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 7 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 (usually) nets me the full advertised speed of around 500 Mbps. Do note however that 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 = 4.36 MYR.
- Price shown is lowest based on plans available from each VPN service provider.
- No logs
- Kill switch
- Supports 6 devices
"NordVPN is normally fantastic but if you’re hoping to connect in-country for Malaysia - do not."
NordVPN takes a strong first 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.
Before you start yelling about appalling speeds, please note that many VPNs do not in fact perform well on local servers here. However, we are extremely lucky to be so close by to Singapore and speeds there are pretty awesome – so use those servers!
Read our full review on NordVPN to see why it’s our #1 pick!
- Multi-Hop connection
- Supports many platforms
- No logs
"Surfshark is cheap and fast on local servers - a great choice for Malaysians feeling the pinch of the USD."
Due to the relatively weak value of the Ringgit compared to top currencies like the USD, Malaysian consumers have typically more to worry about when it comes to pricing. This is especially true when buying into international services online – not to mention our new Digital Taxes which add on to the burden of such choices.
Thankfully, Surfshark provides us a good opportunity to buy into a top-rated service for minimal cost. I signed up for two years with Surfshark and the cost comes up to roughly RM100 per year. That’s acceptable for a service that offers a fast and secure connection.
It also ticks a lot of the right boxes for me, including support for P2P as well as a handy whitelisted for anything that gives issues with the VPN link. What I love best though is that it is agile enough for me to connect to any of their servers while not really losing out on speed consistency.
Unfortunately, given that broadband speeds in Malaysia are rapidly increasing, many of us will note that shared VPN services like this will only offer certain levels of speeds. Still – privacy has to come at some sort of price, right?
As one of the top VPNs for Malaysia, Surfshark of course met certain speed requirements. This showed in my test result for it from a KL-based VPN server and again, Malaysians should generally get this speed with few issues.
Read our full Surfshark review and see why it’s one of the best VPN!
- Offers data compression
- Ad blocking
- Supports 7 devices
"Malaysians, make sure you connect to Singapore servers for CyberGhost!"
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 and over the past year they have grown faster than a radioactive spider.
Specification wise CyberGhost talks the good talk and if I didn’t see the expansion they put into their network, I wouldn’t believe my eyes. Sadly though, as with many other VPN services, Malaysia is a pretty low priority for them and that shows in our speeds.
For those who want speeds at which you can really get anything done, I again repeat my advice to try a server based in Singapore. CyberGhost does show remarkable resilience there.
Malaysians need to take note that most 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.
See our complete CyberGhost review to learn more!
- Offshore privacy
- 148 VPN locations
- Full 256-bit encryption
"You pay for what you get - ExpressVPN has not skimped on local servers in Malaysia."
ExpressVPN has so far been one of my top picks 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 137 Mbps downstream speed.
Read our full ExpressVPN Review for more information!
- Forced 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited P2P
- Supports 10 devices
"IPVanish is a hit and miss for many countries and sadly, Malaysia is a miss unless you connect to their Singapore server."
I consider consistency to be as important as speeds for VPN service providers but unfortunately, Malaysia is a bit of a strange duck. Performance for most VPNs in the country are spotty, but then again, we’re fortunate in being in close proximity to Singapore with its excellent infrastructure.
Moving those thoughts aside, IPVanish is kind of the same since their performance varies from place to place. Taken from a purely local context, it’s almost useless connecting to a server here, so head south please.
Still, as a whole the service does have its perks thanks to their very useful app and of course, strongly enforced 256-bit encryption for 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 just under 2 Mbps out of it. Perhaps they were having a bad day or not, but it is enough to make you think a little harder.
Read our in-depth review on IPVanish to find out more!
- Built for P2P
- TorGuard stealth proxy
- Supports 5 connections
"Doesn’t have a local server presence but overall, still a strong global network of servers."
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. Note that they have no servers in Malaysia, so speed tests are run to the closest point nearby – Singapore.
Since we’re connecting to Singapore, TorGuard of course was able to achieve some stellar speeds and overall, you can use them at this rate with no issues. SPeed, after all, is vital for torrenting.
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. We’ve gotten spoiled by the sleek apps that run on Windows mostly, and the TorGuard app is a blast from the past.
Find out our in-depth review on TorGuard.
- Optimized servers for P2P
- Allows server hopping
- Supports 10 devices
"FastestVPN is on this list for one specific reason - it’s so cheap you’ll laugh your way to the bank."
While struggling to consider which VPNs might be included on this list, I realised that I had spent hundreds of US dollars to test a ton of VPNs. With the conversion rate being what it is today, the result was a sum in the thousands of Ringgit.
As painful as that was, I realized all of us would feel the same pinch, even for buying a single VPN server – hence FastestVPN came into play. Don’t get me wrong though, it isn’t a crap service.
FastestVPN is very limited in its service network but works as well as many other services. In fact, they have vastly improved over the past year that I have been keeping an eye on them, so kudos for their efforts.
Again, do note that this is another service with no local server presence.
Speeds on FastestVPN when connected to a Singapore-based server for me exceeded 100 Mbps. That is good enough for a service priced at these rates, especially if what you’re looking for is mainly privacy and anonymity.
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: