If you’ve decided to secure your Internet connection, preventing all prying eyes from invading your privacy and unveiling your online identity, it’s safe to say that you’ve searched for “the best VPN” or queried a similar phrase.
It’s inevitable that when you do that, a bunch of names will surely appear as your search results. One of these results is NordVPN.
At first, it sparked our curiosity, which coerced us into installing it on our computers and running a bunch of tests so that we could see for ourselves what’s the big fuss. Well, we did just that and wrote this review to point out the highlights of this privacy protection system.
Behind the curtains
NordVPN is the company that owns the VPN service with the same name. The headquarters are located in Panama, mostly because the country doesn’t have any laws regarding mandatory data retention and isn’t a member of the Fourteen Eyes or the Five Eyes associations.
The idea behind this VPN service was born when four childhood friends, aiming to liberate the Internet, created a VPN server, shared it among their friends and continued their work, encouraged by the positive feedback they received.
Not much else can be said about the company since other pieces of information are not to be found easily. However, if you access their website, you’ll be able to find and read a manifesto, which explains their intentions of keeping the Internet a place that is secure and free of various regulations. This should be enough to convince you to at least give it a try and see if you can trust it in the long run, especially since nowadays more and more weird surveillance laws are discussed.
If you were curious enough, you probably poked your nose through NordVPN’s website, found that manifesto and probably read it. If not, rest assured, since we did it for you anyway.
One of the most noticeable pieces of information they want to share with us is that they really stand against online surveillance and they’re doing their best to prevent it from happening to their users (that’s us). They even promise to inform us about everything that goes on with their service, including the occasional glitch or server status updates.
More so, in its runtime, NordVPN has never been compromised or the target of a successful data breach. Private keys or any other user information was never disclosed and third-parties never persuaded them into modifying their systems to allow data leakage or any kind of access. At the bottom of the page, you can also find that they have never received any gag orders, government warrants or National Security letters. Therefore, since they enforce a zero-logs policy, user activity is never logged, which is definitely a plus in our books.
Quick intro to NordVPN
Okay, we covered company information and all the important things regarding logging policy. Now it’s time to show you a little bit of NordVPN’s magic.
First thing first, NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN services as of today. As you probably already know, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and, as its name clearly indicates, it’s an effective way of covering your tracks – or erasing them altogether – when you decide to surf the world wide web.
All the user’s Internet traffic is routed through a server that is run by the service, thus masking the user’s IP address successfully while also encrypting any incoming or outgoing bits of data.
In the applications, encryption is possible thanks to the OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec protocols, but L2TP and PPTP protocols can also be used after configuring them manually. NordVPN makes use of the NGE (Next Generation Encryption) technology with the IKEv2/IPsec protocol (the default encryption protocol for iOS and macOS devices).
The AES-256-GCM algorithm is used to encrypt your data, but it is also combined with the SHA2-384 one for data integrity and the 3072-bit Diffie Hellmann keys PFS (Perfect Forward Secrecy) so that data containers are virtually airtight.
Among the tools that NordVPN has developed, you can find applications for Windows and macOS, but also mobile apps that were developed for Android and iOS and even an application that works on Android TVs. Extensions for the Firefox and Chrome browsers can be downloaded and used as well.
Regarding the subscription limitations, users are only allowed to use the registered service on a maximum of six devices simultaneously, no matter if it’s computers, laptops, Android TVs or handheld devices we’re talking about.
Getting NordVPN on your preferred device
Perhaps NordVPN has one of the easiest to access download sections, where you can access the setup packages for various devices, depending on your needs. All you have to do is buy a subscription plan from here, click the “VPN Apps” (In homepage) button at the top of the page after reaching their website.
From here you’ll be able to view a collection of device names, organized in a toolbar at the upper part of the window, and clicking any of these titles will provide you with download options according to your selection. For instance, the Windows section only has one download option that lets you retrieve the installer executable on your computer, but the Android section has two options: getting the app from Google Play or downloading the APK file to your phone or computer.
Creating an account and accessing the dashboard
The best part about this is that you don’t need to create an account and sign into it so you can access these applications, compared to other VPN service providers who turn it into a mandatory task. Furthermore, if you scroll down, each page comes with a brief guide informing you about the installation and usage of NordVPN on the target device.
If, however, you decide to create an account for NordVPN, you can access the downloads section directly from the dashboard of your profile. The dashboard enables you to access some services such as viewing the auditors’ report on NordVPN, buy a subscription plan or extend your current one, download browser proxy extensions and buy a dedicated IP address plan, which is separate from the standard VPN plans.
Next, to the dashboard, you’ll notice the “Downloads” and “Change Password” sections, both of which are self-explanatory. Accessing the “Downloads” section lets you download NordVPN for various platforms, including Windows, Android, macOS, iOS, Android TV and Linux, retrieve web browser extensions and even read tutorials on how to use NordVPN on Raspberry Pi, Synology, NAS or various routers or NAS devices.
Malware scan results
It should be a habit to you to perform checks for everything that gets into your system, mainly because such crafty attacks have been developed lately that even trusted sources (such as NordVPN) could be subjected to them without them even knowing (or you, for that matter).
Some providers offer you hashes for the files they make available on their website, so that you can check against the hashes of the document you just downloaded. If they match, it’s a go, if they don’t, then something fishy must’ve happened.
However, in case they don’t, you could at least run a security check by uploading the file on VirusTotal and performing a scan there. They provide you with several antivirus engines, so the chances for anything shady going on within the document are pretty slim. That doesn’t mean the results from VirusTotal are 100% trustworthy, since there are 0-day malware codes that need some time out there before they get spotted by antivirus software, but it’s still better than nothing.
You can check our scanning results by accessing this page.
Easy to install
As usual, we’re going to discuss the setup process before going deeper into the service’s core. Long story short, NordVPN can be installed easily. Now for the long part: after you download the application on the target computer (we’re talking about installing the VPN on a Windows computer, whether it’s a desktop or laptop), merely launching the executable gets half of the job done.
The other half consists of you deciding where you want its files to reside after the setup process has been completed. That’s it. The application will also install and configure a NordVPN TAP driver on your computer, to ensure that your device can be properly connected to their servers. However, the TAP driver installation process is almost invisible and there’s no menu, dialog or prompt that you can interact with during its setup.
After the application has been successfully installed on your PC, you are asked to type your credentials in the dedicated fields so that NordVPN can be activated and its features fully unlocked for you.
First time using the app
If you made it until here, then it means you can start using the VPN service as you wish. Naturally, NordVPN has a quick connection mode that chooses the best server for you based on your location and its speed, so that your connection wouldn’t get dramatically affected in a negative way by the server it connects you to.
However, there are also multiple features that you can make use of if you want to take control of the VPN and what server it connects you to. There’s a dedicated page on the main window where you can access a couple of categories: “Specialty servers” and “All countries.”
Depending on your current needs, you might either choose to connect to a server that’s highly proficient on P2P operations such as file transfers, a “Double VPN” and a server that gives you a dedicated IP or directly connect to a standard VPN server by choosing a country.
If you don’t care about location and want the fastest server that’s also secure, simply slide the large power button on the main window, and the app will automatically connect you to the closest and fastest server.
The button also works to disconnect and connect you from and to a server, so if you recently disconnected using the power button, clicking it again will reconnect you to the previous server.
Settings that can be easily understood…
Unlike other similar tools, NordVPN tends to its novice users by not overcomplicating things and keeping the interface as simple and fresh as possible. If you thought the “Map” section of the main window was simple, wait till you see what the “Settings” menu has in store for you.
Upon accessing the “Settings” menu you’ll surely notice that it’s split into two categories, the “General” tab and the “My Account” one. Unless you want to see account details, we’ll focus more on the “General” category, since it’s more interesting to interact with.
At the top of the screen, you have information regarding the version of the app, and you’re also able to update it from there if there’s a newer version available on the market. Next, you can enable or disable a “CyberSec” feature that is meant to avoid advertisements and protect you against various malware, phishing, and other cybernetic threats. This very function can also be enabled once you run the app for the first time, as you’ll be prompted to choose between enabling it or not.
The application can be used to connect to a certain service or country automatically upon launching it. So you can either choose a country from the list or one of the special servers that we discussed earlier. NordVPN can be set to start automatically whenever Windows starts so that you don’t have to spend precious time looking around for it on your PC each time you boot into Windows.
…more advanced settings…
Scrolling down the “General” section of the “Settings” menu brings us to more and more advanced features of this application. One of the most interesting features must be the “Internet Kill Switch,” which enables you to access the Internet only when you’re connected to the VPN service. This makes sure that if the connection suddenly drops, your identity won’t be revealed to the ISP or other malevolent users who might be trying to spy on you.
Another feature that can come in handy is the “Invisibility on LAN” that is pretty much self-explanatory and does exactly what it says it does: turns your computer invisible to other devices on the local area network (LAN). The “App Kill Switch” can be extremely useful as it can immediately kill certain applications if the VPN connection suddenly drops. For instance, you can kill the torrent or Tor client if the VPN connection suddenly drops, which also helps your online identity remain private to third-parties.
The list of basic settings ends with a couple of features that can be toggled – notifications and “start minimized.” The former enables or disables notifications whenever connecting or disconnecting to and from NordVPN while the latter starts the application in the System Tray.
…and settings you shouldn’t mess with
Okay, the title is a bit scary, but if you have zero previous experience with VPN apps, you shouldn’t be tampering with these parameters, as the application also advise you when you try to access them.
Bringing the menu into view can be done by clicking the “Open Advanced Settings” hyperlink and confirming that you know what you’re doing. Once you’ve done this, you are free to enhance or break your application as you see fit.
Here you can choose between TCP and UDP protocols by clicking the desired radio button, enable the use of custom DNS servers (and also add other DNS servers to your liking), toggle obfuscated servers and run a diagnostics tool. Obfuscated servers enable users to make use of NordVPN’s capabilities from locations that are restricted. However, this feature can slow down the Internet connection’s speed.
That concludes the whole configuring and operating the menus of NordVPN chapter. If you have any difficulty locating one or more components mentioned in this section of the review, feel free to access the screenshots gallery and take a look around.
iOS app overhaul
Recently, one of NordVPN’s apps, the iOS application to be more precise, has received an overhaul, and it’s not an interface-related update, but one that has additional features in store.
Siri has a new task
Most VPN users rely on their trustworthy fingers to connect to and disconnect from the privacy of the tunnels that their providers offer them. However, NordVPN has recently made it possible to use your voice when using their iOS app by integrating it with Shortcuts (you may know it as Siri).
So apparently it’s no longer necessary to search for the app, launch it and click the connection button. Instead, you could just ask Siri to do it for you by using an appropriate phrase like “Siri, secure my connection” or “Siri, connect to NordVPN” or something like that. It’s worth mentioning that for now, only connecting and disconnecting is possible via Siri, but reportedly more similar voice commands will become available in the future.
Changes to the widget
NordVPN’s iOS app had a widget for a while, but its functionality was limited to only connecting to the VPN and disconnecting from it quickly, right from your iOS device’s lock screen.
However, now you can do more with the widget, since shortcuts to your recent connections have been implemented and are available directly on your lock screen. All you have to do is just swipe till you find the connection you’re looking for, tap it and that’s it; you’re connected to the server of your choice.
Automatic VPN switch for WiFi
If you’re always on the go, you’re probably familiar with public WiFi networks and might have at least basic understanding of how connecting to insecure networks like these can lead to private data leaks if you’re not careful to connect to the VPN before accessing them. However, you might forget to do that sometimes and that critical timeframe might be more than enough for someone to sneak up on you.
NordVPN has implemented an automatic VPN switch in their iOS app for scenarios like the one above, so you don’t have to manually connect to the VPN each time you switch networks. All you have to do is head to the “Settings” menu, in the “Auto-Connect” section and configure it as you wish. You can choose to keep the VPN on at all times, connect to it only when using WiFi or enable it for untrusted networks, depending on your needs.
Malware protection included
In case you’re afraid that you might land someplace that overflows with malware, you’ll be glad to hear that CyberSec was implemented on NordVPN’s iOS app. CyberSec, which stands for Cyber Security, is a handy feature that prevents the above event from occuring in various ways.
For once, it blocks your access to any site that’s been blacklisted for hosting malware, malicious software, trackers, spyware, you know, the sorts. Also, it protects your phone against DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks and ensures you won’t end up in a “botnet zombie army.” All you have to do is locate the feature in the “Settings” menu and flip its switch.
A list of server locations
The servers are organized by region and country as follows:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
United Arab Emirates
NordVPN provides you with a total of 5115 servers in 62 countries. The countries have been sorted by the number of servers NordVPN owns in each of them. It is also worth noting that some servers provide users with all the features (P2P, Double VPN, Dedicated IP, Onion Over VPN and Obfuscated servers), some offer only some of them, while others have one or no additional supported features.
Versatile VPN solution
One of the most interesting aspects of a VPN has to be the number of services it can unlock, next to its overall speed and security-oriented features.
We’re happy to let you know that NordVPN is an excellent choice for a wide variety of activities, ranging from streaming, enjoying multimedia content, playing online games and accessing restricted services to even sharing files through P2P services such as torrenting.
You can also rest assured that your Tor anonymity won’t get randomly exposed and you won’t be targeted by DDoS attacks since its special servers provide you with added protection against them.
Some of the services we attempted to access through NordVPN’s servers include but are not limited to Facebook, Twitter, vk.com, Google+, Amazon Prime, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat, Telegram, some Google services that are generally unavailable, Netflix and Spotify. We didn’t encounter any trouble whenever we tried accessing and using them.
If the service is still restricted to you or the website becomes unavailable all of a sudden, try clearing the cache and cookies before trying to access it again through the VPN server of your choice. Also, we advise you to use the incognito mode for whatever browser you’re currently using and, if possible, try making use of the VPN extension.
Running our tests
If you’ve already read the article regarding the testing procedures, you probably understand what we’re about to do. Most of the tests we run on our computer are focused on security, but speed and overall reliability are also very important.
During our tests, we check for leaks that might occur whenever we use the VPN service. Since the whole purpose of VPN providers is to protect your privacy against the prying eyes of various malevolent users or even your Internet Service Provider (ISP), leaking information is absolutely not wanted whenever you use one to connect to the Internet.
We check for DNS, IP, location, browser fingerprinting, user agent or various browser leaks, and finally we run a little speed test to decide if the VPN is suitable for everyday use or just for exceptional situations. We highly encourage our readers to run these tests themselves and compare results with us in the feedback section of our website.
It is worth mentioning that the leak tests are going to be done using the IPX, ipleak and BrowserLeaks websites mentioned in the testing description article, and the Internet connection speed will be decided by the fast.com website supported by Netflix.
Security-wise, we have to say that NordVPN scored high on the reliability scale. Among the leaks, we scanned for it is possible to identify IP Geolocation, IPv6 Geolocation, DNS, WebRTC, Flash IP, Battery, Browser, User Agent, Request Headers, Timezone, TCP connection, and TLS test.
The IP Geolocation leaked no information about our actual location, IP Address, PTR, country, city, latitude and longitude, ASN, ISP, domain name or IP type, as it only displayed the IP which the VPN server assigned us upon connection.
The IPv6 info was not available, the DNS server only showed us the IP address we were assigned (which means no leaks were happening), WebRTC was clean as a whistle, Flash IP showed no signs of leakage and the TLS tests were all marked as good.
The only stuff that the tests accurately revealed about us was our battery level and charging state, the user agent we were using to run the tests, basic browser information such as cookie availability and the number of cores, as well as the request headers. However, these are not considered to be leaks, since this kind of information couldn’t possibly reveal your real online identity to whoever decided to track you.
Therefore, from a security point of view, you could consider that NordVPN provides you with complete protection against online trackers who might reveal real data about you by analyzing some leaked data. At least that’s what IPX says.
We’ve used the same Germany server to perform the security tests on the ipleak website. The IP address matched the server’s and the location information, such as the country, region, city, time zone, latitude and longitude were successfully masked so that they show the ones of the server we’ve connected to. The IPv6 test was not reachable, meaning that NordVPN doesn’t let your system leak IPv6 requests. As a conclusion, NordVPN doesn’t leak IP data.
Moving on to the DNS section, we noticed that, while connected to NordVPN, the test only returned one DNS server as a result, but which wasn’t related to us or our ISP whatsoever. This means that NordVPN prevents DNS leaks from occurring, as well. The WebRTC test also showed up negative, so neither are WebRTC leaked while connected to this VPN service.
As before, we’ve noticed some data that was being displayed without a mask, such as the battery information, languages on the system and timezone, but these details can’t be used to identify any user, so we shouldn’t count them as leaks.
The conclusion we can draw after the ipleak tests is that NordVPN doesn’t leak IP data, DNS and WebRTC requests.
Last, but not least, we’re going to run one more test to make sure that NordVPN’s connection is really airtight. Naturally, we’re going to use the same server we’ve used before, so that we don’t mess the results of our test.
The IP address was masked successfully so that it matched the one of the server we chose to connect to. The hostname was not available and the location parameters such as the country, state/region, city, ASN, time zone, local time and latitude and longitude were spoofed in order to hide our real location and set it to a new one. The IPv6 leak test came out negative, since no IPv6 information could be drawn out of our system while we were connected to NordVPN. The BrowserLeaks test shows that NordVPN doesn’t leak IP data.
The WebRTC test yielded two IP addresses, a local and a public one, both of which were related to the network, respectively the server we were connected to, so not at all related to us. The Flash leak test came out negative as well, with no results in the Flash IP address section.
As before, the DNS test returned a single server as a result, but with no relation to us or our ISP, therefore we rule out the possibility of NordVPN leaking DNS requests.
Same old story with the battery information and language data being ‘leaked’ as seen by this test, but since you can’t really identify someone by using this type of data, it won’t be seen as a leak.
As a conclusion, all of the security tests for NordVPN came out negative, with no major data being leaked. We mention this ‘major data’ aspect because there were some details that were displayed as they were (without a mask), but we’ve decided that they shouldn’t be considered leaks since they can’t be used to identify any user. NordVPN is a secure VPN. Do we recommend it? Absolutely.
Speed test results
Now for the speed test. You have to understand that we can’t possibly test for each server in the world, but we chose one server for each region (not country) and ran a speed test on fast.com. The results are as follows:
- Asia Pacific: Japan Server – 23 Mbps;
- Europe: Germany Server – 68 Mbps;
- The Americas: USA – 80 Mbps;
- Africa, the Middle East, and India: Turkey – 39 Mbps.
As you can see, the speed test results are remarkable, we’ve reached high connection speeds even for servers that were further away from our location or ones located in countries that are not exactly popular for their lightning-fast connection speeds.
This concludes the security and speed tests section of our review. Security-wise, NordVPN can be a trustworthy assistant to protect your online privacy, while also providing you with high connection speeds to ensure that your favorite content gets to you as quickly as possible.
Subscription plan details
NordVPN used to provide you with a 3-day trial so that you can try its features before actually making the commitment of purchasing a subscription. However, in light of recent events, they had to retract their trial and strictly rely on a paid subscription plan.
As a result, you can’t benefit from the trial version anymore, but you can choose from these three different plans:
- 1-month plan – 11.95$; – Buy Now
- 1-year plan – 6.99$ per month / 83.88$ billed every year instead of 143.4$; – Buy Now and save 41%
- 2-year plan – 3.99$ per month / 95.75$ billed every 2 years instead of 286.80$; – Buy Now and Save 66%
- 3-year plan – 2.99$ per month / $107.55$ billed every 3 years instead of 430.20$; – Buy Now and save 75% – (Big Deal)
On the bright side, the company provides you with a 30-day money-back guarantee, in case you’re not satisfied with NordVPN’s features.
You can choose to pay the subscription plan by using your PayPal account, a Credit Card, cryptocurrencies and other methods of payment as well. Among the supported cards, you can find VISA, Mastercard, American Express and Discover. Therefore you have a wide range of possibilities regarding subscription payments, compared to other services who only accept cryptocurrency or credit cards as methods of payment.
To wrap things up, we think that NordVPN is a reliable VPN provider that can offer you the online privacy you deserve without compromises. It unlocks several services that are otherwise not available to everyone and the speed of their servers is nothing short of amazing.
Installing and configuring the application on the target computer can be simply done by virtually anyone, but some of its settings are more delicate and should be handled only by professionals. You have to purchase a subscription plan in order to use this service and in case you change your mind, you can have your money back since you’re covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
+ No security issues; (5)
+ No-log policy, trustworthy company; (5)
+ Wide and varied server network; (5)
+ Easy to install, even by rookies; (5)
+ High connection speed values; (5)
– High month-to-month subscription costs; (4)
NordVPN receives a 4.83/5 rating.