Ultrasurf is a rather curious case — it’s a mysterious product that doesn’t label itself as a VPN or proxy, yet it works in an identical manner.
But there are many other quirks:
What you get with Ultrasurf is a new IP address, obtained from Ultrasurf’s servers via a proxy, in addition to industry-standard encryption to safeguard your traffic. And that’s about it — you won’t find advanced security features, state-of-the-art GUIs, 24/7 customer support, or custom streaming servers.
You don’t get a money-back guarantee, either. That’s because Ultrasurf is completely free.
So what’s the deal with this “VPN”? Well, in order to get an answer to this question, you need to know Ultrasurf’s background.
Launched by Chinese activists (UltraReach) in 2002 and calling Silicon Valley its home, Ultrasurf’s one and only goal for over a decade and a half has been to give users a reliable means of dealing with government censorship. Whether it’s China, the Middle East, or any other place that finds an Internet without borders unacceptable, this tool’s mission is to eliminate any and all barriers between you and censored content — nothing more, nothing less.
Combining the biggest strengths of VPNs and proxies (encryption and IP masking, respectively) Ultrasurf delivers Internet freedom in fast and dependable fashion. It’s barebones, it’s dead-simple to use, and it exists for one important purpose — to combat online censorship.
That said, it’s not a fully private or anonymous experience with Ultrasurf. HTTP traffic isn’t encrypted, and the “logging policy” does state that “bare minimum information” is kept for up to 30 days. While Ultrasurf doesn’t require any personal details in order to use it, it may hand over gathered data in compliance with US laws.
Ironically, Ultrasurf is also known to do some blocking of its own. Examples include a variety of adult websites and pages containing “offensive” content.
So, would we recommend Ultrasurf for watching Netflix or securely accessing your bank account? No, we wouldn’t — but that’s not what this excellent piece of freeware was designed for. It aims to make oppressive online restrictions a non-factor. And on that front, it delivers.
Ultrasurf performs excellently when it comes to speeds — due to the proxy-like nature of the connection, there is barely a decrease in speed quality.
Streaming in HD is not an issue. Neither is downloading files — however, keep in mind that Ultrasurf isn’t suitable for torrenting or any bandwidth-heavy activities in general.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
Ultrasurf doesn’t officially disclose its servers or locations, nor can you see a list anywhere in the client or on the website. The only piece of information we managed to obtain was that IP addresses are changed numerous times in short intervals.
Ultrasurf doesn’t require any installation in order to run. You simply download an executable from their website, launch it, and you’re all set.
The interface looks like something straight of the late 90s — it’s blocky, compact, and attention-grabbing, but only because it looks so outdated.
We’d say this GUI gets the job done, but given the spartan functionality of Ultrasurf, there isn’t much to tinker around with. Since there aren’t any features to speak of, all settings are aimed at quality-of-life.
Ultrasurf is browser-based, with Internet Explorer set as default. You can choose to stop using it and opt for Firefox instead. There’s also a Chrome extension (currently in beta), as well as an Android app which actually is labeled as a VPN.
The executable starts working automatically, so you don’t need to configure anything. That said, there is a manual proxy setting available.
Ultrasurf’s customer support is minimalist, for lack of a better word. Your only means of direct contact is via email — no live chat. Then again, that’s to be expected from this free, hands-off tool.
On the upside, there are concise installation tutorials on Ultrasurf’s website, in addition to an FAQ section. You can also find plenty of guides on YouTube and other sources.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
Ultrasurf is completely free. There are no paid versions.
Of course, this is a huge plus, but you are missing out on full-time encryption, high-bandwidth servers, and other functionality you’ll find in top-tier VPNs. That said, you can’t expect this level of service, either — Ultrasurf’s primary objective is to allow censorship bypassing.
The good news is that Ultrasurf is one of the better pieces of freeware you can use, with zero exposure of your personal info and a proven track record.
Ultrasurf might offer a good service at a reasonable price, but does it match up with other top VPNs? We find it hard to say “yes”. To be sure you’re choosing the right VPN for your needs, review this list of top recommended VPNs.
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