When seeking anonymity of data and browsing, you need a reliable and secure VPN that you can trust. NordVPN has hundreds of 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 hundreds of servers and over 200,000 users.
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.
Pricing and Plans
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, you could choose the 6-month plan and only pay $7/month (billed $42 every 6 months) or you can pay $5.75/month (billed $69 annually). Though it's not readily offered on their pricing page, I did see a pop-up option that offered a “special offer” 2-year deal that was for only $3.29/month, billed $79 every 2 years. 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.
Connect on start
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.
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:
DNS leak testing
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.
TOR over VPN
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.
Log keeping and anonymity
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.
- Easy to install and operate
- Customer service is incredibly helpful and very patient
- Take security seriously
- The multi-platform integration is very nice
- The price is right for the protection you get
- Connection speeds are slower than most people would prefer