UltraSurf is one of the oldest free VPN-like utilities around. It was created and debuted in 2002, developed by Chinese ex-pat dissidents working in Silicon Valley. The original purpose was to allow Chinese internet users to bypass the so-called “Great Firewall of China” that significantly restricts and censors what websites users can access. Over the years, they have expanded their offering, though the price still remains free. At present, UltraSurf is used by between 5 and 10 million users worldwide in any given month, in over 180 countries. The company is focused on providing internet censorship circumvention facilities through the program, and keeping it lightweight, easy-to-use, and free for all users.
What is UltraSurf VPN?
UltraSurf VPN (sometimes incorrectly written as Ultra Surf VPN or just Surf VPN) isn’t really a VPN in the traditional sense and is more akin to a proxy server. It’s a very simple program (the UltraSurf free download executable) that can be used to securely and anonymously browse the internet, without revealing your activity to government or ISP censors or monitors, and without revealing your IP address to the websites you visit. By design, it’s available for Windows platforms, with extensions available for Firefox and Chrome browsers. There is also an Android version of the client. As it is only a web proxy server application, it does not provide VPN services for things like torrenting, games, or other, non-browser-based internet activities.
UltraSurf VPN Features
UltraSurf VPN is somewhat limited in its features, as it is purely a client for a web proxy server, and not a full-fledged VPN. The company also keeps various aspects of the proxy’s functioning under wraps for security purposes, so the available information in some of the below categories is limited.
The UltraSurf program allows users to connect to UltraSurf proxy servers automatically, and then browse on through to their websites of choice. The number of servers they have in use, as well as the number of locations, are undisclosed. It’s a safe bet, being a US-based company, that at least some portion, perhaps the majority, of their servers are in the US. What we do know for sure is that their proxies change IP addresses up to 10,000 times an hour, and have withstood over 15 years of attempts to block their functioning, so they are fairly robust and reliable.
Privacy & Encryption – Is UltraSurf VPN Safe?
The encryption used by UltraSurf VPN is not disclosed by the company, and the software is closed-source. Some experts believe it uses a form of TLS/SSL with obfuscation layers, though that is not confirmed. To date, it is believed that no one has even been able to break into the core of the software to determine the exact way it works or methods of encryption it uses. However, it may not be as secure as other VPN software or proxy services. As stated by the company, the goal is to provide censorship-free internet access, and while a high degree of privacy is baked in by necessity, it is not, strictly-speaking, privacy-focused. However, in terms of asking, “Is UltraSurf VPN Safe?” you can rest assured that it is safe to download, install, and use, and far superior to using no proxy at all to browse anonymously. It just may not provide the same level of personal privacy and anonymity that some users desire. The company also keeps logs for up to 30 days.
The interface of UltraSurf is very simple and straightforward. It natively links with Internet Explorer/Edge, but there are Firefox and Chrome UltraSurf extensions available. Once it’s launched, it will work automatically, although there are a few settings adjustments you can make. Then, when you’re done using it, just close the UltraSurf interface – it’s that simple. It’s a no-frills VPN-like proxy, but it gets the job done! The Android app version is likewise a simple and straightforward affair.
In terms of speed, UltraSurf performs well, especially as a free service. For normal web browsing, there is minimal noticeable lag or access time added to the browsing experience. However, there are some caveats to this. Streaming performance can be sporadic and inconsistent. Also, by design, in order to keep the service free, pornography, illegal/illicit sites, hacking and virus sites, and similar are blocked. Since it’s only a web-based proxy for browsing, there is no data that can be provided on torrenting or other non-browser functionality.
Ease of Use
The software is extremely easy to use. Just download the zip file from their website, extract the executable, and run. It’s that simple. It leaves no permanent traces of itself, no installation in Windows, no registry keys, etc. It’s entirely self-contained and as easy to use as double-clicking the executable.
As a free product/service, created and managed by a team of fewer than 10 people, there isn’t a great deal of customer support available. You can e-mail the company through the Contact link on their website, and there is a limited FAQ section, but that’s about it.
UltraSurf VPN Prices and Packages
This one is simple – UltraSurf VPN and associated extensions are entirely free. This is true of both the Windows client and the Android app. There are no premium accounts, no bandwidth caps, no subscription plans – only the aforementioned limitations highlighted in the Performance section above. And, with UltraSurf VPN free really means free. There are no pop-ups or other advertisements as part of using the proxy software, unlike other “free” programs.
In conclusion, UltraSurf VPN isn’t really a VPN, but a web proxy for browsing. It may not be the most secure or most private of these kinds of programs around, but that’s not what it was created to be. As a means to provide unrestricted internet access to users in countries that censor and filter the internet, it works quite well. For the rest of us, anonymous browsing with encrypted traffic, for free, in a lightweight, easy-to-use, and speedy package means it’s definitely worth giving a try. You have absolutely nothing to lose, after all!
Pros and Cons
- Faster and more reliable than webpage-based proxies
- Has a long history of withstanding attacks by nation-state actors, so fairly secure
- Encryption and security methodologies largely undisclosed
- Little information about servers and locations
- Not a true VPN – only works for browser-based activities
- Limited features, support, and privacy compared to other options