Lantern VPN Review
Lantern VPN is a US government-funded open-source proxy service developed by Brave New Software that came about in 2013 to bring netizens living under oppressive regimes unfettered access to the Internet. It just so happened that when it started, major media outlets advertised it as a way for Chinese Internet users to bypass the Great Firewall. So, it became insanely popular among Chinese users looking for a simple and free fix to the nagging censorship.
What is Lantern?
Lantern is not a VPN, but a proxy that works through an open-source peer-to-peer network. Some people use it to bypass local censorship, but it doesn’t protect you from targeted or mass surveillance.
In fact, Lantern does quite the opposite by collecting an impressive portfolio of your browsing behavior and background. Using Lantern for privacy or anonymity is shooting yourself in the leg.
Is My Privacy Protected with Lantern?
“Lantern collects information about you when you use our mobile applications, websites, and other online products and services (collectively, the “Services”) and through other interactions and communications you have with us.”
In addition to the information you provide directly to Lantern, they use beacons and cookies to collect additional information about your Internet activity. When you use their services, they collect information sent to them by your computer, mobile phone or other access device. These can include the following:
“data about the pages you access, computer IP address, device ID or unique identifier, device type, geo-location information, computer and connection information, mobile network information, statistics on page views, traffic to and from the sites, referral URL, ad data, and standard web log data and other information.”
You may be able to choose not to send this data through the app settings. They also collect server logs which include information like:
“device IP address, access dates and times, app features or pages viewed, app crashes and other system activity, type of browser, and the third-party site or service you were using before interacting with our Services.”
Lantern started as a Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) project from Brave New Software LLC. under the direction of company president, Adam Fisk. It originated as a peer-to-peer “trust network”. Lantern functioned through Google Talk and you had to be invited into the trust network to use it. It was a decentralized system of trust networks where a censored user invited friends to join his trust network to allow him to use their machines to access unblocked content. These friends invited more friends, thus expanding the trust network.
An early windfall for the Lantern project came from the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the form of a $2.2 million grant. This allowed the project to hire full-time employees and focus on scaling up Lantern. This led to its expansion in countries like China and Iran, thus allowing their citizens to bypass government firewalls. It also lets them examine and develop multiple ways to circumvent state sponsored censorship in case one pathway was blocked.
How Much is Lantern? Is There a Free Trial?
You can have Lantern for free, provided you are fine with a 500 MB monthly quota. There are also two paid subscriptions which you can only access from within the desktop app. Dubbed as Lantern Pro, the yearly plan will only set you off $32, while the two-year plan is $48. No monthly or quarterly package – take it or leave it.
The Pro plans come with faster speeds, unlimited bandwidth, up to three simultaneous connections, and no ads. That’s dirt-cheap, and you can pay via Payment Wall-supported options. Bitcoin is not supported. No refunds will be issued, just so you know.
Lantern promotes its free service with surprising persistence, however. By making monthly subscriptions, and paid trials unavailable, Lantern forces undecided users to try out the “perks” of their free proxy.
Lantern Speed Test
The speed with this VPN was an absolute nightmare. In conducting my tests streaming was near impossible due to the constant buffering and the noted DNS leaks.
How is Customer Service at Lantern?
You can report issues from within the Lantern app. They also have a forum where you can ask questions or report blocked websites. Finally, you can get new news and information through their social media accounts, Facebook and Twitter.
• Number of Server Locations (countries) – 1
• Does VPN keep logs – Partially
• Includes Kill Switch – No
• Devices per license – 3
• Robust anti-censorship tool
• Strong encryption
• Unlimited bandwidth.
• Dedicated team to help unblock content
• Fast connection speeds
Software is available across all platforms, Windows, Mac, Android and Linux (Ubuntu). Unfortunately, iOS users will have to wait until a native app is delivered. If the Android app is anything to go by, then you’ll surely be pleased when it finally arrives. The Android app is very lightweight – taking up only 8MB of space in your phone. Best of all, you don’t even have to register an account. Simply download the app and it’s a case of “click and go”.
Lantern is very much an anti-censorship tool, but not an anonymity tool. It works by detecting what websites are blocked in your country and routing the traffic to one of their proxy nodes which will unblock the content. Data that enters their proxy is encrypted to protect your privacy and identity while all other website traffic remains unaffected and continues to be routed through your original ISP.
To ensure your data is secure, Lantern uses strong AES-256-CBC encryption with ECDHE (elliptic curve) RSA key handshake, and SHA hash authentication.
Since Lantern is meant for streaming region-locked services, I expected it to unblock some of them at least. Alas, it failed to grant me access to Netflix US, Hulu, and HBO, at which point I was wondering how they manage to lure anyone into subscribing to a paid service.
Is Lantern Safe?
Lantern is developed by the US-based non-profit Free Software Foundation, Inc. Like Tor, it may receive some funding from the US government, but all code is open source, and can therefore be independently audited to ensure that nothing fishy is going on.
Its developers are keen to stress that Lantern is designed as an anti-censorship tool and does not provide protection against surveillance. Connections to proxied websites are protected using HTTPS (TLS), but connections to all other websites are unencrypted. Those looking for anonymity while online are recommended to use Tor.
Internal connections between Lantern ‘nodes’ are protected using strong AES-256-CBC encryption with ECDHE (elliptic curve) RSA key handshake, and SHA hash authentication.
Users can choose to provide the Lantern team with “useful information and analytics that will help us improve the Lantern program”, but this is strictly optional.
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. If you have the patience to deal with the buffering and the unclear policies then by all means, but if you prefer a serious VPN you will not find it here.