNS requests.
The service doesn’t provide protection against IPv6 or WebRTC leaks, and instead recommends that users disable IPv6 and WebRTC entirely.
It does, however, offer users a kill switch in the desktop apps, which will kill the internet connection should the VPN connection drop for some reason. This is disabled by default but you can enable it in the Settings screen of the app. Simply find Stop internet traffic if VPN is dropped and toggle on.
In addition to the main kill switch, there is an app-specific kill switch, the “App Killer,” which enables you to select specific apps to be closed if the VPN connection drops. To add apps, you’ll need to go into the App Killer screen to add the applications you want to be affected. This is intended for use when the kill switch is disabled and is a handy feature if you just want to protect specific apps, for example, for torrenting.
Settings and interface
CactusVPN’s apps are very simple to set up and intuitive to use. Just download the appropriate app for your device and log in using the credentials provided. Note that you will receive separate login details for the VPN apps that are not the same as the username and password you use for the website client area.
For the purposes of this review, we’ve been trying out the Windows and iOS apps.
Once you’re logged in to the desktop app, the main screen will tell you that you’re not protected and display a server for you to connect to. To connect to the server shown, simply hit the Connect button. To choose a different server, go to the dropdown list. There aren’t many bells and whistles, for example, a search function or the option to view the list by city, but this makes sense with such a small list of servers. You can, however, sort the servers by speed, which is handy if you just want the fastest connection.
Once you’ve connected to a server, you’ll see a blue Disconnect button on the main screen and you’ll no longer be able to access the server dropdown list.
Over in the Settings tab, at the top, you have the option to switch VPN protocols. Note that this and many of the options below will appear grayed out and will be inaccessible while you are connected to a VPN server.
Below that are several application startup options, followed by the kill switch (Stop internet traffic if VPN is dropped), DNS leak protection, and a server sorting option.
The final tab of note is the App Killer which we discussed earlier. When you click Add app, you’ll be able to select any application installed on your computer that you’d like to kill in the event that the VPN connection drops.
The main screen of the mobile app is very similar to that of the desktop version. You simply have the server location and whether or not you’re connected. Clicking the dropdown will enable you to select a server location and you can sort this list by speed if you wish.
Settings can be accessed by clicking the menu (three lines) icon in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. The resulting screen is notably more sparse than the desktop app settings menu and is missing the protocol dropdown, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection.
The app is very basic, which will be welcome news for beginners, but advanced users might be looking for additional features.
If you require help while setting up or using the service, CactusVPN has several customer support options for you to choose from. The Support page on the website has setup tutorials, FAQs, and an option to submit a ticket, as well as some general information about VPNs.
The FAQ section is fairly robust, although you may have to get in touch with CactusVPN for answers to more technical questions. Thankfully, their live chat customer support team is on hand to help 24/7. In our experience, the representatives were very friendly and knowledgeable about the product. The live chat is in-house instead of being outsourced, which is a big plus for privacy-conscious users.
A couple of security questions had to be directed to the technical support team, for which we submitted a ticket. These were responded to within about five hours, which isn’t bad at all considering live chat is available. The response was concise and fully answered all of our questions without the need for a followup. It’s actually pretty rare to see such prompt and knowledgeable support from a smaller provider, so we were pleasantly surprised.
CactusVPN’s major disadvantage compared to competitors, and the reason we wouldn’t be comfortable giving it a higher score, is its small server network. With servers in just 14 countries, this limits the possibilities for many users, especially expats from various countries seeking to unblock content from back home. There is also the fact that it doesn’t provide IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection, although there is a workaround if it’s a major concern.
Overall, we’d recommend this service, but would advise checking the server list for your desired location first.
CactusVPN is a young Moldova-based company founded in 2011 as a “family business.” Sounds cozy and the About page says that they’ve refused offers to sell it in the past.
Why Choose CactusVPN
With 20 servers in 9 locations, CactusVPN might not boast the largest network, but the cross-platform software is dead-simple, the security is watertight, the speeds are very decent, and the prices are inviting. If budget is tight and value is a priority, you may want to give it a chance.
Best VPN for
- Netflix, Hulu, and streaming online
- Torrenting and downloading
- 24-hours free trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- No logs and no bandwidth caps
- OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, SoftEther, PPTP,
- IKEv2 and P2P allowed
- 256-bit encryption
- Kill switch, SmartDNS, kill apps
- Up to 5 simultaneous connections
- Does not unblock Netflix
- 20 servers in 9 locations
- May share your registration information in response to subpoenas
Pricing and Plans
CactusVPN has three plans -- 1 month ($6.99 per month), 3 months ($17.99), and 1 year ($54.99). These plans get you all 20 servers, VPN and Smart DNS – wrapped in one. If that’s not generous enough, all plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee with restrictions.
On the bright side, the one-day free trial has no annoying limitations, and you can test the VPN, the Smart DNS, and all the available servers without bandwidth caps. You don’t need to submit your payment details until you decide to subscribe, and you can pay via PayPal, credit/debit card, PayPro, and Bit-Pay. You can’t use a disposable email address to sign up.
CactusVPN does an excellent job of making website and app navigation a breeze for the noobs. Both the client area and the desktop/mobile apps are intuitive and easy-to-use. From the get-go, the dashboard points the finger at your login credentials for the VPN and a separate key for the Smart DNS. Similarly, the desktop and the mobile apps come with two login tabs – one for the VPN, another for the Smart DNS.
Both tabs come with basic settings and a few advanced tweaks you can toggle. I loved the simplicity and accessibility.
You can setup CactusVPN on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. I was relieved the Android app came with OpenVPN embedded – no need to mingle with additional config files.
The settings allow you to sort and choose servers, define the auto-start options, enable a DNS leak, a kill switch, and an app switch, which comes as a standalone feature and lets you pick which apps get shut down if the connection drops. You can also choose the protocol while the dashboard has plenty of easily accessible guides, keys, proxy settings and other perks for the geeks. The desktop and the mobile apps, however, are visibly geared toward the noobs.
The technical details look good, too, with ample choice of protocols including OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption.
CactusVPN performed remarkably well in synthetic speed tests using both the US and the UK servers, with only minor latency increase. Here's my speed test before CactusVPN:
and here are two results from my test while connected to the US and the UK server:
The security tests showed no issues – no WebRTC, DNS or IPv6 leaks:
The client displayed a minor lag while connecting/disconnecting but barely enough to notice. The overall performance was excellent, and the speeds didn’t plunge.
CactusVPN keeps a list of the streaming services their Smart DNS can unblock. It’s an impressive – and convenient – list you can sort by platform (Windows, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TV, XBOX and the like), but Netflix is not on it.
Another nag about CactusVPN is that they may share your registration or payment details in response to subpoenas and court orders, this sounds a bit off-putting if you’re privacy-paranoid.
Security-wise, CactusVPN offers a plethora of protocols, the robust encryption, the embedded and customizable kill switch, app kill, and the DNS leak protection.
CactusVPN might not be the winner on all parameters, and it has its limitations like the short list of servers and no love for Netflix. But it performs remarkably well, offers great speeds and a fairly decent list of unblocked streaming services. Top it off with the ease of use, the cross-platform client, the kill switch and the affordable plans, and looks like a bargain.
CactusVPN is a first-class VPN service provider founded in Moldova in 2011. It started as a small company, owned by a group of friends, and grew enormously over the years. Nowadays, it operates servers all over the world, providing their customers top-notch VPN service for safe and anonymous Internet browsing. Read this detailed CactusVPN review to find out more about this company and its services.
CactusVPN is dedicated to allowing its users to use the Internet freely and anonymously. In order to achieve that, the company offers a wide range of online protection features, ranging from different VPN protocols and proxy servers to a strict no logs policy. The best part? You can use this VPN even if you’re not tech-savvy!
Once you have installed the CactusVPN application on your computer or phone, you get to choose how to protect yourself. The client is very modern, sleek and, most importantly, easy to use. You can choose the protocol and server you want to use, as well as whether you actually want to keep logs.
The interface is a perfect match of simplicity and endless possibilities. If you’re not a tech-savvy person and want the application to do everything for you, you’re in luck – CactusVPN can do just that! But if you like to play with options or combine different VPN protocols and proxy servers, you can do it too!
Performance and Reliability
The number of servers isn’t CactusVPN’s biggest advantage, but what they offer should be enough for most VPN users. There are 25 VPN servers located in 15 countries: the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Romania, Germany, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Latvia, Japan, Singapore, and France. Note that P2P is allowed on servers in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Latvia, Romania, and the Netherlands.
Like with all VPNs, your Internet connection may suffer a bit when you use CactusVPN. However, the drop in speed is minimal and shouldn’t interfere with your online activities. The company looks to solve this problem with its Smart DNS service, though. CactusVPN provides unlimited bandwidth, so you can rest assured that you won’t be charged any extra money no matter how many files you download or upload.
In order to provide you with top-of-the-line VPN service, CactusVPN is supported on all major platforms. CactusVPN works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Ubuntu, and even on some routers and Boxee Box.
You can use CactusVPN on various devices, as long as their operating systems are compatible with the VPN. You get to use up to 5 devices simultaneously, but they can’t be connected to the same server.
In order to enable you to surf the Internet smoothly, safely, and anonymously, CactusVPN provides SSTP, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and SoftEther VPN protocols. You can choose which protocol you want to use during a certain online session and you can switch between them without restrictions. All of them are available for all subscribers at any time. Note that you’ll have to perform a manual setup in order to gain access to SoftEther. The manuals are provided on the official website.
CactusVPN offers unlimited server switching. You can easily change the server you are using by changing the city or country where the server is located. This is important because different website versions are presented in different countries – with CactusVPN, you get to open whichever version of the website you want.
CactusVPN always shows you which server is the fastest at the moment, so you can connect to it and enjoy greater speed. Your speed and bandwidth are unlimited with CactusVPN, but your connection can slow down at some point, especially if a lot of people use one server at the same time.
In addition to these excellent features, CactusVPN has some extra options for their users. For example, there’s DNS and IP leak protection for added safety and protection from hackers or cyber criminals. CactusVPN provides a kill switch that enables you to choose which apps and programs should be turned off first if your VPN stops working properly.
Security and Privacy
As we already mentioned, CactusVPN supports 6 different encryption protocols including the most secure of them all, OpenVPN, which we sincerely recommend. The company uses AES-128 cipher with RSA-2048 handshake and SHA-1 HMAC authentication. It also implements perfect forward secrecy to distribute new keys for each connection.
CactusVPN doesn’t keep any logs regarding your IPs, DNS requests, online traffic, connection, and bandwidth. In other words, the company doesn’t store any data that can lead back to you or identify you as an individual.
CactusVPN also offers a variety of free proxy servers, which can additionally improve your experience. Smart DNS proxy keeps you safe and anonymous and DNS leak protection makes sure your information is impossible to access.
We were previously informed about the 24/7 live chat offered by CactusVPN. This, however, is not the reality since the mentioned live chat operates Monday through Friday 9:00 – 18:00 CET.
If you’re not a fan of live chat, you can also check out the FAQ section, which is very informative, just as the website itself. In case you don’t find the information you need, you can also submit a ticket and receive a reply via email.
CactusVPN offers the following subscription plans:
- US VPN (4.99$ monthly/14.97$ quarterly/59.88$ annually) – 4 servers in the US
- UK VPN (4.99$ monthly/14.97$ quarterly/59.88$ annually) – 5 servers in the UK
- VPN + Smart DNS (6.99$ monthly/20.97$ quarterly/83.88$ annually) – The complete list of 20 servers available
- Smart DNS (4.99$ monthly/14.97$ quarterly/59.88$ annually) – Original provider’s speed
CactusVPN has a 24-hour free trial version and a 30-day money-back guarantee in the following cases:
- If you’re unable to connect to one of the offered servers in your package
- If at least one site on the Smart DNS list of unblocked sites is still blocked for you
- If your Smart DNS service stops working
Your subscription can be paid with any major credit card, as well as via BitCoin, PayPal, Qiwi, Webmoney, Boleto Bancario, Yandex Money or Alipay.
CactusVPN Pros & Cons
As we wrap up this CactusVPN review, here’s a quick overview of the features that wowed us and the aspects of the service that could use some improvement.
- Combination of VPN and proxy service
- Unlimited speed and bandwidth
- Maximum encryption with 5 different protocols
- No user activity logs policy
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 24/7 professional customer support
- Accepts BitCoin and many other payment methods
- No additional malware protection
CactusVPN in brief:
- P2P allowed: Only on VPN + Smart DNS plan
- Business location: Canada
- Number of servers: 25
- Number of country locations: 15
- Cost: $40-$55 per year
- VPN Protocol: SSTP
- Data encryption: AES128-SHA
- Data authentication: SSL/TLS
- Handshake encryption: SSL/TLS
CactusVPN was started in 2011 by three friends who wanted a VPN service that had that “small business” feel. Seven years later the company is still going, offering both a VPN service and Smart DNS that helps get around regional restrictions on everything from PCs to living room set-top boxes.
Features and services
When you first start up CactusVPN on Windows, you’re greeted with a tabbed interface. After you sign in, you land on the Connection tab. This is where you connect to the server of your choice.
It’s a very simple interface. There’s a drop-down menu listing all the locations, and a small button allowing you to sort the list by speed based on your location. Then below that is a big green Connect button.
CactusVPN running with an active connection.
Once you’re connected there’s not much else to see. Since it has all that space it might be nice for the app to provide some information about how much bandwidth you’re using over the VPN, but right now it’s a mostly blank space.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about CactusVPN on Windows 10 it’s that there’s no icon on the taskbar when the window is open. That is very annoying for the way I work. If you get distracted by something else on your desktop before connecting you have to alt-tab to get back to the VPN or click on it from the system tray. I asked the company about this and CEO Sergiu Candja said, “Our app is not something that people interact with on a regular basis...we see our app [as one] that works continuously (like the firewall does for example) but it doesn’t have to be permanently visible on taskbar and distract your attention.” For those who, like me, want it on the taskbar, you can drag the icon to sit on the system tray next to the system time, but that’s not quite the same as a full taskbar icon.
CactusVPN’s next tab is Settings with a variety of options you can tweak. The only options that are set by default are the VPN Protocol (without which you couldn’t connect) and the option to reconnect automatically if the VPN connection drops. On Windows, CactusVPN uses SSTP as the default protocol but also offers OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP, and PPTP.
CactusVPN’s Settings tab.
Beyond those initial settings, you can choose whether you want CactusVPN to run at startup, whether you want CactusVPN to automatically sign in when the app starts, start the app minimized, connect as soon as you sign in, enable the Internet kill switch, enable DNS leak protection, and automatically group servers in the drop-down by speed.
On the third tab there’s also an app-killer feature. This lets you block specific applications when the VPN connection drops. This can be anything you want such as a torrent program, a specific browser, an email program, anything you want really. This is something of an entry-level power user feature as you’ll have to root around in your program files to specify the EXE you want killed when the connection drops.
The final tab is the Support section where you can submit a trouble ticket, get links to your online account dashboard, and save your logs for troubleshooting.
CactusVPN has a variety of pricing tiers.
The best option is the VPN + Smart DNS tier that costs $55 per year for full access to all 23 VPN servers with unlimited bandwidth, the ability to use P2P file sharing, and the Smart DNS service.
If all you need is a VPN, CactusVPN offers U.S. or UK plans. Both cost $39 per year and give you access to four VPN servers in the country of your choice with unlimited bandwidth. These lower-tier plans do not allow you to use P2P.
CactusVPN’s location menu.
CactusVPN’s score comparing the speeds in five different locations around the world was brought down by poor scores in Japan and Germany. Overall, Cactus VPN kept about 21 percent of the base speed. The speeds in the UK and U.S,, however, were particularly standout, both around 33Mbps compared to a base speed of 90.55Mbps on the day of testing.
If all you’re interested in is a UK or U.S. connection, then CactusVPN will serve you well.
Privacy, anonymity, and trust
CactusVPN’s CEO is Sergiu Candja, and the CTO is Pavel Bodeanu. The company lists its key staff members on its website. The company doesn’t list its business addreess on the site, but the company’s official headquarters are in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; however, the core technical team is based in Moldova.
When you sign up for CactusVPN it asks for your country location and your email. For payments, you can use PayPal, credit cards, Alipay, and other international services via PayPro, or you can use CoinGate to pay via a variety of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum.
CactusVPN’s terms of service specify what kind of information the company collects based on your payment method. With PayPal, PayPro, and Coingate payments, for example, CactusVPN collects your email address, country, and your province—if you’re in Canada.
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
CactusVPN has the right privacy promises you need, and fairly good pricing. The company also offers Smart DNS services if you need to get around regional restrictions with a set-top box. The Windows app is nothing fancy, but there's still some tweaking available for users who like to have a choice about VPN protocol and app behavior.
- Good pricing
- Good speeds in the U.S. and UK
- Windows app could be more informative
- Server choices are limited compared to competitors
The VPN industry is starting to get a bit overcrowded now and there are a lot of VPN service providers out there who claim to be the best VPN service (and the fastest too), but very few of those VPN services can actually back up what they claim.
Is CactusVPN one of those services?
Let’s find out.
CactusVPN is a relative newcomer in the business of VPN services. It was founded in 2012 and since then, the engineers behind the VPN company have been hard at work in making its services as reliable as possible.
As a result of those persistent efforts, CactusVPN has attracted a decent amount of attention from the market both in terms of number of customers and media exposure.
If you read most of the stuff that is being put up on the internet related to CactusVPN, you would find that CactusVPN always gets mentioned alongside VPN services that are streamlined and reliable.
You are going to have to read the full review in order to know if CactusVPN really is a premium VPN service or not.
With that said, there is no doubt about the fact that CactusVPN has some pretty unique packages in terms of price and features.
CactusVPN, along with its VPN service, also offers a SmartDNS which can be purchased by interested users alongside its VPN service in the form of a bundle.
But is that all that CactusVPN can bring to the table?
What is it that attracts customers to CactusVPN rather than some of the other VPN services?
Because if there is one thing true about the VPN industry, it’s that you have to provide more value for the money than the next VPN company in order to have any chance of success and profit.
To its credit, CactusVPN gets to work rather early when it comes to attracting potential new users and it does that from the front by offering packages at prices that are unique and a bit out of the ordinary which at least makes CactusVPN stand out from the crowd in this aspect.
But how does the actual VPN service stack up against some of the best VPN service providers in the market?
Let’s find out.
CactusVPN distinguishes itself from the rest of the crowd by offering not just the standard monthly packages but also a set of packages not offered by any of the top VPN services in the industry.
Perhaps we should also mention here that CactusVPN doesn’t only offer monthly packages but also quarterly and annually ones.
Okay, so you might as well be thinking that this is pretty standard, so where is the kick?
Well, on the face of it, CactusVPN appears to be offering much of the same packages that other elite VPN services offer to their new users.
But further inspection indicates that CactusVPN packages are a bit more complicated than that.
Basically, you have the traditional packages which allow you to use the VPN service for a certain length of time such as a month, four months or a year.
Packages for all these durations are readily available for new users to sign up for, but along with those standard packages CactusVPN throws in packages which can only be described as plans rather than anything else.
There are five types of plans and they are available to new users for different lengths of time. So you have packages that are strictly length dependant and extra packages (plans) that are formed with a combination of location and time period.
These extra plans are as follows:
- SmartDNS: This packages basically allows new users to sign up for a SmartDNS service rather than the real VPN service. Not exactly a VPN package but useful for those who are willing to try new stuff.
- VPN + SmartDNS: In this combo deal, users can expect to have access to special servers that are located in regions such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Romania among other places.
As should be obvious from the branding of this package, users will also get a SmartDNS service along with the standard VPN service as part of the deal.
The only other thing noteworthy about this combo package is that users will be able to select their favorite from 16 different servers.
- US VPN: CactusVPN has four servers located in the United States of America and as the name of this package suggests, users who sign up for this package will be able to access all those servers which are United States based
- UK VPN: This package is quite similar to the US VPN one. The only different, of course, is that this package allows users to access all CactusVPN servers that are located in the United Kingdom.
The total number of VPN servers come to around 6 as far as CactusVPN is concerned.
- Liberty VPN: This package is a bit different from the rest of the packages in the sense that it allows subscribers to access servers located in two different locations.
This package offers a total of sixteen CactusVPN servers. Four of those sixteen servers are located in the Netherlands and the other two are present in a country by the name of Romania.
As far as the actual pricing of the packages goes, it gets a lot simpler here.
Essentially, the US VPN package along with LibertyVPN package, UK VPN package, and the SmartDNS package all cost the same, which is around $3.49 per month if you want to make the payment using USD currency.
However, if you show a bit more commitment then CactusVPN brings the price down to $9.09 for four months. If you sign up for twelve months, though, a full year, CactusVPN brings the price further down to $27.29 per year.
New users or old ones looking for a simple VPN service with simple packages can’t get any better than this as far as pricing goes. We’ll get to the actual VPN service a little later in this review.
Moreover, if you just want the SmartDNS then CactusVPN has got you covered as mentioned before.
The prices are all pretty competitive if we compare then to the rest of the elite VPN services out there in the market.
As indicated earlier in the review, CactusVPN also offers a sort of complete package in the form of VPN service plus SmartDNS. This package is a bit more expensive when compared to other four packages for the obvious reasons (it includes a VPN service plus a SmartDNS service while other packages don’t).
You can sign up for the CactusVPN VPN plus SmartDNS package for about $4.89 per month. Extend the contract to four months and you can have the complete package for about $12.59 for four months.
If you want to sign up for the complete package for twelve months then you can do that by paying $38.49 per year.
This package might seem on the expensive side, but as mentioned before, this is pretty reasonable considering what other VPN services are offering for the same price.
Of course, the quality of a VPN service can’t be solely determined by the price of packages. It depends on the reliability and stability of the actual VPN service more than the price. Don’t worry, we’re getting closer to that part already.
The more savvy of our readers would have already figured out that the best bang for the buck lies in the complete package. The price difference isn’t significant enough to not opt for the VPN plus SmartDNS package.
Maybe CactusVPN has done this on purpose or maybe it hasn’t but it doesn’t change the fact that given the relatively small difference between normal packages and the complete package, the complete package offers more for less.
Of course, the deal breaker for many as far as the normal packages go, would be the limited number of available servers.
As mentioned before, CactusVPN offers just sixteen servers which is extremely limited given that some of the other VPN service providers are offering much more at a similar price. And since VPN servers have made quite a name for themselves in going down once in a while and sometimes can become slow too, a large number and variety of servers is a must for any VPN service to remain competitive in this industry.
If you’re not that worried about pricing, then know that the extra $10 that you will pay for the complete package (if you sign up for the complete package for a duration of a year) is well worth it because of the extra features and additional options.
Potential new CactusVPN users can pay through a variety of methods such as credit card (CactusVPN accepts American Express), Paypal and several other payment methods that hide your identity and provide you more protection as far as your privacy is concerned.
New users can pay for CactusVPN through Webmoney and Qiwi as well, but if you want to remain on the safe side then avoid paying for CactusVPN through Alipay because recent reports have revealed some connections of Alipay with the Chinese government so it is always preferable to stay out of this kind of a situation.
CactusVPN has recently added more payment options such as Bitcoin. Now, Bitcoin is a pretty safe way to make online payments and hence we think that CactusVPN has stolen the march on many of its rivals by offering such a wide array of payment methods.
CactusVPN also offers a 30-day money back guarantee for new users who want to test the VPN service out before committing too early. So if you’re not satisfied with the service after a period of 30 days then you can opt out without getting charged.
There is also a 24-hour free trial which enables potential new users to use the VPN service for free for a whole day before making the purchase.
Most of the top VPN services don’t have such offerings and the ones who do are already abandoning them, so it is quite refreshing to see a VPN service sticking to what is best for the end user.
Moreover, you don’t even need to enter your payment credentials if you want to try out CactusVPN for a period of 24 hours for free. The only thing CactusVPN wants from you is your email address which it uses to register you.
After you have registered with CactusVPN using your email address, CactusVPN staff will send you a confirmation email which will have the details on how to use CactusVPN service.
When you sign up for CactusVPN, you can expect to have up to five different VPN protocols. This also gives CactusVPN some edge over the rest of its peers. The five protocols are as follows:
CactusVPN employs AES-256-CBC encryption so you can rest assured that your connection to the VPN service is safe and secure from spying agencies and marketing companies.
CactusVPN provides a number of compatibility options for a number of devices and operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS.
Linux users will have to wait further because CactusVPN currently doesn’t support the platform.
CactusVPN Installation And Features
If you’re using CactusVPN on Windows then the process is as simple as downloading a file and then installing it. The app’s interface is clean and simple which makes it easy for new users to navigate and hence use.
The desktop app has a homepage which has simple buttons and users can click on those button in order to select servers in the country they want to. Users can also choose individual VPN servers that they like the most.
Moreover, the app also allows users to sort out available VPN servers by speed.
The desktop software application also enables users to vary their VPN protocols from the main app. If the user wants to use SoftEther though, then that requires a different setup.
It’s not a cause for worry because CactusVPN’s official website provides the setup for that.
If we go into a bit more detail regarding the desktop app, we see that there is a settings tab that allows users to tweak their VPN settings with the help of on and off switches.
That does not mean that the desktop version of the app is a dumbed down version of standard VPN apps. For experienced users, the CactusVPN desktop app has advanced settings.
So if you are concerned about your DNS leak protection, then you can enable that from the advanced settings tab. The DNS leak protection is disabled by default.
CactusVPN desktop app also has an AppKiller feature and that basically puts CactusVPN among the top VPN services in the business today.
There is actually a dedicated tab for the feature where users can select which applications they want to run on their devices when connection to a server becomes unstable or drops.
And when a CactusVPN server does drop the connection, the app will automatically disconnect the selected apps from the internet in order to keep your identity safe and your private data protected.
One of the other tabs includes customer support services which users can use if they run into problems regarding the desktop app.
Considering that CactusVPN desktop app offers some pretty nifty and advanced features, it is really a shame that it lacks some of the most basic functions you would expect from a good desktop VPN app.
For example, there is no way to save servers that you like more than the rest. In other words, there is no way to “favorite” specific servers.
Even though the interface is simple and intuitive, CactusVPN could have really bumped up their rankings if they just thought more about introducing some standard features.
If we’re talking about the iOS app, then the moment you log into the app, you are presented with a list of available servers.
When you select a specific server you are taken to another page on which you’ll have to install a profile. The whole process takes a couple of clicks so there shouldn’t be any problems here.
But we will add that when you install the VPN connection profile on the iOS app, it is very hard to know if the VPN has connected since there is no clear sign for that.
In fact, you’ll have to think twice before moving forward because there is very little guidance.
Every time you want to enable the VPN connection, you’ll have to go the VPN homepage and then to settings and then enable the VPN from there.
CactusVPN explains none of the above.
The biggest bonus feature regarding the app is that you can connect any number of devices using your CactusVPN account.
If you signed up CactusVPN in order to have access to a lot of servers both in number and variety, then you came to the wrong place.
CactusVPN for all its bonus features is not in the same league as some of the other premium VPN services in the industry.
Big players in the VPN industry sometimes even offer hundreds of VPN servers and connection which span across multiple countries on different continents.
CactusVPN, as of this moment, can only boast 18 servers which are located in four countries. The company has six in the United Kingdom, four in the Netherlands, two in Romania and four in the United States of America.
Of course, lack of number of servers can be a blessing in disguise depending on how you look at it.
Users who want to unblock content (such as on streaming websites) that is not hosted in one of the four available countries, will find no respite in CactusVPN.
New users (or old ones) who want a secure local VPN connection should also look at some other VPN service because CactusVPN will not cut it.
But readers should know here that if they want an increased number of connections, they’ll have to shell out more money for VPN packages.
CactusVPN offers new users, quite economical packages only due to the fact that the company keeps its costs down by offering a streamlined VPN service in terms of servers and variety.
Most users will never need more than 18 servers so CactusVPN’s offering isn’t bad. It’s just not the best.
To put it another way, eighteen servers is pretty sufficient for anyone who wants privacy and security when connected to the internet.
Besides, USA and UK form two of the most popular markets in terms of content (movies, documentaries, apps, games) so CactusVPN has got you pretty much covered if you’re interested in the US version of your favorite streaming site.
Don’t forget, the servers in Netherlands and Romania can prove to be really useful if you want to download files from the internet and engage in torrenting without worry.
Moreover, don’t forget that if you sign up for a package that is restricted in terms of location then you will have an even lesser number of servers to connect to.
Nevertheless, as mentioned before, even one or two server locations can prove to be enough for the majority of the users.
Users who don’t want to access content that is locked have got nothing to worry about because CactusVPN is a reliable enough VPN that provides online security and complete privacy protection.
In short, the limited number of VPN servers will not prove to be a problem for users who don’t want to access blocked content.
Moreover, there are no limits to the amount of data you can download through CactusVPN. In other words, the bandwidth is unlimited.
But do keep in mind that if you abuse your “unlimited” privilege and it starts to affect other users, CactusVPN will restrict your access to the internet through their application for a certain period of time. You don’t have to worry about the speed though.
Additionally, CactusVPN allows users to engage in torrenting activity but it can only be done on servers that are located in Netherlands and Romania.
In other words, you can only perform torrenting with CactusVPN if you sign up for the Liberty package or the complete package.
Thankfully, CactusVPN does not affect your internet connection speed that much. Even if there is an impact, it is minuscule. So small, that most users will not be able to even perceive the slower connection speed.
With CactusVPN you will be able to open web pages without any problem and will be able to download content at your normal speed.
You can stream videos too if that wasn’t clear already.
CactusVPN Customer Support
Since CactusVPN is a VPN business that is based in Moldova, it doesn’t have to deal with government agencies demanding data access through data access laws. There is also less chance of the company receiving DMCA takedown requests
All that does is that it further protects the user against government organizations who are trying to know everything a user does on the internet. Had the company been based in the US or the UK, CactusVPN would have had to give up user information if a government organization had demanded it through a warrant.
CactusVPN doesn’t keep logs on its users. Therefore the company has no record of traffic, DNS requests, timestamps, IPs, bandwidth usage, connection logs on any of its subscribers.
Since CactusVPN uses shared IP addresses to encrypt online traffic for its users, it becomes really hard for anyone to track a single user who uses CactusVPN as his primary VPN service.
Of course, that in no way means that your internet usage is hidden from everyone on the planet. CactusVPN’s official policy clearly states that the company does keep registration data and any other information about the user that it sees fit in order to organize its activities.
That’s basically a smooth way of saying that if the VPN company faces a court order or subpoenas to give up some information on its subscribers, it will oblige to that order.
Official sources also say that the company reserves the right to block certain kinds of data usage in order to protect other users and to comply with legal restrictions and to minimize the legal threat against the company or its users.
As far as actual customer support is concerned, CactusVPN offers 24/7 customer service which operates mainly via a ticketing system which has become ubiquitous in the industry.
You should expect a prompt answer to your query if you ever need to reach CactusVPN’s staff.
The official site has dedicated sections which include tutorials for setting up the apps, a complete FAQ section, and an official Learning Centre.
There is no live chat help or support though. Our experience tells us that VPN companies who do provide live chat, tend to get the most number of customers.
Update: We have been told by official representatives of the company that CactusVPN does provide customer support in the form of live chat. It’s just not 24/7. Moreover, it works from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 18:00 CET.
Apart from that, there is really no major shortcoming on CactusVPN’s part.
Should You Buy CactusVPN Service?
To be honest, it is a bit difficult to give a verdict on CactusVPN simply because it does everything reasonably well.
However, users have reported that they feel something is missing in the VPN service.
What is that something?
Well, the downsides should be pretty obvious. The number of available servers is limited and server location variety isn’t too great either.
There is no live chat support and the iOS app can certainly use a bit of work.
Update: We have been told by official representatives of the company that CactusVPN does provide customer support in the form of live chat. It’s just not 24/7. Moreover, it works from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 18:00 CET.
With that said, there is no doubt that CactusVPN provides some of the most economical VPN packages that one is likely to find on the internet.
CactusVPN provides a basic VPN service at low cost and that makes it a pretty neat choice for anyone who is just starting to use a VPN service.
Finally, CactusVPN is suitable for you if you’re not looking for advanced features and don’t want to shell out too much money in order to buy a VPN service.
If you want to go for a VPN service that is borderline state of the art, then CactusVPN is not for you. You should keep looking at other VPN services which may be expensive but manage to offer everything a user could need in order to guard his/her privacy and other sensitive information.
- lots of compatibility options
- economical pricing
- decent speeds and good reliability
- One of the few VPN services that offer money back guarantee and a free trial
- lac of number of servers and server locations
- iOS app is not properly fleshed out
- lack of live chat support
CactusVPN is a VPN provider that offers fast, secure and anonymous internet connections through 25 servers in 15 different countries. We were disppointed to see that it can’t unblock Netflix, though. With a top VPN like NordVPN, you’d have access to over 140 geoblocked streaming services, which is quite a remarkable difference.
It uses six different VPN protocols: L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, SSTP, SoftEther, PPTP, and IKEv2. It provides strong data encryption and high speed connections, as well as unlimited bandwidth use. Peer-to-peer and torrent file sharing are allows on the Germany, Netherlands and Romania servers. CactusVPN also offers a SmartDNS option, which allows you to unblock over 200 websites.
CactusVPN is easy to configure and connect. It includes an apps killer feature, and is very user-friendly, even for beginners. The provider’s website makes it even easier to use this VPN service, as it contains many guides, tutorials and FAQs to help users.
It is compatible with several operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux. This means it can be used on most desktop and laptop computers, as well as on most tablets and smartphones. It also works on routers, Apple TV, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and other devices. Multiple devices can be used in the same account simultaneously, as long as each is connected to a different server.
The pricing structure is a bit unusual. Users can select which server locations they are going to use: US VPN or UK VPN. As an alternative, users can select the Smart DNS option, or get the full bundle, which includes Smart DNS and all 25 servers. All these options are available monthly, quarterly or annually, with discounts of 30%, 40% and 54% respectively. Free 24-hour, no restriction trial accounts are also available for most options, with the Smart DNS option having a seven-day free trial period. There is also a 30-days money back guarantee.
If you’re looking for a VPN for streaming Netflix, though, we recommend you check out the best VPNs for Netflix instead.
|Number of countries with servers||15|
|Number of servers||25|
|Does VPN keep logs?||No|
|Does VPN include a kill switch?||Yes|
|Number of devices per license||5|
1. Download CactusVPN
2. On “CactusVPN Setup” select “Run”
3. Go through the Set-up Wizard (you must agree to the Licence Agreement)
4. Click “Install”, if another pop-up appears also click “Install”
5. Click “Next”, then “Finish”
6. Select the VPN tab and enter your CactusVPN username and password
7. You can then select the country, city and protocol you wish to use, then click “Connect”
8. You can also go to the “settings” tab to alter how the VPN runs e.g. so that CactusVPN automatically connects when you turn your machine on
CactusVPN offers subscriptions based on the location of the servers you want to access, available plans are: US VPN, UK VPN, and the full bundle (which includes access to all 25 servers plus Smart DNS). Smart DNS can also be purchased as a separate option for those who don"t want the full bundle. Each of the plans are available to be subscribed to for 1, 3 or 12 months, with 24-hour trial accounts available for most plans – the Smart DNS has a trial period of 7 days. A 30-day money back guarantee is offered.
Reliability & Support
CactusVPN allows you to contact them directly using a support ticket, email or live chat. They also have an extensive FAQ section, including detailed set-up guides. The speed was excellent, we had no problems streaming videos and no connection issues.
Fast, simple, low cost, and reliable service with some limitations
CactusVPN is a great service for beginners, it is easy to set up, is very fast, and has a great low-cost service. The encryption is reliable, and everything is easy to understand. However, there are only servers present in 7 countries, the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Romania, with torrenting only allowed on the Germany, Netherlands and Romania servers, and you are charged more if you want a package that includes these locations.
CactusVPN is great for someone new to VPN services and just wants some added security online, but those who will use more from the internet and expect to use P2P software regularly may find this option to be too restrictive. If you’re looking for a quick and easy set up, plus access to worldwide servers and P2P software, opt for a leading provider like CyberGhost.
CactusVPN is a Moldova-based VPN service from CactusVPN Ltd.
It claims to offer its users anonymous browsing, hidden IP address to bypass geo-restrictions and top data protection – OpenVPN tunneling protocol with 128-bit AES encryption.
Moldova is a little Eastern European country, located next to Romania and Ukraine.
On the plus side, it’s a privacy-friendly place.
But on the downside, CactusVPN has very small server network with only 23 servers in 14 countries.
Which brings us to the age-old question:
Does size matter?
That’s exactly what we set out to find in this CactusVPN review.
|OVERALL RANK:||#42 out of 78 VPNs|
|USABILITY:||Simple and easy to use|
|LOG FILES:||No Logging Policy|
|LOCATIONS:||14 countries, 23 servers|
|SUPPORT:||Good customer support|
|NETFLIX:||Blocks Netflix USA|
|ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL:||128-bit AES encryption; OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, SSTP, SoftEther, PPTP|
CactusVPN starts strong with a no-laughing-matter logging policy. The follow it up with a local jurisdiction outside any pesky security agreements.
And they’ve doubled-down by supporting up to six protocols and working across a variety of platforms, including the Tor browser, Smart TVs, routers, and games consoles.
They even sweeten the deal with a kill switch and DNS leak protection. Take a look for yourself.
1. Collects Zero Logs
CactusVPN does not collect logs on anything.
And when we say “anything,” we mean NOTHING.
But in this case, CactusVPN means it.
They won’t track browsing history, connection logs, DNS logs, or any other traffic logs.
Of course, they’ll need to keep payment records. However, if they have no connection logs to match them to, you should be golden.
2. Outside Any Security Agreements
Moldova is located outside any data-sharing intelligence agreements.
Here’s the thing:
VPNs can mask all types of legally-questionable behavior online. But the companies behind each can’t always protect their users when the local authorities come calling.
Most won’t hesitate to hand over data when pressured by governments. And if their home country is located inside one of the Eyes alliances, that data will also be turned over to most civilized countries around the world.
Moldova doesn’t play that game, though. Any other government request for your records is going to be politely — or impolitely — rebuffed.
This, on top of a legitimate ‘no logs’ policy, implies that CactusVPN has your back.
3. Supports Six VPN Protocols, AES-128 Encryption, and a Kill Switch
CactusVPN supports OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, SSTP, SoftEther, and PPTP.
OpenVPN will generally be your go-to. But the other protocol options come in handy for specific devices (like IKEv2 on iOS), or outdated, sluggish connections.
Most VPN’s we’ve reviewed offer some mix of these six. However, one slight difference from the rest is that CactusVPN has opted to only offer AES-128 encryption.
Technically speaking, this is less secure than the beefier AES-256 option.
Their logic is that the difference is slim. And they kinda have a point, practically speaking. Most hacks won’t be through your encryption. They’ll try to go after simple errors or user negligence, first.
If you’re on an older device, this lower encryption will also come in handy because AES-256 puts extra strain on the computer’s CPU).
CactusVPN also adds a built-in kill switch to their VPN clients. But you’ll have to switch it on, first.
It’s not enabled by default, so you’ll need to go into the app’s settings and manually switch it on to protect yourself from accidental leaks when your Internet connection drops.
4. Simple Setup with No Lags or Complaints
There’s not much to say about the CactusVPN client. And that’s a good thing believe it or not.
No major lags, crashes, or other complaints while using it.
You’ll need to start at the Services page, then look for a link that says “Set up CactusVPN.”
Next, you’ll be taken to a page with one-click download option for your device and operating system.
Download the install file and within a few seconds, the client appears:
Login with your customer account details and customize your server location preferences.
By default, they are sorted by country. But you can also sort them by speed.
Then choose your server and click the green “Connect” button. That’s it.
The only annoying thing about the whole process is that in order to change servers, you need to disconnect from the current one. So make sure you have that kill switch enabled, first, before disconnecting to switch around.
Interestingly, they have also offered a related service called SmartDNS. Cactus provides a test so you can figure out which is the right choice for you. More on this extra feature down below.
5. Works on Tons of Platforms
It’s pretty standard for most VPNs to support Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android devices.
But those aren’t the only ways you connect to the Internet today.
And the problem is that if your VPN provider doesn’t make a ready-made client for each unique platform, it’ll require technical expertise or lots of troubleshooting to finagle a workaround.
Thankfully, CactusVPN has mercy.
Their service is compatible on everything from the Amazon Fire TV to Linux Ubuntu, Chromebooks, Boxee Box, routers, games consoles, and other Smart TVs by Apple or Samsung. Geez, that’s a lot!
After that long list, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that CactusVPN also works with the Tor browser.
You can even connect to five devices simultaneously. (Or, with the help of a router, unlimited.)
The Pros are stacking up!
6. Customer Support Is Lightning Fast, Friendly, & Professional
A flawless product can be derailed by one bad customer service experience.
You’re going to be left with a sour taste in your mouth if the company can’t step up to the plate and help when it matters most.
That’s exactly why we test each and every VPN’s customer service quality, response time, and overall friendliness.
CactusVPN also offers live chat. However, I decided to try their email support: I sent an email over with a few general questions.
At this point, most companies will take around a day to get back to us. The fastest times we’ve seen clock in somewhere around a few hours.
Incredibly, it only took CactusVPN four minutes to offer a custom reply. You know, from like an actual human being.
I even tried to trick them with a few follow-up email replies. But each time, it only took a few minutes for them to answer.
7. No DNS Leaks or Virus Detected
Anonymity is the name of the game for a VPN.
And thankfully, CactusVPN’s connection delivered on that promise.
We put them through a series of DNS leak tests, to see if they were accidentally exposing your real location.
But they passed all six with flying colors:
- https://ipleak.net/ (none found)
- https://www.perfect-privacy.com/check-ip/ (none found)
- https://ipx.ac/run (none found)
- https://browserleaks.com/webrtc (none found)
- https://www.perfect-privacy.com/dns-leaktest/ (none found)
- http://dnsleak.com/ (none found)
Before we break out the champagne and celebrate, there was one more thing to check.
You’d think a VPN’s install files would be legit. But we’ve seen enough shady stuff over the last few years that we no longer take anything for granted.
So we uploaded the CactusVPN install files to VirusTotal scan to check for any last-minute virus or malware. We got a troubling warning at first. But tested them again and they passed cleanly on the second go around.
The first was most likely a false positive. So you’re good to go!
I’ll be honest:
I didn’t know what to expect with little-known CactusVPN. I’d never really heard of them before trying out there service. But the initial experience was pretty encouraging.
Unfortunately, there were a few issues along the way. Each popped up once we started putting them through a few tests.
Here are the biggest problems we found.
1. Slow Server Speeds, Despite Lower Encryption
Remember the protocols and encryption section above?
CactusVPN opts for AES-128, rather than the bigger version, because they claim that it should help performance across the board.
In other words, they’re OK with sacrificing a little security for a lot of speed.
But here’s the problem:
CactusVPN’s speed was only able to come in 39th place out of the 78 VPNs we’ve reviewed.
Not terrible. But not good considering a bunch of ‘bloated’ AES-256 encryptions bested them.
And we feel comfortable saying that because each VPN gets the same test treatment.
Our normal connection speeds clocked in at 97.00 Mbps download and 53.00 Mbps upload. Then, we connect to a few different VPN servers and retest to measure the difference.
Here’s what we saw on the CactusVPN U.S. servers:
- Ping: 147
- Download: 44.99 Mbps (53.6% slower)
- Upload: 10.21 Mbps (80.7% slower)
The download speed is OK I guess. But the upload speed is incredibly slow. Over 80% slower, at 10.21 Mbps, is practically unusable.
The EU server was only able to perform slightly better.
EU Server (Netherlands):
- Ping: 84
- Download: 44.28 Mbps (54.4% slower)
- Upload: 18.54 Mbps (65% slower)
There wasn’t really much of a difference between the US server and the EU server, to be honest.
Both were just… slow.
Normally, you can point to different factors, like server location, as the underlying reason for poor performance.
The further away you’re actually sitting from the server you’re trying to connect, the lower connection speed you can expect.
Except, when you have servers on two different continents with virtually the same (slow) speed, that’s not a distance issue.
That’s a company-wide issue. And it’s troubling.
2. Want to Access Foreign Netflix Titles? Don’t Bother with CactusVPN
The CactusVPN website claims to be able to unblock dozens and dozens of services. The very first one on their list, as pictured above, is Netflix US.
Except for one teensy, tiny problem.
I tried accessing Netflix on all four of their U.S. servers. And none of them worked.
When I asked customer support about this, they told me that their VPN does not unblock geo-blocked content (that was a mouthful). So if you want that, you need to pay for a separate service called SmartDNS. Boo.
Many VPNs throw this stuff in for free, without cross-selling you an additional product. Switching your theoretical location is kinda the whole point of using a VPN.
I’d recommend these other VPNs for Netflix, instead, if you’re trying to stream foreign content.
3. Torrenting Limited to a Few Servers
On the one hand, CactusVPN allows torrenting.
Except, they only allow it on a few selected servers.
Why is that bad?
Because as we already alluded, the farther you’re physically from a VPN’s server, the slower your connection will be.
Currently, the only torrenting-friendly servers are in Europe.
Cool if you’re in Europe. Not cool if you’re not.
But that’s only the first potential performance issue that will plague your CactusVPN torrenting experience.
There are only a handful of torrenting servers available, which means they’re likely to get overcrowded by other people with the same end goal in mind.
Overcrowding often means your server’s resources get spread too thin.
And in addition, these torrenting servers are banned on two of their three packages. That means you’ll need to shell out for the most expensive plan to access servers that probably aren’t going to be very quick.
CactusVPN Cost, Plans & Payment Methods
CactusVPN starts around $3.49-$4.89 for month-to-month plans (an automatic 30 percent savings).
From there, you can save around 40% by prepaying quarterly ($3.03-$4.19 a month). Or you can even cut about 54% by paying annually ($2.27-$3.20 a month).
Their extra SmartDNS product is $4.89 a month, $4.19 a month quarterly, and $3.20 a month annually.
You can pay for these products using your favorite credit or debit card. You can also use a few different third-party payment gateways, like PayPal. Or you can even use Bitcoin and Altcoins. Great for people who are interested in anonymous payments!
Cash is not supported. Neither is waxing the CEO’s car for account credit.
They offer a free 24-hour trial period, along with a 30-day money-back guarantee. So you can try out both the VPN software and SmartDNS before ponying up any cash. Nice!
Do We Recommend CactusVPN?
CactusVPN came in 42nd out of 78 VPNs overall. They were solidly middle-of-the-pack in most areas.
We were initially encouraged by their plethora of protocol options and device compatibility. The client worked just as advertised.
And their customer support was truly excellent. Their sub-five minute email replies were lightening-quick compared to some competitors that have taken days (if not weeks) to respond to us.
But things started sliding quickly when we started up the speed tests. Neither of which was fast, unfortunately. And that’s even accounting for the lower-than-normal encryption standard that’s supposed to improve this very attribute.
Netflix didn’t work at all. And torrenting/P2P compatibility has more rules than a… well, let’s just say there are A LOT.
Using a lesser-known VPN can be a good way to save some money in the long run, all while making sure that you’re protected online. However, when it comes to those VPNs, you need to be extra careful. Since they usually don’t have a highly publicized past, like well-known and top-rated VPNs do, you’ll need to do your research. And of course, you could always use some help, and that’s precisely why we’re here. We’re about to review a relatively unknown VPN service, called CactusVPN.
What’s interesting about CactusVPN is that it comes with plenty of promises. After taking a quick look at its website, you’ll see that it promises to bring full protection of your private data. So, what can you expect? How to compare this VPN provider to its competitors? Well, we’ve prepared three handy tables, just for you, so make sure to take a quick look. Welcome to our full and hands-on review of CactusVPN!
|Logs||No logs, whatsoever.|
|Number of Servers||15 countries; 25 servers.|
|Encryption Standards||OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2, SSTP, SoftEther, PPTP.|
|Speed Reduction||32%, on average.|
|Live Chat Support||YES|
|Supported Platforms||Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, FireOS, routers.|
|Price||Starts at $4.58/month.|
We know that many of you need a VPN for media streaming. So, the question is whether CactusVPN works with Netflix, Hulu, and other popular streaming platforms? The following table will you tell you.
|Media Streaming Support|
|Amazon Prime Video||YES|
Are you in a rush? Don’t have the time to read this entire VPN review? If that’s so, we have one more table for you. Here are the most prominent pros and cons of using CactusVPN.
|The Bottom Line|
|Pros||User-friendly VPN; Simple UI; Unblocks Netflix; Supports P2P; Reliable performance; Helpful customer support.|
|Cons||Incredibly small server network; Missing advanced options.|
|The Final Verdict||Despite its drawbacks, CactusVPN is an interesting VPN solution. This especially goes for fans of media streaming platforms.|
So, that would be all for our introductory segment. Make sure to stick with us, as we’re about to dive deep into every feature that CactusVPN offers. So, join us as we explore this VPN solution.
CactusVPN – TechNadu’s Hands-On Review
Just like the rest of TechNadu’s VPN reviews, this article will also follow our uniform structure. To learn about the way we test and rate each VPN, we have a separate article on how we review VPNs.
Also, an important note: we’ve reviewed the ‘VPN + Smart DNS’ plan that brings additional servers and technologies for website unblocking and P2P file downloads. Everything said below applies only to the subscription plan in question.
Background, Jurisdiction & Reputation
CactusVPN comes from Moldova and features a ‘no-logs’ policy. There are no data leaks or data breaches in the past, which is a welcome thing to see. Our Score: 10/10.
Not every VPN is the same – and the location of their headquarters plays a significant role. So, let’s find out where CactusVPN comes from, and what that means for its users.
Jurisdiction & Applicable Laws
CactusVPN is made by ‘CactusVPN Ltd’ – based in Moldova. We can’t blame you if you haven’t heard about this Eastern European country, as it’s relatively unknown to those living outside of this continent. What you need to know is that Moldova isn’t a member of the European Union (yet) and it’s also far from the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance. However, don’t think of Moldova as being an isolated country as it’s a member of major political organizations like the UN, the Council of Europe, and plenty more.
What you need to know is that Moldova has laws regarding personal data protection. There’s also the National Center for Personal Data Protection, whose main mission is to supervise data protection laws. All in all, it looks like there’s nothing to be worried about when choosing CactusVPN, as this VPN promises not to log pretty much anything about its users. And it looks like the laws of its home country are supporting their ‘no-logs’ policy.
Previous Data Leaks
We’re pleased to report that CactusVPN comes with a reputation for protecting their users. They never suffered a data breach, nor there are any reports of unauthorized data logging. This is actually a big deal since CactusVPN has been on the market since 2011, and this isn’t a brand-new VPN. The fact that they still come with pristine reputation tells a lot.
Supported Platforms & Devices
CactusVPN runs on pretty much any device or platform imaginable, including desktop and mobile platforms, routers, media streamers, and more. Our Score: 10/10.
We’ll now show you which platforms are natively supported by CactusVPN, including all popular desktop and mobile options. Take a look at the following table.
|Desktop Platforms||Windows, MacOS.|
|Mobile Platforms||Android, iOS.|
|Web Browsers||Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox.|
|Routers||DD-WRT, Tomato, ASUS-WRT, and more.|
|Other Devices||Android TV, Amazon Fire TV.|
The table found above lists native apps for various platforms. However, it’s important to note that you can run CactusVPN on an even bigger number of devices via manual configuration. This applies to Linux, Chromebook, Windows Phone, Boxee Box, and more. It can be said that CactusVPN runs on pretty much any device and platform out there.
For complete protection, we recommend installing this VPN on a router. One subscription gets you 5 simultaneous connections, and having this VPN installed on a router takes a single ‘empty slot’. This means that you’ll be able to protect your entire household and protect yourself while on-the-go.
Installation & Initial Configuration
CactusVPN comes with a simple installation method that doesn’t require any technical knowledge. You’ll be up-and-running in no time. Our Score: 10/10.
There are two ways to get started with CactusVPN. However, the first step is always to get a CactusVPN subscription. Then, you can either download one of the official applications from its website, or you can log-in to your account.
By logging in to your account, you’ll see an overview of your subscription, you’ll get to contact this VPN’s support team, check out installation guides, and plenty more. The process of installation alone is very simple. You need to download a lightweight installation file, double-click on it, and proceed with the installation steps. All in all, this entire process should not take more than a few minutes.
Even though CactusVPN comes with a set of basic features, it falls short when it comes to more advanced options. Our Score: 7/10.
Now, let’s check out what kinds of features this VPN brings. You’ll see a helpful overview of the basic and advanced features in the table below.
|VPN Features Checklist|
|DNS Leak Protection||YES|
|IPv6 Leak Protection||YES/NO|
|Unlimited Server Switches||YES|
We can see that CactusVPN brings a strong set of basic features. There are DNS and IPv4 protections included, you also get a kill-switch and unlimited use of this VPN. However, what’s missing here are more advanced features that could have set this VPN apart from the rest.
Even though you can disable IPv6 traffic and eliminate any leaks, it’s important to know that CactusVPN doesn’t protect IPv6 traffic by default. There’s no ad-blocking or anti-malware as well, nor any features designed to protect you against malicious scripts. With this said, we believe that CactusVPN is created for average home users.
Sadly, CactusVPN brings the smallest server network we’ve seen yet – and we’ve reviewed a huge number of both hugely popular and lesser-known VPNs. Our Score: 2/10.
With some VPNs offering as many as 5,000+ servers, it’s hard for smaller VPNs to compete and get a competitive edge in this aspect. Here’s what you need to know about CactusVPN.
|Server Count Info|
|Number of Servers||25|
|Number of Locations||19|
|Number of Countries||15|
|Specific Cities Selection||YES|
We’ve reviewed dozens and dozens of VPNs so far, both big and small. However, we’re disappointed to say that CactusVPN brings the smallest server network we’ve seen yet. With only 25 VPN servers on offer, across 15 countries, you can count on the most popular VPN destinations only.
It’s also important to note that there’s a selection of P2P-optimized servers that are not available for all CactusVPN users. Instead, these servers are offered only in the ‘VPN + Smart DNS’ plan – and also, these servers are placed across Europe. This means that users from other continents should be worried about what kind of performance they’ll get.
Ease of Use
CactusVPN might not be the most polished VPN (when it comes to its UI design), but it’s easy to use and gets its job done just fine. Our Score: 8.5/10.
The first time you open CactusVPN, you’ll see a fairly nicely designed and simple interface. The home screen lets you pick a server and connect to it. You can sort the available servers by their speed, and you’ll also see a message once you connect to a secure server. All of this is found under the ‘VPN Service’ tab, and there are three more tabs present:
- Smart DNS: Instead of using the VPN solution, you can use this company’s Smart DNS for media streaming. You won’t get any of the privacy-protecting features, but you’ll be able to unblock plenty of websites. You can think of CactusVPN as a 2-in-1 solution.
- Settings: There’s a nice selection of different options that you can fine-tune. You can choose a VPN protocol, different DNS servers, enable/disable DNS leak protection, and choose how this application behaves. In terms of the Smart DNS solution, you can choose when to update IP addresses, pick a region for websites to register, and you can also choose your server (by selecting a protocol).
- App Killer: Finally, we have a feature called ‘App Killer’ which is actually this VPN’s kill-switch. You can select any application on your device that will be automatically closed if a secure connection becomes compromised.
Among other options, you’ll see a ‘Support’ button in the top-left corner, which is where you can generate logs and submit a ticket. And there’s also a ‘Notifications’ panel. All in all, CactusVPN is quite easy to use. It might not be the most polished VPN out there (in terms of its UI), but we strongly feel that you’re going to like it.
Media Streaming & Torrenting Support
Thanks to the ‘Smart DNS’ feature, you’ll be able to unblock Netflix, Hulu, and plenty more streaming platforms. Torrenting is also allowed. Our Score: 10/10.
Next, let’s talk about this VPN’s media streaming capabilities. We’ve tested whether CactusVPN works with Netflix, in addition to an array of other popular streaming platforms. So, here are the results.
|Media Streaming & Torrenting Support|
|Amazon Prime Video||YES|
What must be mentioned here is that we haven’t tested CactusVPN – in terms of its VPN-related capabilities here. Instead, website unblocking (especially streaming-related) is done via its Smart DNS option. And we’re happy to report that CactusVPN’s Smart DNS works with all major media streaming websites (including 80+ services worldwide).
Also, CactusVPN allows P2P file exchange on 9 of its servers. Once again, you need to buy the ‘VPN + Smart DNS’ subscription plan, as other plans offered by this VPN don’t allow P2P traffic.
Security & Privacy
CactusVPN doesn’t have the strongest encryption out there. However, it comes with capable VPN protocols and absolutely doesn’t collect any of your data. Our Score: 8.5/10.
What kind of encryption this does VPN bring? Which VPN protocols does it offer? Let’s answer those pressing questions and plenty more.
Supported Encryption Protocols
When it comes to encryption, CactusVPN is relying on 128-bit AES. In case you didn’t know, the majority of today’s VPNs use 256-bit AES, which is considered to be the industry standard. And also, many VPNs allow you to choose the desired level of encryption (128-bit or 256-bit). As you can see, CactusVPN is using a ‘weaker’ alternative – but that doesn’t mean that your data is in any danger.
To truth is that 128-bit AES is an incredibly secure type of encryption. Even if someone gets to your data, it will take an incredibly long time for your data to become readable. And in terms of the available VPN protocols, there’s a huge array of available ones – with OpenVPN leading the pack.
CactusVPN claims to be a ‘no-logs’ VPN. They don’t store any of your personal data – or data that could be related to your online activities. This VPN’s logging policy also says that they don’t log IP addresses, traffic logs, connection stamps, used bandwidth or session duration. And finally, they guarantee not to share any of your data with any third party.
DNS Leak Test
As you can see from the image above, CactusVPN doesn’t leak any of your data. Instead, third parties only see what this VPN is showing them – and that would be your virtual IP address, hostname, and other related information.
It’s also worth mentioning that DNS leak protection is disabled by default. We highly recommend you enable this option, so make sure to visit this VPN’s settings panel as soon as you install and launch this application.
Speed & Performance
In general, CactusVPN comes with reliable performance. It’s far from being the fastest VPN out there, but many of you will be happy with its performance. Our Score: 7/10.
To see what kind of performance this VPN brings, we’ll test the speed of its nearby and remote servers. But first, we need to establish some baseline data, so let’s get started.
Our baseline data.
Before we tested CactusVPN, we established our baseline data (we checked the speed of our ‘naked’ Web connection, without this VPN being involved). As you can see from the screenshot above, we got 148.10 Mbps for downloads and 12.71 Mbps for uploads.
The performance of a nearby CactusVPN server.
Next, we connected to a nearby server offered by CactusVPN. We’re located in Europe, with plenty of servers on offer. After allowing the VPN to connect us to the fastest-performing option, we managed to get 135.91 Mbps (downloads) and 22.05 Mbps (uploads).
The performance of a remote CactusVPN server.
Lastly, we also wanted to check how remote servers perform. For this purpose, we connected to a server in the United States. As you can see, this time around we got 65.18 Mbps for downloads and 8.23 Mbps for uploads. So, let’s put all those numbers into a table.
|Download Speed||Upload Speed||Speed Reduction|
|Baseline Speed||148.10 Mbps||12.72 Mbps||0%|
|Nearby Server||135.91 Mbps||22.05 Mbps||8.2%|
|Remote Server||65.18 Mbps||8.23 Mbps||55.9%|
We conclude that CactusVPN made our Web connection slower by 32%. This is really a good result for a relatively small VPN service. However, keep in mind that top-rated VPNs usually keep the throttling up to around 15%, on average.
This VPN has done a very good job of providing numerous learning and troubleshooting resources to its customers. Live chat is available as well (not 24/7). Our Score: 9/10.
CactusVPN comes with several ways to get help – so here’s a quick overview of what kind of customer support channels you can expect.
- Setup Tutorials: To learn how to get started with this VPN, you can check out numerous installation guides, tutorials on how to set up this VPN, how to manage your account, and plenty more. These tutorials are nicely written and they’re suitable for complete beginners as well.
- Learning Center & FAQ: If you’d like to learn more about how to use this VPN, resolve certain technical problems on your own, or even to learn about online privacy – CactusVPN offers plenty of resources that you’ll find useful.
- Support Tickets & Live Chat: Finally, you can also chat live with this VPN’s customer support team. However, this option isn’t available 24/7. When it’s not available, you can open a support ticket, and expect to receive a response within a few hours.
CactusVPN comes with a somewhat complicated pricing plan – but we can’t deny the fact that it offers an amazing deal (it’s quite affordable). Our Score: 9/10.
Did you like everything you read so far? If that’s so, let’s check out the available subscription plans offered by CactusVPN. Check out the following table.
|Total Price||Per Month||Savings|
The prices you see in the table above apply to the ‘VPN + Smart DNS’ subscription plan. This is CactusVPN’s most comprehensive plan that includes website unblocking (media streaming support) and support for P2P file traffic. As you can see, you can sign-up for CactusVPN for only $6.99 per month – which is a pretty good deal. If you’d like to bring the price down, please note that the annual plan comes with a discount of 35% – which lowest the price to only $4.58 per month.
It’s also worth noting that CactusVPN has other types of subscriptions on offer. For example, if you only need servers in the United States or the United Kingdom, this plan is priced at $4.99 per month. And if you don’t need a VPN but you want to unblock media streaming websites, the ‘Smart DNS’ plan is priced also at $4.99.
Finally, you should know that CactusVPN comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. You can pay via credit cards, PayPal, numerous other payment processors – and Bitcoin is on offer as well.
Do We Recommend CactusVPN?
This isn’t the perfect VPN – but we strongly believe that average home users are going to love it. This especially applies to those who want to unblock media streaming platforms. However, users who want the best possible protection, high-end encryption, and plenty of fine-tuning – should probably look elsewhere.
- PROS: Easy to install; Simple UI; Unblocks streaming platforms; No data logging; Helpful customer support; Affordable pricing.
- CONS: Overly small server network; Missing advanced features.
- OUR SCORE: 8.3 out of 10!
In case you’d like to know more about this, or if you’d like to subscribe to CactusVPN, make sure to use the provided link. It’ll take you to this VPN’s official website, where you can get additional information that’ll help you reach the final decision.
- 14 server locations with 22+ servers
- Five simultaneous connections
- OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, PPTP and SoftEther protocols
- Application killer
- Internet kill switch
- DNS Leak protection
- Fast speeds
- Unblocks BBC iPlayer
- No logs policy
- 24/7 support
- Shared static IPs
- Dedicated P2P servers
- Free proxy servers
- Smart DNS service included
- Free 24-hour trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Speed and Performance
ProPrivacy.com uses a custom server-based speed test system to provide you with more accurate results than other VPN comparison sites. As you can see from our results, CactusVPN’s server speeds are better than average - but not as good as the top VPNs on the market.
CactusVPN has an average download speed of 21.3 Mbit/s and a max download speed of 64.5 Mbit/s. This puts CactusVPN near the top half of the market. Our tests revealed that CactusVPN has no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks. This means it is secure for privacy purposes. To test CactusVPN for leaks visit ipleak.net.
CactusVPN's "Liberty VPN" subscription plan includes both its VPN and Smart DNS service. That plan is $6.99 per month. $17.99 for a three-month subscription (5.99 per month). And $54.99 annually ($4.58). Liberty plan provides access to all servers and server locations and provides P2P support.
Smaller plans include a US and UK-only VPN, and an option for the Smart DNS service only.
All major credit cards, PayPal, and Bitcoin are accepted. In addition, CactusVPN offers a free 24-hour trial for both its VPN and DNS services and a 30-day money-back guarantee to trial the service risk-free.
Privacy and Security
CactusVPN has a strict no logs policy. CactusVPN never stores IP addresses, traffic logs, connection timestamps, used bandwidth or the session duration. Thus, there’s no worry of usage data being handed over to third parties.
That being said, CactusVPN does state that it may “send personally identifiable information about you to third parties” if they have your consent or if they receive a warrant that requires them to disclose available information to the authorities. That means your name, date of purchase, and payment method could, in theory, be disclosed to law enforcement. This is as good as a VPN policy ever gets - so CactusVPN is considered excellent.
CactusVPN has pretty solid encryption on it's Windows and Android VPN apps, but not the best. OpenVPN is implemented with an AES-256-CBC, SHA256 HMAC authentication (on both data and control channels) and an RSA-2048 handshake. Keys are distributed for connections using perfect forward secrecy (ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384.)
The Mac and iPhone VPN clients only support IKEV2 encryption instead of OpenVPN. See the Cactus VPN website for more details about this.
All in all, this is excellent encryption implementation that is much, much stronger than the last time we checked it. This makes Cactus extremely good for data privacy. We are happy to see that CactusVPN is working hard to keep itself up to date in terms of security.
CactusVPN is a much better VPN than the vast majority of services on the market. It is good for unblocking censored or geo-restricted websites and services (though it does not work with Netflix). Torrenting via P2P is permitted and is secure thanks to its no logs policy. OpenVPN encryption is great but could be stronger. To be fair, however, it is adequate for most people's needs. Its server network isn't massive, but it does have a nice choice of server locations around the globe.
Also good news, CactusVN provides a 24-hour free trial– and if you aren't quite happy when you subscribe, you can make use of its 30-day money-back guarantee. To conclude, CactusVPN is a good all-round VPN that we enjoy using and that we have few criticisms of. Not the best - but you could do a lot, lot worse.
This VPN's list of servers is a short one, but its Smart DNS unblocks a much longer list of websites, and overall, it's decent value for money.
- Decent value
- P2P supported
- Smart DNS unblocks many streaming sites
- Bitcoin support
- Small choice of servers
- AES-128-CBC encryption
- Underpowered apps
- Below-average UK speeds
Moldova-based CactusVPN is a small VPN provider with a tiny network, but a surprisingly large set of features.
The company's 35 servers in 22 countries isn't going to win any coverage awards, for instance, but look closely and you'll find plenty of compensations. There's SmartDNS to help you unblock a claimed 310 websites, for instance; support for all the main protocols (OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, SSTP, SoftEther, PPTP); P2P is allowed on 10 servers; there are apps for everything (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Fire TV), and setup support for routers, Boxee and assorted other platforms.
ll of this can be yours for an excellent $6.99 a month, billed monthly, dropping to $4.58 if you pay for a year up-front, or $3.96 on the two-year plan. (The company used to offer very limited accounts with lower prices, but these were poor value, and we're happy to see they've been dropped.)
This looks like a fair price for what you're getting, although you can still get significantly better deals elsewhere. For example, CactusVPN charges an up-front $54.99 for a year of protection; Private Internet Access asks just $39.95, and gives you an extra two months free for your first term; Surfshark offers two years' coverage for only $47.76.
There's no 24-hour free trial any more, but signing up is quick and easy, and you can pay with PayPal, credit cards, Bitcoin and more.
CactusVPN claims to keep no logs on its users but the company will share your personal data in a few specific situations (Image credit: CactusVPN)
Privacy and logging
CactusVPN has a short but reasonably clear policy on logging, which it summarizes in this paragraph (we're leaving it unedited):
"CactusVPN have a guaranteed no-logs policy for our service. That means that we will not store any data relating to your activities while using any of our privacy solutions, and will not record, monitor, log or store any of your information. CactusVPN also guarantees that none of your information will be passed on to a third party. We do not store any IP addresses, traffic logs, connection timestamps, used bandwidth or session duration information that could be traced to a single person."
That's only 82 words, but it still manages to rule our most forms of traffic and session logging, something many competitors struggle to do in 1,000 words or more.
We do have a small issue, in that although the policy 'guarantees that none of your information will be passed on to a third party', further down the page a clause titled 'Sharing Your Personal Data' lists a few situations where the company might share data with others (subpoenas, court orders, legal processes, 'when this is necessary to protect our rights in court.')
If the 'no-logs policy' is accurate, then of course CactusVPN won't have any significant data to share, so on balance the mildly contradictory language won't matter.
CactusVPN hasn't put itself through any kind of privacy or security audit, though, so its policies haven't been verified. Customers are left to take the company's word on trust.
CactusVPN either offers clients or setup tutorials for most popular platforms (Image credit: CactusVPN)
CactusVPN comes with clients and tutorials for Windows, OS X, Android, iOS and more. We grabbed a copy of the Windows build and took a closer look.
The installer gave us more control of the setup process than usual. This also introduces some complexity, for example with options to 'AutoStart CactusVPN GUI' and install a 'TAP-Win32 Virtual Ethernet Adapter', but sensible defaults mean you can ignore these if you prefer.
The Windows client opens with the familiar list of locations, and a Connect button. If you've ever used another VPN client, ever, you'll immediately know how to get connected.
We would like to see a bit more information about CactusVPN's locations such as server load or ping times (Image credit: CactusVPN)
You'll also quickly notice the lack of location-picking features. The client can sort the location list by speed, for instance, but you don't get to see server load or ping times. There's no Favorites system or Recently Accessed list to help you reconnect to commonly used locations. But you can at least switch to another server without manually disconnecting, first, an improvement since our last review.
Browsing the client's tabs reveals a small number of more interesting touches. Enabling Smart DNS may get you access to more websites, for instance. There's a system-wide kill switch, and an App Killer to forcibly close specific apps if the VPN drops. You get built-in DNS leak protection, too, although oddly that's turned off by default. And there's support for plenty of protocols: PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2 and OpenVPN.
A quick check of the default CactusVPN OpenVPN settings suggested the service used AES-256-GCM on the control channel, but AES-128-CBC encryption on the data channel. That's not as capable as the AES-256 used by the competition, although in the real world, it's unlikely to make much practical difference. It's still most unlikely that anyone's going to be able to snoop on your traffic, even at the most insecure or wireless hotspots.
In our tests, connection drops led to the OpenVPN process being closed (Image credit: CactusVPN)
Another problem materialized when we tested the client by manually closing the OpenVPN process, forcing the VPN connection to drop. A desktop notification immediately warned us of the problem, which was good; but the client refused to reconnect, displaying an error message each time, until we closed and restarted it. That suggests an internal problem in how the client is managing its connection state, but a normal connection drop won't involve the OpenVPN process being closed, so overall this may not have much real-world effect.
CactusVPN's Android app looks and feels much the same as the desktop edition, with tabs separating VPN and Smart DNS options, a very basic list of locations and a large green Connect button. If you've used one of the apps you'll have no problem with the other, and it all worked well for us.
We noticed a few missing settings with the Android app. You can't change protocols, for instance, as you can on the desktop (it's Android only), and there's no DNS leak protection.
Look past the Smart DNS and the app is a little short on features, too. No split tunneling here, and no automatic connection when you access insecure networks.
Overall, these aren't bad apps, but they're not as powerful or polished at the top competition.
CatcusVPN's Smart DNS can unblock many popular websites (Image credit: CactusVPN)
CactusVPN didn't perform well in the VPN side of our unblocking tests, getting us access to US Netflix but failing with BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
Fortunately, the company claims its Smart DNS can unblock all of these, and 300+ other platforms (full list here). We can't guarantee that, but it did enable streaming from Amazon and Disney+ where the VPN failed.
We use a number of different speed tests to determine the performance of each VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)
In our performance tests, CactusVPN was disappointing at 30-40Mbps (top VPNs manage 66-68Mbps at that site.)
Switching to a fast data center connection in Europe, we found inconsistent but generally much-improved speeds at 35-140Mbps. That's not going to break any records, but CactusVPN was always very usable, and we were able to browse, stream and download without any issues.
CactusVPN has its limitations, including the very short US/Europe-only list of servers, but its Smart DNS aims to unblock more sites than the average VPN and the service is fair value for money.