Author Archives: Alex Grant
Author Archives: Alex Grant
When seeking anonymity of data and browsing, you need a reliable and secure VPN that you can trust. NordVPN has over 3,500 servers across the world and can be tailored to fit any user’s needs, from gaming to P2P file sharing, data security to expanded content availability.
One of the best VPN services I’ve found to date is NordVPN. NordVPN has been around since 2012 and was started by four friends who wanted to create a liberated Internet experience. Their main goals are to combat censorship and unwanted surveillance. They started small, with only one server, but now have over 3,500 servers.
NordVPN is based in Panama and therefore not part of the 5-eyes and 14-eyes alliances. This allows you total anonymity. The alliances are made up of countries that recognize VPNs as a potential risk and agree to share source IP location information in an effort to improve security. But with NordVPN, the government cannot order them to provide customer data.
There is only one level of VPN service offered by NordVPN; either you’re in or you’re out. Service is divided, rather, on how long you would like to be a part of their service. You can choose to pay month-by-month for $11.95/month; pay $83.88 per year; or pay $107.55 for a three-year subscription. Each plan comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, so if you’re not satisfied with the service you can get a refund
When you first log on, the program opens up to a menu bar on the left and a world map on the right. The world map shows a wide variety of points on it that you can click. When you click on, say, Germany it will connect you to which VPN it deems to be the best at that moment. If you prefer, you can choose between the multiple connections available in each country by double clicking on the map point. Depending on the country chosen, you will have more or fewer server choices. At the very top of the program, it has a slider that shows you whether or not you are connected to a VPN and which specific server you’re attached to. If you’re offline, it shows as red and says you are not connected.
Germany, specifically, has about 60 options and each is shown listed alongside its server load percentage and the distance to the server in miles, both of which can be of great help when determining which connection to choose. The server load is the capacity of the server being used currently which, when near its capacity, can slow response time. The distance to the server affects you ping, which is essentially the reaction time of your connection to a server. The farther you are from the server the slower the ping which really only affects people who might be using a network for gaming where you might need a fast ping to avoid lagging. As an added bonus, it lets you mark your favorite servers by clicking on the heart on the right and then keeps a list for you on the main menu.
The “Smart-Play™” function gives you access to streaming services from nearby networks. Essentially, what that means is that you can access the streaming media from different countries without being denied access due to being outside the country. For example, I wanted to see what would happen if I accessed Netflix from a different country’s ISP and was pleasantly surprised with a wide variety of different content when I chose an IP address from France. Upon asking the Customer Service Representative, they currently support Australia, Italy, India, France, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, UK and US Netflix. I was also able to access-restricted video streaming from the BBC by connecting to a UK server. At first, I was blocked out more often than I was allowed in and connecting successfully required a lot of trial and error. This is a great example of why you should utilize the support staff because when I asked them how to connect they gave me a specific list of servers to utilize and I was able to connect immediately without a problem.
You can also choose the option to “Connect On Start” and which VPN network you want to connect to. If you have a favorite that works well for your needs, this can be a great way to bypass tedious processes of picking and connecting manually.
Also offered is an optional “Kill Switch” which lets you add programs and applications on your device that will automatically be “killed” upon disconnecting from a secure VPN. Most general users wouldn’t necessarily make use of this function but there are quite a few specific uses that this would be greatly desired for. If you were doing anything that requires absolute confidentiality, this would be very important. Also, if you’re streaming content, either legally or illegally, disconnecting from a secure VPN can immediately put you at risk from the ever-present witch-hunt that is looking for “rule breakers”. The Kill Switch function works differently on PC’s than on Mac operating systems; on PC’s, the apps will be closed down immediately whereas on Mac systems the Internet will be disconnected from that specific application so as to prevent a leak of information. This can also be very helpful if you are working on a sensitive document from a remote location.
Fast servers are also a major deciding point when choosing a VPN service as speed can make or break your experience online. The closer the server is to you physically the faster the connection speed. The more servers there are, the lower the server load and, subsequently, the faster your connection speed will be. You can also choose which type of server you want to use based on what you are doing. If you’re doing video streaming, you can choose an Ultra Fast TV server. If you’re doing peer to peer sharing, you can choose a P2P network. If you look on the previously noted servers list you can find which network is going to be best for your purpose and choose accordingly. (Note: Nord has since increased their number of servers.)
For ease of use, NordVPN has adapted their service and made programs for PC, Mac, iOS and Android platforms. This is especially helpful because you can take your VPN security on the road with you on your smartphone. Now, sitting in a coffee shop and browsing on your phone is much safer. With your subscription service, you can use the application on your computer at work, your laptop, your home desktop, tablet and smartphone with complete fluidity.
Also worthy of note, their customer service is top notch. On the very bottom of the web page is a blue “Support” button that lets you directly connect with an agent who is polite and helpful. I had login issues at the beginning (completely my fault) and they patiently helped me sort out the problem until I was successfully logged in. Whenever I had a question about a function or feature they were right there to explain it to me. I have never experienced better customer service on a website before.
As noted earlier, connection speed is super important. So, I decided to test different areas of the world to see how they performed. My pre-VPN speed at home was:
When I connected to a VPN in Chicago, USA the speed went down but only very minimally:
Further away, in Canada, the ping slowed as did the download:
For fun, I tested Costa Rica. The ping, again, slowed:
When I tested a server listed as an “Ultra-Fast TV” network, I was surprised to find that it was very similar to my non-protected speeds; only 2 ms slower ping, 8 Mbps slower download, and actually a faster upload speed. And, that was at an 86% server load:
After running a handful of different DNS Leak Test web services on a variety of VPN location choices I am happy to say that I didn’t find a leak anywhere. This is not surprising, though, because NordVPN has a DNS Leak protection program running 24/7 to automatically detect and repair any leaks.
When installing the NordVPN app on my phone, I was impressed with how seamless and easy it was to do. It doesn’t have every feature that the desktop application has, such as the server list of which networks are best designed for a specific type of use, but that can be accessed by connecting to their website. It gives you a full list of all the servers you can choose from but does not list their current capacity or distance. Again, I’m sure connecting to the website would solve this problem.
The Smart Reconnect function was a new feature on the app. When activated, it automatically switched you to an available network if the specific network you’ve chosen was unavailable or became disconnected.
I found it rather helpful that the VPN connection transitioned seamlessly when changing from a Wi-Fi network to a 3G network. It didn't have to disconnect and reconnect - it just flowed seamlessly into the new connection.
I tested for IP leaks on my cell phone and none were found. I also tested to see what the connection speed was over Wi-Fi and the 3G network in 3 ways: With VPN in the United Kingdom, without the VPN on, and with a “Superfast TV” server in the United States. I labeled each test in the photo below.
Not surprisingly, the fastest speeds were found without the VPN active. The connection speed with the United Kingdom was about half as fast and, honestly, I was shocked to see that the “Superfast TV” connection that was closer to home was even slower.
Privacy is paramount in the VPN world and that is why NordVPN is one of the best companies out there. They keep no logs of any information on who their users are or what they are doing. They don’t have to because they’re not founded in one of the 5 eyes or 14 eyes countries, so the government cannot snoop or even subpoena information. They even let you pay anonymously using Bitcoin if you want. They have a program that peruses their servers all the time that is engineered to notice DNS Server leaks and repair them immediately.
Previously, TOR was used as a tool to provide anonymity by filtering your online inquiries, streaming and downloading through various computers and servers on the network, thus making it harder for that information to be tracked. But don’t be fooled into thinking that anonymity is the same as security. Using TOR actually makes you of more interest to organizations like the NSA and police because they see that you’re obviously trying to avoid being tracked and they don’t have the same legal protection that VPN’s do. With enough effort, they can figure out who you are, especially if they inject malware onto the network. That is why NordVPN has set up servers specifically to utilize the combined function of TOR with encrypted international VPN servers, thus exponentially increasing your security.
I’ve also noticed that it is of the utmost importance to NordVPN that you are given absolute anonymity. They have originated their services in Panama for that exact purpose - to avoid being a part of the 14 eyes coalition and therefore not having to share your information if the government were to some in and request it. They don’t keep any logs of activity or users and they provide double-encrypted server options to raise security to the next level.
One of the biggest bragging points for NordVPN is its Double Data Encryption. This means that your traffic is filtered through two VPN servers, which ensures that your information is kept private and you remain anonymous. This second level of encryption is, essentially, a failsafe and gives an added layer of protection. If you want, you can even choose which double VPN combination you want by looking at the servers list.
Of course, it is integral that they have ensured an SSL certificate and have a secured tunnel with the VPN servers they own. With 256-bit encryption, they’ve brought protection to the next level. The time it would take to decrypt the 256-bit version of your data would take an eternity with modern technology. If you’re still concerned, though, they offer special servers that are DDoS protected that route the information through multiple avenues before it gets where it is going, encrypting it each time it touches a new server. Even still, with no logs being kept, it is virtually impossible for your data to become compromised.
Significant amounts of people utilize VPNs as a way to connect to data or websites that might be unavailable to them specifically due to their location. For example, the BBC iPlayer, which is limited to only residents of the UK. I, personally, am one of those people who would love to be able to watch British shows and news but cannot because I am in the United States. My ability to connect with the BBC iPlayer was hit and miss until I asked for help. Sometimes I was able to connect without being blocked by the site, other times I couldn’t find a connection no matter which browser I was using or which server I was connected to. When I sought support from the customer service and they were able to provide me a specific set of servers that would be compatible with the BBC. As soon as I connected to the server they suggested I had no problems.
I also tried to see what other content I could get on Netflix, as I know that different countries offer various content that might not be available in the United States. I was 100% successful for each country I attempted. My favorite, though, had to be Italy. Please note, however, that Netflix is limited to only certain countries that are supported. Currently, that list includes Australia, Italy, India, France, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, UK, and US (as noted previously).
Ultimately, I was very happy with the services offered by NordVPN. I needed their services but I was not very well versed in technology so I was a bit intimidated at first but their applications and programs are designed to be very simple and user-friendly and it made me feel very comfortable. When I ran into problems, their customer support team was literally that - a team - and I felt as though they were all there to help me, despite some technical knowledge I lacked.
I’m not a gamer, so I cannot speak on their behalf, but I would assume that they might have some issues with ping speed if they were playing live-action games with other users around the world. As long as they test out the servers and find one that works well for them before they begin they should be just fine, though. All in all, I was very happy with the service and will absolutely be telling my friends and family about this incredible resource. I felt very safe and knew without a shadow of a doubt that the information I was sending online was secured and encrypted.
While it does not have the best available performance or the most robust set of features, Zoog is easy to install, easy to use, and supported on a variety of platforms and devices. It also has some great video tutorials to assist in setup and unblocking content, as well as wallet-friendly subscription plans.
Founded in 2013, Greece-based Zoog has carved out a niche for itself as an intuitive and simple VPN that caters specifically to users of online streaming services, such as Netflix. While Netflix and similar services typically block access from proxy servers and VPNs, Zoog is one of the products that does not get stymied by these types of protections, while still maintaining user privacy and security.
ZoogVPN is one of the few premier services that offers a free plan. It is limited to only 2GB of data transfer per month, which goes pretty quickly even with average internet usage, but is better than nothing. Since some users of other VPNs report difficulty in utilizing free trials or money back guarantees, a totally free subscription is a great way to try the service out with no obligation or hassle of cancellation.
After that, there is only one basic plan that is sold in three different subscription lengths - one-month, six-month, and one year (at the time of this post, pricing was $5.99/$3.99/$2.49 per month, respectively). They run frequent specials and discounts, so if you are considering getting a VPN soon, it pays to check out their very polished website from time to time. Compared to VPNs of similar quality, these pricing models are on the good side of average.
ZoogVPN markets itself, and builds it features accordingly, as a VPN for content streamers who either want to bypass geographic restrictions on websites or at the very least access content usually unavailable through proxy servers. This is made clear by the content of their website and the types of help available in their tutorials and FAQ section. Zoog’s goal is to give customers a way to privately and securely access sites such as Hulu, Netflix, or Xfinity.
Since these sites are often changing their own security measures, we went ahead and tested ZoogVPN on Netflix - and it worked like a charm. Should a user experience problems with one of these sites, Zoog’s website contains information on how to change servers or security protocols in order to regain access.
The interface and option menus are set up differently than many other VPNs. Some users might find it to be refreshingly simple and minimalist, while others would wish that it had a little more charm. Either way, the application is unobtrusive and as easy to navigate as something with as much technical voodoo as a VPN could be. The same could be said for its sign up and installation procedures - while fast and relatively easy, it manages to feel tedious and mundane in a way that few modern VPNs have been.
Note: At the time of posting this review there was no Mac option, however, now there is. It uses IKEv2 VPN protocol for lightning-fast connections. OpenVPN TCP/UDP is also available. Other features include VPN-on-demand for auto-reconnect and a Kill Switch.
Setting up a VPN is the easy part, and while an attractive UI and easy installation process is nice and all, most of the time your VPN will just be running in the background. Since all VPNs will have an impact on performance, latency, and speed, we started first with a few speed tests of ZoogVPN.
Our baseline results before and after connecting to the nearest ZoogVPN server from www.speedtest.com.
Unfortunately, this was the largest drop in performance we have seen. When we tried doing some streaming on Netflix, however, performance seemed to be fine. With these numbers, it would be hard to recommend ZoogVPN for online gaming or torrenting purposes, but for regular web browsing and videos, it was serviceable. Also note that your mileage may vary, as there are many factors involved in speed over a VPN, so it could still be worth trying out Zoog and seeing what results you get.
Next, I went to see if our IP was successfully changed, which it was, and followed that up with a peek on ipv6leak.com which showed us that it was not leaking.
These basic tests left us satisfied that the VPN tunnel was working as intended for at least a basic level of security.
While the use of a VPN will keep your IP anonymous when browsing, we took a look to see what types of logs ZoogVPN keeps. Being based in the UK, they are subject to both national and EU data retention logs. According to their website, they do keep minimal connection logs regarding time and duration of sessions, as well as the amount of data transfer. While they do not state how long they keep these logs for, they do go on to say that they keep no logs whatsoever of online activity within a session. Still, for a user looking for the most privacy possible, it might be prudent to try some other VPNs - while their policy sounds reasonable, being based in the UK and not having as long as a track record of anonymity as other providers causes a small amount of skepticism.
Overall, Zoog is not set to make huge waves in the world of VPNs. Its main appeal is the ability to access a variety of streaming sites, even across regions - they are very committed to delivering this, including guides and tutorials on how to stay one step ahead should the proxy-vetting of Netflix, et al. change. If this is a big priority, and you aren’t looking for blazing fast speeds for online gaming or torrenting, then ZoogVPN may give you all you need in a simple, affordable package.
CyberGhost stands out as a modern Virtual Private Network provider that has a real dedication to user privacy and over 3,500 servers in 60 countries.
As the use of Virtual Private Networks becomes more common to protect privacy and anonymity – even for casual Internet users – a seemingly endless number of service providers have entered the scene. CyberGhost stands out as a modern Virtual Private Network provider that has a real dedication to user privacy. I also appreciated its blazing speed and top of the line encryption. Most importantly, I found CyberGhost to be one of the most user-friendly VPNs, and one that doesn’t skimp out on extra features in the name of “simplicity.”
CyberGhost offers four plans: $12.99 a month, $3.69 a month billed every two years, $2.75 a month billed $99 every three years, or $5.99 a month billed $71.88 every 12 months. (Note that these are billed up front, however, there is a 45-day money-back guarantee.)
Subscribed users can connect up to seven simultaneous devices.
Also of note, CyberGhost has a reasonably effective free version that still has decent bandwidth and speed. Free users are limited to three hours of use per day, however.
From the polished website to the attractive client, CyberGhost delivers an intuitive VPN experience. A lot of the VPNs out there suffer from cluttered interfaces and confusing menus; others go too far the other way and hide a lot of features to present a minimalistic client. With CyberGhost, someone finally found the sweet spot between these two extremes.
There is also a lot of material on the site to help you navigate through all of the features and options so that you get the most out of your VPN - the guides and troubleshooting FAQs are very thorough and useful. While there isn’t a live chat feature right now, almost any question I could think of was covered somewhere on their site, in a well-organized and well-explained fashion.
Once you are up and running, CyberGhost offers an impressive set of features. My favorite was he 1-click streaming option worked for me on Netflix. Streaming sites often block VPN users based on a proxy IP being detected, or regional restrictions, so this scored huge bonus points in my book. Other VPNs can be configured to get around this, but CyberGhost actually does the legwork for you. Another bonus was a set of features focused on torrenting - CyberGhost can be easily configured to start whenever you begin torrenting to prevent accidental lapses in security, download speed and details are tracked for you, and torrenting-friendly servers automatically selected.
An important part of choosing the right VPN is how well it preserves your data transfer speed. There will always be some loss of speed when connecting to a VPN, which is based on a combination of many factors. Fortunately, this is easily tested on www.speedtest.net, where I did a before and after test.
Speed tests before and after connecting to CyberGhost:
These results are among the best I’ve seen. The ping was quite high, which is probably due to the distance from the server (CyberGhost does not have as many North American based-servers as some of its competitors).
CyberGhost also has one of the best privacy policies around. They claim to keep absolutely zero logs - not even connection times, user IPs, or traffic data. While privacy can always be compromised by certain government agencies, this is as good as it really gets right now.
Cyberghost uses the current industry standard 256-bit AES encryption, which provides a high level of Internet security. In addition, the service comes standard with some useful bells and whistles like an ad blocker, malware-blocker, and DNS and IPV6 leak protection. There are alerts built into the interface that let you know when these end up being used, along with all of the relevant details.
One of the better VPNs out there, IPVanish combines solid security and better-than-average privacy. It’s easy for even the tech-blind to set up and is affordable, though not the cheapest option out there.
IPVanish is headquartered in Phoenix. The company’s Facebook page has conflicting claims of having “15 years of experience,” while saying it was founded in 2012, but claiming it won the Info Security Products Guide’s 2016 Startup of the Year Award. But it offers 24-7, 365 customer support, has a “zero log policy” and claims to be the fastest, most secure VPN network on the planet
Single plan pricing begins at $10/month-to-month then drops to $6.49/month if you sign up for a whole year at $77.99. Their 7-day money back guarantee will be processed in 10 business days if cancelled on the website. Refunds of variably priced currencies, including BitCoin, are paid at the US Dollar exchange rate at the time of refund.
IPVanish has more than 850 anonymous servers in over 60 countries, including six in Africa and nearly 70 in Oceania (which I’m told is unusual).
The subscription includes OpenVPN, the protocol most experts prefer, as well as L2TP/IPsec and PPTP, which purists consider unacceptably porous. IPVanish also has two protocols available for mobile devices – IPSec and IKEv2.
You can make up to five simultaneous connections on multiple devices (as long as just one is connected via PPTP or L2TP). The service can be configured for Windows, MAC OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ubuntu, Chromebook and routers.
IPVanish also provides unlimited bandwidth and unlimited daily access to servers and content. Most notable among the very few limits IPVanish does impose is one on “non-individual” or multi-party usage, complete with a sternly worded threat to terminate or restrict your account if there are more than two simultaneous logins from multiple IP addresses under the same username. You have been warned.
Using IPVanish cut my download speed nearly in half (from 83.53 Mbps to 43.4 Mbps) and reduced upload speed by about 20 percent (from 9.13 Mbps to 7.46 Mbps).
Shows that IPVanish is, apparently, leak proof.
According to these results, my IP address was on the Left Coast rather than in the Midwest.
Ambiguous – results identical with and without IPVanish.
Running IPVanish did not appear to affect speed. Once you login, you can set the app to remember you and you will not see the login screen again.
IPVanish is a mixed bag where privacy is concerned. On the plus side, the site does not keep logs, offers OpenVPN, helps disguise the fact you are using a VPN and accepts anonymous forms of payment, including BitCoin and PayPal. On the other hand, you will need to provide limited personal information to open your account and the bulk of IPVanish’s servers are scattered among all the Fourteen Eyes countries and two – one each in Cairo, Egypt and Hanoi, Vietnam – are in countries on the current Reporters Without Frontiers’ “Enemies of the Internet” list. This is also a US-based company and might provide any info it does have to the FBI or NSA if asked.
IPVanish’s top tier OpenVPN security protocol employs the theoretically unbreakable AES-256 cipher, and although it ultimately communicates using the same protocol as many web browsers, its SSL is rated among the best. Still, there are some concerns regarding the number of persistent cookies and third party cookies it allows.
Was easily able to watch latest Sherlock episode after connecting to a UK server, but puzzled over how to access Netflix for literally hours before getting frustrated and quitting. (Full disclosure: I’m not particularly tech savvy and was, frankly, baffled by the methods for getting round this that I found on Google, all of which seemed to required buying a subscription to a SmartDNS service).
Like many (most of you?) I didn’t give Internet security much thought until a recent need to send info securely to a potential employer. I couldn’t use the firm’s workaround of using a fax machine and a time crunch made it necessary to trust to email instead which led me to checking out the better option of using a VPN in the future. For the tech-shy, there’s a steep learning curve once you enter the Wonkdom of VPNs, including an alphabet storm of acronyms.
IPVanish’s website eased (though did not speed up) the process considerably. All things considered, IPVanish provides the security and privacy most of us could need at a slightly slower speed and slightly higher price than some other VPNs.