November 01, 2019
NordVPN is a no-logs VPN provider based in Panama. This year NordVPN scooped the most coveted prize of them all – our Best Overall VPN award.
NordVPN has a no logs policy, fantasitc security features and ability to unblock content. All of which make it one of the best VPN choices out there. It is has features such as double VPN, VPN over Tor, DNS-based malware protection, Smart DNS, and more, all part of the very reasonably-priced package.
With prime time television ads and sponsorship deals with global brands like Liverpool Football Club, these days NordVPN is arguably the most recognizable name in the industry and the first to branch out into mainstream consciousness. NordVPN is certainly talking the talk, but can they walk the walk? Let’s find out…
NordVPN has just the one all-in account plan, although discount “plans” are available for bulk purchases. If you sign up for a long period of time this VPN becomes more affordable, and although this is a cheap VPN it is one of the best on the market.
NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
36 month Plan70%OFF $3.49 per month
24 month Plan 58%OFF $4.99per month
12 month Plan41%OFF$6.99per month
1 month Plan$11.95per month
It accepts payment via credit/debit card. It also accepts Bitcoin, which allows for potentially anonymous payment. However, as always, please remember that NordVPN will know your true IP address, regardless.
Whether thanks to its Smart Play feature or not, a wide range of streaming services including Netflix and BBC iPlayer work flawlessly with the VPN connected in Windows and using the older Mac OSX OpenVPN client.
However, although NordVPN says Smart Play is enabled in all its apps, we could not unblock US Netflix using its new macOS IKEv2 app or its Firefox add-on. This VPN will also unblock Youtube videos that are restricted within your region.
We have now improved our speed testing algorithm to account for VPN services such as NordVPN whose software selects the best server for its users to offer improved speeds. This provides a much fairer comparison between this kind of setup and services that load-balance across a number of servers at a given location.
We decided to give the OpenVPN connection a bit more testing, and found the results were very server dependent, with many European servers proving faster than local UK ones. We did however sometimes have trouble connecting to some servers at all (most notably ones in the Netherlands). As far as reliability is concerned, we had no disconnections during our test period.
We also tested for IP leaks In Windows and using the new macOS IKE2 client we detected no IP leaks whatsoever. Using the older OSX OpenVPN client, though, we detected an IPv6 WebRTC leak. If you are a Mac user with an IPv6 connection you should use the IKE2 client, disable IPv6 on your system, or disable WebRTC in your browser.
NordVPN provides custom apps for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. It also provides manual setup guides for these platforms, plus Linux (Ubuntu and Raspberry Pi), Blackberry 10, Chromium, and various routers and NAS systems. These guides look a little on the bare-bones side, but should work well enough.
It is also possible to purchase a pre-configured NordVPN router from Flashrouters . Additionally, NordVPN offers browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox.
Signing up for the service is a straightforward affair. A valid email address is required, but there is no reason this cannot be a disposable one. Unless paying in Bitcoin, of course, NordVPN will know your payment details anyway.
Once signed up, you can download NordVPN’s software immediately and will receive a confirmation email containing some useful links.
Signing-up for the service is a straight-forward affair. A valid email address is required, but there is no reason this cannot be a disposable one. Unless paying in Bitcoins, of course, NordVPN will know your payment details anyway.
Once signed up, you will can download NordVPN’s software immediately, and will receive a confirmation email containing some useful links.
NordVPN provides custom GUI apps for Windows, macOS, Mac OSX, iOS and Android. It now even offers a command-line OpenVPN client for Linux. It also provides manual setup guides for all these platforms, plus Blackberry 10, Chromium, and various routers and NAS. These guides look a little on the bare-bones side, but should work well enough.
It is also possible to purchase a pre-configured NordVPN router from Flashrouters.
The map is pretty. VPN newbies might find the Connection Wizard (bottom left) handy
As we have already seen, there are lots of servers to choose from. These include many specialized servers
There is a per-app kill switch. You can choose which apps will be shut down in the event of a VPN disconnection. This is very handy, but note that it is not a firewall-based kill switch. So if the NordVPN client itself crashes, the specified apps will not shut down, and can continue to access the internet
DNS leak protection is enabled by default
The NordVPN Windows client, then, is very fully-featured, looks good, and is easy to use.
NordVPN offers two Mac clients: the older OpenVPN client for Mac OSX, and the newer IKEv2 client for macOS . The newer app is available to download from the App Store.
The older client features a kill switch, which the newer one doesn’t, but we detected a WebRTC IPv6 leak in the older app which we didn’t in the newer one. The older app also allows you to switch between OpenVPN UDP and TCP, which can be useful for defeating modest VPN blocks.
Other than that, neither app offers any features worth mentioning, which makes them much less fully-featured than the Windows version of the software.
The NordVPN Android and iOS apps are very similar.
The apps look remarkably similar to the desktop clients. Which is a good thing
I detected no IPv4 or WebRTC leaks while using either app, but please bear in mind that I can’t test for IPv6 leaks on mobile platforms at this time.
The Chrome and Firefox apps connect to a NordVPN’s HTTPS proxy servers. They provide many of the benefits of a true VPN but limited to just the browser. These include spoofing your real location and encrypting your internet connection so that you cannot be spied on. Which can be very handy!
You need a full NordVPN account to use its browser add-ons. Interestingly, the Firefox add-on was able to unblock BBC iPlayer for me, but not US Netflix.
NordVPNExpressVPNCyberGhostFree trialYes – 3 DaysNoNo24-hour supportLive chat supportMoney-back Guarantee
24/7 customer support is provided via a ticket system (web form), Facebook, Twitter, or email. A live chat option is also available. When I contacted support via live chat, I usually received an instant or very quick response.
In the past, I have found the quality of its support to be somewhat uneven, but NordVPN seems to have upped its game of late. So much so, in fact, that it won “Best Customer Service” award in our 2018 ProPrivacy.com Awards. NordVPN provided fast, detailed, and knowledgeable responses to our battery of customer service tests so hats off to them for that.
A small knowledge-base plus various setup tutorials are also available. A regularly updated blog discusses internet security issues in general, plus NordVPN-specific topics.
NordVPNExpressVPNCyberGhostKill SwitchObfuscation (stealth)Self-hosted/Proxied DNSYesYesYes
NordVPN is based in Panama and promises to keep no logs at all:
“NordVPN does not monitor, store or record logs for any VPN user. We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses.”
Panama has a completely uncensored internet and zero government surveillance. It is also comfortably outside the direct influence of the NSA and GCHQ. Indeed, the simple fact that this no-logs VPN provider is based in Panama makes it one of the best choices available for privacy fanatics.
There has been a great deal of speculation on the internet of late of NordVPN ties to Lithuanian infrastructure provider Tesonet.
With so much unseemly mud-slinging on all sides, ProPrivacy.com prefers not to enter the debate at this time. But we are monitoring it and performing our own investigations. We will therefore update this review as necessary.
The NordVPN website uses a number of trackers, but these seem fairly benign and non-invasive. Importantly, there are no Google Analytics or Facebook trackers.
Please check out ProPrivacy.com’s VPN Review Process Overview for a discussion on website tracking.
All payments are handled by a company called CloudVPN, which is based in the United Staes. NordVPN explained the situation to us:
“Being based in Panama has a downside. It complicates our ability to sign our apps, place them in stores and process our payments. Therefore, we’ve established a proxy based in the US, which in a nutshell acts only as our payment processor and has nothing to do with the actual service… It’s not a third-party company, it’s under our control, and we use it to process our payments. In short – we handle payments ourselves, just through another company.“
NordVPN can be configured using most common VPN protocols. OpenVPN is used by default in its Windows and older OSX clients, but its iOS and new macOS app use IKEv2 instead.
Both are solid protocols: OpenVPN is much more battle-tested than IKEv2 from a security standpoint, but IKE2 is also considered very secure and is faster than OpenVPN. NordVPN uses the following encryption settings for OpenVPN connections:
Data channel: an AES-256-CBC cipher with HMAC SHA256 hash authentication.
Control channel: an AES-256-CBC cipher with an RSA-2048 handshake and HMAC SHA256 data authentication. Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) is provided by a DHE-4096 key exchange.
This is a very strong setup.
NordVPN’s iOS VPN app uses IKEv2 with an AES-256-GCM cipher and HMAC SHA2-384 data authentication. PFS is provided by a DHE-3072 exchange. The Mac App Store software uses IKv2 with Cisco’s NGE (Next Generation Encryption) protocol.
The NordVPN desktop apps have a system kill switch. This Windows VPN app also features a per-app kill switch. The iOS app features a kill switch. They all provide IPv4 and IPv6 DNS leak protection, plus WebRTC leak protection. As we have seen, in our tests these features all performed well (IPv6 WebRTC leak on the OSX OpenVPN client excepted).
This feature allows you to “chain” VPN servers so that your data is routed between two VPN servers as it travels between you and the internet.
NordVPN offers several double VPN combinations.
Such chaining can provide some security benefits, but will always result in a major loss of speed. I think the privacy/security benefits of “double-hop” VPN servers are rather limited. But I understand that this is not a view shared by everyone. For those who value the feature, NordVPN is one of only a few providers to offer it.
For a full discussion on the pros and cons of using Tor over VPN (or Onion over VPN as NordVPN terms it). In this configuration, you connect first to a NordVPN server and then to the Tor network before accessing the internet:
NordVPN achieves this using an OpenVPN configuration file which transparently routes your data from the VPN tunnel to the Tor network. This means that your entire internet connection benefits from Tor over VPN.
This setup does offer some privacy and security advantages, but a similar effect can be achieved simply by using the Tor Browser while connected to the VPN. Crucially, such a setup is much more secure than the method offered by NordVPN.
Tor over VPN (however you do it) will seriously slow down your internet speeds as you get the combined hit of using both the Tor network (which is very slow) and the VPN.
NordVPN runs obfuscated servers in a number of counties: the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE, and Egypt. These use the XOR encryption algorithm to overcome VPN censorship blocks put into place by authoritarian governments.
XOR is often used by malware to hide from detection, but it also works just as well for hiding VPN ciphers! This means users in places such as China and Egypt should be able to access the open internet by connecting to one NordVPN’s obfuscated XOR servers.
CyberSec is a new feature. It blocks DNS requests based on a real-time blocklist of harmful websites that may host malware. As such, it should shield you against malware, help prevent botnet control, and block many intrusive web ads.
I can’t comment directly on its effectiveness, but the principle is sound and there is no reason to believe it does not work as advertised.
This new feature will automatically initiate a VPN connection whenever a Wi-Fi network is joined. It can be set up to auto-connect to Nord on both secured and unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
The VPN market is becoming increasingly competitive, with the result that many providers are becoming very generous with the number of devices they allow to connect at once. Permitting up to six simultaneous connections, NordVPN has joined this trend.
If you connect devices to the same server, you must choose different protocols for the VPN connections. OpenVPN TCP and UDP are counted as different protocols, so you can connect one device using TCP and another using UDP. We do not consider this to be a major limitation,
Unlike some providers, this VPN allows torrenting on all its servers, although it does not support port forwarding. It also doesn’t support port selection, so you can’t specify OpenVPN to run over TCP port 443 in order to bypass VPN censorship. This should not be necessary, however, as NordVPN offers Xor obfuscation instead.
NordVPN’s use of mixed bare metal and virtual servers is not a big issue for us, although as with other VPN services, we do wish it clearly labeled which are which so that users can make an informed decision about the servers they connect to.
Smart DNS is a technology that enables you to pretend to be elsewhere by resolving DNS requests at a specified location. This makes it ideal for streaming geo-blocked content.
According to NordVPN, users can access over 150 streaming services using NordVPN Smart Play. These include Hulu, Amazon Prime, ABC Go, Zattoo, Cartoon Network, Shudder, WeTV.com, Telemundo, VH1, Vevo, TNT Drama, Sundance.tv, StarTrek, Spike, PBS, Slacker, NBC Sports, FoodNetwork, DramaFever, Discovery, Crackle, and many more.
NordVPN’s implementation of Smart DNS is rather unusual. For a start, it uses an encrypted proxy connection. We are not sure what advantage this brings over an unencrypted connection, as Smart DNS is not really about security or privacy. On the other hand, though, it can’t do any harm.
For a second, it requires no additional configuration. It runs inside all NordVPN’s apps (we are told), and when you are connected to a VPN server it detects whether the streaming service requires additional DNS routing. In practice, this meant that we could watch US Netflix even when connected to a non-US server. We have not tested, but NordVPN says all its UK servers now work for BBC iPlayer (both for mobile and desktop).
One downside of this setup is that you cannot configure NordVPN’s Smart DNS to run on devices that cannot run a VPN client: such as your smart TV, games console, or Roku.
NordVPN offers a very fully-featured service. The fact that it is based in Panama and keeps n1o logs is also a big draw for those who care about privacy. Its software looks good and works well.
Speed performance is an issue that has plagued NordVPN since its beginning. Implementing our new test algorithm did produce better results with some fairly decent average and max burst speeds.
The 30-day money-back guarantee gives you plenty of opportunity to ensure that everything works for you as it should. What you get with NordVPN is a very fully featured, privacy-friendly VPN service with decent speeds and the ability to access restricted content on major streaming platforms such as Netflix.
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