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. Barely two years young, 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 their policies, user experience, 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.
You’ll find this review especially helpful if you’re a VPN private user or business decision maker seeking to understand how VPNs work and whether or not they’re worth the trouble and cost.
Despite its recent entry to the market, Surfshark regularly tops lists as a well-rounded VPN that doesn’t skip out on security despite its cheap cost. Still, 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 a private limited UK registered company that’s soured to the top of recommendations for its comprehensive VPN solution.
Surfshark is officially headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a self-governing British territory that does not fall under the 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 Par Kaz, and its CTO is Magnus Steinberg.
As a subscription platform, its customers receive an array of standard and premium features, including state-of-the-art encryption, a “no-logs” policy, and a world-wide network of 1,700+ secure VPN servers.
The company’s pledge states, “We, Surfshark, are committed to being transparent and take full control of our service. Private information of our users has never been disclosed or seized, nor have we been compromised or suffered a data breach.” Whether they live up to this motto, we discuss in sections below.
Surfshark is a premium VPN service where the user pays a monthly subscription. While there are thousands of free VPN services, you get what you pay for. Free VPN solutions are essentially stripped-down versions of their subscription counterparts that maintain a database of usage logs with potential user-identifying information. They stay free through posting paid advertising and leveraging their users’ web activity for ad targeting and selling to marketers.
As a whole, free VPNs are simply not as safe as premium VPNs. Premium VPNs like Surfshark have faster connections, no advertising, and all-around better security – making the small investment for one certainly worthwhile.
Pros & Cons
Of course, VPNs – premium or otherwise free – bring many different benefits to the table, so we’ve identified the main pros and cons we found while using Surfshark over the past week.
While we do not include every single differentiator of Surfshark, we hope this review gives you a better idea of the provider’s overall solution, as well as typical drawbacks you might expect.
Surfshark, a rising star among VPN providers, has a wide variety of features that set it apart from competitors, in addition to its responsive customer service. Here are noteworthy perks that Surfshark has to offer:
- Full-strength privacy and location masking. Using a premium VPN like Surfshark is the first line of defense in thwarting hackers and ensuring online privacy. Surfshark has the 256-bit encryption and protocols that hide a user’s location and mask the origination IP address, which are the foundations of web anonymity.
- Unlimited simultaneous connections. Surfshark exceeds the normal standard of 5 connections offered by many of its competitors. Connect to a variety of devices without having to purchase additional subscriptions.
- Split-tunneling feature. Split tunneling allows the user to use both a VPN and non-VPN connection to increase speed and conserve bandwidth for activities that need no special protection.
- Multi-hop capability. Multi-hopping routes the users through multiple servers for additional protection and routing to secondary servers closer to home for speedier service.
- Unlocks Netflix, which has recently become more adept at blocking VPN. Works in 11 countries. Performs well with BBC iPlayer.
- Ad-tracking functionality. Has a built-in ad tracker in addition to malware blocking features for no-nonsense browsing.
- Works with a wide range of applications and operating systems at consistently high-speed ratings. Has a native Unix interface.
- Works in China and other countries that engage in net censorship.
- Incredible pricing when purchased on a multi-month subscription. (See our discussion under the heading “Pricing” for details.)
Though Surfshark of course has many pros, we will mention that there are a few cons we discovered during the testing phase. Here’s a rundown of what we found:
- Single-month pricing is slightly expensive at $12.95
- Support website could use bulking up and linking tweaks
- Needs to complete a broader security audit to conform logging policy.
- Some slow speeds, depending on your distance to server
- A somewhat smaller network than top competitors
- Surfshark has no ping or server load indicators. Also, testers found some kill switch issues that generated auto-connect error messages and required settings changes and system restart.
Surfshark is best known for its feature-rich service that provides users with comprehensive protection and anonymity online. We break down Surfshark’s features in two ways: standard features most VPNs provide and advanced features some premium VPNs lack.
A “strict no-logs policy”
Surfshark assures its customers, “We don’t monitor, track, or store what you do online.” Their claim is that they maintain no connection or activity logs, other than system maintenance and service usage records. One feature that distinguishes premium-grade VPNs from free services is the no-logs policy. Data-mining giants like Google and Amazon have harvested online usage records for marketing and ad targeting. Free VPN providers want a piece of that action and only remain “free” through exploiting users’ records of online browsing and financial activity.
Friendly user interface
The Surfshark app is best described as “minimalist” and easy to use. It is easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing. Its platform is intuitive even for the inexperienced VPN user. The Surfshark native apps and browser extensions are likewise friendly, clean, and minimalistic.
Unlimited connections and devices
As previously mentioned, Surfshark users can have an unlimited number of VPN connections active simultaneously—on a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc. There are no restrictions as to the number of devices where the user can install the Surfshark app.
This is a dual-VPN feature that adds an extra layer of VPN protection. A user can connect to two servers at once to ensure stronger encryption. By selection “Locations” on the Surfshark app, the user can pair locations through the MultiHop menu item.
Surfshark offers smartphone apps for both Android and iPhone devices. A security vulnerability of mobile devices is that users are exposed on unsecured public WiFi networks. Activating a VPN on your smartphone is the safest way to protect your device from “man-in-the-middle” attacks. Surfshark offers the same end-to-end VPN protection for a smartphone on a WiFi connection as it does for a tablet or laptop. Users also get the advanced features listed below not found in other mobile VPN apps.
The CleanWeb add-in is a feature usually disabled when the user downloads Surfshark. The user must enable it through the Features menu. CleanWeb is similar to other commercial ad blockers and runs on Windows, Mac, Chrome, and Firefox web browsers as well as Android and iOS mobile devices and apps. Ads and pop-ups slow down browsing. With CleanWeb, users can load pages quicker and avoid annoying, intrusive ads. Many public service and news-oriented websites detect ad blockers and ask the user to disable ad blocking—which leads us to the next feature…
Whitelister is how Surfshark leverages split tunneling (mentioned in our Pros section above). 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. Also, the Whitelister will unblock access printers and other connected devices. As of August 2020, this feature is only available to Windows and Android users, however, Surfshark plans to add others in the near future.
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 online security.
- 1 Month: $12.95/mo.
- 6 Months: $6.49/mo.
- 2 Years: $2.21/mo.
Surfshark has three subscription plans to choose from, and users can select from a variety of payment options including all major credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and even cryptocurrency.
For an extra $0.99 cents per month, a user can get “Surfshark Alert” (i.e. Hacklock) 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. BlindSearch is a no-ads and no-logs search engine that is lightning fast and gets organic results “within milliseconds” according to their site.
Arguably their best VPN subscription plan is their two-year contract. Compared to their single-month option for $12.95/mo., their 24-month plan comes out to just $2.21/mo. with three additional months tacked on for free, which is an 84% saving from their shortest term. The caveat, however, is that it requires a two-year commitment, which can deter some users.
If you’re on the fence about getting Surfshark for protection, you can always try it before you buy it. Surfshark offers a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee on not just their longer-term plans but all three options. By submitting a refund request within 30 days of signing up, the user can receive a full refund, which a user can submit via email or live chat at any time. Surfshark will honor the money-back guarantee, potentially asking the user a few questions to discover what the user didn’t like about the service.
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 price 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
- 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. However, the audit was limited to Surfshark’s browser plugins, Chrome and Firefox.
Cure 53 auditors did a full review of the extension software coding and a five-day test of the software in action. 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. We encourage users to test out the VPN on other platforms themselves to see if it’s right for you.
Nevertheless, the Cure 53 team found that Surfshark applications “have an extremely robust impression and are not exposed to any issue” from their tests. Again, always use your best judgment and take advantage of providers’ return policy to protect yourself.
Speed stats are always a top three concern for users seeking a solid VPN. While security and privacy are of utmost importance, no one wants their connection to be slowed in the process. It’s inevitable that, as your connection is routed through your VPNs server, your speed will be directly impacted poorly. However, premium VPNs like Surfshark oftentimes make that speed drop nearly negligible today.
Users experience slower internet speeds in terms of lag, buffering, or in worst cases connection drops. However, Surfshark boasts excellent speed performance despite inevitable VPN technology hurdles.
When analyzing Surfshark’s speed stats, we experienced a 15% – 20% decrease in normal speeds. On a baseline of 100 Mbps, 73 Mbps is much higher than the FCC’s threshold for minimum broadband speeds.
Normally, about 10-12 Mbps (megabits per second) is acceptable for normal web surfing and video streaming. Gamers, however, want more data in real time and need an uptick of 20 or 30 Mbps for that online activity alone. Of course, once you add more connected devices to your home network, your bandwidth gets divided.
All in all, Surfshark is well known for delivering solid speeds despite barely entering the market two year ago. But don’t take our word for it. Try Surfshark today and run your own speed test while your VPN is activated to see how it performs on different devices.
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: 9 countries
- Europe: 38 countries
- Middle East and Africa: 5 countries
- Asia/Pacific: 11 countries
Each server has Private DNS, Camouflage Mode, Open VPN IPSec/IKEv2 encryption, P2P torrenting friendly connections, and as outlined earlier, robust web extension support.
As it relates to lockdown states (i.e. China), Surfshark is capable of bypassing net censorship with its NoBorders feature and by thwarting unfair pricing practices. Surfshark also comes with high-grade encryption software for premium privacy and DNS data-leak prevention with a “kill switch” available at all times.
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
A major function of a VPN is online protection and anonymity for users as they stream videos or torrent peer-to-peer (P2P) content. While some premium VPNs block torrenting of copyrighted content, others completely block user attempts to torrent.
For instance, Surfshark’s secure P2P sharing is a feature that works on all of its servers 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 to adhere.
As far as streaming is related, Surfshark is a top pick for many users seeking access to geo-restricted programming. Surfshark has a user policy that does not restrict bandwidth (partly thanks to its ability to hide users from ISP monitoring and therefore speed throttling) and also allows access to restricted websites.
Those streaming websites include:
- BBC iPlayer
- Prime Video
- Sky Go
- YLE Areena
Overall, reviewers rate Surfshark 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, though relatively new to the VPN game, does 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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 a Smart DNS. A Smart DNS changes the DNS server on the device from the local to the VPN server the user chooses.
Good gaming VPNs reduce lag and “best of all” they allow the player to join tournaments that are not available in their location as well as access games not yet released locally.
Surfshark boasts fast servers for the best lag-free gaming and streaming experience. Of equal importance and why Surfshark ranks high on many reviews is that Surfshark is one of the cheapest VPN for gaming.
Overall, Surfshark is widely compatible with a host of operating systems and devices that make it’s affordable pricing 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
Encryption & security when it comes to security, Surfshark ranks at the top with the likes of ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and NordVPN. Many aspects of a VPN software package affect the overall performance of a solution, so we dive into keep features of Surfshark’s encryption and security measures for better understanding.
Surfshark uses the industry-leading AES-256-GCM 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 protection of health and financial data security.
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 also provides the more traditional OpenVPN protocol to bypass firewalls and provide tailored user configuration.
DNS data-leak prevention with a “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, journalists, and business owners, 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 login.
Also, 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.
These measures Surfshark takes work together for comprehensive protection against hacks, identity theft, malware, and more.
Surfshark is a full-featured premium VPN that comes with everything a Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or Unix user is looking for to ensure web privacy. We canvassed dozens of reports and listicles, which agree that for the money Surfshark charges, it’s a high-value offering. Its unlimited connections and wide variety of devices compatibility—along with a cheap long-term price for users—makes it one of the market’s premier providers.
Surfshark’s pros include its full-strength privacy and location masking and unlimited simultaneous connections. It employs split-tunneling and multi-hop features. Also, Surfshark unlocks Netflix, has a built-in ad tracker and works in restricted countries like China.
Surfshark’s cons are its high single-month cost of $12.95. The Surfshark website could be improved, and there are some slow speed issues when connections are distant.
Surfshark’s no-logs policy, the fact that it submitted to an audit (although limited to its web extensions) adds weight to its claims of security and privacy—especially since its headquarters is in a location not subject to government internet oversight.
Since online users don’t want to sacrifice speed, especially when gaming, Surfshark matches up well, ranking among the top three providers on most rankings.
In addition, Surfshark’s reputation for customer satisfaction is excellent with a combined overall excellent/great rating in the 80% range.
If you’re looking for good streaming/torrenting and unrestricted bandwidth to normally restricted websites, Surfshark ranks high. Its over 1,700 servers in 63 countries have consistent VPN security protocols ensuring safe VPN hopping.
Surfshark has the requisite state-of-the-art encryption that meets federal government requirements for the protection of health and financial security data. Likewise, Surfshark employs security protocols that provide seamless and secure network connections. Users can also opt to default to the more traditional VPN protocol for more personalized configurations.