Malaysia isn’t the usual place where people would think that there is a need for a VPN. However, there have been troubling developments over the past few years that have prompted me to rethink this decision.
From the discovery of secretive government intelligence units to the purchase of specialized spying software, Malaysia isn’t apparently as safe for Internet users as many people would think. Given this emerging information that has spanned apparently, years, as well as many other factors, is the time right for users in Malaysia to start considering investing in Virtual Private Network (VPN) services?
Government-only spyware in Malaysia
You’ve heard of spyware, malware and the like, but have you ever heard of government making use of them? When we hear these terms, we are often led to think of the shady cybercriminals lurking online who are using these tools to steal from or otherwise harm us.
Unfortunately, spyware is also developed by legitimate companies who sell them to other companies and even governments. One such company is Gamma Corp which developed two sources called FinSpy and FinFishier.
FinFisher for example was purchased for use by various government agencies here including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, Malaysian Intelligence and the Prime Minister’s Office. Even worse, this was not the only occasion the government was found to be using spyware against its own citizens.
Emergence of secretive government intelligence unit
The existence of a secretive Malaysian spy agency only came to light sometime around the period of the country’s 2018 general elections. Classified agency materials were leaked, including a letter allegedly addressed to the US Central Intelligence Agency asking for political support of the then-incumbent prime minister.
The agency is also known as the “Research Division of the Prime Minister’s Department” and is likely the source of the purchase of the spyware mentioned above. It has also been known to work with other agencies, including the Special Branch, military intelligence and the National Security Council and other agencies
Malaysia pays police cybertroopers to monitor online discussions
According to an annual Freedom on the Net report, Malaysia is one of 30 countries in the world known to employ cybertroopers. These assets are then used for various purposes such as the spread of propaganda.
The police have also been known to work with other government agencies like Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) as well as Internet Service Providers to monitor Internet usage in the country to prevent activities including the access to pornography, sedition and such.
While it is certainly admirable that the government cares enough about its citizens to carry out such activities, it is disturbing to note that all our online activities are being monitored. As a note there for P2P users, although traditionally not looking towards P2P activities, the surveillance now extends to IPs which are actively uploading or downloading pornographic material on file sharing platforms.
The look towards Chinese AI-based surveillance
As early as last year, news emerged that Chinese surveillance and security start-up Yitu Technology had started supplying Malaysia with wearable cameras with artificial intelligence-powered facial-recognition technology.
In 2017 Malaysia also signed agreements with Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to leverage on cloud platforms and intelligent analytics in the name of public security.
Although all of this may or may not be covered under the scope of a VPN umbrella, the move does serve as an indicator of yet closer affinity to a ‘big brother’ mindset here. Although I cannot be certain, I do feel that many people would not be comfortable with the increasing level of surveillance activities being carried out in Malaysia.
Ban on Android TV Box Streaming
MCMC has this year announced that it would be moving to shut down sites that stream content through Android TV Boxes. At the same time, the agency would be looking at enforcing certification of Android TV Boxes to prevent the broadcast of content in breach of intellectual or copyright property laws.
While not directly a legal threat to users themselves, if effective the move will cut off another avenue of streaming content for users here. However, because the move to block is being done at what is likely to be an IP level, one way around it would be by using a VPN.
VPNs are Still legal in Malaysia
Thankfully the answer to these surveillance nightmares and potential censorship isn’t that difficult – Use a VPN. And even better, VPNs are legal in Malaysia – for now.
They are already in widespread use, not only within the government but also in businesses and many other forms. There is a caveat though. If you opt to use a VPN that is based in Malaysia, then the government can force the VPN provider to release user data when necessary.
While most VPNs will claim that they do not keep logs, take this with a pinch of salt and keep a look out for the policies regarding user logs and other data.
What We Look for in a VPN
1. Privacy and anonymity
With the more obvious horror stories I’ve shared above fresh in your minds, it’s probably a good time for me to suggest that it’s a really good idea to focus on the privacy and anonymity aspects of a VPN for users in Malaysia. With both the government as well as private industry coming after users, a VPN needs to be able to ensure that your data and activities can be kept exactly the way it should be – private.
One of the best ways to ensure this is to keep an eye out for VPNs that not only have strict no-logging policies but that are also based out of countries that are laxer in their data retention laws. This certainly excludes countries in the five eyes and fourteen eyes jurisdiction.
2. Speed and stability
With an average fixed line broadband speed of 70.18Mbps in Malaysia, there should not be a major issue with VPNs since almost all top-tier VPN service providers should be able to manage this benchmark.
Although it isn’t really a top-priority location for most VPN servers there is a good reason why – its proximity to the US. Almost all VPN service providers will have a least one server located in Malaysia and if not, then Singapore which is the next ideal location for Malaysia VPN users to connect to with high speed and low latency.
The security spiel on VPNs is the same for Malaysia-based users as everywhere else. The ideal balance is known only to you, as a user. Do you opt for 256-bit encryption at the risk of lower VPN speeds or are you willing to lower that bar for increased speed?
The point in question here is – does X VPN service provider off you the choice of adjustable encryption rates? That is probably what you need to ask if this is an issue for you.
4. Geolocation spoofing
Being on the other side of the world from the US, Malaysia-based users don’t get access to US-restricted Netflix content. This is one of the reasons why users around the world use VPNs – for geolocation spoofing.
5. P2P support
This really isn’t a priority for VPN users in Malaysia since P2P has largely been ignored here. However, it is always good to have especially with the knowledge that the government is starting to crack down on certain things like android tv boxes.
Look out for VPNs that have P2P traffic guidelines clearly spelt out in their terms of service, such as TorGuard or NordVPN.
Ranked: The Best VPN for Malaysians
As with all my VPN tests, before judging their speed I always judge my own. The following is my actual broadband speed based on a service line of 500Mbps, without a VPN connection active:
As I am based in Malaysia, my speeds will tend to be high connecting to Asia-region VPN servers and slower as I connect to servers in the US or Europe. For this test I connected to a Malaysia-based speed test server to give you an idea of relative speed over distance.
As you can see, a VPN-free connection to a local server nets me a decent speed of 200 Mbps. Speeds of course will vary at times, so take this with a pinch of salt.
- Price is based on the currency exchange rate of 1 USD = 4.00 MYR.
- Price shown is based on 12-mo subscriptions. Price can get cheaper when you subscribe for a longer period.
- Offshore privacy
- 148 VPN locations
- Full 256-bit encryption
"This VPN rates at the top of almost all our lists at Bitcatcha simply because it offers such good service on a very broad criteria – rare for a VPN!"
One of the best VPN services I have ever tested, ExpressVPN has so far been my top pick no matter which country I am ranking it for. It has a massively broad range of server locations and many servers. Even better, it is based out of the British Virgin Islands which is lax in its data retention laws.
I have tested the service comprehensively and have no hesitation in recommending them as the top VPN service provider for Malaysians. ExpressVPN is stable and allows access on a good range of devices as well.
As an idea of how good it gets, I compared my default line speed without a VPN to an ExpressVPN covered test to the same location. With ExpressVPN on and connected to a server in Malaysia, I managed to show a solid 72Mbps downstream speed.
Read our full ExpressVPN Review for more information!
- No logs
- Kill switch
- Supports 6 devices
"With its sleek interface, stable speeds and fantastic longer-term price plans, Nord is an outstanding choice for any VPN user."
NordVPN takes a strong second place in our Best VPN for Malaysia list for many reasons. One of the first is that they are based in Panama, which is also a good place to be for VPNs. Aside from that, NordVPN has a sterling reputation and is another VPN provider that has a huge number of servers in many countries.
Their strict no-logging policy combines with 256-bit military grade encryption and great price plans to offer almost anyone a deal that is hard to resist.
With a 46Mbps downstream speed, in this round of tests NordVPN showed very stable performance in their Malaysia server. What makes them even more attractive thorough is that they not only allow P2P traffic but have specially optimized servers for P2P traffic!
Read our in-depth review on NordVPN.
- Built for P2P
- TorGuard stealth proxy
- Supports 5 connections
"One of the best VPNs for P2P file sharing, TorGuard is simply a must for any P2P users in Malaysia."
One of the most important deciding factors in TorGuard’s placement is that it is a very P2P-friendly VPN service provider. There isn’t a lot of bling on the user-facing side, but it is remarkable in performance.
There is one key difference between TorGuard and many competitors in that it allows you to choose what level of encryption you prefer. This means that for P2P users, you can turn down encryption a notch and enjoy faster torrenting speeds anytime!
Aside from that, TorGuard has many other redeeming qualities, such as stable speeds, multi-platform capability and the ability to bypass VPN blockers.
As one of the top three best VPNs for Malaysia, TorGuard of course met certain speed requirements. This showed in my test result for it from a Petaling Jaya-based VPN server and again, Malaysian should generally get this speed with few issues.
The only downside is that for younger users who are used to the sleekness of modern applications, the TorGuard interface will look like something from the past.
Find out our in-depth review on TorGuard.
- Offers data compression
- Ad blocking
- Supports 7 devices
"CyberGhost offers secure and private service but are perhaps not on such an even footing with the likes of ExpressVPN."
CyberGhosties are happy with them and they have certainly tried to be hip and upbeat in their marketing. This is another of the more well-known names in the VPN industry but personally I feel that they just might be a tiny bit overhyped.
Specification wise CyberGhost talks the good talk but having gone through test with them I advise a small pinch of salt. Do keep in mind though that this is a ranking list, so my expectations are quite high.
Malaysians need to take note that most of CyberGhost servers are in the EU zone, but thankfully, they have some in the Asia region as well. Unfortunately, coverage here is a little more limited and their speeds aren’t the best.
Still, we managed to get very useable speeds of 19Mbps which is still enough to steam media on.
- Forced 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited P2P
- Supports 10 devices
"Great for the Paranoid but perhaps won’t be top of the list for Malaysia-based users, IPVanish is highly marketed but poorly supported."
IPVanish has suffered greatly in recent times due to its embroilment in certain …shall we say, unfortunate incidents. Yet aside from that, take note that they are under new management and hopefully such things will become just speed bumps in their past.
Moving those incidents aside, they remain a VPN giant in the field and boast speeds that are impressive. Luckily for that, since if you have any complaints about their speed, there isn’t much you can do as they force 256-bit encryption on everyone without exception.
Speed-wise, IPVanish certainly isn’t the greatest. Although able to make it on this list for other factors, I was only able to coax 3Mbps out of it. Perhaps they were having a bad day or not, but it is enough to make you think a little harder.
This doesn’t bode well for Malaysians who will be connecting to servers here but thankfully you can always opt for a close alternative such as Singapore which normally gets better speeds thanks to excellent infrastructure.
- Easy-to-use apps
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Supports split tunneling
"PureVPN is certainly one of the leaders in a completive industry thanks to a solid network of servers."
Hosting over 2,000 servers located in more than 140 countries around the world, PureVPN certainly has the infrastructure needed to show itself as an industry leader. It complements this with excellent enterprise-grade security features to protect its users from intrusion or detection.
One big benefit of trying them out is that they are one of the few in the market now who are allowing access to the WireGuard protocol – a next-gen protocol that is supposedly lightyears ahead of OpenVPN. It is a little limited in coverage though, with a presence in only around five countries.
Connecting to a Kuala Lumpur-based PureVPN server I was able to get close to more than 85Mbps – really one of the more stunning results on the list for Malaysia. I would say that these figures are hard to beat and can only be shown by a company which does indeed have a focus here.
- Optimized servers for P2P
- Allows server hopping
- Supports 10 devices
"FastestVPN isn’t the fastest but it certainly offers a value proposition that is hard to challenge."
FastestVPN isn’t the fastest I have tested but neither is it the slowest. It offers more limited countries run your connection out of compared to many top-tier VPNs but at prices from as low as 83 cents a month it is a steal. They also have P2P optimized servers which makes them good for that as well.
The low prices do come with one serious drawback and that is the limited performance in overcoming geo-blocking. At last we discovered, FastestVPN can’t allow you to access either Netflix US content or the UK’s BBC iPlayer – bummer!
Do I really Need a VPN in Malaysia?
This really is a tricky question to answer now. As a Malaysian I guess I am guilty of having become as complacent as everyone else here. I have spent years on the P2P scene and never had any issues. As a guy with a clean record, I also don’t necessarily have anything to be concerned about regarding government surveillance.
At the same time, I have recently bought a new Android TV box and am enjoying it greatly. Thanks to it, I have no need to subscribe to pricey plans offered by local sources such as Astro or Telekom Malaysia (perhaps therefore the government is banning streaming sites!)
Still, my general feeling is one of … “YUCK!” when it comes to thought of government surveillance here and it simply makes my skin crawl. I honestly feel that such things are just as bad as the pervs who are planting hidden cameras around just for their own kicks.
So, my answer would be yes, go for it. If you haven’t considered it, the time to start is now. If you have been considering it, I sincerely hope that this list can help you choose the ideal provider for yourself.
To recap, here are the top 3 VPN for Malaysians:
SECURITY & PRIVACY