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What Is VPN Obfuscation?

JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

JP Jones is our CTO. He has over 25 years of software engineering and networking experience, and oversees all technical aspects of our VPN testing process. Read full bio

Our Verdict

VPN obfuscation technology disguises VPN traffic as normal internet traffic, allowing users to bypass VPN bans, avoid detection by deep packet inspection, and connect to VPN servers in restrictive online environments. Obfuscation comes in many forms including specialized obfuscated VPN servers, stealth protocols, and proxies.

VPN Obfuscation Header Image

VPN obfuscation is an advanced security feature that hides the fact that you are using a VPN to reroute your traffic. It can help to bypass firewalls, avoid blocks by governments or ISPs, and evade detection by deep packet inspection (DPI).

Internet restrictions are often implemented by governments during important political events, or to censor the internet of political, religious, or sexual content. Some schools and workplaces also implement firewalls to keep students safe or protect their networks from malicious attacks.

This guide is a summary of the most important features, benefits, and disadvantages of VPN obfuscation. It will help you decide when to use VPN obfuscation, how to enable it, and which obfuscated VPN to choose. We’ll also explain the different types of obfuscation and exactly how they work.

EXPERT TIP: Based on our latest test results, the best VPN with obfuscated servers and protocols is Astrill VPN. It’s 100% reliable in bypassing VPN blocks in China, Russia, and the UAE. Not only does it have a kill switch on desktop clients, it also unblocks YouTube, US Netflix, and Hulu.

What Is VPN Obfuscation & How Does it Work?

VPN obfuscation refers to a set of advanced features that disguise your VPN traffic as normal HTTPS, UDP, or TCP web traffic. This allows you to get past a VPN blocker and connect to a VPN, even in countries with highly restricted internet.

Obfuscation can require complicated configuration and resources, which means it’s only offered by some VPN services.

Importantly, not all obfuscation tools work in the same way. There are several different methods to bypass VPN blocks, some of which are more effective than others. The most common obfuscation techniques include Shadowsocks proxies, OpenVPN over TLS, SSTP, and OpenVPN Scramble.

When you connect to a normal VPN server, your ISP can’t see what you’re doing online because a secure and encrypted tunnel is created. However, it can see that you are using a VPN from the way your data looks. Your traffic might have recognizable encryption patterns, or it might be using well-known VPN service ports that give it away.

When you connect to a VPN using obfuscated servers or protocols, it will change the way your data packets look. As a result, your ISP won’t be able to detect you’re using a VPN and will let you pass a strict VPN block.

When obfuscation is implemented, the VPN signature and other signs of a VPN connection disappear. Deep packet inspection can no longer tell that you’re using a VPN and you have access to the unfiltered internet.

If you’re in an environment with strict online restrictions, such as the UAE or Turkey, this will let you access the internet and unblock restricted websites without your ISP or government being alerted to your web activity.

To illustrate this, we used deep packet inspection software called WireShark to examine our VPN traffic with obfuscation enabled and disabled.

Here’s a screenshot of our VPN traffic without obfuscated servers, protocols, or proxies:

Screenshot of Wireshark app picking up on an OpenVPN protocol connection.

Without obfuscation, the packet inspection tool could detect an OpenVPN connection.

Here’s a screenshot of our VPN traffic after connecting to an obfuscated VPN server:

Screenshot of Wireshark app picking up on a TLSv1.3, TCP, DNS, and HTTP connection.

With obfsproxy enabled, Wireshark was unable to detect an OpenVPN connection.

Without obfuscation, the packet inspection software was able to detect both WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols – exposing our connection to a VPN service. With obfsproxy obfuscation enabled, Wireshark was unable to pick up on the VPN protocol that was being used. Instead, it only detected a TCP connection.

What Are Obfuscated Servers?

Obfuscated servers are specialized servers that camouflage your VPN connection. They make it more difficult for your ISP or national government to detect your VPN connection.

Your ISP might use DPI to inspect the data packets on their network. If so, they would be able to see what you’re doing online, including whether you are torrenting or streaming.

Depending on the country you’re based in and the laws that apply, your ISP might be selling this data to third-party advertisers or reporting your activity to the authorities and other government agencies.

Are Obfuscated Servers Slower?

Obfuscated servers apply extra layers of encryption and code, which can slow down your internet connection.

In our obfuscation speed tests, we found that every VPN’s speed is affected differently by obfuscation technology.

In general, the VPNs that are best at bypassing firewalls (Astrill VPN, ExpressVPN, and Windscribe VPN) have fast to average speeds – even with obfuscation enabled.

Bar chart showing VPN speeds in Mbps of Surfshark, PrivateVPN, ExpressVPN, WIndscribe, StrongVPN and other VPNs when they have obfuscation turned off and turned on.

We tested VPN speeds with obfuscation turned on and off to see the difference.

As you can see in the table above, connecting to an obfuscated server reduced the speeds of every VPN we tested. However, there are large fluctuations in exactly how much they were affected.

For example, Surfshark and ExpressVPN experienced minimal speed loss when connecting to short and long distance servers with obfuscation enabled. On the other hand, PIA’s speeds dropped from 88Mbps on a UK connection to a disappointing 15Mbps on a US connection.

We found that Surfshark had the most impressive download speeds. With NoBorders mode enabled, our speeds only dropped by 2% when connected to a local server.

However, there is a trade off: Surfshark is incredibly bad at bypassing the Great firewall of China. In the past year, Surfshark has successfully circumvented the Great Firewall of China just 13% of the time, which suggests it’s only so fast because it’s not doing a great job at obfuscating its connection.

Every VPN has its own obfuscation technology that works in different ways. If speed is your main concern, we recommend using Surfshark, Astrill VPN, or ExpressVPN.

Is Obfuscation 100% Reliable?

VPN obfuscation technology is not 100% reliable. In fact, some VPN services go through regular cycles of working and then failing to successfully obfuscate your VPN connection and bypass firewalls.

However, as long as the VPN has a strong no-logs policy and is based outside the 14 Eyes Alliance, your IP address and online activity will be safe from prying eyes.

To further mitigate risks associated with your VPN traffic leaking, we recommend using a VPN with a working kill switch, too.

VPN Obfuscation & Stealth Techniques

VPNs use different obfuscation and stealth techniques to disguise their traffic, including different VPN connection protocols and proxies. The most common obfuscation methods are listed below:

Shadowsocks

PROS
CONS
  • Open-source
  • Fast speeds
  • Uses less RAM
  • No official audit
  • No port forwarding

Shadowsocks is a free and open-source obfuscation proxy protocol. The protocol was created in 2012 by a Chinese programmer named clowwindy, and is widely used by people in China to circumvent government censors without being detected.

Loosely based on the Socket Secure 5 or ‘SOCKS5’ protocol, Shadowsocks is a proxy that reroutes your internet connection through a third server, making it look like you’re in a different location. It also hides your VPN traffic by making it look like HTTPS traffic.

Screenshot of Private Internet Access's Settings > Multi-Hop > Proxy and Shadowsocks option.

We tested Private Internet Access’ Shadowsocks proxy and found it worked well at bypassing VPN blocks.

It’s important to note that regular proxies are unsafe because they do not encrypt your traffic. To combat this, Shadowsocks uses an AEAD cipher – similar to SSH tunneling – to encrypt your web traffic and prevent it from being read by your ISP.

AEAD is a form of encryption that allows a recipient to check the authenticity and integrity of data. It is associated with the well-trusted AES encryption and makes up part of its cipher suites.

Unfortunately, Shadowsocks is not a common feature in VPN services because the setup process is complicated for both the VPN provider and users.

SoftEther

PROS
CONS
  • Open-source
  • Great for bypassing online censorship and restrictions
  • Incredibly fast speeds
  • Extremely rare in VPN services
  • Requires manual configuration to be safe
  • Vulnerable to man-in-the-middle-attacks

SoftEther VPN is an open-source, multi-protocol VPN software created by Daiyuu Nobori in Japan. SoftEther VPN runs on Windows, macOS, Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris. Once implemented, it can create fast, low-latency connections that can circumvent sophisticated firewalls.

SoftEther’s VPN protocol uses Ethernet over HTTPS (HTTP over SSL) to establish a VPN tunnel. This works well to bypass firewalls because HTTPS is the industry standard for secure communications across the internet, which makes it difficult for ISPs and governments to detect.

SoftEther’s VPN software is not only compatible with its own protocol – it also supports OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, L2TPv3, and EtherIP protocols.

Screenshot of Hide.me's Windows client, which shows its VPN Protocol page in Settings.

Hide.me offers the SoftEther protocol in its Windows client.

The protocol works by dividing all TCP connections into two groups. The first group is designated for uplink and the second group is only for downlink. This segregation helps to fool any firewall and DPI into thinking the connection is a typical HTTPS connection.

A sophisticated firewall is able to detect an abnormally long TCP connection. To combat this, SoftEther VPN connections also set a time limit for all TCP connections, which forces them to terminate before they are detected.

Despite its good qualities, SoftEther has notable downsides. Mainly, it’s only available on two of the VPNs we’ve testedCactusVPN and Hide.me. A majority of VPN services have unfortunately avoided SoftEther because of its extremely complicated setup process, which is both convoluted for VPN providers and their customers.

In 2019, researchers discovered two vulnerabilities in Hide.me’s implementation of SoftEther. Firstly, the client did not verify the server’s certificate. This meant that a network attacker could perform a man-in-the-middle-attack and obtain the victim’s credentials and network traffic.

Secondly, Hide.me’s back-end management interface did not require password authentication, which also exposed users to man-in-the-middle attacks.

EXPERT ADVICE: Before using SoftEther, make sure to tick Always Verify Server Certificate in the New VPN Connection settings.

OpenVPN over SSL/TLS

PROS
CONS
  • Open-source software
  • TLS 1.3 was updated in 2018
  • Commonly used by VPNs
  • Fast speeds
  • SSL is more common but outdated
  • Difficult to configure manually

OpenVPN over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) is a combination of the OpenVPN protocol and a layer of SSL or TLS encryption. It’s designed to hide the fact that you are using a VPN from your ISP.

In order to implement OpenVPN over SSL/TLS obfuscation, the VPN service will have to use Stunnel, another type of open-source software. However, many VPNs are put off by the complexity of the setup process.

OpenVPN over SSL/TLS provides robust encryption, but it’s not suited to the individual user. It’s very rare to find a VPN that has SSH or SSL enabled and none of the top-rated VPNs have it configured.

SSTP

PROS
CONS
  • Effective at bypassing firewalls
  • AES-256 encryption
  • Fast speeds
  • Closed-source
  • Dubious links with the NSA

Secure Socket Tunnel Protocol (or SSTP) is a very secure and widely-used VPN protocol developed and owned by Microsoft. It’s supported on Windows, Linux, Android, and a variety of routers. SSTP was made in 2007 to replace the very outdated and vulnerable PPTP protocol.

SSTP used to be vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle (or Poodle) attacks, where an attacker redirects your web traffic or injects malicious content into an existing data packet. Nowadays, SSTP is secure because it’s implemented using TLS 1.2 and 1.3, whereas Poodle attacks relied on SSL3.

SSTP is available on a lot of trusted VPNs including IPVanish and Hide.me. However, the VPNs that work best against censorship have dropped the protocol and moved onto more sophisticated systems.

It’s a protocol that’s also commonly used in Windows 10 for people working away from the office that want to safely connect to their corporate network.

Despite the positives of SSTP, there were dubious links found between Microsoft and the NSA established by Edward Snowden in 2013. For example, it was revealed that Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to intercept web chats on Outlook.com.

Obfsproxy

PROS
CONS
  • Completely random patterns of handshake
  • Requires less bandwidth
  • Obfsproxy traffic stands out in comparison to other protocols
  • Difficult to set up for the VPN service and servers

Obfsproxy, short for Obfuscation Proxy, was originally adopted by the Tor community to obfuscate Tor traffic and hide their internet activity from their ISP.

Obfsproxy works by using obfs2, obfs3, scramblesuit, obfs4, or meek to implement an obfsproxy tunnel that your VPN traffic is routed through. It also adds an extra layer of encryption. It’s lightweight and uses less bandwidth, but this also makes it less secure.

Scramblesuit, obfs4, and meek are currently the only protocols with obfsproxy that we would recommend using to bypass censorship, as the others are out of date and easily detected by DPI.

It’s rare to see a VPN adopt this technology because it’s extremely difficult to set up. However, we see some VPN services adopt it due to its success rate at bypassing firewalls and circumventing censorship.

Screenshot of IVPN and their obfsproxy option in Settings > Connection > Additional settings.

IVPN offers Obfsproxy with an OpenVPN connection.

Obfsproxy can disguise your Tor or OpenVPN traffic as any type of traffic you would like. However, it’s not always guaranteed to bypass firewalls and DPI because it does have some recognizable patterns.

A majority of protocol handshakes are very clearly defined, and easily recognizable. And so, obfsproxy traffic stands out because it looks like completely random data in comparison. ISPs can use entropy tests, which analyze the randomness of data, to potentially identify obfsproxy traffic.

It’s used to circumvent online firewalls and was created for people in China, Iran, or Russia, where there are strict online censors.

OpenVPN/XOR Scramble

PROS
CONS
  • Open-source
  • Weak encryption keys
  • Can’t bypass sophisticated online firewalls
  • Hackers use XOR to hide malware

OpenVPN Scramble, or XOR obfuscation, is a third-party patch for OpenVPN that adds an extra layer of obfuscation.

It works by applying the bitwise XOR cipher, a substitution-based algorithm, to OpenVPN traffic. This replaces each character in a data string and disguises the fact it is OpenVPN traffic. OpenVPN Scramble will make your VPN traffic look like UDP traffic.

Screenshot of StrongVPN's macOS client. Preferences is open and shows a Scramble tick box next to OpenVPN.

StrongVPN offers XOR Scramble on UDP or TCP with multiple ports.

This type of VPN obfuscation has two major downsides. First, it can be easily deciphered by reapplying the same XOR cipher with the key to the data string. This makes it one of the least secure methods of obfuscation on this list.

Secondly, it’s an unreliable tool for bypassing online firewalls and censors. As mentioned in our IPVanish tests and StrongVPN review, their scramble features have been failing in our weekly tests to circumvent the China firewall.

Overall, OpenVPN Scramble provides a low level of security and rudimentary obfuscation. It might be appropriate for someone living in a country without online restrictions, but it definitely isn’t built for bypassing firewalls or avoiding detection by governments.

V2Ray/VMess

PROS
CONS
  • Highly customizable
  • Extremely rare in VPNs
  • Complicated implementation for VPN providers
  • Hasn’t undergone a security audit

V2Ray is an open-source platform and subsection under Project V, where any developer can use a protocol called VMess to develop new proxy software.

Both Shadowsocks and V2Ray were created with the specific aim to help people in China circumvent the Great Firewall. However, Shadowsocks is designed to make the process as simple as possible, whereas V2Ray has a much more complicated configuration process.

VPN.ac is the only VPN we’ve reviewed that has implemented V2Ray tunneling. The feature is available in its native Windows app, but not in macOS or mobile versions. It can be found in advanced settings.

In our tests, enabling V2Ray on VPN.ac caused our VPN connection to drop and sometimes blocked us from connecting to the VPN server altogether.

Screenshot of VPN.ac's Advanced Settings on Windows. The OpenVPN TCP proxy / obfuscation options is highlighted.

VPN.ac has renamed its V2Ray feature ‘OpenVPN TCP proxy / obfuscation’.

As you can see in the image above, you can choose between a direct connection through VPN.ac’s obfuscation proxy servers, or a connection to VPN.ac’s proxy servers through Cloudflare.

When Should You Use Obfuscated VPN Technology?

Obfuscated servers and protocols aren’t necessary for everyone. They can be inconvenient to enable every time you access the internet, and they can also be complicated to configure.

However, there are some specific cases where VPN obfuscation technology is needed or very useful. Most importantly, you should use obfuscated servers if you’re a regular torrenter, journalist, or a person living in a country with internet restrictions.

Here’s a brief summary of when you should use VPN obfuscation:

  1. For Increased Privacy and Security.
  2. To Bypass Online Censorship.
  3. For Torrenting and P2P File Sharing.

1. For Increased Privacy and Security

Journalists and political activists often need unrestricted access to the internet. This way they can freely research, share information, and securely communicate with contacts.

If you deal with sensitive information on a regular basis and you’re based in a country with online firewalls, having a reliable VPN with obfuscation is essential.

Otherwise, regulators using deep packet inspection could identify your web activity or VPN use and flag you as a target for surveillance.

2. To Bypass Online Censorship

Internet censorship is the control or suppression of information and media published on the internet, often authorized by governments regulators. Network companies may also engage in self-censorship for business or moral reasons.

Online censorship can occur through site blocking, content filtering, and complete internet shutdowns. It occurs more often in anticipation of political events such as elections, protests, and riots.

For example, Russia has banned Instagram, Twitter, Google News, BBC News, and many more websites in 2022. As a result, demand for VPNs that work in Russia rose by more than 2,500% between the months of February and March.

VPNs are excellent at encrypting your data, unblocking websites, and hiding your activity from your ISP, but they are also easy to detect. If you live in a country that bans or punishes the use of VPN services, VPN obfuscation is necessary to bypass these website blocks and firewalls without being detected.

EXPERT ADVICE: If you’re trying to circumvent online restrictions, try using a VPN like Astrill or VPNArea with a combination of OpenVPN, TCP, and Port 443, before enabling obfuscation features.

3. For Torrenting & P2P Activity

Some torrenting VPNs offer both P2P servers and obfuscated servers separately. Choosing between a P2P or obfuscated server for torrenting will depend on your location.

If you’re based in a country where torrenting is legal or allowed for personal use, we recommend using a VPN with a no logs policy and P2P-optimized servers.

However, if you’re based in a country with strict online firewalls and restrictions, we recommend using a VPN with inbuilt obfuscation, or a VPN with an obfuscation protocol and P2P-optimized servers.

In some cases, it’s best to use a combination of an obfuscated protocol and a P2P-optimized server:

Screenshot of a conversation with Astrill's customer support. It shows them saying "We recommend using starred servers with StealthVPN for optimal performance on torrenting.

Astrill VPN’s customer support recommends a combination of Stealth VPN and P2P servers.

When Not to Use VPN Obfuscation

Here’s a brief summary of when you should not use VPN obfuscation:

  1. If Your Internet Speeds Are Slow.
  2. To Bypass Geo-Restrictions on Streaming Services.

1. If Your Internet Speeds Are Slow

VPN obfuscation will slow down your internet connection speed. Obfuscating your VPN connection involves additional algorithms, codes, and layers of encryption, which means the data packets themselves become larger and take more time to travel between servers.

If you don’t have a high-speed internet connection, obfuscation can crash your online activities or cause lag.

2. To Bypass Geo-Restrictions on Streaming Services

Streaming services like Netflix actively scan for VPN traffic. If they identify a VPN or proxy user, they may block that user from the platform or restrict them to certain titles.

In theory, a tool that hides the fact you are using a VPN should be beneficial for unblocking streaming services.

In reality, we found in our VPN streaming tests that obfuscation protocols and servers didn’t increase the likelihood of bypassing geo-blocks on streaming services.

We also discovered that VPN obfuscation can actually hinder your streaming experience as it can slow down your internet connection, causing your video to buffer or lag.

How to Connect to an Obfuscated VPN Server

Every VPN has a different process for enabling obfuscation technology. This is because some VPNs have obfuscated servers, while others have obfuscated protocols, and a few have proprietary obfuscation technology.

Here are some examples of how to enable different obfuscation technologies:

  • Astrill VPN: Switch to StealthVPN protocol.
  • ExpressVPN: Obfuscation is inbuilt, so it’s automatically enabled whenever you choose to connect to a server.
  • PIA: Switch to the OpenVPN protocol. In settings, enable Multi-Hop and Obfuscation, and toggle on Shadowsocks.
  • Windscribe: Open settings, click Connection and then Manual. Then Protocol and switch to either Stealth or WStunnel.

Here’s a video showing you how to enable obfuscated servers. We’ve used VPNArea as an example:

Here’s how to turn on obfuscated servers in VPNArea:

  1. Open the VPNArea app.
  2. At the top, click on Stealth.
  3. You will see a list of Stunnel configured servers. Scroll down the list of all countries and servers available.
  4. Connect to your nearest obfuscated server for the fastest speeds, or another server of your choice.

Unless you’re in a region with highly restricted internet access, we recommend turning off obfuscation and switching to a normal VPN connection to reach the best speeds and performance.

EXPERT TIP: Remember that some VPNs have multiple obfuscation protocols and servers, so try different combinations if you’re having difficulty bypassing a firewall or suffering from slow speeds.

What to Do if VPN Obfuscation Isn’t Working

Once you’ve enabled obfuscated servers or switched to an obfuscation protocol, you should be able to browse the internet without restrictions.

If you’re still encountering blocked pages or internet throttling, try the following instructions to continue accessing the open internet:

1Connect to the Nearest Obfuscated Server

The further away you are to a server, the slower your connection will be. If you’re having trouble connecting to an obfuscated server or you are experiencing slow speeds, try connecting to a server nearest to your physical location.

For example, if you’re based in China and trying to circumvent the Great Firewall, try VPN servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea. These are often the servers with the best results.

Alternatively, if you’re based in Russia, try connecting to servers in Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, or Finland.

2Use a Different Obfuscation Tool

Some VPNs offer more than one obfuscation feature, such as multiple stealth or cloaking protocols and proxies. It’s possible that one receives more resources than the other and therefore does better at obfuscating your VPN connection.

We recommend using a VPN’s newest obfuscation feature, as this one will often have more advanced and up-to-date technology.

Some VPNs offer more than one obfuscation feature, such as multiple stealth or cloaking protocols and proxies. It’s possible that one receives more resources than the other and therefore does better at obfuscating your VPN connection.

3Update Your VPN App

It’s possible the version of the VPN app you are using has been recently updated with a patch. Try checking in the VPN’s settings or the app store where you downloaded it from to see if the app is due a software update.

It’s also possible that the VPN app you downloaded isn’t the most optimized version. In which case, contact the VPN service’s customer support to find out which version is recommended for its obfuscation technology.

4Reinstall Your VPN App

If you’re an Android user, you can try uninstalling the VPN app from your device and downloading it again from the VPN’s official website. In some cases, VPNs might have different versions of the same app on the Google Play Store and on its website.

You can also contact customer support and ask for the best application version on your device.

5Subscribe to a Different VPN

Not every VPN can bypass sophisticated tracking and blocking systems. If you’ve tried all the methods above and your VPN obfuscation still isn’t working, we recommend switching to a different VPN that specializes in obfuscation.

The Best Obfuscated VPNs in 2022

Many VPN services offer obfuscation technology, but only a few have premium tools that effectively hide the fact you’re using a VPN, circumvent firewalls, and facilitate torrenting in countries with restrictions.

1. Astrill StealthVPN: The Best Obfuscated VPN for Censorship

StealthVPN is the most reliable anti-censorship VPN obfuscation tool. But, its kill switch is only available on desktop.

PROS
CONS
  • 100% reliability in China, Russia, the UAE and Turkey
  • Based in Seychelles, a privacy haven
  • Unblocks US Netflix
  • Specialized servers for torrenting
  • Expensive subscription
  • Doesn’t unblock BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, or Disney+
  • No mobile kill switch
  • No refund policy

Astrill VPN has the best obfuscated VPN for circumventing government censorship and avoiding DPI by your ISP. Its proprietary protocol StealthVPN has a 100% success rate in bypassing the Great Firewall of China in our weekly China VPN tests.

Astrill unblocks YouTube, US Netflix, Hulu, and Viki. Its fast long-distance speeds make it a great option for streaming and watching videos online. However, it doesn’t have any streaming-specialized servers or Smart DNS tools.

Screenshot of Astrill's macOS client.

Astrill VPN offers OpenWeb, OpenVPN, StealthVPN, and WireGuard protocols.

Astrill has three major faults. Firstly, it’s very expensive compared to other VPNs. Though, we believe it’s great value for money because it’s extremely rare to find a VPN that works to bypass online restrictions so consistently.

Secondly, it doesn’t unblock some popular streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. On the plus side, it does work to unblock US Netflix and Hulu.

Third, if you’re visiting or living in a country with online restrictions, we wouldn’t recommend using Astrill VPN on mobile. This is because it doesn’t have a kill switch on mobile, which means if your connection drops your IP address could be leaked to your ISP.

Overall, Astrill VPN’s speciality is circumventing online restrictions, bypassing firewalls, and avoiding DPI inspection. Its StealthVPN protocol is almost unrivaled in its ability to bypass the Great Firewall.

However, if you’re still hung up about the price we recommend checking out Windscribe. It has a free subscription option that’s had a 90% success rate in bypassing the Great Firewall in the past year.

2. ExpressVPN: Best Obfuscated VPN for Torrenting

Inbuilt obfuscation technology, and a P2P-friendly privacy policy makes ExpressVPN the best VPN for torrenting.

PROS
CONS
  • Inbuilt obfuscation
  • Based in the British Virgin Islands, a privacy haven
  • Unblock US Netflix
  • Fast, unrestricted torrenting on all server
  • Audited zero-logs policy
  • Based in the British Virgin Island, a privacy haven
  • Port forwarding only available on router app
  • No split tunneling on macOS or iOS

ExpressVPN consistently performs well for streaming, bypassing censorship, and torrenting. It also has a watertight logging policy.

Obfuscation technology is inbuilt in 3,000+ ExpressVPN servers. This means it automatically turns on when you connect to a server. You don’t need to manually enable any specific protocols or servers to circumvent online restrictions.

As you can see in the video below, ExpressVPN works to circumvent the Great Firewall, the world’s most sophisticated online censorship system.

If you seed a lot of torrents, check out Astrill VPN instead. It requires manual configuration for VPN port forwarding, but you can customize your experience. Alternatively, AirVPN offers port forwarding in-app, but its user interface is a bit dated.

3. Surfshark: The Fastest Obfuscated VPN

Surfshark NoBorders mode provides lightning fast long-distance speeds, access to US Netflix, and a robust anonymous server usage logging policy.

PROS
CONS
  • Affordable pricing model
  • Unblocks US Netflix
  • Supports torrenting on lots of servers
  • Diskless servers and Double VPN
  • Awful at bypassing the Great Firewall of China
  • Based in the Netherlands (EU jurisdiction)
  • No port forwarding

Surfshark offers two obfuscation tools: NoBorders mode and Camouflage mode. We recommend enabling NoBorders Mode in settings and switching to OpenVPN protocol, which automatically turns on Camouflage mode.

EXPERT TIP: If you plan to use Surfshark on macOS, make sure to download it from the App Store and not the official Surfshark website. The app in the App Store has OpenVPN and camouflage mode, whereas the app on Surfshark’s website currently does not.

In our tests, Surfshark stood out as the fastest VPN with obfuscation tools enabled. We recorded very little difference between speeds on a local connection in the UK and a long-distance connection in Germany.

However, if your internet speeds are typically below 50Mbps, or you’re connecting to a server in another continent, you might see a much greater decrease in speeds when using NoBorders mode.

Screenshot of Surfhsark's Connectivity Settings, which shows its NoBorders obfuscation mode.

Surfshark’s NoBorders mode can be found in VPN Settings > Advanced Settings.

Surfshark is a great choice for streaming, which also extends to its obfuscation tools. It unblocks multiple Netflix libraries, including the US, UK, Spain, and Japan. It also unblocks BBC iPlayer and HBO Max.

If you’re based in China, we do not recommend using Surfshark to bypass online restrictions. In our weekly testing with a server based in Shanghai, it’s only had a 13% success rate in bypassing the Great Firewall. Often, it’s too slow to even log in to the VPN.

4. Windscribe: The Best Free VPN with Obfuscation

The best free VPN for obfuscation, streaming, torrenting, and security.

PROS
CONS
  • Stealth and WStunnel protocols
  • Consistently bypasses the Great Firewall of China
  • Inbuilt VPN kill switch
  • Unblocks UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer
  • 10GB monthly data cap
  • Servers in only 11 countries
  • Slower long-distance speeds
  • No live chat customer support

Windscribe Free StealthVPN uses Stunnel, an open-source algorithm, to wrap your regular OpenVPN connection within a layer of strong TLS encryption. Its WStunnel wraps your OpenVPN connection in a layer of WebSocket. Windscribe’s stealth protocols can be found in Connection > Connection Mode > Manual.

Screenshot of Windscribe's Connection settings, showing Connection Mode in Manual, and protocol options, including Stealth and WStunnel.

Windscribe Free has a modern and user-friendly interface.

Windscribe Free is the best free VPN for bypassing censorship, with a 90% success rate in the past year for circumventing the Great Firewall.

With Windscribe Free, you get access to servers in 11 countries:

  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Romania
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • UK
  • US

It has its faults, though. Windscribe Free doesn’t have a kill switch on its iOS or Android apps, meaning if your internet connection drops, your real IP address could be leaked to your ISP or third-party web servers of the sites you are using at the time.

Its powerful obfuscation capabilities can be slightly hindered by its average, slightly slower long-distance speeds. It doesn’t have any troubles with streaming, but gaming or torrenting might suffer if you don’t have a server location in your country or region.

Overall, Windscribe Free is a terrific service with extremely powerful obfuscation capabilities. If you want to trial VPN obfuscation first before committing to a subscription, it’s a great place to start.

About the Author


  • JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

    JP Jones

    JP Jones is our CTO. He has over 25 years of software engineering and networking experience, and oversees all technical aspects of our VPN testing process. Read full bio