Private packets.io VPN Review
This is not a regular VPN service where you connect to the Internet via a VPN server that is run and managed by a VPN provider. PrivatePackets.io instead makes it very easy to setup your own private VPN on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) run by cloud provider DigitalOcean.
Is My Privacy Protected with PrivatePackets.io?
Private Packets doesn’t log your activities, and you can revoke their access to your server after setup, but DigitalOcean is not in the privacy business. They may not log your usage data since it’s encrypted, but they log session data.
Since your VPN gives you a static IP address, it can be easily traced back to you. Again, being a US-based company, Digital Ocean will hand over all the information about you to law enforcement if they are compelled to do so. So you won’t be file-sharing or engaging in any political or investigative activity when connected to your VPN.
Moreover, if copyright holders send Digital Ocean a DMCA notice, your account might get suspended, or worse, your details might end up in the hands of the copyright holder.
How Much is PrivatePackets.io? Is There a Free Trial?
Pricing comes in two parts:
• A one-time setup fee to PrivatePackets.io of $3
• VPS rental from DigitalOcean (note that DigitalOcean refers to a VPS as a “Droplet”). If you already rent a DigitalOcean Droplet, you can use that, or rental costs a basic $5 per month.
New PrivatePackets.io customers are provided with a referral code for $10 (2 months) free credit with DigitalOcean, which is definitely a bargain.
Note that due to the very low cost charged by PrivatePackets.io, the $3 fee is not refundable.
PrivatePackets.io Speed Test
At considerably less than half the download speed of using no VPN, the speed results were disappointing.
Note that as with rolling your own VPN, this setup does not include DNS resolution, so DNS requests are resolved by your default provider (usually your ISP)
You will also need to fix any WebRTC IP leak issues yourself.
As expected, I had no problem accessing BBC iPlayer when connected to the VPN.
How is Customer Service at PrivatePackets.io?
The PrivatePackets.io website is a relatively simple affair, but it looks smart and explains most of what you need to know in a way that is aimed at casual users, rather than techies (for better or worse). An FAQ is available with answers to many questions, or you can email support. The reply time, however, is rather slow (next day), and my questions about the encryption used were simply ignored.
If you encounter problems with your VPN setup, you can either email support or rebuild your VPN server from a fresh image using a link sent in your setup email.
You can set up your VPN on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. PrivatePackets has setup guides on their website, and even though they are detailed, they are not broken down by OS version or protocol. For instance, the Windows setup guide for L2TP is for Win 8 or 10, but not for Win 7, and there is no guide for OpenVPN.
There’s also a standalone guide for SoftEther client setup. That’s pretty much all of PrivatePackets’ knowledge base – five guides and a handful of FAQs. The company just assumes that their target audience is tech-savvy, and it shows.
The setup is anything but painless. There is no software – all the tweaks are done in your computer’s control panel and deeper. The only good news here is that PrivatePackets also sends you config files for OpenVPN, which is the fastest way you can get started.
Digital Ocean also sends you a welcome email chock full of cyber gibberish that requires above average technical skills to understand. These are instructions on how to access your server, change password, and such – you’ll have to do it through a console.
I used the config files for OpenVPN, so the customization is restricted to the open-source client. There is no instruction for OpenVPN here, and having used it many times, I still felt confused as to which file I had to use. So I just poked at things and finally discovered it was the “Remote Access L3” file that provided the connection.
A word on support – it sucks. PrivatePackets never replied to my request for help. Digital Ocean’s support agent was explicitly condescending in pointing out that I contacted them via the wrong “contact support” form, and they’d prefer that I stopped bothering them about VPN issues. Instead of forwarding my request to the “right” department, he just waved me off.
One PrivatePackets purchase grants you one VPN server on a dedicated Ubuntu 14.04×64 server hosted by Digital Ocean. You get root access to it and a rebuild link which you can use whenever your server doesn’t work right.
PrivatePackets supports OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSL and SSTP.
You have a customer’s dashboard with Digital Ocean, but it’s mostly for stats and access to your server. You are allowed to do with that server whatever you like, provided you know how.
One noteworthy feature is that you can connect as many devices as you need.
Understandably, there is no kill switch, VPN management dashboard, or server switching as with other providers. You’re locked into one server in one location. Don’t even think about torrenting through a US-based provider.
Is PrivatePackets.io Safe?
The first thing to stress is that while a VPN on VPS setup is quite good for security (as the connection between your devices and the VPS/VPN server is securely encrypted), it is not great for privacy. On the technical security front, OpenVPN uses 128-bit AES encryption but is otherwise nothing to get very excited about. Though it should be possible to up AES encryption to 256-bit by editing the .ovpn config file.
No details are provided about the L2TP/IPsec encryption, except that it uses a pre-shared key (I did ask the support team for more information, but received no answer).
Please also note my comments later about the lack of DNS resolution or WebRTC protection. It would be unfair criticize PrivatePackets.io about these issues as they as they affect everyone who runs their own VPN, but you should be aware of them.
If you’re looking to host a private VPN on a rented server and have enough skills to be self-reliant most of the time, give it a try – it’s cheap. If you’re looking for a regular, accessible VPN – look elsewhere.