WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
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Let’s face it, the internet isn’t getting any safer – at least not on its own. From cyberattacks, geo-restricted content, and ISP speed throttling, there are constant hurdles and intrusions users deal with every day. Because of this, users are starting to realize the value VPN protection offers.
One provider making waves in the VPN industry is Surfshark. Launched in 2018, Surfshark touts a well-rounded, secure platform trusted by thousands. Yet, how does Surfshark stack up to other, more established, providers at the top?
We break down everything you need to know about Surfshark VPN, including its policies, user experience, speed performance, and overall ranking among competitors.
A virtual private network (VPN) like Surfshark provides both the security and privacy internet-conscientious users today search for. Drawing on expert reports and our own experience testing VPN software, we sift through Surfshark’s extensive features and performance to help you decide if it’s the right solution for you.
Despite its recent entry into the market, Surfshark regularly tops lists as a well-rounded VPN that doesn’t skip out on security despite its cheap cost. It’s popular among streamers and gamers looking for fast speeds and a large network. Yet, Surfshark isn’t without a few minor drawbacks like most VPNs, which we also go into detail about below.
Surfshark is a relatively new contender in the premium VPN market. Incorporated on December 21, 2018, Surfshark is officially headquartered in the British Virgin Islands. This bodes well for user privacy as BVI is a self-governing British territory that does not fall under the 5, 9, or 14 Eyes Jurisdiction, countries that actively share intelligence and law enforcement information and can pose a risk to individual citizens’ privacy.
Not much is known about Surfshark’s corporate connections and affiliations, but the company has services and staff scattered throughout Europe and around the world. Its current CEO is Vytautas Kaziukonis, and its CTO is Donatas Budvytis.
For a fairly new company, Surfshark makes huge efforts right off the bat to reassure its users that privacy and security are at the core of its business practices. It holds multiple third-party audits from Cure35, most recently a 2021 holistic audit of its logging claims and encryption methods.
Surfshark is one of the few VPNs to also offer a real 7-day free trial in addition to a 30-day money-back guarantee. It’s only for testing, and you’ll inevitably have to upgrade if you wish to keep using the service. Granted, free VPNs are simply not as safe as premium VPNs, and you end up getting what you pay for – or otherwise don’t. Providers like Surfshark have faster connections, no advertising, and all-around better security – making the small investment for one certainly worthwhile.
Keep reading to see exactly what a Surfshark subscription really has to offers.
Pros & Cons
While testing Surfshark VPN, we gathered a comprehensive list of pros and cons users should consider before pulling out their wallets to purchase.
In addition to its responsive customer service, Surfshark offers a wide variety of features that set it apart from competitors. Here are the most noteworthy perks that Surfshark includes in its subscription:
- Unlimited simultaneous connections on a single subscription
- Split-tunneling feature (Whitelister) allows the user to use both a VPN and non-VPN connection to increase speed and conserve bandwidth
- Multi-hop capability that reroutes a user through multiple servers for added protection and speed optimization
- Successfully unblocks 30+ Netflix libraries as well as other popular streaming platforms like BBC iPlayer and Disney+
- Custom ad-blocker feature (CleanWeb) included with subscription
- Easy-to-use app and sleek user interface
- Works in China and other countries that engage in net censorship
- Industry-low pricing
- Accepts anonymous cryptocurrency payments from CoinGate and CoinPayment exchange platforms
- Offers a 7-day free trial to test our service
- Compatible with all main platforms and devices
- Supports WireGuardⓇ protocol
- Includes an automatic kill switch
- Browser extensions available for Chrome and Firefox
- Independently audited by security giant, Cure53 and passed with flying colors
Though Surfshark of course has many pros, there were still a few drawbacks I discovered during testing. Here’s a rundown of the cons:
- Single-month pricing is slightly expensive
- Inconsistent speed test resulted in slower upload speeds and ping time when you connect to further servers
- Delay connecting to some servers
- A somewhat smaller network compared to other top VPNs like ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access
- No IPv6 support which can cause data leaks
Surfshark packs a lot into its service, considering how new it is. In addition to standard features like a kill switch and auto-connect, there are a handful of features worth highlighting.
Surfshark includes a DoubleVPN (or multi-hop) feature that allows users to connect to two different servers to add an extra layer of security. Surfshark offers 14 multi-hop connections, with Canada-US, UK-France, and Germany-Singapore being a few popular options.
CleanWeb is Surfshark’s ad-blocker feature that usually comes disabled when a user downloads the app. Once enabled, CleanWeb blocked unwanted ads, so users can load pages quicker while avoiding annoying, intrusive ads. It runs on Windows, Android, and macOS devices as well as Surfshark’s Chrome and Firefox web browser extensions.
Whitelister is how Surfshark leverages split tunneling. With Whitelister, the user can designate which apps and websites must be protected by Surfshark at all times. For everything else, the user can “whitelist” (or approve) known safe websites, online platforms, and services that need to reach the user’s internet connection directly – most helpful for P2P file sharing. Also, the Whitelister will unblock access to printers and other connected devices as designated. As of September 2021, this feature is only available to Windows and Android users, however, Surfshark plans to add others in the near future.
NoBorders is a feature that allows Surfshark users to access restricted content in highly censored regions like China and Russia. This feature is automatically enabled if the Surfshark app detects any kind of restrictions on the network you’re connected to. When it’s triggered, NoBorders will provide a list of servers optimized for bypassing these firewalls. Right now, it is only available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS.
Shadowsocks Encrypted Proxy
Users can hook their smart TVs and gaming consoles and use some of the VPN functions on devices that are not VPN-ready by using Surfshark’s Smart DNS feature. A Smart DNS changes the DNS server on the device from the user’s local server to the VPN server the user chooses. This, coupled with Surfshark’s pricing, make it one of the best options for gamers looking to up their connection speeds.
Overall, Surfshark is a solid VPN with strong features that make it a compelling option if you’re looking for a one-stop-shop solution for your online security. Granted, you’ll want to take into account pricing as well.
- 1 Month: $12.95/mo.
- 6 Months: $6.49/mo.
- 2 Years: $2.49/mo.
Surfshark has three subscription plans to choose from, the lowest coming in at just $2.49 per month on a 24-month service commitment. A single account comes with unlimited simultaneous device connections and compatibility with all major operating systems, platforms, and devices.
Better yet, users can take advantage of Surfshark’s 7-day free trial to test it’s service before any payment is processed as well as a full 30-day money-back guarantee. You’ll get a full refund, no questions asked, if requested. (I used this after fully reviewing for the purpose of this assessment and had no issues getting my money back).
For an extra $1.49 per month, a user can also get “Surfshark Alert” (i.e. Hacklock), “Surfshark Antivirus”, and “Surfshark Search” (i.e. BlindSearch) features. Surfshark Alert sends a notification to a user when their email shows up in leaked databases. This feature sources the haveibeenpwned.com website. Surfshark Search is a no-ads and no-logs search engine that is lightning fast and gets organic results “within milliseconds” according to their site. Lastly, Surfshark Antivirus is a feature that scans your computer for viruses and alerts you to attempted cyber attacks. For $1.49 more a month, it’s a great deal.
Arguably the aspect that solidified Surfshark’s pricing rating was its anonymous payment methods. In addition to checking out with a credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay, Surfshark also accepts multiple cryptocurrency payments, so even Surfshark won’t know who you are upon signing up. It requires an email address to create an account, but does not make you verify it – which means you can put a dummy account if need be. In partnership with CoinGate and CoinPayments, here are thedifferent coins Surfshark will accept as payment for its subscription:
Again, all of Surfshark’s plans include unlimited devices, 24/7 customer service, and competitive pricing that lends itself substantial weight among top VPN providers if pricing is of importance to you.
As previously mentioned, Surfshark is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a home base for other VPN providers seeking a privacy-friendly environment. Surfshark has privacy and no-logs policies that assure users it does not collect user connection or web usage data.
Surfshark only stores the following user information:
- The user email address, only for the purposes of customer service and account management. Although, it doesn’t require you to verify your email upon signing up, so technically you could use a dummy account if you wish to.
- The user’s encrypted password
- Billing information (though users can avoid disclosing payment and identity details by selecting the Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency payment options)
In addition, Surfshark has a privacy-friendly and transparent logging policy which ensure that none of the following is ever collected from its users:
- Information about current sessions
- The user’s browsing history
- The user’s IP address
- The amount of bandwidth used
- Network traffic and time stamps
The VPN industry is peppered with boastful statements that they are anonymous, secure and private. However, independent audits are not commonplace. Surfshark decided to enhance its value in the market and undergo an independent third-party audit by an organization known as Cure 53 in 2018 and most recently again in 2021.
The 2018 browser extension audit by Cure 53 included looking into the extension software coding and testing the software in action for five days. Auditors uncovered just two issues, one of which was outside the scope of the VPN and the other determined as an “unexploitable vulnerability.” The limited scope of this audit—browser extensions only—does pose some skepticism from users that haven’t used Surfshark before.
However, in 2021, Surfshark unwent another, more inclusive, audit of it’s entire network and logging policy, which is passed with high marks.
When I tested Surfshark, I had to triple check my results to make sure nothing was a miss because the connection speeds were something I’ve never seen while testing a VPN. On the closest server to me (Houston, Texas), I was able to actually improve my speeds on a Surfshark server. That’s really rare for VPNs simply because of the nature of the technology, premium or not. Here are my speed test results after connecting to several locations around the world.
To start, I checked my baseline speeds without connecting to a VPN.
Then, I used Surfshark’s auto-connect feature to connect to the “fastest server” nearby, which was in Houston, Texas. My download speed, upload speed, and ping time all improved while connected to this server.
Next, I wanted to see if the same was true for servers located across the world, so I tapped into Surfshark servers in the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, and India. Here are those speed test results:
While my download speeds decreased the further away I got from my location in Texas, they were still far above the minimum 25 Mbps broadband speeds outlined by the FCC for average internet use. I could stream Netflix and download P2P files with ease on these connections.
My upload speed and ping time were most affected by the server changes, but still, it hardly affected my user experience since my baseline speeds were already allotted for higher bandwidth.
All in all, I was very impressed by Surfshark’s speed performance as it actually improved my speeds when connected to a nearby server.
Server Locations & Network
While Surfshark is considered relatively young compared to other leading premium VPN providers, it’s made quite a name for itself in such a short time. This is largely in part due to its sizable server network. Surfshark has over 3,200 VPN servers in 63 countries as of when this review was written:
- The Americas: 11 countries
- Europe: 39 countries
- Middle East and Africa: 4 countries
- Asia/Pacific: 14 countries
Each server has Private DNS, Camouflage Mode, OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 encryption, P2P torrenting friendly connections, and as outlined earlier, robust web extension support. Most recently, Surfshark started even supporting WireGuard and also offers Shadowsocks proxy encryption – both great for users looking for the fastest connection speeds.
When selecting a server, it’s always important to consider a country’s laws on privacy, how far the server is from your real-time location, and the number of other Surfshark users attempting to access the same server. Together, these factors weigh heavily on your overall security, privacy, and device speed performance.
Streaming & Torrenting
When a VPN has fast connection speeds like Surfshark, you’d expect its streaming and torrenting support to work well in tandem – which it does.
I’m happy to report that Surfshark does in fact live up to its streaming reputation. I was successfully able to unblock multiple Netflix regions including Canada and the UK. On its website, Surfshark states it can unblock 30+ Netflix libraries in total, which is far more than most top VPN providers we’ve tested.
I did have difficulty accessing BBC iPlayer, but after a few browser refreshes, it played videos just fine. Altogether, Surfshark is able to unblock these streaming websites:
- BBC iPlayer
- Prime Video
- Sky Go
- YLE Areena
All of Surfshark’s servers are optimized to secure and support P2P sharing except those in countries where torrenting is not allowed, such as China, Malaysia, and Portugal. The Surfshark app will reroute users to torrent-friendly servers like the Netherlands or Canada for users located in those regions to access the content they like.
Overall, we rate Surfshark highly as one of the best VPN providers for streaming entertainment and likewise torrenting P2P content.
Another key deciding factor for users is how a VPN deals with net censorship in countries like China. Surfshark seemed to carry its own weight in this fight.
Surfshark does work in China to some extent, despite the many hurdles and challenges it presents. Chinese authorities are constantly working on their anti-VPN technology, and VPNs play a game of leapfrog in staying ahead of Chinese geo-restrictions. China is ranked lowest among all the countries in the world in the degree of internet freedom it allows its citizens. Here are a few methods Surfshark uses to bring uncensored access to people in these types of regions:
One Surfshark method to bypass net censorship is its NoBorders feature. Surfshark detects when the user is connected in a country like China with restricted networks. The NoBorders feature automatically redirects the connection to a server that can access the restricted traffic.
Shadowsocks Encrypted Proxy
Shadowsocks is an encrypted proxy that was specifically designed for users in or near restrictive countries where many websites are blocked. For example, it works great near the “Great Firewall of China.” However, it’s only available on Android and Windows applications right now. If you’re not in one of these regions, you’re better off implementing OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard.
Another hurdle Surfshark overcomes is unfair pricing practices. Geo-blocking is frequently used by online vendors to either display higher prices based on the user’s sign-in or block out the completion of sales from outside users. With Surfshark’s MultiHop capability, the user can sign on to a local VPN server and bypass unfair pricing practices.
Surfshark also offers some of the cheapest plans among premium providers, which helps increase people’s ability to buy into the VPN service.
Surfshark does have servers in China and Russia. Granted they are subject to those countries’ restrictive laws. However, having those nearby options can still help with speeds when it comes to streaming your favorite shows and movies. More so, Surfshark offers plenty of connections in neighboring countries near China and Russia, which can help users get full access to both the privacy and security measures otherwise lacking in their country.
Platforms & Devices
Surfshark not only provides unlimited simultaneous connections but also allows the user to connect to its VPN on a variety of devices, operating systems, smart TVs, and game consoles. The biggest drawback I experienced while testing was that not all features are available across platforms. Depending on whether you use Surfshark’s browser extension, desktop, or mobile apps, you may or may not get every feature it has to offer on one app.
We breakdown the different devices and systems Surfshark is compatible with:
Desktop & laptop computers
- macOSX—Surfshark’s Mac OSX app is ranked highly on the Apple App Store.
- Windows 10—In general, Windows 10 is vulnerable to DNS leaks. However, Surfshark ranks #3 among VPNs that suppress DNS leaks and bypass tracking of the user’s web browsing.
- Linux—Surfshark is one of the few VPN providers that offer a native Linux VPN client.
Phones & tablets
Web browser extensions
- Google Chrome
- Mozilla Firefox
- Apple TV
- LG TV
- Samsung TV
The user must also set up Smart DNS to have limited VPN functionality for:
- Playstation 4
Speed and low latency are key for gamers, along with network stability and unfettered streaming capability. Users can hook their smart TVs and gaming consoles and use some of the VPN functions on devices that are not VPN-ready by using Surfshark’s Smart DNS feature. A Smart DNS changes the DNS server on the device from the user’s local server to the VPN server the user chooses. This, coupled with Surfshark’s pricing, make it one of the best options for gamers looking to up their connection speeds.
Surfshark even offers router support, making it fairly intuitive to set up and easy to use right off the bat.
Overall, Surfshark is widely compatible with a host of operating systems and devices that make its service well worth it. Simultaneously connect to as many devices as you want to enjoy full protection and privacy whenever you access the internet, wherever you are.
Encryption & Security
Many aspects of a VPN software package affect the overall performance of a solution, so we dive into key features of Surfshark’s encryption and security measures for better understanding.
IKEv2/IPsec Default Security Protocols
This protocol provides reliable and fast VPN connections and is the most up-to-date for the fastest, most stable, and secure network connections that use encryption. IKEv2 makes sure internet traffic is secure with authentication processes.
Surfshark recently updated its service to support WireGuard in early 2021. This VPN protocol is a newer iteration of OpenVPN that’s extremely lightweight and thus faster. It’s a great protocol to use if you’re streaming, torrenting, or gaming. You won’t have to compromise on data security for speeds.
OpenVPN is a tried-and-true legacy VPN protocol. It’s free, open-source code, which means it’s checked daily by thousands of uses for any potential flaws. Right now, Surfshark offers OpenVPN support on the following apps: macOS, Android, Windows, iOS, Fire TV, and Linux.
Shadowsocks Encrypted Proxy
Rather than a VPN protocol, Shadowsocks is an encrypted proxy that was specifically designed for users in or near restrictive countries. For example, it works well for places like China where the “Great Firewall” attempts to censor information online constantly. However, it’s only available on Android and Windows applications right now. If you’re not in one of these regions, you’re better off implementing OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard.
AES-256 Bit Encryption
Surfshark uses the industry-leading AES-256 bit encryption standard. AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the highest cloud encryption standard. It employs a single, varying length key with an algorithm working on a single block of data that encrypts and re-encrypts the data 10 to 14 times. AES meets all federal government requirements for the protection of health and financial data security.
Automatic “kill switch”
An unstable internet connection can cause the VPN server to drop while the user continues transmitting data. A VPN kill switch will detect a VPN disconnect and take the user offline. A kill switch is especially important for those who always need a reliable private connection—activists and journalists, for example. The kill switch feature ensures that no data goes through the user’s connection unless it is through their VPN. Users need only to connect once to this feature for automatic connection each time they log in.
DNS Leak Protection
DNS leak protection prevents the operating system from defaulting to the Internet Service Provider’s DNS (Dynamic Name System) when the user connects to a web address. Without the DNS leak protection, the user’s original IP address is shown, defeating the original purpose of a VPN.
Add-On Scanning Features
For an extra $1.49 per month, a user can also get “Surfshark Alert” (i.e. Hacklock), “Surfshark Antivirus”, and “Surfshark Search” (i.e. BlindSearch) features. Surfshark Alert sends a notification to a user when their email shows up in leaked databases. This feature uses the haveibeenpwned.com website. Surfshark Search is a no-ads and no-logs search engine that is lightning fast and gets organic results “within milliseconds” according to their site. Lastly, Surfshark Antivirus is a feature that scans your computer for viruses and alerts you to attempted cyber attacks.
These measures Surfshark takes work together for comprehensive protection against hacks, identity theft, malware, and more, so your data and identity are always kept safe while online.
Surfshark is a full-featured premium VPN that comes with everything a Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, or Linux user is looking for to ensure web privacy. While there are a few drawbacks, the service as a whole is rather comprehensive.
Surfshark’s pros include its affordable price, full-strength privacy and location masking, and unlimited simultaneous connections. It employs split-tunneling and multi-hop features as well to add an extra layer of security. Also, Surfshark is able to unblock multiple streaming platforms including Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
While its monthly subscription is quite high, Surfshark’s longest 24-month plan is one of the cheapest we’ve seen from VPN providers.
The fact that its no-logs policy is also verified by Cure 53 lends to the trustworthiness and transparency of the VPN. Surfhsark’s British Virgin Islands headquarters put it in a jurisdiction that is also not subject to government internet oversight. That’s always a plus.
Since online users don’t want to sacrifice speed, especially when gaming, Surfshark matches up well, actually improving my connection speeds on the nearest server to my actual location.
If you’re looking for a good streaming/torrenting VPN with unrestricted bandwidth and unlimited device connections, Surfshark is a solid buy. It employs over 3,200 servers in 65 countries and offers various VPN security protocols ensuring safe VPN hopping.
You can try Surfshark out risk-free using either its 7-day free trial or 30-day money-back guarantee. Either one will help you see its capabilities in full.