Rating:
6/10
?
  • 1 - Does not work
  • 2 - Barely functional
  • 3 - Severely lacking in most areas
  • 4 - Functions, but has numerous issues
  • 5 - Fine yet leaves a lot to be desired
  • 6 - Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 - Great and worth purchasing
  • 8 - Fantastic, approaching best-in-class
  • 9 - Best-in-class
  • 10 - Borderline perfection
Price:
Starting At $2
Mysterium VPN logo
Mysterium

Decentralized VPNs are an interesting evolution of traditional VPNs, letting you pay your fellow users to get access to nodes all over the world. The most accessible dVPN out there is Mysterium VPN; I took it through its paces to see how it works.

At the time of publishing, it’s hard to recommend Mysterium VPN for anything except getting through to Netflix, something at which it excels, as well as giving people anonymous access to the web at a reduced price. However, if you’re looking for a solid VPN alternative, I don’t think Mysterium VPN, or dVPNs at large, is it. There are just too many issues with speed and security, at least for now.

Here's What We Like

  • Affordable
  • Great at cracking Netflix
  • Accessible

And What We Don't

  • Lots of questions surrounding security
  • Not all nodes work
  • Some odd UI quirks

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How Mysterium VPN Works

The way Mysterium VPN operates is fairly typical of how decentralized VPNs work, making it an ideal candidate to get an impression of dVPNs as well as just the service itself. Though dVPNs may not be as revolutionary as they like to claim they are, they do change the paradigm of what you expect VPNs to be.

The most important of the many differences between regular VPNs and decentralized VPNs is their structure. When you sign up for a VPN service, you essentially pay a subscription for permission to use their servers. You then use these servers to access the internet, spoofing your location and thus gaining some measure of anonymity.

dVPNs turn this way of doing things on its head. For one, you’re not using servers, but nodes. Nodes are points at which you reroute your connection, and they can be just about any device: a laptop, a smartphone, or even IoT devices can be nodes. Nodes aren’t operated by Mysterium VPN, instead, they’re put up for use by your fellow users.

To use somebody’s node, you pay them a small fee—we go over how small in our pricing section below—in Mysterium VPN’s own cryptocurrency called MYST. As such, you’re not a customer as much as a member of a network, with the Mysterium Network taking a 20% cut of any transaction for facilitating it.

What’s It Like Using Mysterium VPN?

The nice thing about Mysterium VPN is that all of its processes are happening in the background. When using it day-to-day, it really isn’t that much different from a regular VPN. There’s a list of nodes, you click on one, hit connect, and that’s it.

Mytserium VPN's main interface

The client is an intuitive and easy-to-use affair, on par with top providers like IVPN. Currently, you can download it for Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux. Downloading and installing it is pretty easy, there’s no barrier to entry like with Orchid, a dVPN that expects you to do more of the heavy lifting.

RELATED: IVPN Review: Fast as Lightning

Mysterium VPN offers two types of nodes: regular and residential.  Regular nodes are a little cheaper to use and are supposedly used for standard use, so things like web browsing. If you hit the “download” tab in the top left of the interface, it will only show you regular nodes, so supposedly these are meant for torrenting. At least, that’s what I gather from the uTorrent logo there.

Mysterium VPN's download nodes

Mysterium VPN and Netflix

Residential nodes—marked with an “R” in a circle—are nodes associated with residences, places where people live. These are where Mysterium VPN really shines because residential IPs are a fantastic way to unblock Netflix. They’re a bit more expensive to use than regular nodes, but worth every penny.

Mysterium VPN's streaming nodes

I tested Mysterium VPN extensively for the article about using dVPNs to crack Netflix, and I have to say it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had. On the whole, residential IPs will do a great job of getting through to Netflix and I made liberal use of it to catch up on some films I can’t get in Cyprus, where I live.

It was a much better experience than with regular VPNs, even Netflix-centered ones like Surfshark or NordVPN, especially since I didn’t have to subscribe to a new service. I just logged in, bought some MYST, and off I went. That said, it wasn’t entirely without hiccups: Netflix will still eject you from time to time, meaning you’ll have to switch nodes every few hours.

Connection Issues

However, using the Mysterium VPN client isn’t all puppies and rainbows, either. While overall it works really well, there are some issues with connecting to nodes from time to time. You’ll click on a node, hit “connect”—annoyingly, you can’t double-click a node to connect—and then…nothing. Over the few months I’ve used Mysterium VPN, I got more than my fair share of “connection failed” messages.

Mysterium displays a failed connection

My guess—and it’s really only a guess as Mysterium hasn’t responded to my requests for information—is that these nodes belong to a user and they just aren’t active at the time of connection. It’s annoying, but I’ve rarely had it happen more than twice in a row; eventually, you will get your connection.

Another issue is that you’re never sure where you’re connecting to. The list of available nodes just gives hashed addresses. All you know when you’re connecting is the country the node is in. This is fine for a country like the Netherlands or Malta, but is problematic with the United States, as connecting to the East or West Coasts could make for a very different browsing experience since distance affects your VPN speed.

Overall, though, I liked the experience of using Mysterium VPN. While it has plenty of kinks to work out, the client has fewer bugs than some established VPNs—looking at you, AtlasVPN.

How Does Mysterium Pricing Work?

One major hurdle for most people trying to get into dVPNs is likely these services’ use of crypto to power their network. Some even go so far as to let users use their machines to mine for coins when not being used as a node. Mysterium is no different: to use it, you need to buy or mine its own coin, called MYST. It does, however, make it pretty easy even if you’re not big into crypto.

You can buy MYST directly from the Mysterium VPN app, your wallet ID is the same as that of the account you sign into the client with, which makes things easier. You can buy MYST with a credit card, PayPal, or other crypto, so you have plenty of options. Using a credit card or PayPal, you can buy packages of $2, $4, or $8, and you get an indication of what this buys you.

Buying MYST in Mysterium

The exchange rate of MYST to the U.S. dollar seems fairly stable, so you always get the same. I paid $2 and got just under 4 MYST, which has been more than enough. I mainly use Mysterium for streaming and I have watched hours upon hours of Netflix and burned through maybe one to one-and-a-half MYST.

Basically, if you use Mysterium VPN just for streaming and then use a regular but cost-effective VPN that’s not as great at streaming for every other purpose—I recommend Mullvad—you’re getting the best of both worlds, without having to pay the higher rates of a service like ExpressVPN.

That said, if you’re going to use Mysterium VPN to burn through terabytes of torrents, I’m sure there’s a moment when it is no longer effective to do so. The advantage of regular VPNs here is that they offer unlimited bandwidth for subscribers, while dVPNs use a pay-as-you-go model. I’m not entirely sure where the point lies, but I’m guessing it’s at a few terabytes per month.

Alternatively, you could sign up not just as a user, but as a node within the network. Though the commission paid to the network prohibits it from being a one-for-one deal—if you have one GB of data go through your node, you don’t make enough MYST to put a GB through somebody else’s—it would still seriously defray the cost of using Mysterium VPN.

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How Fast is Mysterium VPN?

When it comes to speeds, Mysterium VPN is all over the place. Some nodes perform decently, others simply do not. This is likely due to the fact that every node is unique, so you can’t get repeatable results. The only two things I feel I can say with some confidence is that residential nodes seem to perform better than non-residential ones, and that even then results aren’t exactly stellar.

The bottom line is that no matter how lucky you get with your nodes, you’re going to lose a lot of speed. I did a large number of tests and put one each—the best I could get—for four locations in the table below to give you an idea of what you’re up against. Note that unlike in most other VPN reviews, I didn’t connect to New York City but to California since Mysterium doesn’t give you exact locations.

Location Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Cyprus (unprotected) 5 103 41
Israel 206 47 17
United Kingdom 148 40 18
United States (CA) 406 13 13
Japan 670 1 6

The best result I got was, unsurprisingly, from Israel, which is just over 150 kilometers (100 miles) away. Even then, though, I lost more than half of my original 100Mbps speed. The connection to the U.K. was surprisingly good, losing my speed by”only” 60%. My connection to the U.S. was pretty awful, though, and we won’t even mention Japan.

The result is that you don’t pick Mysterium VPN if you want a fast VPN. Even the best-performing nodes score a lot worse than those of other services. Even slow VPNs like FastVPN—the irony is palpable—do a lot better than Mysterium VPN does on the whole.

Is Mysterium VPN Safe to Use?

Before we wrap up, let’s also go over how Mysterium VPN protects you and your data. Here is where we encounter some issues, and it’s a big reason why I would recommend using Mysterium VPN mainly for everyday browsing and unblocking Netflix, not for torrenting or anything else that can get you into real trouble.

This is because there are a lot of blanks in our knowledge of how dVPNs operate. On paper, they’re a lot more secure than regular VPNs, but that’s only if we take dVPN operators at their word. It should be said that Mysterium VPN is more open than most, but there are still some issues.

The first is the eternal question of VPNs and logs. Technically, dVPNs shouldn’t even be able to keep logs because there’s no central place to do so. This rings true, but it does raise the question of how much a node operator can see. They shouldn’t be able to see what you’re doing while connected, but it’s hard to verify.

This is a big issue with Tor, a very similar technology to dVPNs, and other services have admitted it could be an issue with them, too. When we asked Mysterium VPN about it, all we heard were crickets.

According to the company’s FAQ, Mysterium uses the highly secure WireGuard protocol, making Mysterium one of the few dVPNs that makes clear which VPN protocol it uses. However, it’s unclear if this hides your activity from node suppliers or not. Tor solves this issue by hopping to different nodes, but since Mysterium can’t multi-hop, that won’t work.

Having this many question marks around how a service works gives me a bad taste in my mouth. While I want to give Mysterium the benefit of the doubt, for now, I would recommend you not use Mysterium for anything that can land you in trouble.

Should You Use Mysterium VPN?

There’s a lot to like about Mysterium VPN. Its payment model means you could effectively use it for free, which is nice for people of limited funds, and it’s the best Netflix buster I’ve used. However, thanks to its security issues, if you need more than just get through to Netflix you’re better off checking out our selection of the best VPN services, at least for now.

Rating:
6/10
Price:
Starting At $2

Here’s What We Like

  • Affordable
  • Great at cracking Netflix
  • Accessible

And What We Don't

  • Lots of questions surrounding security
  • Not all nodes work
  • Some odd UI quirks
Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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