NordVPN is a no-logs VPN provider based in Panama. This alone makes it one of the best VPN choices available for privacy fanatics. It is also a very fully-featured service, which is notable for offering “double VPN.”
Pricing & Plans
NordVPN offers one standard plan. with increasing discounts the longer you sign up for. While its monthly plan is at the higher end of the price spectrum, its yearly plan is not only cheap, but excellent value for money. It also has some free services on offer, which we discuss later on in the review.
A 3-day free trial is available, which does not require you provide any payment details. NordVPN also offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
NordVPN accepts payment via Credit/debit card, or PayPal. It also accepts Bitcoin, which allows for potentially anonymous payment. But as always, please remember that NordVPN will know you true IP address, regardless.
We will have a fantastic video review coming of NordVPN very soon.
NordVPN is based in Panama. All customers enjoy the following features:
Six simultaneous connections
Servers in 70 countries
Choice of IKEv2, OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IPSec VPN protocols
Dedicated IP available on request
Smart DNS service
Tor over VPN
Web proxy & web proxy extension for Chrome (free)
VPN access for China via Xor
DNS servers (useful if manually configuring a secure VPN connection)
As always, I recommend using the OpenVPN protocol where possible (although IKEv2 is also good). Although six devices can be connected to the service at once, if you connect devices to the same server, you must choose different protocols for the VPN connections. TCP and UDP are counted as different protocols. So you can connect one device to TCP other to UDP)
That means that a total of four devices can be connected to a server at once – through L2TP, PPTP, OpenVPN TCP and OpenVPN UDP. If you have two more devices at home you can connect them to another server with any two protocols.
Personally, I do not consider this to be a major limitation, and permitting six simultaneous devises is generous.
The Socks5 proxy is particularly useful to downloaders who only wish to proxy their torrent clients. Or double-proxy with a VPN for extra protection!
Smart DNS is a technology that enables you to geo-spoof by resolving your 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 SmartPlay. These include Hulu, Amazon Prime, ABC Go, Zattoo, Cartoonnetwork, 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 SmartDNS is rather unusual. For a start, it uses an encrypted proxy connection. I am not sure what advantage this brings over an unencrypted connection, though, as smart DNS is not really about security or privacy.
For a second, it requires no additional configuration. It runs inside all NordVPN’s apps, and when connected to a VPN server detects whether the streaming service requires such a connection first. It then routes you accordingly, if such a bypass is needed.
In practice, this meant that I could watch US Netflix even when connected to a non-US server. But this did not work for BBC iPlayer.
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, and Roku.
This rather unusual feature offered by NordVPN allows you to “chain” VPN servers, so that your data is routed between two or more VPN servers as it travels between you and the internet.
Your PC/device -> VPN server 1 -> VPN server 2 -> Internet
As you can see, data is re-encrypted as it leaves each server.
NordVPN now offers several Double VPN combinations. Such chaining can provide some security benefits, but will always result in a major loss of speed. And as I argue this article, I think the privacy/security benefits of “double-hop” VPN to be rather limited. But I understand that this is not a view shared by everyone. And for those who value the feature, NordVPN is one of only two providers I know of to offer it. The other being IVPN.
Tor over VPN
For a full discussion on the pros and cons of using Tor over VPN (or Onion over VPN as NordVPN terms it), please see here. In this configuration you connect first to a NordVPN server, and then to the Tor network, before accessing the internet:
Your computer -> VPN -> Tor -> 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 that 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.
Xor Obfuscated Servers
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 acces the open internet by connecting to one NordVPN’s obfuscated servers.
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.
In fact, the simple fact that this no-logs VPN provider is based in Panama makes it one of the best choices available for privacy fanatics.
NordVPN uses the DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA encryption suite for its OpenVPN connections. This almost certainly means ordinary RSA-2048 key encryption and HMAC SHA1 authentication, which is just fine. And use of a Diffie-Hellman key exchange provides Perfect Forward Secrecy.
It is worth noting that NordVPN’s iOS app also uses an impressive level of encryption – IKE ciphers (phase1) to negotiate keys are AES-256-GCM for encryption, with SHA2-384 to ensure integrity, combined with Perfect Forward Secrecy and 3072-bit Diffie Hellmann keys.
Unusually, NordVPN’s Mac OSX client uses IKv2 with Cisco’s NGE (Next Generation Encryption) protocol, instead of OpenVPN.
For more information on VPN encryption terms, please see here.
The NordVPN desktop client has both a per-app kill switch and a firewall-based kill switch. Which is pretty cool. The per-app kill switch is not as secure are the firewall-based one, but is pretty darn handy! The app’s also prevents IPv4 and IPv6 DNS leaks, and IPv4 and IPv6 WebRTC leaks. Please see A Complete Guide to IP Leaks for more information about these.
The NordVPN website has a fairly attractive blue and white theme, and is generally well presented. A FAQ outlines what most of NordVPNs services actually do, but tends to shy away from too much technical detail.
Signing up is very easy and as you would expect from a security-focused firm you only need some basic information (more required if paying by card/ PayPal) and it is of course possible to pay with Bitcoin.
The Windows VPN client
The NordVPN client is one of the nicest and most detailed available. Their front page shows the loads and pings of each server so that you can select the location that is most ideal to you. The servers are also categorized by recommended use (general/ TV/ etc) and as advanced settings they have built in a kill switch as well as DNS leak protection. On top of this you can easily change between TCP and UDP protocols – UDP being better for speeds, TCP is better if VPNs are being blocked.
The installation of the software happens when you launch their software for the first time. This runs in the background for the aims of ‘easy configuration’, however, personally this is a slight nuisance for me as I wish to decide the installation directory as well as read any installation documentation.
Performance (Speed, DNS and IP Test)
We gave NordVPN our usual performance tests. While the average speed was superb and had nearly no speed loss (as we expected), this varied somewhat from server to server and time of day – but always remained usable for streaming and day-to-day use. The DNS test was fine and the DNS leak protection also worked fine, however we learnt that if you change the DNS servers you will need to restart the software – a slight annoyance. The IP tests were also fine.
Pure Internet Speed
OpenVPN (Average) Speed
Unfortunately, while fantastic, NordVPN only has proprietary software for Windows at the moment, though the rest are in development. In the mean time they provide fantastic set-up guides for OpenVPN on all major platforms including iOS and Mac.
NordVPN also provides a number of free services on their website. These, just like their service, is no logs and anonymous. For the latter two described below we would appreciate a detailed outline of how they’ve implemented it/ what they’ve based the source code on.
The website contains a number of proxy tools and you can also install a proxy plugin for Google Chrome too. We gave them a test, and as expected they are very simple tools but we’re effective at ‘hiding in the jungle’. Unfortunately you can only use the default Italy server for this.
Secret Notes allows you to a secret, encrypted message to someone. Once the message is read it will self destruct and will never be visible again. Think Snapchat for text, just a bit more secure.
They also have an encrypted chat section. Pass the link along to your friends and they can join in with a completely anonymous conversation, best of all no details are required to enter the chat room.
Plenty of simultaneous connections
We weren’t so sure about
Minor software tweaks
Inconsistent speeds as a result of high security
Software for more platforms
NordVPN has us in awe and their dedication to security and privacy and we have no doubt that they will keep this standard up as they rise up in the world of VPN. While this comes at the cost of speed (and money if you sign up for shorter period) we honestly believe that if privacy is your ultimate aim then this is one of the top choices out there.