At the beginning of 2018, Surfshark was a name known only to its creators and a group of friends. The year hasn’t finished yet, and here we are, writing an article on how to use Surfshark, a VPN service that continues to grow its user base and garner positive reviews across the web.
The company behind Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), legislation that doesn’t belong to the 14 Eyes alliance and has no data retention laws. Surfshark VPN has a strict “no-logs” policy and even called an audit upon themselves, showing that they are serious about keeping their reputation as clean as it is now.
What Surfshark does not intend keeping is the number of servers and countries they operate it. Earlier in 2018, they had 100 servers in 14 countries. Now they offer over 500 and 50 respectively, offering global coverage and good speeds.
Last but not least, their client is simple and user-friendly. Therefore it shouldn’t be hard to learn how to use Surfshark. Their CTO Magnus Steinberg has stated that Surfshark wants to guarantee “online privacy for your whole family – simple and intuitive on the outside with a robust security mechanism inside.” We have no reason to believe they can’t do that.
What Surfshark is good at
Before answering how to use Surfshark, let’s see if there’s a reason to use Surfshark at all. Different users have different needs – for some security is the top priority. Others might just want a cheap service that unblocks Netflix or allows torrenting. To be fair, Surfshark manages to please many individual tastes, even while being quite new in the VPN business.
The main advantages of Surfshark VPN are as follows:
- Strong and fast encryption (AES-256-CBC)
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- 24/7 live chat for support
- Unlocks Netflix, Kodi, BBC iPlayer
- Allows torrenting
- Great performance
- Apps for Windows, iOS, Android, Routers; browser extensions (independently audited)
- Kill switch for Windows
- Anonymous payment options
We want to stress the unlimited simultaneous connections feature. Most VPNs offer no more than six, meaning one account cannot be used in a bigger household where everyone has multiple devices. But Surfshark doesn’t just portray itself as a “family VPN,” it actually acts like one, making sure that even your uncle staying overnight after the family reunion could browse anonymously from the guestroom, for better or for worse.
Another great feature, still not found in every top-rated VPN is the 24/7 live chat. We’ve tested it, and every time Surfshark’s support guys were helpful and polite. Those users who have switched from the ticketing system to live chat might never want to get back. Therefore this provider has an advantage over those competitors that are still reluctant to invest in their users.
Streaming and torrenting options are also great. Surfshark even delivers good enough speeds to watch Ultra HD (4K) in some occasions while maintaining the top-level encryption. P2P connections are not being throttled. Therefore file sharing can be fast and easy.
Where Surfshark VPN still needs improvement is implementing a kill switch not only for Windows but other apps as well. A wider protocol selection would also benefit users, especially ones in China, where OpenVPN is easily blocked by the government. But if you fail to use Surfshark in any country where internet access is restricted, at least you can use your 30-day money-back guarantee.
How to download and install Surfshark VPN
Surfshark VPN has no free trial, so the following instructions should be followed when you already have an idea about the type of payment you’re going to set up. The good thing is that there are plenty of options, including anonymous ones.
The following instructions apply to the Windows app version, but Apple and mobile users can find extensive tutorials on Surfshark’s Support page.
Downloading Surfshark client
First, you’ll need to set up your account. Do that by clicking Sign up on the Home page. Here you’ll get to choose your pricing plan and payment option. Notice that Surfshark requires only your email for this account. Nice.
After your subscription is confirmed and activated, you can go straight to the Apps > Windows on the Homepage menu and download the client.
Installing Surfshark client
Installing the Surfshark client is easy – just follow the on-screen instructions. Make sure you agree with the Terms and Conditions without even reading them!
After successful installation, click Run. If you’re a fan of double-clicking, do that from your Desktop instead.
In the app, choose Log In. Enter your email and password and press Login.
You will see the Main menu. Depending on the client’s version, you may or may not be automatically connected to the nearest location that offers the best speed. If you’re not, pressing Quick connect will do just that. Alternatively, you can choose any of the 50 countries from the list below by clicking All locations.
When you’re connected, you will see the Surfshark logo turn green and start pulsating. But don’t rush before you see the IP address assigned to you as it usually takes a bit more time.
That should cover the basic needs of all users. But if you want some more options or extra security, read the section below on how to use Surfshark.
How to use Surfshark VPN
Pressing the small grey gear on the top right of the Main menu will get you under the hood of Surfshark. While some of the features here are for those who need maximum security, even when sacrificing connection speed, some are beneficial for all users.
Starting with General > Connectivity, you can choose to start the VPN with Windows and automatically connect to either Optimal location or any other that’s available. We recommend this feature to families who have children and want to have protection on at all times.
Here you can also select how Surfshark treats your wifi. This is important for users who often connect from different locations. There might be times when you’d rather have your home laptop connect to your office’s VPN to be able to access local resources.
Moving to General > Notifications, you can switch off information about when the VPN is on or off. We suggest to keep it as it is because thinking that your VPN is on doesn’t help your security.
General > Security is where the most important and interesting features can be tweaked.
Strangely for us, the first one named Kill switch was off by default. We recommend turning it on. While it means you won’t be able to access the internet without connecting to the VPN, so your private information will not be exposed if the VPN connection drops.
CleanWeb acts like an ad-blocker. And while Surfshark takes pride in it, we haven’t tested it thoroughly enough yet to make a firm recommendation.
Whitelisters for applications and web pages allow you to… whitelist certain applications and web pages. While this can be a useful feature if you want faster connectivity with some trusted resources, we recommend this for advanced users only, because every website and application can have unknown security vulnerabilities, even if you coded them with your own hands.
General > Advanced is not as advanced as one may think. There are only three options here, two of which are on by default.
The first and the most important one is the protocols. If you have no idea what that is, leaving it as it is will be just fine. But if you’ve already spent some time reading about both OpenVPN and IKEv2, feel free to experiment. With only two protocols to choose, there’s not much testing to do. We can only say in advance that for China you should use IKEv2 because OpenVPN is easily blocked.
Speaking of restricted internet access, the last NoBorders mode should help in countries like China. This mysterious trademarked feature is not even on Surfshark’s website yet, so we kindly asked customer support to give us some details. It turns out, it doesn’t affect your connection speed and detects restricted networks automatically, reacting to them with the use of algorithms implemented to bypass that restricted network.
There’s another option to be found on the top right of Locations list – MultiHop. This feature provides an extremely secure connection by using two servers instead of one. This way there’s virtually zero chance of anyone tracking you down. This comes at the cost of connection speed, though.
At the moment there are only six options available, and none of them involve countries outside Europe and North America, but we believe it’s just a matter of time before the selection expands to other continents.
Getting back to General > Advanced, the last option named Sending crash reports is turned on by default.
We suggest leaving it on as it helps Surfshark to make sure that next time neither you nor others will experience such issues. Turn it off if you’re a nihilist.
The Surfshark client is very easy to download, install, and use. All features are explained so even users without advanced VPN knowledge can customize their setup. And if there are any questions at all, there’s always a 24/7 live chat customer support that cannot get higher praise for its helpfulness and reaction time.
Therefore, the only reason why you should choose another VPN over Surfshark should be related to anything but user experience.