Welcome back to the second edition of VPN services: what’s new? Previously, we covered the entire Q1 of VPN News, and now we have a summary of the most important events so far.
Which VPN was named the 4th best in 2021? Which one was demoted from great to average? And finally, which one released an app for Windows 95? Read on to find out!
If you have some questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate and tell us all about them in the comment section below!
It all started with an April Fool’s joke about servers in Antarctica. But things got more serious the very same day when information about the latest iOS update was published, fixing some bugs, and improving performance.
However, probably the most important news was that NordVPN’s Android app received an ioXt certification. Basically, it certifies that the app is secure and trustworthy. The company behind ioXt hopes that this certificate will become an industry-wide practice in the future.
At the end of April, NordVPN also released new client versions for macOS, Windows, and Linux.
NordVPN’s Android app receives an ioXt certification
On April 15, NordVPN announced that it’s Android app received an ioXt certification. The company behind the test involves Google, Amazon, and VPN Trust Initiative, united to increase security in the IoT industry.
NordVPN is also a partner of the ioXt Alliance, aiming to create an easy-to-follow compliance mechanism that would help gain attention from the other IoT and cybersecurity companies.
“If adopted by the mainstream, it will create a new concept – a distinguishable market built around secure things and services, ranging from VPN software to a lightbulb,” said Vykintas Maknickas, Product Strategist at NordVPN.
NordVPN app updates: Windows, macOS, Linux, and iOS
The second leg of April was dedicated to updating NordVPN clients. Not all of them were highly significant but still helped increase the overall quality of the service.
The Windows app was updated to the 6.36 version. Cities now have location markers on the server map – all you have to do is zoom in. Furthermore, the client now starts faster, and the auto-connect is no longer unstable after an app update or computer restart.
macOS users can now download the 6.3.0 app. It applies both to Apple Store and sideloaded versions. From now on, security tips and product updates will reach the subscribers via in-app messages. Additionally, some bugs were caught and crushed, increasing the performance.
Linux users haven’t been forgotten. The new 3.9.2 client improved application logs handling. Instead of a file, they are now provided as standard output. Moreover, a rare bug was found and fixed that would cause connection failure, requiring a system restart.
Finally, the iOS app now has version number 6.10.0. This time it was all about the bugs. The result? The app runs smoother, making the user experience smoother as well.
Since the Android app is missing from this list, expect some news in May.
Just like NordVPN, ExpressVPN is now certified by the ioXt Alliance. However, they don’t state whether it was only the Android app or iOS as well.
Next, ExpressVPN and Coinbase published an article on cryptocurrency scams. If you have a smartphone and an interest in the market, make sure to read the whole story.
There were also more than a few less-positive ExpressVPN talking points. Users on Reddit have complained about being unable to watch BBC iPlayer with ExpressVPN’s UK servers when using Amazon Fire Stick or Roku.
However, ExpressVPN confirmed that the UK server for Netflix was under maintenance and is working again. Chances are this has to do with the BBC iPlayer issue mentioned above.
If that wasn’t enough, a number of Redditors complained about a faulty kill switch.
Finally, ZDNet, which has 11 million monthly visitors, gave a less than stellar review.
ExpressVPN and Coinbase on cryptocurrency scams
On March 10, ExpressVPN and Coinbase collaborated on research about crypto scams in Apple App and Google Play stores. It turns out that fake crypto wallets can still be found on both stores, often because of repackaging, which helps avoid vetting.
Great @coindesk investigation into cryptocurrency wallet scams on iOS and Android. At @expressvpn Digital Security Lab we analyzed the apps and identified the network endpoints used for phishing so that they could be taken down🕺🔥🕺🔥🕺#security #privacyhttps://t.co/ZTMHsFuqXW
— Sean O’Brien (@seanodiggity) March 11, 2021
Therefore, you shouldn’t buy a wallet unless you know it comes from a reputable source. Even if the users mark one as a scam, it can be days before the store owner reacts. At that time, the buyer’s personal data and keys might get stolen.
Complaints about ExpressVPN on Reddit
At the end of April, one Reddit user complained that he could not watch BBC iPlayer on Amazon Fire Stick. Soon, more comments popped up, but none of them were from ExpressVPN, probably because the issue was posted on an unofficial sub.
This might be a coincidence, but another Redditor posted about the UK Docklands server no longer unblocking Netflix a couple of days earlier. It turned out to be under maintenance, but for plenty of users, this was the only one that worked with Netflix UK.
Finally, around the same time, another Reddit user wrote that there are problems with ExpressVPN’s Network Lock. It got some upvotes and comments, but the solution seems to be somewhere out there. Since the kill switch failure can happen for multiple reasons, consider contacting customer support via their 24/7 live chat.
ZDNet gives ExpressVPN an average score
On April 14, ZDNet, one of the biggest tech portals, surprised the VPN industry by giving ExpressVPN an unexpectedly low score. This provider has been universally known as one of the leaders, even if a bit overpriced.
The author criticized ping times, relatively higher prices, and “non-standout performance and features.” Most importantly, he found that DNS leak test sites sometimes recognized his connection as coming from Security Firewall Ltd. This ISP has a poor reputation which makes your connection appear faulty to Google.
In contrast, you can check our ExpressVPN review.
Surfshark started April with an April Fool’s joke of their own. They announced that a “new” version for Windows 95 had been launched. You can find out more in the release video and our Surfshark review.
Later in April, Surfshark published an extensive research paper about the Facebook data leak. While less than 10% of email accounts were stolen, a whopping 90% of phone numbers ended up for sale on dark web databases.
On April 27, Surfshark announced its support for the new Apple M1 processor. It will ensure optimal app performance and battery economy. That’s great news for everyone planning to buy a new MacBook or iMac.
Surfshark ended the month by launching an official subreddit. It’s not clear how often they will be replying to the posts, but there’s a chance it becomes another customer support option.
Surfshark explains the Facebook data leak
While the infamous Facebook data leak happened back in 2019, only now a full database with stolen records emerged from the dark web. It contains data from 533 million Facebook users, including first and last name, phone number, gender, Facebook ID, and location, to name a few.
What can cybercriminals do with this information? Quite a lot. One of the possible attacks is SMS phishing, which can work both on users and companies. Besides, having such an amount of data makes any other attack easier.
This Facebook leak compromised over 45 million profiles from Egypt and 35 million from Italy. The US ended up in a third-place with more than 32 million. The Top 20 also included Saudi Arabia, France, Turkey, Morocco, and Columbia, among others.
Surfshark now supports the Apple M1 chip
What to do if you’re a Surfshark client and bought one of those new MacBooks or iMacs? Nothing, because the new Apple M1 processor is now fully supported! This gives Surfshark an advantage over most competitors that are slow to adapt their software.
✅ Update: A couple days ago we announced Surfshark VPN’s compatibility with the new Apple M1 chip. Today we want to share what this means for users with new versions of MacBook and iMac. Click the link to read the article. 👇🦈 https://t.co/GJZBdmN7KT https://t.co/0oVqFsxmqi
— Surfshark (@surfshark) April 30, 2021
The three main benefits of installing the new 3.4.0 for macOS are better performance, data transfer enhancements, and battery optimization. Additionally, expect the WireGuard and OpenVPN to operate faster.
An official subreddit from Surfshark
Reddit is not going anywhere soon, but many VPNs still ignore this platform with millions of users. Surfshark is no longer one of them after launching an official subreddit on April 30.
In addition to receiving the latest news, members might expect it to be another platform for customer support. After all, virtually no questions get answered by the team on the unofficial subreddits.
As of now, Surfshark has over 750 members that created more than a dozen of posts. Expect these numbers to rise rapidly in May.
This was a bit slower month for CyberGhost, with two key stories.
On April 23, CyberGhost published its first Transparency Report in 2021. Covering the first quarter, it informs about the number of requests they got to share user data from various institutions.
It seems that CyberGhost had more luck with the reviews this month than ExpressVPN. This time it was Forbes, giving a respectable 4.3 out of 5.
Transparency report: Q1 2021
Continuing its long tradition, CyberGhost published its transparency report for January, February, and March. It includes the number of DMCA requests, police requests, and malicious activity flags during Q1. As always, CyberGhost didn’t comply because they have no data to share about the subscribers.
Copyright infringement claims (DMCA) make up the majority of requests. There have been over 20,000 of them during Q1, the number which is similar to the previous period. The same can be said about malicious activity flags originating from CyberGhost’s IP addresses.
When it comes to police requests, there were 25 in total, with an especially busy February (17). Even though these numbers have more than doubled, this shouldn’t be a concern since police requests make up just 1% anyway.
Forbes review gives CyberGhost VPN 4.3 out of 5
On April 29, Forbes published their review of CyberGhost VPN. It got 4.3 out of 5, which is somewhere between good and very good. Similar to our CyberGhost review, the writer praised its affordable pricing, 24/7 customer support, and a large number of servers.
Then, being a Forbes contributor, he asked whether CyberGhost is good for business. As expected, the writer told that “Due to its reasonable pricing even with the dedicated IP add-on, we think CyberGhost may also be a good fit for small privacy-minded businesses.” Couldn’t agree more.
Private Internet Access news
Guess what? That’s right, Private Internet Access (PIA) also got the certificate from ioXt Alliance. Once again, it was their Android app, which probably is the only one available for certification.
More news from the Reddit zone. Private Internet Access asked its members to stop posting technical or billing-related questions unless they might be important for everyone. This wasn’t met with applause since troubleshooting was the main discussion in the subreddit.
From now on, PIA also accepts gift cards as a payment method. This is a big step towards providing a truly anonymous service, even though critics point that gift cards are often preferred by cybercriminals.
Private Internet Access has also finally decided to do an independent audit of their logging policy. This was met with strong approval from its subreddit members. According to the source, the company is already looking for the right auditing firm.
A strong message to its subreddit members
Many official and unofficial VPN subreddits include troubleshooting discussions, with the provider seldomly answering a selected few. However, PIA has decided to stop this once and for all by asking everyone to use their customer support instead. Unsurprisingly, the community wasn’t impressed.
For them, the subreddit is one of the options to get help and see if others are having the same issue. For PIA, it should transform into a hub for news, privacy-related tips, and contests. That’s understandable because nobody wants a public space loaded with negative comments. On the other hand, Reddit was always about users and the voting system to mark the relevant topics.
You can now pay for PIA with gift cards
There are only so many VPN providers that still accept gift cards. Most stop at Bitcoin, with only a few offering other cryptocurrencies. PIA didn’t hesitate to step up with more than 70 major brand gift cards in April.
In addition to the expected Starbucks, Best Buy, and Walmart, users will be able to choose Adidas, Banana Republic, Dell, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, among others. So, for example, if you have a gift card for $25, that would translate into 95 days of PIA subscription.
As always, there were some critics on the official subreddit. Most of them talked about supporting cybercriminals who often use gift cards to get paid or extract more money from the owner. However, it seems like a reasonable trade-off when you consider the freedom and extra privacy that subscribers get.
The independent audit is coming!
Or at least that’s what PIA is aiming for in 2021. As more and more VPNs get their logging policies, it’s commendable that one of the most popular providers has decided to join the club.
According to PIA’s post on Reddit, they have already started to look for a reputable accounting firm to do a thorough checkup. Compared to the post that asked to stop looking for help, this one was greeted with much more upvotes.
“With the number of VPN providers out there, it would help us make an informed choice instead of having to trust the company blindly,” said a user named Tigalopl. In the meantime, you can also learn more about security and privacy in our PIA review.
PureVPN spent most of April tweeting about football and Formula One, receiving 5 likes on average. Apart from that, they continued with the #PureVPNCricketChallenge. The winners of the first iteration received a full-year membership and some cricket-related stuff.
Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that the high-points of the month were two new episodes of PureVPN’s podcast “Pure Secure.” In the third one, they talked about global differences for privacy with Anne Snow. Given that the company had some privacy issues in the past (learn more in PureVPN review), that was a topic relevant to both sides.
Kim Crawley, a cybersecurity researcher, joined the fourth episode of “Pure Secure.” The podcast guest discussed the dark web and gave some tips on staying safe while working remotely. PIA also added a couple of links where you can see Ms. Crawley explaining cybersecurity for noobs and preview her co-authored book “The Pentester BluePrint: Starting a Career as an Ethical Hacker.”
On April 13, Mullvad invited its subscribers to download a new beta for Windows and give some feedback. According to the company, users might see a significant increase in performance while using the WireGuard tunneling protocol. To learn what the current stable version offers, check out the Mullvad review.
Desktop users, test our latest beta (2021.3-beta1) and hit us with your valuable feedback! Windows users can expect significantly better WireGuard performance. 🚀https://t.co/VpxBwMc89c
— Mullvad.net (@mullvadnet) April 13, 2021
This tweet resulted in quite a few comments. However, all of them were about crypto payments. Still, that’s better than a 1 reply from not amused members on Reddit.
From April 15, Mullvad allows custom DNS server configuration on Windows, Mac, and Android. However, there’s no timetable for iOS devices yet.
This feature has been on the user’s wishlist for a long time, especially because it allows more freedom to achieve better ad-blocking or performance. In any case, we don’t recommend this practice for novice users as it can decrease privacy.
Next, Mullvad got some new users, even if indirectly. You might have heard about the Mozilla VPN, Mullvad’s white label product launched recently in Germany and France. It turns out that this VPN provides them with the server infrastructure, which translates into 30 countries and 750+ servers.
April was pretty good for IPVanish, or more specifically, its (future) clients. The main story was new prices for the monthly and annual plans. The former dropped from $4.99 to $3.49 for the first month, while the latter is now $31.49 instead of $44.99 for the first year.
On April 15, IPVanish managed to keep its face by refunding a client whose account hasn’t been canceled, which resulted in a bill for another year. Given that everything was fixed the next day, one can applaud the VPN’s customer support.
Hi Joe, good news we were able to refund the charge that was over a year old and your latest one, both for $77.99, normally we are not able to do that for a charge that old but we got it taken care of for you, see our emails we sent to you for full details. Have a great day 🙂
— IPVanish (@IPVanish) April 15, 2021
Unfortunately for IPVanish, this procedure seems to have earned few PR points as their reply on Twitter was appreciated only by the client himself.
Finally, on April 22, IPVanished announced that US News ranked them in 4th place in the “Best VPNs of 2021” category. The honor was shared together with CyberGhost and Proton VPN. US News praised the provider for its 40,000 IPs, low costs, and unlimited simultaneous connections.
According to the IPVanish blog, they also got an impressive trophy:
While VPNpro might think otherwise, it’s still a big boost to IPVanish’s reputation, knowing that US News has almost 60 million users a month.