Mullvad is a Swedish-based VPN which doesn’t just talk about protecting your privacy – it actually does something about it.
Signing up, for instance, is as simple as clicking a button to generate an account number. The website creates a unique account number for you, and you’re done. Mullvad doesn’t need your email address, your name, country, or any personal details – the account ID is enough.
The company goes on to recommend that you pay via cash, Bitcoin or Bitcoin cash, ensuring it’ll know almost nothing about you. If that’s a step too far, you can pay as usual via card, PayPal, bank transfer or Swish.
Mullvad’s core service is absolutely stuffed with privacy-friendly technologies. It only uses OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, for instance. There’s industrial strength encryption (AES-256 GCM, 4096-bit RSA certificates with SHA512, perfect forward secrecy). There are multiple layers of DNS and IPv6 leak protection, you get a variety of stealth options to bypass VPN blocking, port forwarding support is built in, and the list goes on.
- Want to try Mullvad? Check out the website here
The network is a reasonable size. Mullvad may ‘only’ have 800 servers (NordVPN has a massive 5,400+), but they’re P2P-friendly and well spread across 67 locations and 38 countries.
The company has its own apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, as well as a Firefox extension, and you can connect up to five devices simultaneously.
Not sure if you can trust what these apps are doing? It’s generally smart to be skeptical, but Mullvad is more transparent than most. Not only are its apps open source, so anyone can check the code, but they’re also externally audited.
Pricing is extremely simple at €5 ($5.70) a month, no long-term contracts required. That’s half the price you’ll pay for monthly billing with some providers, and cheaper than many annual plans. Even better, Mullvad offers a 10% discount if you pay by cryptocurrency.
If you’re happy to sign up for longer, though, there’s a lot of money to be saved. Private Internet Access is only $2.03 a month for the first term of its three-year plan, for instance, a fraction of the price.
Mullvad scores a plus for its refund procedure, though. Not only is there a 30-day money-back guarantee, but it can also refund Bitcoin payment in some situations. There are some potential complications (the refund help page has more), but it’s still better than the blanket ‘no Bitcoin refunds’ we see with most providers.
Figuring out a VPN’s logging policy is often a real challenge, but again, Mullvad is different, spelling out the fine detail in an excellent policy page.
The key point is that nothing is logged that can be connected to a specific account. No traffic, DNS requests, IP addresses, not even connection times, dates or bandwidth used.
Mullvad explains that it monitors the current number of connections to each account, to ensure no-one can use more than the five allowed. But this isn’t saved, so there’s no way to tell how many you were using five months, weeks, or even minutes ago.
The end result of all this is you don’t have to worry about how Mullvad handles court requests to access your usage data, because, well, there isn’t any.
Mullvad has backed up its privacy claims with a 2021 infrastructure audit, and a comprehensive Cure53 audit of its desktop and mobile apps.
These found some issues, but that’s what we’d expect: Cure53 audits are very, very, very thorough. Mullvad fixed the problems, though, and has promised regular audits in the future. It’s good to see a provider opening itself up to this level of scrutiny, and on balance we think Mullvad looks far more trustworthy than most of the competition.
Getting started with Mullvad is as easy as generating an account number and buying some time (cards, PayPal, Bitcoin and other payment methods are supported, as mentioned). The website presents this clearly, and gives you an unusual level of control. Most providers sign you up to an auto-renewing subscription by default, for instance; Mullvad’s first options are for one-off payments only. (You can sign up for a subscription, too, but you have to specifically choose that option.)
A comprehensive Download page pointed us to the Windows client, but also included links to the Mac, Linux, iOS and Android apps, the latest beta release, the Firefox extension and Mullvad’s WireGuard and OpenVPN configuration files.
We grabbed and installed the Windows client in a few seconds. We activated it by entering our account number (Mullvad doesn’t require usernames or passwords) and it was ready to go.
While some VPN’s apps look and feel very different across all platforms, Mullvad takes a more unified approach. Whether you’re using Windows or Android, Mac or iOS, or indeed Linux, each app is almost identical, with little more than a few settings varying between versions.
The apps look good, with a colorful panel, a map highlighting your current location, and a ‘Secure my connection’ button.
Tapping the location name lets you choose another from a list of countries and cities. This is surprisingly basic, with no ‘Fastest’ or ‘Automatic’ option to select the best server for your current location (the post-install default is always Sweden), no search box, Favorites system or server load indicators.
What you do get, oddly, is the ability to filter by server providers. Are Mullvad customers really more interested in viewing M247 or Leaseweb servers than, say, listing all the locations in Asia, or saving Favorites of their own? Really?
Whatever location you choose, Mullvad doesn’t waste time getting you connected. Even OpenVPN was ready to go in around 6-8 seconds, less than half the time we see with some apps.
Features and settings
Mullvad’s basic location picker didn’t give us hope for the rest of the app, but it actually has far more features than we expected.
The company doesn’t make a big fuss about it on the website, for instance, but the apps have built-in ad and tracker-blocking. (Malware-blocking is available in the desktop betas as we write, and could be released in full by the time you read this.)
NordVPN, Surfshark and a few others have ad blocking, but usually you’re told very little about what technology they’re using, and how it works. Mullvad, once again, is far more transparent. Its Github site tells you exactly which blocklists it uses, and you can even download them.
Desktop support for Split Tunneling (unavailable in the mobile apps) enables specifying apps which won’t use the VPN. It’s not quite as flexible as some – ExpressVPN’s desktop app gives you more options – but Mullvad’s solution looks better and did everything we needed.
Multi-hop VPN is another desktop-only feature which sees your connections routed to one Mullvad server first, exiting the VPN from another server. The feature works well, but it’s difficult to find. You won’t even know it exists unless you browse the OpenVPN Settings and enable Bridge Mode (and, no, we wouldn’t think to do that, either).
Most app settings are more straightforward, though. You can opt to launch the app and/or connect when your device starts; enable or disable notifications; turn on a kill switch to block internet traffic if the VPN drops; and use a custom DNS server.
It’s a more configurable setup than many apps, although there are a few features missing. In particular, we’d like the ability to automatically connect when accessing particular networks or network types. Mullvad disagrees, though, suggesting the feature is a security risk because hackers could set up a network with the same name and your device might connect automatically.
The desktop apps have one other unusual expert-level extra in a very flexible command line interface, which enables building scripts to tweak settings, connect to your chosen locations, view status or disconnect automatically. That’ll be way too much hassle for most people, but if you want to do something advanced – perhaps create a script which automatically connects to Mullvad before launching a specific app – it could be very helpful.
If Mullvad isn’t delivering the service you need, its web Help Center aims to get you up and running again. There’s a decent amount of content here, most of it providing genuinely useful information, but it doesn’t begin to match the likes of ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
The articles aren’t well organized, for instance. The Help Center doesn’t display the articles you’re most likely to need first, either in its opening screen or when you run a search. You might have to hunt for the information you need, and even if you find it, articles often assume a high level of technical knowledge.
There’s no live chat support, either, but Mullvad does allow users to contact support from within its apps or via email. We asked a question and got a friendly and helpful reply (far better than the website) within 90 minutes. That can’t compete with the two or three minute wait we typically see with live chat from the top providers, but it’s also far better than the 12+ hours we’ll often be left waiting elsewhere, and overall Mullvad offers an acceptable level of support.
Our performance testing began with a close look at Mullvad’s kill switch. We forcibly closed both OpenVPN and WireGuard connections in various ways, but the app handled each situation perfectly: it immediately displayed a ‘Reconnecting’ message alerting us to the problem, blocked our internet connection to prevent any IP leaks, and followed up with a ‘Secured’ notification, seconds later, when the connection was re-established.
Mullvad is more focused on privacy and security than getting access to Netflix, and that was very clear in our tests. Not only did it fail to get us into Netflix in the US, Canada, UK and Japan, it couldn’t unblock BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video or Disney Plus, either.
The service got back on track in our privacy checks, though, with the Windows app successfully blocking DNS and WebRTC leaks.
The news only got better in our speed tests, with Mullvad UK connections hitting 480-490Mbps for OpenVPN, more than twice what we see with some competitors.
Switching to WireGuard saw Mullvad accelerate further to 740-820Mbps. That can’t quite match our speed leader TorGuard’s 950Mbps, but it’s well above average, and should be enough for even the most demanding of users.
Mullvad review: Final verdict
Mullvad’s app has few features, it didn’t unblock anything for us, and prices are above average for long-term users, but otherwise there’s a lot to like here. You can open an account without handing over any personal data, speeds are excellent, and a top-quality VPN engine protects your privacy at all times. If you’re more interested in anonymity than unblocking, Mullvad could be a very smart choice.
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