CactusVPN – Should You Consider Subscribing?

CactusVPN 2020 Review


CactusVPN Review – Content Index

As a relatively new VPN provider, CactusVPN claims to offer a well-rounded VPN and Smart DNS service. After testing out the provider according to our evaluation criteria, we came up with the final verdict on whether this VPN can be deemed credible or not. Read this review and find out everything about CactusVPN.

  • CactusVPN Review – Quick Stats
  • Pros and Cons of CactusVPN
  • Applications and Interface
    • App Stores’ Rating
    • Trustpilot
  • Servers and Locations
  • Speed Performance
  • Netflix Compatibility
  • CactusVPN and Other Streaming Services
    • Smart DNS Proxies
    • P2P Support
  • Privacy
  • Security
    • DNS Leak Test
    • Virus Scan
    • Third-Party Auditing
    • Warrant Canary
  • Customer Support
  • Cactus VPN – Extra Features
  • Pricing and Services
    • Refund Policy
    • Free Trial
  • CactusVPN Review – Final Thoughts

Quick Stats

Money-back guarantee30 days
Allowed concurrent connectionsFive
Supported streaming servicesBBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime
No logs policyYes
EncryptionAES-128 encryption
Security ProtocolsPPTP, OpenVPN, IKEv2, SoftEther, and L2TP/IPSec
Special featuresKill switch and Smart DNS Proxies
Customer supportLive Chat Support (Monday to Friday)
Server locations16 countries
Number of servers28+ servers
Server SwitchesUnlimited
Supported devices & web extensionsWindows, Linux, Mac, iOS, macOS, Amazon FireTV, Chrome
VPN legal jurisdictionMoldova
Free Trial1 day

CactusVPN – Pros and Cons

While the service is, in a way, good, it does have its negative perks. So, before we kick it off with our CactusVPN review, here are some of the features that we liked and disliked about it:

Pros

  • 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • Five simultaneous connections.
  • Kill switch.
  • Military-grade encryption.
  • P2P friendly.
  • Smart DNS proxies.
  • Live chat support.
  • Easy-to-use apps.
  • Cheap subscription prices.

Cons

  • Small server network and coverage.
  • Inconsistent speeds.
  • It doesn’t unblock Netflix and Hulu.
  • Questionable No-log policy.
  • 1-day free trial.

Clients and Apps

When it comes to native VPN apps, CactusVPN does an impressive job of offering versatility for all of its services. Both the VPN services and the Smart DNS service have native apps for:

  • Mac
  • Windows
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Android TV
  • Amazon Fire TV

We went ahead and tried both the Android and the Mac app. In the Android client, we noticed that everything was easy to navigate through. Connecting to a server took us around 4-5 seconds.

Also, we checked the settings option. Every feature is there to enable, but one thing was missing. We did not find the automatic kill switch in Android client. That’s very disappointing. With that said, here’s how the Android app looks like:


macoS Client

The Mac application on the other hand has more features to benefit from, including a Kill Switch. We noticed that the connection process on the macOS is so much faster than that of Android.

Not a significant difference, but it’s worth pointing out. Furthermore, the signing-in process was a bit weird to us. The problem was that we weren’t able to log in with the credentials we created.

When we asked the support team, they told us that we have to log in on their website and they’ll give us an alternate username and password to use. It was a first for us, but it did eventually sign us in.Signing in Cactus on Mac

They also provided us with a Smart DNS key, mainly because the Mac app lacks the Smart DNS feature within it. Now that we were able to sign in, this is how the Mac client looks like:


In the Settings section, we were able to turn on the kill switch feature. There are other services to enable in the Mac client, but for us, the kill switch is an essential factor, privacy speaking.Kill Switch Cactus

We were able to turn on DNS leak protection and so many other features. But overall, whether on Android or Mac, CactusVPN does not offer that many options to choose from. It pales in comparison to what other VPNs have.

App Stores’ Rating

What users have to say about a certain product is very important. We take into consideration the ratings and reviews provided on the App Store no matter what the platform is.

For example, CactusVPN has a 4.3 rating on the iOS App Store. However, when we dug deeper into the matter, we noticed that this rating is based on 3 reviews only. That’s not a credible number to trust in.Cactus iOS Rating

As for Android users, it might be more reliable to see what the Google Play Store has on CactusVPN in terms of user reviews. According to the Play Store, CactusVPN has more than 10K downloads and a rating of 4.1/5 based on 291 reviews.Unlocator Connected

In both cases, we were not impressed by the number of reviews available. Other VPNs have thousands of reviews and comments about the users’ experience with their service, CactusVPN doesn’t even come close to that.

Trustpilot

Trustpilot has been one of our most trusted websites to review VPN providers. Its credibility is over the top as it includes VPN ratings in the most unbiased way possible.

Some VPN providers insert fake reviews to make themselves look better. However, Trustpilot can determine whether the VPN is doing so or not. If it is, it blocks such reviews and gives it a bad one of its own.

According to Trustpilot, CactusVPN got a 3.5/5 rating based on 9 reviews.Trustpilot Cactus

Technically, that’s not enough as it marks the VPN as average. However, one comment caught our attention:

“The only very bad problem you get it that ir slows down your internet speed to much.. and I.mean to much . Without it on I get a speed of 34 mps to 36 mps with it turned on it drops down to , wait for it , yes you are right less than half.”

We can’t fix the Grammar as we quote, but that’s what one user said. We’ll be covering CactusVPN’s speed performance later on, but by the looks of it, it doesn’t look good so far.

Servers and Locations

When it comes to server coverage, CactusVPN doesn’t do that great of a job. They offer 28 VPN servers in 16 countries, which is a lot less than what most other VPNs have to offer. Here’s the full server list:

  • US
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • France
  • Germany
  • Canada
  • Spain
  • South Korea
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Japan
  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • Romania
  • India
  • Latvia

CactusVPN Servers

As you can see, server focus seems to be on Europe and the US. They have absolutely no servers in the Middle East or in Africa. Despite that, CactusVPN states that all of their servers are optimized for speed (1Gbps).

CactusVPN - High Speed Servers

Well, we’ll be the judge of that in the next part as we perform our speed tests to see how reliable their claims are.

Speed Performance

According to CactusVPN, they went with the AES-128 encryption to give their users a faster connection. Well…when tested, that promise fell a little flat. In fact, some of the servers have a 74% speed reduction and a whopping 90% in others.

Let’s see how the tests went:

  • First, this is our connection without connecting to CactusVPN’s servers.No VPN Cactus
  • CactusVPN has allows users to sort the VPN servers according to speed. And as our first test, we chose the one right on top of that list, which is a UK server. To be honest, the results were not bad at all. Our connection saw only a 16% drop.UK Server Cactus
  • So far so good, right? Not quite. When we connected to an American server, things went south in a big way in terms of speed (74% drop).American Server Cactus
  • We tried to give the service another chance by connecting to a VPN server in Spain. It was among the top ones in the fastest VPN server-list. However, it didn’t turn out to be good at all. It was even slower than the one in the US, which is further on the bottom of the list. The test recorded a 91% drop in speed.Spain Server Cactus

Usually, the further you are from a server the slower it is, but the speed test was performed on servers from different continents. It turns out, location isn’t the problem, CactusVPN is just not that fast. It was that one server in the UK that gave us acceptable speeds.

Considering how other VPNs, like ExpressVPN, have higher download and upload speeds while using larger encryption, this was a little disappointing.

Netflix Compatibility

Unblocking Netflix is one of the ultimate tests any VPN should go through to determine its credibility. Back in 2016, Netflix upped its game and started preventing VPNs from accessing its content.

When we performed our tests, it turned out that CactusVPN’s efforts were no match to subdue the Netflix VPN ban. The most popular catalog Netflix has lies in the United States. That’s why we used a VPN server in the country to see what happens.

Well, we got blocked. Instead of getting the video we wanted, we got this error message:

“Pardon the interruption. You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again. Error Code: M7111-5059.”Netflix Cactus VPN

We tried all the servers in the United States and none of them got us in. The provider spent more than 6 months trying to find a workaround for the issue but to no avail. They even have the statement on their official website:

“CactusVPN usually delivers only great news. Unfortunately, today is an exception. Probably you’ve heard that Netflix started a war on VPN and Smart DNS providers trying to make our services unusable for people who want to unblock its content from different countries. We have to fight back and this was a titanic work. It was six months while David resisted Goliaths attacks and we’ve done well as CactusVPN was among a couple of VPN and Smart DNS providers who fought to the end. Unfortunately, we can’t compare to Netflix’s resource so we have to admit: starting today, CactusVPN does not unblock Netflix with Smart DNS or VPN.”

This really affects CactusVPN’s reputation on the market. However, we did appreciate their transparency.

CactusVPN and Other Streaming Platform

While Netflix is some users’ main attraction, there are other streaming services that have millions of subscribers around the world. They too have a way to block VPN providers from accessing their content.

CactusVPN deemed unreliable to unblock Netflix US using any of their servers and even their Smart DNS feature. But can we come to a final verdict without testing its capabilities on other streaming platforms? Simply, no.

We conducted a few tests on the top streaming services in the world. That includes BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime (US), and Hulu. The results were as follows:

First, we tried a US server to unblock Hulu. Apparently, CactusVPN was not up for the task and we got blocked almost instantly. The bigger problem is that we tried all US servers next and got the same results over and over again.Hulu CactusVPN

Next, we tried the servers in the United Kingdom. BBC iPlayer doesn’t give users an error message stating that their using VPNs, it just says that it’s not available outside the UK. In other words, the VPN failed. CactusVPN got that error when we used the London 1 server, which was pretty disappointing.BBC iPlayer Screenshot

However, when we used the other servers in the United Kingdom, CactusVPN got us around BBC iPlayer’s VPN block.BBC iPlayer Working Cactus

Finally, we tried an American server to unblock Amazon Prime Video. Now, this channel gave us no trouble, it unblocked its US content on the first try.Cactus Amazon Prime Video

We can say that CactusVPN isn’t that bad when it comes to unblocking streaming channels. But not being able to get around Hulu’s block slightly gives it a disadvantage if we were to compare it with other top VPNs.

Smart DNS

CactusVPN’s Smart DNS feature claims to unblock 300+ channels, the first of which is Netflix (None of the VPN servers in the US, UK, or in Europe were able to unblock Netflix).

CactusVPN - Smart DNS channels

They even released an update on the 23rd of July, 2018, that said that their Smart DNS service will be able to unblock Netflix for you. However, when we tested it out, that was not the case.

Netflix is making it increasingly difficult for VPN and Smart DNS providers to unblock the content offered in different regions, so it’s understandable that a provider as small as CactusVPN won’t be able to butt-heads with the media streaming giant.

According to their official website:

“2 years ago, Netflix started seriously cracking down on VPN providers. We here at CactusVPN encountered our fair share of issues with Netflix’s blocks, but we are happy to say that – currently – our Smart DNS service is able to unblock Netflix for you.”

First, we turned on the Smart DNS feature on our Android. Next, we activated Netflix and the videos did indeed work. No block was witnessed.


However, we searched for Star-Crossed, which is an exclusive title to the US Netflix library and we couldn’t find it. After that, we asked for the support’s help and we got the answer we were looking for:Netflix Smart DNS Cactus

That’s a huge disadvantage for the provider as Netflix is one of the most important reasons anyone would want to subscribe to a VPN. Should CactusVPN claim that they can unblock Netflix on their website? No. Are they blamed for not being able to unblock Netflix? Also no.

P2P Support

Torrenting servers are a little problematic. CactusVPN offers 8 P2P servers, all of which are located in Europe. The problem here is, that the further away a user is from a server, the slower the speed of his/her download. In other words, CactusVPN customers who don’t happen to live in Europe will definitely be disappointed with the performance!

Moreover, the limited P2P server count means that any subscriber who wants to Torrent will be using the same servers, meaning the servers are likely to get overcrowded very quickly. So, we can assume how slow will the torrenting be if both the location of the user and high traffic are included.

Official Disclaimer: We here at CactusVPN don’t promote copyright infringement or illegal piracy, but we do understand that – sometimes – torrenting is the only way some people can get access to the entertainment or school/work files they need.”

According to their website, CactusVPN advises its users to use a server located in a country that doesn’t have laws against torrent downloading, for instance, the Netherlands or Romania.

CactusVPN’s Privacy

CactusVPN is based in Moldova, a good option for a VPN as the country is not part of the Five Eyes and doesn’t impose data retention laws. As for their log policy, the Terms of Service page states that CactusVPN keeps a zero log policy. But according to their privacy policy, some may say otherwise:

CactusVPN will not sell or rent Your personally identifiable information to anyone unless You expressly consent to disclosures of Your personal identification and other personal information to third parties. We may send personally identifiable information about You to third parties when:

  • We reserve the right to collect and use Personal Data when this is necessary to protect our rights in court.
  • In order to process payments and activate the service for you, we may have to send some information to trusted vendors (such as PayPal, Stripe, PayPro, Coingate and other) to verify the transactions.
  • We respond to subpoenas, court orders or legal processes which require us to disclose Registration Data or any information about You to law enforcement or other government officials as CactusVPN, in its sole discretion, believes necessary or appropriate.
  • We may share some Non-personal data to optimize the usability and promotion of our services and website with services like Google Analytics or Facebook.

If users end up entering their personal information (which isn’t mandatory), they also collect their name, company, and phone number.

We think it’s safe to say that their “zero-logs” policy is a little confusing, as it looks like they do collect information about their users. So far, though, there have been no reports about CactusVPN leaking data to any third party.

Security

CactusVPN uses AES-128 cipher with RSA-2048 handshake and SHA-1 HMAC authentication. This is a little surprising, as most standard VPNs now use the AES-256 encryption.CactusVPN Encryption

According to CactusVPN, the difference between the encryptions is minimal, and their choice to go with the AES 128 cipher supports faster internet speeds since “the AES-256 will use up to 40% more CPU in comparison to AES-128”.

On the other hand, CactusVPN has 6 VPN protocols on offer:

  • OpenVPN
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • IKEv2
  • SSTP
  • SoftEther
  • PPTP

While most of the VPNs we’ve reviewed before offer some mix of these six, this one has them all included within their service. The SoftEther protocol works a bit differently than the others.

According to CactusVPN, SoftEther VPN protocol is a software-based solution, so users need to first install the SoftEther VPN client on your device

DNS Leak Test

DNS leaks are something users wouldn’t want while browsing the web, especially when they’re all comfortable using a Virtual Private Network.

If such an incident occurs, their ISP can see and monitor everything they were doing while they’re cloaked. In CactusVPN’s case, we performed a couple of tests to determine whether their (DNS Leak Protection) is legit or not. Well, we came up with mixed results.

First, we used a credible site that recorded no leaks while using the CactusVPN app on macOS.IP Leak Test

On the other hand, we used our own engine to check for WebRTC Leaks. The results weren’t that good as our tool recorded a potential leak. But if the IP provided by CactusVPN is leaking, it won’t be a problem.CactusVPN WebRTC

The IP in our test shows the one we obtained from the VPN provider. Therefore, there’s not exposure risk at all. This implies that the CactusVPN delivers on its promise for anonymity.

Virus Scan

If certain software contains viruses and malware, users’ data can be either compromised or harvested. Even the device itself is at risk as some malicious entities pose as official applications and collect users’ data through them.

That’s why when we evaluate a specific VPN provider, we run the application through a Virus Test first before proceeding with the review. CactusVPN’s Mac application is as clean as it can be.CactusVPN Virus Test

Nothing was recorded in the Virus Test, no malware detected, all green. That gives it a huge plus by our standards.

Third-Party Auditing

CactusVPN has proudly claimed to have a strict No Logs Policy. But we remained uncertain of it, which is why we turned to find if there were some third-party audits to shed some light on the matter.

Unfortunately, we found nothing of the sort. There were no third-party audits to rely on in this review.

Warrant Canary

The government and law enforcement rely heavily on the personal information collected online to investigate and prosecute crimes. That’s why, in some cases, they demand that web companies hand over user data.

It’s what we call a subpoena. When a VPN provider receives such a gag order, it has no choice but to comply and submitted the necessary information.

What’s worse is that it’s illegal to inform its customers of the invasion occurring. However, that’s where Warrant Canaries come to the rescue. They’re an indirect approach to warn VPN users’ that the service they’re using has been served by the law.

In CactusVPN’s case, there’s no Warrant Canary to rely on. Moreover, as we read in their Terms of Service, the VPN is kind of dangerous in such situations. They have no problem giving users’ information to the government:

  • We respond to subpoenas, court orders or legal processes which require us to disclose Registration Data or any information about You to law enforcement or other government officials as CactusVPN, in its sole discretion, believes necessary or appropriate.
  • We reserve the right to collect and use Personal Data when this is necessary to protect our rights in court.

Transparency comes first, but for a VPN that claims to collect nothing about its users and then states the above – the contradiction in their claims is totally obvious.

Customer Support

Their support team, on the other hand, was superb. Their agents reply to the support tickets in a quick, friendly, and helpful manner. However, as we checked their website, the provider also has a live-chat support feature.

It took them seconds to reply to our questions and they were very helpful. We spoke to Victor, who was very professional and gave us all the answers we needed.

But all good things come to an end eventually. In CactusVPN’s case, it ends on the weekends. Live-chat support is available five days a week (Monday to Friday) and their support team covers different shifts to fill in the 24-hour duration.

According to Victor, one of the support staff that we spoke to:


So, in case users run into any problem with the service on the weekends, they can only resort to CactusVPN’s ticketing option. It won’t take long, they’re pretty fast when it comes to replying.

Some Extra Features

Even though CactusVPN isn’t a features rich provider, they do offer some advanced features for their VPN services:

  • Kill Switch
  • DNS Leak protection
  • App Killer
  • Easy protocol switching
  • Easy country/city switching
  • Speed sorting for servers

That being said, the features listed above are considered standard options with most top-tier VPNs. In fact, CactusVPN offers no ad-blocking or anti-malware features, another staple in the VPN world.

Pricing and Services

CactusVPN offers two services: a VPN and a Smart DNS. Whatever subscription plan users choose, they’ll get CactusVPN’s Smart DNS along with it.

Basically, you have three plans: Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual. Each one comes with its own price and savings. However, they all include all of CactusVPN’s services and features.

  • Monthly: $6.99.
  • 3 Months:$17.99.
  • 1 Year: $54.99.CactusVPN Subscription

With a three months subscription, you’ll be paying $17.99 instead of $20.97, which marks as a 14% saving on your whole subscription fee. On the other hand, the biggest saving you get is with the annual plan, with a fee with around 35% saving.

In the past, CactusVPN used to offer more plans, but for now, these are the only ones available. With any of these subscriptions, CactusVPN customers can benefit from:

  • All Cactus VPN servers.
  • Free Smart DNS
  • Five Simultaneous Connections.
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • No logs policy

Payment Options

On the VPN’s website, we saw that the payment options they accept are:

  • PayPal
  • Visa/MasterCard
  • American Express
  • Bitcoin & Altcoins
  • Qiwi
  • Webmoney
  • Boleto Bancario
  • Yandex Money
  • AlipayCactusVPN Payment Options

Sadly, unlike other VPNs, they do not have the option of paying with gift cards, which offer a higher level of anonymity to the new subscriber.

Refund Policy

Most top VPN providers offer a refund policy as a means to allow users to test their service. In case the provider did not live up to the customer’s expectations, they can ask for their money back within that assigned period of time.

We’ve seen three, seven, and no refund policies before. CactusVPN clearly states that it has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is a great offer for any VPN service.

However, users who don’t read the fine print (in this case, the FAQ page) may be lead to believe that the policy is a lot better than it actually is.

When we visited the page, we were very disappointed with what we found. There are some major contingencies for the refund policy. In fact, the policy is only an option for users who:

  • Cannot connect to any of the servers
  • Cannot unblock one of the websites from the Smart DNS website list
  • Have the Smart DNS service but it’s not working.

In other words, unless there’s something wrong with their service, they will not give the user a refund. What’s worse, their refund policy clearly states that users will not be eligible for the refund if “the service worked on their original setup but they made changes in their network”.

Let us explain:

If a user changes his/her modem, their internet provider or even their computer (or phone or tablet), and the service stops working for them…they’re not eligible for a refund.

Simply said, this is not a good refund policy. Other VPNs, like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and BulletVPN, offer a no-questions-asked refund guarantee. CactusVPN will only pay us our money back if their infrastructure doesn’t work for us, and that’s it.

Free Trial

Despite sounding a bit out of line when it comes to their money-back guarantee, asking for a free trial was a completely different experience.

We asked their support team for a free trial. The reply was lightning fast and they were happy to oblige. Victor, one of the support staff was very helpful. He even provided us with a direct link to create a free account.

Usually, while trying to communicate with other VPN providers and ask for a free trial, it takes us a bit of time. This one was very fast to obtain.Cactus Free Trial 1

The free trial is only for 24-hours, which pales in comparison to what some other VPNs offer. However, it should be good enough to test their service before opting for any long term subscription.

On the bright side, their free trial does not require your credit card information, which is a mandatory thing in other VPNs. Once we created the username, we followed the link sent to our email and created the password.

Finally, we were able to access CactusVPN’s service for free.

CactusVPN – The Verdict

Would we suggest subscribing to CactusVPN? Not really.

You can find other service providers that offer both the VPN and the Smart DNS without any extra subscriptions or costs, the features on offer are not that great, the server speeds are disappointing, and the server count doesn’t even begin to compare to most other providers. Unless you live in Europe and want a quick fix to some privacy issues you’ve been having, CactusVPN is not a service you should be considering. If you’re looking for VPN providers that go above and beyond with their service, you can check out the best VPNs for 2020 review here.

Kim Martin Administrator
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