WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
Panama-based NordVPN has been around since 2012, and they’ve had a major impact on the online security landscape thanks to their nifty software.
Their massive marketing budget has seen everything from TV advertising campaigns to a heavy reliance on the likes of YouTube, while partnerships range from Premier League club Liverpool to an army of streamers and online content creators.
We’ve listed everything you could possibly need to know in this extensive NordVPN review; from their logging policy, to whether it’s worth the considerable asking price.
From typical speeds, to what sort of features to expect, here’s an in-depth look at exactly what NordVPN has to offer.
You’ve likely heard of NordVPN in some shape or form, as they are one of the heavyweights in the online privacy sphere.
Originally, they built their reputation with a strong emphasis on security. Ads focused on their ‘military grade encryption’, while they promised to delete all user data according to their strong no-logs policy.
In more recent years, they’ve worked to improve connection speeds, polishing the software in a number of different ways that are readily apparent as a returning user.
NordVPN is one of the more costly providers on the market, so is the service worth the additional expense, or would they be better off reverting to their stance as privacy experts?
Here’s what you need to know about NordVPN, beginning with a rundown of the various pros and cons we found during testing.
NordVPN is one of the original VPN providers, initially released in 2012 as they rode a wave of new security apps that made it to market. Based in Panama, the country has no data retention laws, and it’s not part of the ‘14 Eyes’ intelligence network.
14 eyes is composed of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US, later expanded to include Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. Together, they form SIGINT Seniors of Europe (SSEUR).
NordVPN chose the name as it “was inspired by Nordic ideals of confidence, trust, and innovation”, and the provider now has 14 million internet users worldwide. They’ve decided to switch to NordSec moving forward, which makes sense given the additional Nord branded features they offer.
Co-founder Tom Okman hopes to transform the company into “a global synonym of digital privacy and cybersecurity” over the next five years, using the NordSec brand to do so.
When questioned about ties to Cyprus and Lithuania in a ZDnet interview, Okman was particularly cagey;
“NordVPN is a leading VPN service provider in the world. Its brand is owned by Tefincom — a company based and operating under the jurisdiction of Panama. We chose Panama to incorporate NordVPN as it provides one of the best legislative environments for the security- and privacy-oriented product, while allowing other operations to remain global.”
He went on to clarify; “NordSec is built by a team of specialists from all over the world, with offices located in Lithuania, the UK, Panama, and Netherlands.”
Despite appearing to be squeaky clean on the surface, it’s worth considering that the VPN is owned by a couple of parent companies, at the very least.
Regardless, they can be trusted with your data, as no matter the jurisdiction, they’ll be able to keep your data safe as there are no logs. We’ll explain in more detail below.
Pros & Cons
If you don’t have time to read the full review, we’ve come up with a list of the pros and cons you’ll find when using NordVPN. For a snapshot of the main benefits, take a look below, as we’ve listed them in easily digestible bullet points.
As well as features enjoyed by every VPN, (such as hiding your IP, or unblocking websites) there’s a ton of extra pros to consider if you’re thinking about trying out NordVPN for the first time. The benefits we found during testing are as follows:
- Possibly the slickest app in terms of design and UI, making it exceedingly easy to use
- Great upload and download speeds during testing, in a range of different server locations
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Lots of different server types to choose from, including P2P, obfuscated and Double VPN
- Simple logging policy, while NordVPN has managed to ace multiple audits
- Massive list of high speed servers in the U.S.
- Unblocks a range of international streaming platforms, including Netflix
- Ideal for combatting censorship
Here’s a rundown with the flaws we found while using NordVPN.
- Hardly any savings to be had with the six-month sub, while the 12-month deal isn’t cheap
- Some of the additional features are hidden behind a paywall
- They removed the free trial, instead opting to use their money-back guarantee
- One NordVPN account will allow for only 6 devices to be connected, which isn’t especially low, but isn’t particularly plentiful
- A lack of servers in regions such as Africa and the Middle East, which may have an impact on connection speeds and consistency
Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, as long as you’re willing to spend a little extra in order to be able to access the service in the first place.
Read on for a more detailed examination of NordVPN, starting with the features.
Features can make or break any VPN, especially in a market packed with endless providers that are vying for your attention. It’s a different landscape compared to just five years ago, as hundreds of new VPNs seem to pop up each year, offering competitive prices and lots of shiny baubles.
Older providers like NordVPN can’t afford to rest on their laurels, or they’ll end up being replaced by the next generation of apps and software in the blink of an eye. Just ask Jeeves.
Luckily, NordVPN has released a number of interesting features over the past few years. For example, CyberSec “is an advanced technology solution that takes your security and privacy to the next level”, if NordVPN is to be believed. CyberSec is worth delving into for a moment.
It works to block websites known for hosting malware or phishing scams, which should help to defend against online threats. It also removes some ads, which could potentially speed up your browsing experience.
However, it’s not available on every device, although they have a good explanation as to why they can’t block ads on Android;
“The full CyberSec feature is available in the NordVPN apps for Windows, iOS, macOS, and Linux. You can enable it in the Settings menu. Due to Google’s policies, CyberSec does not block ads in the NordVPN app for Android downloaded from the Google Play Store. It does, however, keep protecting you from accessing malicious sites.”
It’s not a surprising move from Google, but it’s a shame for mobile users who are stuck with the OS.
Then there’s NordPass and NordLocker. The former is a ‘secure and easy-to-use password manager’, while the latter allows the user to “Create lockers — your digital safes — and protect your data from hackers. Add any file. No one can open your locker or know what’s inside without your permission.”
In practice, NordPass is no different than any other password manager, remembering complex passwords, and auto-filling online forms. However, it’s priced at $2.49 per month, which clearly isn’t worth it when you can find software that’ll pretty much do the same thing for free.
NordLocker is essentially an encrypted cloud server, and they give away 3 GB for free. That’ll run out quickly if you use it extensively, so they have a Premium tier which allows for up to 500 GB.
They’ve split the tier into two subs, coming in at $7.99 for a month, or $3.99 per month for a year. It’s understandable that they couldn’t package cloud storage with the VPN software, although it’s quickly beginning to add up if you’re interested in their full range of services.
First and foremost, NordVPN is, well, a VPN. Rather than stuffing their software full of additional features that most users won’t bother with, they’ve focused on enhancing their connection speeds and overall security.
On the other hand, charging extra for the likes of a password manager doesn’t make much sense to me, unless you’re the type who’d prefer to go all in, with price being less of a deciding factor.
- 1-Month: $11.95 pm
- 6-Months: $9.00 pm
- 12-Months: $5.75 pm
With many of the top VPNs offering similar speeds at the high end, pricing can often be used as a way to differentiate between providers. For example, some are clearly better value for money compared to others, offering cheaper fees and maybe even an extra month or two on top.
NordVPN offers three separate subs, for either one month, six months, or one year. The longer subs are cheaper, but you’ll have to pay for the entire contract upfront.
Coming in at $11.95 for a single month, it’s positioned as one of the more expensive VPNs on the market. Of course, you do get a stellar service in return, but it’s still a high price of entry considering that there’s a host of cheaper alternatives.
The yearly plan offers decent savings at $5.75, although once again, it’s far from the lower end of the pricing scale. If you’re on the lookout for an affordable provider, we’d search elsewhere.
The same goes for the six-month offer ($9.00), as it’s only a 25% reduction compared to the full fee. Clearly, they’d prefer users to go for the longest sub available, and it’s priced to tempt them to do so.
As for a free trial, they use their money-back guarantee as a means to entice potential customers. They won’t charge you until the end of the 30-day period if you sign up via a specific link on their webpage, so it’s worth checking out.
You get what you pay for in life, which is why NordVPN is slightly more expensive than the norm. It’s not a great option if you’re looking for a bargain, but is it smart to entrust your personal data to the lowest bidder? Probably not.
A logging policy describes how a provider deals with your personal data. Do they keep any logs, and if so, why? Any premium VPN should offer a strict logging policy, ensuring that all data is obfuscated and deleted from their servers after you’ve disconnected.
When logging into the app for the first time, I had to agree to the following terms in regards to my personal data:
The image above shows the info they need, although I’d advise against sending NordVPN any ‘aggregated anonymous diagnostic data’, just to be on the safe side.
I also didn’t appreciate the layout above, as it’s subtly trying to deceive you with a checkbox that doesn’t really do anything. Instead, you have to click the ‘Agree to required’ button, which isn’t especially clear if you’re just clicking through quickly to get started.
The policy itself is fairly easy to understand. Here’s the important bit, in full;
“Nord guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN Services, meaning that your internet activity while using NordVPN Services is not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party.
We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or browsing data. From the moment a NordVPN user connects to one of our VPN servers, their internet data becomes encrypted. Any internet activity becomes no longer visible to ISP, third-party snoopers or cyber criminals.”
It’s reasonably comprehensive, allowing for peace of mind while you’re online. That’s if you’re willing to take their claims at face value.
Audits are another way for VPN providers to verify any claims they make. A few years ago, NordVPN looked to industry-leading auditing and assurance firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to test their service, and the results were resoundingly positive.
“In late 2018, we ordered an industry-first independent assurance engagement to verify our no-logs claim – a cornerstone of our privacy mission. But our commitment didn’t end there, which is why we recently ordered a second expanded third-party examination. What was true then is true now – we do not, nor will we ever, monitor your internet activity for any reason.”
In terms of what took place, the audit included employee interviews, server configuration inspections, technical log inspections, and inspections of other servers. The last assurance engagement was performed from May 20 to the 28th, 2020, so they’re up to date, and they deserve top marks for going beyond many of their competitors.
When it comes to data and logging, they can’t be beaten, and there’s independent verification to prove it.
It’s clear that their logging policy is strong, but how does NordVPN fare when tasked with being applied practically? Speed is one of the determining factors in terms of the quality of any provider. As any data will need to be sent to and from their servers, decent connection speeds are important for any VPN provider.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from NordVPN when it came to connection speeds. They haven’t always had the quickest servers, although the price is similar to most premium providers.
As always, I tested the speeds without connecting to the VPN first. Here’s what the baseline numbers looked like:
Nothing was out of the ordinary compared to speeds I’d typically expect. (Although they are roughly half of what was advertised, that’s another story!)
Next, I connected to NordVPN’s UK servers, and was pleasantly surprised with the results:
At first glance, it looks like nothing has changed! The only real difference is a minimal increase in ping, and a loss of just over 1 Mbps. As you can see, the VPN was working perfectly, as a new IP address had been assigned, as well as showing a new ISP.
In other words, if you want to use the VPN to connect to a local server location, you’re likely to see good results. It’ll make a massive difference if you don’t have the fastest speeds to begin with.
Lastly, I decided to check out one of the ever-popular U.S. servers:
Aside from the expected impact on the ping, it’s fair to say that NordVPN scores highly again. It was only 8 Mbps slower, despite the servers being located halfway around the world.
NordVPN has worked to improve their overall speeds in recent years, with everything from a new protocol to an ever-increasing list of servers. There’s a clear difference in the optimal speeds they can offer, and they deserve credit for being able to keep up with the fastest providers on the market.
If you’re basing your decision on connection speeds, look no further than NordVPN.
Server Locations & Network
At the current time of writing, NordVPN has 5,570 servers in 59 countries worldwide. It’s a significant number, and one that puts many competing providers to shame. You’ll find physical servers in the following countries:
Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam
Larger countries benefit from the full range of features, although this does lead to a skewing towards more popular regions including the U.S and the UK.
For example, take the US, where you’ll find 2,039 servers. They offer P2P, a dedicated IP, double VPN, and obfuscated options, which is great for users who want to connect to their servers. However, it also accounts for over a third of the total number of servers on offer.
Then there’s Brazil, who have just 18 servers, and only allow for P2P. It’s not ideal, especially for a country with a population of over 200m. There’s a significant disparity, so it’s best to check out exactly what they offer in the regions you want to connect to before committing to a longer sub.
For example, if you’re looking for a VPN with servers located near Africa, you’re going to have a bad time.
Many of the countries are bypassed entirely, with a couple of options at best. The same goes for much of South America, as well as the Middle East. Of course, Europe is well represented, as you can see at the top of the image above.
You can find a full list of NordVPNs servers here.
Many providers opt to use virtual servers, which are located in a different country, but can still be used to access various websites and services. NordVPN sticks with the physical variety, which explains why coverage can be patchy in some spots.
Streaming & Torrenting
From an entertainment perspective, streaming and torrenting are two of the best ways to access online content. Of course, the vast majority are locked behind one type of paywall or another, on top of the possibility of being geo-blocked due to international broadcasting restrictions.
Streaming with NordVPN is somewhat difficult to gauge. Their website states:
“Many countries have various limitations on streaming services, ranging from censorship to regional restrictions that affect travelers. NordVPN allows accessing such services securely, without any additional configuration.”
Therefore, they have guides for how to access services like BBC iPlayer and U.S. Netflix securely on their website. However, they go on to note that;
“The NordVPN service should never be used to bypass copyright regulations. NordVPN does not promote, condone or endorse the use of the service for such purposes. For more details, please read the NordVPN Terms of Service.”
It’s a slightly mixed message, but there’s no doubt that their servers can be used to unblock a range of streaming platforms worldwide. Despite any claims to the contrary, no VPN will be able to guarantee that they’ll be able to unblock a specific streaming platform 100% of the time.
The bigger platforms tend to block the IP addresses used by VPNs in waves, so there’s always a chance that it’ll be unavailable for a day or two as they scramble to get new IPs that haven’t been blacklisted.
In terms of torrenting; they allow P2P traffic on certain servers. They have simple instructions for checking out the best P2P server to use;
- Go to our server recommender feature
- Click on Show advanced options
- In the Select server type field, choose P2P. You will instantly get a suggestion for the best server on the left
I decided to test it for myself, and it was easy to find a P2P server that was close to me in the UK.
However, experiences may vary depending on your locale and the number of servers they have dedicated to the task, so I’d advise to check out the Server Recommender feature for yourself first.
NordVPN deserves plaudits for the way in which they have allowed users to bypass restrictions, although you’d be hard pressed to find any provider that will allow you to download torrents without covering their own back first.
Once again, they’ll have no logging data to hand over anyway, and speeds are more than good enough to get the job done. If you’re desperate to access geo-blocked content, NordVPN has you covered.
For some users, censorship is a genuine threat to their way of life. For example, China is an oft used example, as they’ve banned the use of personal VPNs entirely.
In fact, NordVPN goes a step further than many other providers, offering their service for free “in extreme cases of censorship or online privacy violations”. You can do so by filling out a short form found on their website, and they will potentially offer six months of their VPN service for free. It’s a nice touch, and something they clearly didn’t have to do.
NordVPN has received over 430 Emergency VPN requests since January 2019, with the majority from people in Venezuela. They note that the ongoing political crisis there has led to heavy internet restrictions, especially on social media.
In terms of features to bypass online censorship, they offer an automatic Kill Switch, as well as DNS leak protection and DoubleVPN capabilities.
The kill switch will work to cancel any apps or software connected to the internet if the VPN unexpectedly goes down, which is handy if you’re using a banned social media site for communication.
For further protection against data leaks, Double VPN routes your traffic through two servers instead of one, encrypting your data twice. The connections are mixed between UDP and TCP protocols, while the second server will contain no information about the user.
The features combine to provide one of the better VPN packages if you’re solely aiming to combat censorship. Of course, each additional security layer will slow down the connection slightly, but
That’s how it works in theory, while the audits back up their claims. However, it’s interesting to find out how NordVPN tends to react when they’re leaned on in the real world, and there are a couple of examples.
In 2018, Russia’s Roskomnadzor (The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) gave VPNs 30 days to provide the government with access to any servers located in Russia.
NordVPN denied the request, and shredded all Russian servers, while removing them from their service. Users in Russia can still access their VPN, although they can’t access local .ru websites.
They have also been vocal supporters of online privacy, being used by the likes of Amnesty International and various other nonprofits to ensure secure communication and the safety of their human rights workers.
Platforms & Devices
Native apps are the name of the game, as they allow the user to get the most out of the software without making any sacrifices in terms of features or support. For example, consider the ad-blocking feature that isn’t available on Android devices. Are there any other notable issues with native apps, and what’s it like to use?
NordVPN took a while to add additional native support, but it was worth the wait. One NordVPN account secures 6 devices, and we used the Mac/iOS versions for testing.
Mobile & desktop
The NordVPN desktop app still retains a similar look to previous builds, allowing you to navigate around a map of the world, choosing whichever server location you want to connect to. If your geography isn’t the greatest, you can also search for countries manually by inputting their name at the top.
You’ll find a similar layout with the mobile version, and NordVPN is available on the following devices:
- Chrome extension
- Firefox extension
As you can see, they have native app support for the usual suspects, as well as a couple of extensions if you’d prefer to control NordVPN through a browser.
The Chrome/Firefox extensions are more lightweight in comparison, and they still benefit from features such as CyberSec, and *Disabled WebRTC.
WebRTC is used by browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera, allowing for greater speeds. However, it does require information about the user’s private IP address, which means it can potentially be a security flaw. Their Chrome/Firefox extensions will ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Proxy & router
You can use NordVPN through a router, which will allow you to bypass any limitations in terms of the maximum number of devices that can be used. (After all, the VPN will only be connected to one device.)
The router will connect to everything else, so it’s also useful if you want to use the VPN with a device that doesn’t have native app support.
There’s no catch, although they do recommend you to purchase any DD-WRT or Tomato-compatible router to be able to set it up with NordVPN with no issues.
NordVPN also has Proxy setup guides for the following platforms:
Encryption & Security
A solid no-logs policy will need to be backed up by watertight encryption. It will ensure that your data stays safe and secure, allowing for no chance of it being intercepted by anyone. It’s all handled by AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with 256-bit keys, which is to be expected from any competent provider.
Protocols dictate how the VPN client connects to their servers, offering differing levels of protection and speeds.
As you can see in the image below, NordVPN offers the following range of protocols:
- OpenVPN (UDP)
- OpenVPN (TCP)
It’s easy to choose between them, although you can always stick to the recommended option if you’d prefer.
NordLynx is the most interesting, in that it’s a proprietary protocol based on WireGuard. They explain:
“The WireGuard protocol alone can’t ensure complete privacy. Here’s why. It can’t dynamically assign IP addresses to everyone connected to a server. Therefore, the server must contain a local static IP address table to know where internet packets are traveling from and to whom they should return. It means that the user’s identity must be stored on the server and linked to an internal IP address assigned by the VPN.”
To get around this, they developed a double NAT (Network Address Translation) system. Essentially, this allows them to establish a secure connection without storing any identifiable data on the server.
If you’re noticing fewer options than before, NordVPN’s servers stopped supporting L2TP/IPsec and PPTP connections in December 2018.
They explain why they made the decision in a blog post:
“These are two different VPN protocols that have become somewhat obsolete. Both are relatively unsecure (compared to OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec, NordVPN’s protocols of choice) but had their own narrow, specific use cases. Because of their weak encryption, they could be supported by devices with insufficient computing power to support more powerful VPN protocols (like routers).”
There’s a good range of choice to be had with NordVPN protocols, making it ideal for advanced users and newbies alike.
In terms of security, there are audits which confirm they keep no logs, and they have an ever-evolving list of new features and updates which keep them at the forefront of the conversation.
They were hit with a minor breach in March 2018, caused by vulnerabilities in a third-party datacenter’s server. NordVPN responded by ending their contract with the provider and getting rid of the server, followed by an internal audit. After finding no other flaws across their network, they made the breach known to the public. (They decided to wait to ensure that results couldn’t be replicated before releasing a statement.)
It’s worth mentioning that the third-party discussed above disputes the claims, laying the blame solely at the feet of the VPN.
Despite the minor hiccup noted above, transparency is always better than deflection.
NordVPN’s encryption is up to industry standards, and they have a good list of protocols. Security continues to improve, and they partnered with cybersecurity firm VerSprite following the breach to provide further penetration testing, intrusion handling, and vendor risk assessment.
Behind the massive marketing budget, you’ll find there’s a capable provider with a lot to offer if you’re thinking about trying out NordVPN. Connection speeds are incredible, while security is another reason why it scores highly.
Rather than specialising in one field, they provide a great all round service, and you could do worse if you were looking for additional cybersecurity features such as secure cloud storage, although we’d skip the password manager.
NordVPN deserves its reputation as one of the top providers on the market. You will have to pay a little extra to reap the benefits, but you’ll be safe in the knowledge that your data is well protected.
Meanwhile, if you actually do need to use their VPN to evade censorship, they are happy to send off a free subscription, and they do good advocacy work in the privacy sector.
There are still potential improvements that could be made, such as a wider range of server locations and better savings, but that’s something that can easily be rectified in the future. Maybe the fees are slightly higher than the average, but at least you’ll know that it’s not being offset by the sale of your personal data.
NordVPN receives full marks, and I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone, no matter the reason why they’re on the lookout for a new provider.