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.
- Easy to install and operate
- Customer service is incredibly helpful and very patient
- They take your security seriously and take any measures they can to protect you from prying eyes.
- 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
Who is NordVPN?
Have you ever really stopped and thought about your privacy on the Internet? Who, exactly, is watching what you’re looking at and the potentially confidential information you might be entering? Is the network you are using secure and how can you be sure? If you’re not sure, you should be.
First and foremost, let’s understand a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. In the world that is the Internet, your IP address is used as a sort of signature when you’re browsing or downloading content, essentially following you wherever you go. Websites track and log your IP address for generally harmless data analysis purposes but the negative side-effect of this is that it leaves you vulnerable to people who might collect that data for the wrong reasons; i.e.: hackers and possible phishing schemes. Because an IP address is assigned to a small network of computers, it can lead a hacker back to you. They use your IP address and hack into your computer or phone they can procure any of your confidential information they want and even install malware on your device.
The purpose of a VPN is to make your IP address invisible, which makes it nearly impossible for a hacker to manipulate you or execute a DDoS attack on a business. It also can fool your ISP, or Internet Service Provider, to think that you’re in another country, which has its own collection of perks. A VPN also encrypts information being sent back and forth across an Internet network, including wireless ones. There are so many perks to a VPN that the list could go on and on.
One of the best VPN services I’ve found to date is NordVPN, which is based in Panama. You’re probably thinking, “Panama doesn’t seem like the most likely of places for significant technology to be based” but there is a very good reason for this. The 5-eyes and 14-eyes alliances are coalitions of countries that recognize VPNs are a potential risk to them so, for VPNs that originate in their country, they agree to share source IP location information. The 14 Eyes includes Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Spain. It was originally created to improve security and communication between these countries to prevent terror attacks and as a symbol of good faith that these countries could essentially spy on each other to make sure they weren’t plotting a military attack on one of the members. Though that security is a good thing, it interferes with innocent people wanting to utilize a VPN for harmless purposes. Because NordVPN is based in Panama, it is not part of this coalition and therefore allows you total anonymity. The government cannot order a VPN company outside of the coalition to provide customer data.
NordVPN has been around since 2012 and was started by four friends who banded together to create a VPN that could serve not only their purposes but be a resource for a liberated Internet experience for others. Their main goals were to combat censorship by the government and to usurp power over unwanted surveillance. They started small, with only one server, but received such a positive response that they kept building and growing and now have hundreds of servers and provide a service that is utilized by over 200,000 users! PCMag.com, an online monthly magazine that is widely regarded as an industry leader in technology, has even recognized them.
NordVPN Pricing and Available 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 is 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.
How to Use NordVPN?
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 automatically to which VPN it deems to be the best at that moment. If you would 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 less server choices.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Log Keeping & 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.
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.
DNS Leak Protection
Occasionally, DNS servers will “leak” which means that they can accidentally send unencrypted information outside of the VPN’s tunnels, thus leaving you vulnerable to anyone who might be watching. Luckily, NordVPN has an integrated DNS Leak Resolver, which is constantly running, looking for these leaks and fixing them immediately. See below for the tests I ran both on my computer and cell phone.
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 noting, 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 of utmost importance. 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 significantly as did the download.
For fun, I tested Costa Rica. The ping, again, slowed:
In Italy, these were my results:
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.
IPv6 Leak Test
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.
I was unable to find any sort of legal action against NordVPN and only encountered a few minor negative reviews, mostly referring to data transfer speed.
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 U.K.. 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).
NordVPN Final Thoughts
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.