NordVPN 2020 Review
Reviews score: The Best
NordVPN is one of the fastest and most trustworthy VPNs you can buy.
- Fast: Incredibly fast download and upload speeds.
- Maximum privacy: NordVPN has a very clear zero-log policy. As the only VPN in the world, it had its zero-log policy audited by an independent firm (PwC) to prove 100% anonymity for its users. Excellent!
- Maximum security: NordVPN uses all the top security features, including OpenVPN, AES-256, own DNS servers, and a kill switch.
- Servers in 62 countries: NordVPN features over 5200 servers in 62 countries, covering all continents.
- Premium design: NordVPN’s apps on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux look very premium and connect incredibly fast.
- 6 Simultaneous connections: NordVPN allows you to protect 6 devices at the same time, which is more than most VPNs.
- Works with Netflix and torrents (P2P)
- NordVPN does not work in China
- Best deal: $ 3.49 / month
- Refund Policy: 30 days
- Customer Support: 24/7 Live chat
- Devices per account: 6
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux
- Works with US Netflix: Yes
- Works with Torrents: Yes
- Works in China: No
- Speed: 92 Mbps
- Servers in: 59 countries
- Server count: 5.700+
- IP Addresses: 5.700+
- Jurisdiction: Panama
- Data leaks: None
- Logging policy: No logs
Privacy and Security
The Good: NordVPN does not monitor and store your online activity. You are 100% anonymous online. On top of that, it uses the best VPN protocol (OpenVPN), top-of-the-line (AES-256) encryption, its own DNS servers and a kill switch to keep your data secure. Finally, by being incorporated in Panama, it is outside of the reach of the data retention laws and intelligence agencies of the US and EU.
The Bad: AV-Test, an antivirus testing organisation, discovered a WebRTC leak (which leaks your home IP address) when using some of NordVPN’s servers. By installing NordVPN’s browser extension for Chrome or Firefox, you can fix this. Make sure to install it and use it in combination with the main VPN app.
What privacy and security elements do we test for?
The tests we run cover seven different aspects of privacy and security. Read on to learn more about each of these aspects, discover why they are important, and find out how NordVPN performed.
- Logging Policy
- Own DNS Servers
- Kill Switch Test
- Leak Test
1. Logging Policy
What is a logging policy and why does it matter?
Since you’re using a VPN to ensure optimal privacy online, you probably wouldn’t expect your provider to store any information about your activity. However, most of them do. This information is kept in online records commonly referred to as logs.
VPN providers collect user data for a variety of reasons. Most of them do so to improve the performance of their servers, optimize their service, and prevent its illegal use.
The type and amount of information collected vary from provider to provider. All the information they may collect can be organized into the following four categories:
- VPN-specific information: This is the basic data that shows your VPN provider who uses their service without revealing any sensitive information. It includes the address of the VPN server you use, the version of the app you have installed, and your operating system.
- Usage–specific information: This data shows the provider how you use their service. It includes the exact times and dates you log in and out of the service, the volume of incoming and outgoing traffic, and the duration of each of your sessions.
- IP address information: Some VPN providers also collect the IP address from which you log in to their service. This can help them determine your location, as well as your internet provider.
- Browsing-specific information: This information gives your provider insight into your complete browsing history. They can see the addresses of the websites you visit, access your entire search history, and see what online services you may have used.
As already explained, thi information allows your provider to see who’s using their service and how they are using it. In most cases, this information is completely anonymous and collected in bulks, so it is typically harmless. Providers use it to monitor the performance of their service and address any issues they detect.
However, if you use a VPN to browse anonymously, you surely don’t want your provider to store your actual IP address. That would give them access to your physical location, thus potentially allowing them to trace your online activity back to you. Although this is not ideal, collecting users’ IP addresses is fairly common. Monitoring their browsing activity isn’t.
None of our highest rated VPN providers collect your browsing activity. As a rule, it is most often collected by free providers who then sell it to data collectors or advertisers. That is one of the main reasons why we don’t recommend free VPN services.
What is NordVPN’s logging policy like?
NordVPN is very clear about its logging policy: It doesn’t collect any logs. In fact, it is probably the best zero-logs policy we have read at any VPN.
- It does not track your online activity: The websites you visit, searches you make, files you download and services you use are all completely anonymous.
- It does not store your connection data: The times and durations when you use the service are never tracked. And neither is your originating IP address.
All NordVPN tracks is anonymous and aggregated statistical information to maintain its servers. This includes:
- How often a user has connected per month. Not which servers were used or at what time the user connected.
- The total number of connected users per server and the server load (traffic, CPU, memory and disk usage).
NordVPN even went through the trouble of having a top-tier auditing firm (PwC) independently audit its no-log claims. You can view this audit here, but only after you have signed up for the service.
In short: You are truly anonymous using NordVPN.
In simple terms, a jurisdiction is the location where a VPN provider is registered. The provider must adhere to local laws and regulations regarding online privacy and security, which is why this is an important consideration.
Countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and many EU member states have strict data retention policies that require internet service providers (ISPs) to keep their users’ personal information on record. This information can include online activity, search history, and email correspondence.
When you use a VPN, all your personal data is encrypted so that not even your ISP can see it. This prevents your ISP from storing any potentially sensitive information, thus allowing you to browse the internet freely, which is one of the main reasons why people use VPNs in the first place.
Despite what you may have heard, VPNs aren’t subject to the same data retention laws as ISPs. That’s because the former are private network providers whereas the latter are public network providers. As such, VPNs don’t necessarily have to collect any of your personal information.
Those VPNs that do keep data logs may claim that they will never share them with third parties, but governmental agencies may still gain access to them without you knowing. For example, US federal agencies are authorized to issue secret subpoenas (such as National Security Letters) that enable them to seize control of data logs as well as VPN servers.
Attempts to seize data by governmental agenciesare more common than you may think. It was one of those attempts that forced Lavabit, an encrypted email provider, to close up shop rather than turn in the information they had on Edward Snowden to the NSA. Similarly, Private Internet Access closed their Russian servers in 2016 so they wouldn’t have to adhere to the country’s strict data retention rules.
To avoid problems like this, you can do one or both of the following:
- Opt for a VPN provider that has a strict zero-log policy and doesn’t store any sensitive information (e.g. browsing and search history).
- Opt for a VPN provider that is registered in a country that isn’t a member of international intelligence treaties like the UKUSA Agreement and doesn’t have data retention regulations.
What is NordVPN’s jurisdiction?
NordVPN is incorporated in Panama. This means that it is outside the reach of the data retention laws and intelligence agreements of the US and EU.
What is a protocol and why does it matter?
A VPN protocol is a series of processes that define how the data you send and receive is formatted and transmitted over the internet or a local area network (LAN). Different services use different protocols with varying levels of speed, compatibility, and security. These include L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, PPTP, and OpenVPN, which is generally considered the most secure.
What protocols does NordVPN use?
NordVPN supports IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN (TCP/UDP). Especially the latter is important, as OpenVPN is considered the most secure VPN protocol.
What is encryption and why does it matter?
Encryption is the technology that makes private data transmitted over the internet unreadable to users who aren’t authorized to see it. To decipher and read encrypted data, both the sender and the recipient need to have access to the encryption key.
Most VPNs used one of the two versions of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) which differ in terms of the key length. They are AES-128, which is 128-characters long and already next-to-impossible to crack, and AES-256, which is twice as long and thus even more secure.
What encryption standard does NordVPN use?
NordVPN uses the most secure (AES-256) encryption standard.
5. Own DNS Servers
What are DNS servers and why does it matter?
Every website on the internet has an IP address, a long string of numbers that is unique to that site. When you want to visit a website, rather than having to remember all those numbers, you can simply enter its domain name (for example “Google.com”) and you will be redirected to its IP address.
This is made possible by a DNS server. DNS (which stands for Domain Name System) is a physical server that stores a large number of IP addresses along with the corresponding domain names. Whenever you enter a domain name, it ensures that you get to the right IP address. In that sense, a DNS server is much like a switchboard operator for the internet age.
If your VPN provider has its own DNS servers, the redirection process takes place in the same encrypted VPN tunnel that protects all your other data from unauthorized access. This, in turn, prevents any third party – be it a governmental agency or your ISP – from logging, intercepting, or censoring your activity.
Does NordVPN use its own DNS servers?
Yes. NordVPN operates its own DNS servers.
6. Kill Switch Test
What is a kill switch and why is it important?
Your VPN connection may fail for any number of reasons. If that happens, a kill switch will automatically disconnect you from the internet and resume the connection as soon as it reconnects to the server of your choice. In doing so, it will ensure that your online activity remains hidden from the prying eyes.
Does NordVPN use a kill switch?
Yes. NordVPN uses a kill switch.
7. Leak Test
What is a “leak” and why is it important?
Leaks occur when a VPN client fails to encrypt all your data, thus making parts of it (for example, your actual IP address) visible to your ISP or the websites you visit. Some of the most common leaks include IP leaks, DNS leaks, Windows login leaks, and WebRTC leaks.
Does NordVPN leak your data?
AV-Test uncovered a WebRTC leak on some of their VPN servers. Installing NordVPN’s browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox will be able to fix these.
The Good: NordVPN is one the fastest VPNs in the industry. Although all VPNs slow your connection speed down, NordVPN has a smaller impact than most. NordVPN In our tests, it slowed our speed down by about 15%, which is much less than most VPNs, which slow you down by about 40%.
The Bad: Speeds do very between their servers. So test a few servers to find out which works best for you.
What is a speed test and why does it matter?
Even though VPNs keep your data secure, the encryption and rerouting of traffic through a VPN server will inevitably slow down your connection. This means that it will take you longer to download files, load websites, or buffer streaming videos than it does without a VPN.
To avoid speed issues and stay secure online, here are a few things you can do:
- Choose a VPN server near you. As a rule, the farther your data has to travel, the longer it takes to reach its destination. Thankfully, most VPNs nowadays allow you to choose the location of the server you want to connect to. If you’re using a VPN to browse anonymously, pick a server that is physically close to your current location to improve your latency and download speeds.
- Always choose a fast VPN. Although they might cost the same, not all VPNs offer the same download speeds. For example, whereas TunnelBear can be very slow, Hotspot Shield is so fast that you may not even notice any difference compared to your regular download speeds.
- Compare server performance. Many users connect to the server their VPN client automatically suggests, but this is not always the fastest solution. If you’re unhappy with your download speed, try connecting to a few other servers, run a speed test for each of them, and pick the fastest one.
How did NordVPN score in the speed test?
We were testing from Europe on a base of connection of 90 – 100 Mbps.
With NordVPN turned off, our download speed was 96mbps and upload speed 100mbps. Our ping (latency) was 3ms.
We then logged in to the NordVPN app, allowed the software to choose a server for us, and repeated the test: 95mbps download and 96mbps upload. The ping increased to 6ms. That difference is so small, you won’t even notice it. Really impressive.
To get the full picture, we also put NordVPN through its paces on servers around the world. As expected, the German server gave excellent speeds in both categories, along with low ping. Download was 85mbps and upload was 93mbps.
After that, we tried the UK server and got a drop of 3% in download and 6% in upload. The latency was low enough for fast-paced multiplayer games.
The server in Australia performed a lot better than some might expect. We had 55mbps for download and 30 for upload. That’s much faster than with many other apps. The Singapore server gave us a somewhat quicker download but slightly slower upload compared to Australia.
Finally, US servers performed slower than the German server but were still pretty fast. Dallas had the fastest download speed at 78mbps and LA the slowest at only 60mbps. The upload was surprisingly best in Seattle at 45mbps and the slowest in Dallas at 30mbps.
The Good: NordVPN has a huge server network, offering 5700 servers in 59 countries. It is available for all major operating software (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux), offers browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, and has a dedicated Android TV app. On top of that, it works perfectly will all streaming services including Netflix, and allows the use of Kodi and downloading of torrents (P2P) on nearly all of its servers.
The Bad: It isn’t a great option to avoid censorship in China, and it doesn’t have a browser extension for Safari.
What features do we test for?
- Server Locations
- Platform and Devices
- Number of Connections
- Streaming and Torrenting
- Bypassing Censorship
1. Server Locations
What is a server location and why is it important?
Most VPNs have servers in a few dozen countries around the world. These are known as server locations. While most VPNs allow you to choose the country you want to connect to, a few even let you choose a specific city or a server. For example, rather than connecting to a random server in the United States, you can choose a server located in Seattle or San Francisco.
This is important because the closer the VPN server is to your actual location, the faster your connection will be. If you’re in Germany and connect to an Australian server, your data will have to travel a long way before you can connect to the internet. But if you have the option to choose a server in, say, Austria or even some German city other than your own, your speed will be almost the same as it is without a VPN.
Where are NordVPN’s servers located?
NordVPN has over 5200 servers in 62 countries, which is far more than most VPNs offer and more than enough for nearly all users. See the entire list of server locations here.
2. Platforms and Devices
What are platforms and devices and why are they important?
The term platforms refers to all the operating systems, devices, and browsers that are supported by your VPN. As a rule, most VPN providers have apps that can work on all popular operating systems – MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. Some also offer support for Linux. In addition, select providers allow you to install a VPN directly onto your router or use it in the form of a browser extension.
Speaking of browser extensions, not all of them are actual VPNs even though they’re advertised as such. The extensions available for download usually fall into one of the following three categories:
- Full VPNs. These extensions encrypt your data inside the VPN tunnel, mask your IP address, and give you full control of the VPN app, thus allowing you to adjust settings directly from your browser.
- Proxy servers. While proxy servers mask your IP address, they don’t encrypt your data. This means that the websites you visit won’t be able to see your real IP address, but your ISP will still be able to track your online activity.
- Proxy servers with encryption. Some proxy servers add an extra layer of security to encrypt your data. However, all these features only apply to the data sent and received within your browser. If, say, you’re streaming music on Spotify or using the Netflix app for Windows 10, your app activity won’t be encrypted.
What platforms and devices does NordVPN support?
NordVPN has custom apps for all major operating software, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux. It is also easy to install NordVPN on a router.
NordVPN comes with browser extensions for Chrome en Firefox. But do keep in mind that these only encrypt the data that flows through your browser. You’ll need use the main NordVPN app to encrypt the data flowing through the rest of your device.
Finally, NordVPN offers a dedicated Android TV app.
3. Number of Connections
What are connections and why are they important?
Most VPNs allow you to simultaneously protect multiple devices with a single subscription. This is indicated by the maximum number of connections allowed by the provider. For individual users, 3 connections are usually enough to protect their computer, phone, and a tablet or Smart TV. On the other hand, families and users who want to share a subscription with friends may need at least 5 connections.
How many simultaneous connections does NordVPN support?
NordVPN allows you to protect 6 devices at the same time. This makes it an excellent choice for both personal and family use. It also drives the price per device down significantly in comparison to ExpressVPN, which only allows you to protect 3 devices at the same time.
4. Streaming and Torrenting
What are streaming and torrenting and why are they important?
VPNs provide a simple solution for users who want to watch Hulu or some other region-locked streaming service from outside the United States. Similarly, logging in to your Netflix account while connected to a VPN server located in a country of your choice will give you access to that country’s Netflix catalog.
In addition to encrypting your browser traffic, some VPNs also provide support for file sharing services. This means that you can download torrents safely and not worry about being caught by your ISP.
Does NordVPN support streaming and torrenting?
NordVPN works with all streaming services, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Now TV, HBO or Sky. And as torrenting (P2P) and Kodi are allowed on nearly all servers, you can expect to download torrents and high speeds.
5. Bypassing Censorship
What is censorship and why is it important?
In many parts of the world, the internet is subject to strict government censorship. The Great Firewall of China is perhaps the best-known example, although countries like Turkey and Russia aren’t far behind.
For people living in these and other countries where the internet is heavily censored, VPNs provide a great way to bypass these restrictions. However, not all VPNs work in these countries. Seeing as it is the most populous country in the world with very strict internet regulations, we have used China as a reference point to see how good VPN providers are at bypassing censorship.
To learn more about internet censorship around the world, check out the following resources:
- Access Now
- Center for Democracy and Technology
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Fight For The Future
- Freedom House
- Internet Defence League
- Open Media
Does NordVPN bypass censorship successfully?
NordVPN is not as reliable as ExpressVPN in China. It does, however, work in other censored countries like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
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