StrongVPN – Review 2021 – PCMag AU


Switching on a VPN routes all the traffic on your machine through a secure connection to a server controlled by the VPN provider, thus shielding your online activities from your ISP and making you harder to track. StrongVPN does that, and lets you use almost three times the average number of devices on its service. It also boasts VPN servers in regions often ignored by other VPNs. Beyond that, however, StrongVPN has an awkward interface and doesn’t offer enough additional privacy or security tools to challenge our top VPN choices. It’s not cheap, either, for what it offers.

Since StrongerVPN is already slightly on the pricey side, if you’re willing to pay a bit more money, NordVPN offers both many more privacy-related features and a more modern (though still sometimes cramped) interface.

(Editors’ Note: StrongVPN is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)

How Much Does StrongVPN Cost?

StrongVPN costs $10.99 per month, which is a bit more than the $10.55 average we’ve seen across all the VPNs we’ve tested, as mentioned above. That said there are many good, cheaper VPNs that rival StrongVPN. Editors’ Choice winner Mullvad VPN, for example, costs just €5 ($5.66 USD at time of writing) per month.

As with most VPNs, StrongVPN offers a discounted rate if you sign up for a longer-term subscription. An annual plan with StrongVPN costs $79.99 per year. That’s quite a bit higher than the $69.10 average and much higher than the most affordable services we’ve reviewed—a tie between Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN and Ivacy VPN, both of which cost $29.99 per year.

One thing we don’t like is StrongVPN’s first-year introductory price of $43.99, which jumps to $79.99 per year the following year and all subsequent years. This increase is clearly communicated at signup, at least. We’ve seen more and more VPNs offer such deals. We’re not fans of this practice, which we’ve seen other VPNs implementing.

While long-term subscriptions will absolutely save you money, we recommend against starting with one. Instead, sign up for the shortest subscription available so you can test out a VPN in your home environment to make sure it will meet your needs before committing to anything.

If that’s all too rich for your blood, there are some free VPNs worth considering. Foremost among them is Editors’ Choice winner ProtonVPN, as it is the only VPN we’ve tested yet that doesn’t restrict the data usage of free subscribers.

You can purchase a subscription with StrongVPN using any major credit card, AliPay, or PayPal. The company currently does not offer an anonymous cryptocoin option. Notably, Editors’ Choice winners IVPN and Mullvad VPN both accept anonymous cash payments sent to their respective HQs.

StrongVPN has notably been the beneficiary of a consolidation that’s starting within the VPN industry. Safer VPN and VPN have both ceased to accept new customers and are referring visitors to StrongVPN. Both of those services can still be used by existing subscribers.

(Editors’ Note: VPN and SaferVPN are both owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company, as is IPVanish VPN, which is mentioned in the next paragraph.)

What You Get for Your Money

One of StrongVPN’s best facets is that it allows up to 12 devices to be connected at the same time, all under one subscription. We generally see VPN companies offering just five simultaneous connections per account, meaning StrongVPN will easily handle a family’s usage or device-heavy households. Some VPNs, however, have abandoned these restrictions altogether. Avira Phantom VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, Editors’ Choice winner Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN all place no limit on the number of simultaneous connections.

If you want your VPN connection to cover every single device in your house, including those that can’t run VPN client software, you may want to configure your router to connect via VPN. Some companies offer preconfigured routers for sale, but StrongVPN offers instructions. That said, we don’t think this setup is for the average consumer as it may cause far more trouble than it’s worth.

StrongVPN is one of the few services that offers apps for streaming devices, namely, the Amazon Fire TV.

Beyond basic VPN protection, StrongVPN has very little to offer. Some VPNs will let you designate which apps send traffic through the VPN and which do not, a feature called split tunneling. It’s especially useful for high-bandwidth, low-risk activities like streaming video. Weirdly, StrongVPN does offer split tunneling in its Android app but on no other platforms.

StrongVPN also does not offer multi-hop connections. This feature routes your traffic through a second VPN server, ensuring a secure connection. StrongVPN does not provide access to the free Tor anonymization network via VPN either. While rarely necessary, these features are still something we like to see VPNs provide. 

Among the services we’ve tested, only Editors’ Choice winners NordVPN and ProtonVPN offer split tunneling, multi-hop, and VPN access to Tor.

Keep in mind that while a VPN can improve your privacy, it won’t protect against other threats. We highly recommend creating unique and complex passwords for each site and service with a password manager, enrolling in multi-factor authentication wherever possible, and using standalone antivirus software.

What Add-Ons Does Strong VPN Offer?

When you connect to a VPN server, you share its IP address with everyone else on the same server. This can sometimes look confusing or even suspicious to some sites and services who will respond by blocking access or throwing up additional security challenges. One way to potentially mitigate this issue is to purchase a static IP address or dedicated server from a VPN provider. StrongVPN does not offer this add-on, but many other VPN providers do. TorGuard VPN, for instance, has some of the most extensive and affordable add-ons we’ve seen.

Other VPNs have begun to expand their offerings to become more complete security and privacy tools. Hotspot Shield VPN provides free access to several privacy tools, while NordVPN has a password manager and encrypted file locker available for additional fees. Given that StrongVPN is owned by the makers of Vipre antivirus, we expected to find it bundled with antivirus software, but that’s currently not an option.

That’s not to say StrongVPN doesn’t come with sweeteners. A StrongVPN subscription does entitle you to 250GB of online storage with SugarSync, which would normally cost $9.99 per month on its own.

(Editors’ Note: SugarSync and Vipre are both owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)

What VPN Protocols Does StrongVPN Support?

There are many different ways to set up a secure VPN connection. We prefer the OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols. Both are open source, meaning they can be picked over for any potential vulnerabilities. While OpenVPN is the venerable and reliable choice, WireGuard is the new hotness and is seeing increasing adoption across the industry.

StrongVPN supports WireGuard and IKEv2—another excellent option—in all its apps. After that, it gets a bit confusing. OpenVPN is available on all of StrongVPN’s apps except iOS. The IPSec protocol is only available on macOS and iOS devices. The macOS app also has support for L2TP, and the Windows app supports L2TP along with SSTP. These last two options are mostly for legacy support, and we don’t recommend using either of them if you can help it.

StrongVPN Servers and Server Locations

A good VPN service will have numerous servers distributed around the world. More server locations means more options for spoofing your location, and it makes it easier to find a server near to wherever you are. StrongVPN provides servers in 30 countries, quite a bit below the 53-country average we’ve seen across the industry. ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries.

That said, StrongVPN has a diverse mix of locations to help make up the difference. The company has several server locations across South America and two in Africa—both of which are regions often ignored by VPN companies. 

StrongVPN doesn’t offer servers in many countries with repressive internet policies, however. The company has servers in Turkey, but none in mainland China, Hong Kong, Russia, or Vietnam. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to bypass censorship, you’ll need to connect to a VPN outside the repressive country.

In total, StrongVPN says that it has more than 950 servers, which is on the small side for a VPN provider. Total number of servers does not necessarily correlate with better performance, but it doesn’t hurt, either.

Some VPN companies make use of virtual locations, which are VPN servers configured to appear somewhere other than where they are physically located. This can be a good thing, granting coverage to regions where it might be too dangerous to house a server. However, we prefer that companies clearly mark which servers are virtual. It’s a moot point for StrongVPN, as the company tells us it doesn’t use any virtual locations and all servers are housed where they say they are located.

In addition to virtual locations, many VPNs also make use of virtual servers. These are software defined servers, where a single hardware server can play host to multiple virtual ones. StrongVPN did not go into detail about its server usage but did say that it directly owns and manages 80% of its servers and leases the rest. This is not unusual, but we’d like to see more about how the company ensures the security of its leased infrastructure.

To secure its servers, StrongVPN says that it makes use of full disk encryption. That’s good. Some companies go further, using diskless or RAM-only servers that write no data to disk at all. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two such companies, but there are many others. Such servers have the added benefit of being tamper resistant, as any data currently stored on them is lost if someone attempts to physically seize and disconnect them. StrongVPN says that it considers encryption to be as secure as diskless operation.

Your Privacy With Strong VPN

Because all your data passes through the VPN’s infrastructure, you need to be assured that the company will protect your privacy and not abuse its privileged position. As part of our testing, we read the privacy policy of each company and have them fill out a questionnaire to put their privacy practices on record.

StrongVPN’s privacy policy is dry reading, nothing like the in-depth borderline educational documents from Mullvad VPN. Nor does it have the friendly, easy reading sections of TunnelBear VPN’s policy. Still, StrongVPN’s policy is understandable and easy to read.

A company representative told us that StrongVPN does not gather IP addresses or connection timestamps, nor does it log the internet activity of its users. Importantly, we were told that the company does not generate revenue outside of subscriptions, meaning that your data isn’t being sold or leased. That excellent stance is reiterated throughout the company’s privacy policy.

In its privacy policy, StrongVPN follows a recent trend of providing information on specific cookies it uses on its site, and how to disable them. It also runs through a full list of the third-party services it uses. We really appreciate this level of transparency. 

The policy also states that the company does not share customers’ personal information with third-party services, which we also appreciate. However, a later section on data retention does not outline a clear window for how long the company retains information about you. StrongVPN should strive to retain as little information as possible.

The representative we spoke with did note that the StrongVPN app does generate diagnostic logs which may contain IP addresses or timestamps. But these are user-editable and can only be submitted voluntarily by customers. That’s a smart compromise.

StrongVPN is based in New York and operates under US legal jurisdiction. It is owned by Strong Technology LLC, which is in turn part of the Vipre Security Group, itself a part of Ziff Davis. Ziff Davis is also the publisher of PCMag.

A transparency report logs all the information requests put to the company by law enforcement and how it responded. A warrant canary is a subtle way to indicate if the company is being compelled to cooperate with law enforcement or an intelligence agency but is legally restricted from disclosing this information directly. StrongVPN has neither of these, which is a shame. It should at least begin publishing a transparency report as many other competitors already do.

Many other VPNs have begun releasing the results of third-party audits to validate their security and privacy bona fides. TunnelBear VPN, for example, has kept its promise to release annual security audits. A StrongVPN representative said the company has not undergone a third-party audit, but it plans on doing so. Although audits are far from perfect, they’re useful tools for demonstrating transparency to customers. 

With security and privacy tools, trust is paramount. If you don’t feel like you can trust a VPN, for whatever reason, look around for one that better meets your needs.

Hands On With StrongVPN on Windows

We had no trouble installing the StrongVPN app on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10. Note that StrongVPN also offers apps for Android, iOS, and macOS. Unusually, it also provides apps for ChromeOS and Amazon Fire TV. We look forward to testing Strong VPN on other platforms soon.

Once it was up and running, we were surprised to find StrongVPN both slick and underwhelming at the same time. The app is built around a map of the world, with a pronounced Connect button clearly visible. Click it, and you’ll be automatically connected to the VPN server the app thinks is best. While we appreciate the straightforwardness, it’s very small and cramped looking. Editors’ Choice winner TunnelBear VPN smartly balances simplicity with bright colors and bears, for a much more accessible experience.

To change VPN servers, you have to click on the words Best Available on the main screen. This is not intuitive, and it took us a while before we figured it out. From the server selection page, you can search available servers or scroll through the list, which shows all the available cities with VPN servers. You cannot select an individual server or mark a preferred location as a favorite, however. That’s disappointing.

Clicking the gear in the upper right corner opens the Settings menu. From the Protocol section you can view a list of the supported VPN protocols and choose which you prefer. The default option is WireGuard. StrongVPN includes useful descriptions of each protocol that we really appreciate. However, there’s no option to simply let the app choose the best protocol. Most other VPNs give users this set-and-forget option.

With StrongVPN’s limited feature set, there’s not much more you can do with the app. From the Settings you can change the app’s language, whether it appears in the taskbar, and so on. The most useful features here are Auto Reconnect, which reconnects you in the even StrongVPN drops your connection, and Kill Switch, which prevents your computer from accessing the internet until the VPN reconnects. The Kill Switch worked as expected in our testing.

Many, if not most, VPN users are keen to stream video from other countries. As a result, many streaming services block access from VPN users. In our testing, however, we were able to stream Netflix while connected to a US-based StrongVPN server.

A VPN that leaks your information isn’t worth much. In our testing, we confirmed that StrongVPN successfully changed our public IP address. Using the DNS Leak Test tool, we also confirmed that our DNS requests were secured. Note that we only tested one VPN server; others may be misconfigured.

Speed and Performance

Any VPN you use will almost certainly slow down your upload and download speeds and increase your latency. To get a sense of this impact, we run a series of tests with the Ookla Speedtest tool and compare results with and without a VPN to find a percent change. You can read all about our testing procedures in the accurately named article How We Test VPNs.

(Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)

StrongVPN performed exceptionally well in our speed testing. At the time of writing, it is within the top three fastest VPNs. We found that StrongVPN reduced download and upload Speedtest results by only 15.6% and 25.1%, respectively. StrongVPN had a less stellar showing in latency, as it increased Speedtest latency results by 100%.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has limited our access to the PCMag Labs and we’ve had to adjust our testing accordingly. The chart below shows the Speedtest results of all the products we’ve tested thus far. We will update it with new numbers as we get them.

Keep in mind that VPNs are fickle, and your experience of using any service will vary immensely depending on when, how, where, and on which device you use a VPN. That’s why we recommend focusing more on the privacy protections and value a service offers rather than its speed.

Just How Strong Is StrongVPN?

StrongVPN does have some noteworthy strengths. By allowing 12 simultaneous connections, it will definitely cover most households. It also has a good distribution of servers, covering regions often ignored by VPN providers. But even on these points, there are services that offer more than StrongVPN.

StrongVPN provides just the basics of a VPN, with none of the additional privacy tools like multi-hop or the convenience of features like split tunneling. It also needs to complete a third-party audit and should make greater efforts toward transparency by issuing a transparency report. StrongVPN should also overhaul its app to give it a more modern look and make it more intuitive to use.

Among our Editors’ Choice winners there are several VPN services that beat out StrongVPN. Mullvad VPN is cheaper and more privacy focused, ProtonVPN offers more features, Surfshark VPN allows as many devices as you want, and TunnelBear VPN has a truly charming user experience. StrongVPN will have to bulk up to face this competition.




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