Top-notch security, an absurd number of servers all over the world, great features and speed – all these factors make NordVPN a global VPN leader.
With such a great reputation behind it, I decided to test NordVPN to see if it is really a top contender for the #1 VPN spot. With so many threats to online privacy and clampdowns on streaming services, I want to make sure that NordVPN can live up to its promises.
Most importantly, I’ll look at some important questions related to NordVPN’s service. Is NordVPN safe to use? Can it unblock Netflix and other streaming services? Has NordVPN improved on its average speeds? And, of course, does NordVPN’s prices compare to its features?
I’ll look at these questions and more to help you decide if NordVPN is the right VPN service for you.
- Based in: Panama
- Servers and locations: 5,200+ servers in 50+ countries
- Logs: minimal data collection
- Encryption and protocols: main protocols OpenVPN and IKEv2, military-grade encryption (AES-256)
- Netflix: Yes
- Torrenting: Yes, P2P optimized on some servers
- Apps: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox
- Support: 24/7 live chat
- Price: from $3.49/month
- Free version or trial: No
- Website: nordvpn.com
Security and privacy features
NordVPN places security and privacy as its main selling points. Many VPN services claim to provide complete anonymity on the internet, but only a few can back it up in features and evidence.
That’s why NordVPN is favored by sensitive user groups, such as journalists and political activists, as well as those wanting to enjoy unblocked streaming content. It can back up its claims of top-notch privacy and security, reliably and effectively.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
NordVPN uses the military-grade AES-256 encryption, which is used by banks, the military and many government institutions.
This is an extremely strong cipher – in fact, it’s so strong that a hacker using a brute force attack (where they try many combinations) would need billions of years to break it.
As of December 1, 2018, NordVPN now only supports these protocols:
- OpenVPN UDP
- OpenVPN TCP
L2TP/IPsec and PPTP are no longer supported, but that’s actually OK. That’s because OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec are the industry standards and will cover most, if not all of your needs.
While some users may find the unsupported L2TP/IPsec and PPTP an inconvenience, the other 99% will be happier with the more secure protocol options.
NordVPN offers not only a standard internet kill switch, but it also offers an app kill switch. A kill switch helps you stay secure by shutting off the internet connection if the VPN stops working. That way, your real IP address won’t be unintentionally revealed.
When you’re using the internet, NordVPN will shut off the connection if it stops working suddenly. However, with the app kill switch, it will also shut off certain apps if NordVPN suddenly stops working.
NordVPN’s kill switches are not turned on by default. To them it on, you’ll have to click the small Servers tab in the top-right corner. There you’ll find all the important settings.
You can turn one or both kill switches on. For the app kill switch, you’ll also need to add the apps that you want the kill switch to apply to.
In my tests, I found NordVPN’s kill switches to be effective every time. When I tried to interrupt the VPN connection on several occasions, the internet or app was shut down every time.
No IP or DNS leaks
NordVPN has no IP or DNS leaks. This means your identity won’t leak via your IP address, and your online activities won’t show via your DNS requests.
Of course, the only way to be certain is to run DNS and IP leak tests. I connected to a French server and was assigned the IP address 126.96.36.199.
Then I checked whether our IP address or DNS queries were leaking – here are the results:
- IP address: 188.8.131.52
- Location: France – Paris
This is the NordVPN-given IP address, meaning there is no IP leak.
- DNS address: 184.108.40.206
- Location: France – Paris
This is the IP address of a NordVPN DNS server in Paris, France. As you can see, the two IP addresses are connected.
Privacy-friendly location in Panama
NordVPN is owned by Tefincom S.A. – a company based in privacy-friendly Panama. This is important because VPN service providers operate according to the laws of the country they’re based in.
Panama is a small country in central Americas that doesn’t require VPN companies like NordVPN to collect data on their users – a great thing for user privacy.
It also doesn’t belong to any far-reaching intelligence alliances like the 5 Eyes global surveillance group. This allows NordVPN to have a real no logging policy, meaning they know very little about you.
Independently-audited no-logs policy
However, they take it a step further than anyone else on the market. Because it’s virtually impossible for users to see what happens behind closed doors, NordVPN decided to prove their no-logs policy and ordered an independent audit.
This no-logs audit was performed by the world-renowned accounting firm, PwC, who found no discrepancies between NordVPN’s no-logs policy and what they do in practice.
Other technical features
The list of security features in the NordVPN suite is very impressive:
- Double VPN (multi-hop)
- Onion over VPN (integration with the Tor network for even more encryption and traffic rerouting)
- CyberSec (browser security feature)
- Free SOCKS5 proxy
- Obfuscated servers
- Invisibility on LAN
By meeting the significant security and privacy needs of people in high-stakes situations (think dissidents in totalitarian regimes) NordVPN provides an answer for any everyday issue as well. Whether it’s anonymous torrenting you’re interested in or secure public wifi use, these features have you covered.
NordLynx – a safe implementation of WireGuard
NordVPN announced NordLynx at the end of July 2019 and became the first major VPN to implement WireGuard. At the moment, NordLynx is already available on Linux.
The introduction of NordLynx is exciting due to the capabilities of WireGuard. WireGuard is a super-secure protocol that has major performance benefits over other protocols.
Perhaps most importantly, the WireGuard’s code is extremely easy to audit because it has only 4,000 lines of it. Compare this with IPsec’s 400,000 lines of code, or OpenVPN+OpenSSL’s 600,000 lines.
To make NordLynx possible, NordVPN had to solve a privacy issue:
[ WireGuard] can’t dynamically assign IP addresses to everyone connected to a server. Therefore, the server must contain a local static IP address table to know where internet packets are traveling from and to whom they should return. It means that the real IP address of a user must be linked to an internal IP address assigned by the VPN.
NordLynx fixes the issue by developing a double NAT (Native Address Translation) system, allowing the VPN to establish a secure connection without logging any identifiable details.
NordVPN is one of a few VPN providers that give users anonymous purchase options. When you sign up for NordVPN, you won’t need to include any personally identifiable information, such as your name, address, or contact details.
The only thing you’ll need is an email address, which can be a throwaway account. Similarly, you can buy the subscription using a variety of options, including anonymous payment methods like cryptocurrencies.
Speed: can NordVPN catch up?
If there’s anything I can knock NordVPN for, it’s speed. In the past, NordVPN had some issues with the speed of its servers.
For that reason, I ran some speed tests using different NordVPN servers. The results show that while this is not the fastest VPN service on the market, it’s certainly above average.
First, I tested our baseline connection speed (without a VPN connection).
- Download: 231 Mbps
- Upload: 232 Mbps
- Ping: 4 ms
Then, I connected to a series of NordVPN servers in different parts of the world and ran the same test.
- Download: 72.78 Mbps (68.51% drop-off)
- Upload: 63.35 Mbps (72.81% drop-off)
- Ping: 50 ms
- Download: 44.36 Mbps (80.81% drop-off)
- Upload: 44.03 Mbps (81.10% drop-off)
- Ping: 140 ms
- Download: 29.02 Mbps (87.45% drop-off)
- Upload: 1.19 Mbps (99.49% drop-off)
- Ping: 367 ms
To give some context for these results, I can say that the connection speed in each location is enough to stream in HD without buffering issues. Also, as is obvious, you can see that the speeds drop the further the server is from my location in Europe.
Simply put, NordVPN’s speeds are definitely not the best, but they are pretty good for most usage.
Does NordVPN support my device?
NordVPN supports a wide range of devices, so they most likely support yours. NordVPN has apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and Android TV, plus extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
With one subscription, you can use NordVPN on up to 6 devices at the same time. This is a pretty great benefit, and it means you can use one subscription to cover your entire household.
NordVPN’s apps are pretty uniform across the different platforms, with a simple interface that’s easy to use.
NordVPN desktop apps: Windows, macOS, and Linux
NordVPN’s apps for Windows and Mac have a pretty similar interface and feature set. Both NordVPN for Mac and NordVPN for Windows offer AES-256 encryption, the CyberSec suite of features, a kill switch, and much more.
When you launch the app, you’ll see a world map with server locations. You can either manually choose the country you want to connect to or click the Quick connect button.
There’s also an option to search for specific servers by city.
On the top of the screen, you’ll see a button for the Settings menu, where you can control all the security features, notifications, auto-connect settings, and more. I advise you to go over these settings because some of the defaults are not ideal for maximum security.
NordVPN for Linux will require a bit more work to set up, as is common for Linux clients. While it isn’t as visual as the Mac and Windows versions, it offers the same options, although with command lines.
NordVPN mobile apps: Android and iOS (iPhone/iPad)
NordVPN’s apps for Android and iOS offer a great experience on mobile. In fact, I can go so far as to say that NordVPN for iOS and Android offer a comparable level of security as the desktop clients.
NordVPN’s iOS app has a kill switch integrated into it. For Android users, they’ll have to find the Always-on VPN option in their phone settings.
There are fewer tunneling protocols available on these apps, but the ones that are still there are some of the safest. I’d go so far as to say the NordVPN mobile experience is pretty similar to the desktop one.
NordVPN’s mobile apps can be found on the Apple App Store and Google Play. There’s also an APK file available if you want to download and install the Android app manually.
NordVPN for web browsers: Chrome and Firefox
NordVPN has browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These are listed as proxy extensions, but they will help you to change your IP address, protect your communications, and also block ads and trackers.
Other platforms for NordVPN
NordVPN also supports AndroidTV devices, so if your smart TV uses Android as its OS, you can use the VPN service.
It’s very possible that you won’t find your platform natively supported by NordVPN. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use NordVPN on your platform. You can still access NordVPN’s services by using freeware OpenVPN apps.
In that way, you’ll be able to install NordVPN on your router (if it supports OpenVPN). You’ll also be able to use the SmartDNS tool – although it doesn’t come with encryption.
Netflix and other streaming services
NordVPN has proven successful, time and time again, at unblocking Netflix USA from anywhere. In my tests, Netflix wasn’t blocked on any of the US servers I tried – that’s quite a stunning achievement.
The situation was just as good in other popular Netflix locations – Japan, UK, Germany, Netherlands. Only several of the NordVPN servers I tried were blocked, but there were always more in the same country I could try.
If you prefer other streaming platforms than Netflix, such as HBO, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and others, NordVPN will be able to help you as well. Here I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu:
With a little setup, you can also use NordVPN on streaming services like Kodi. There’s no custom app, but with a few steps you can set it up and enjoy it to your heart’s content – safely and privately.
Does NordVPN support torrenting?
Yes, NordVPN supports torrenting. It even has dedicated, optimized P2P/torrenting servers in 45 countries with great encryption, good speeds, and unlimited bandwidth.
Torrenting and using BitTorrent-based streaming apps (such as Kodi or Popcorn Time) can be risky, but luckily NordVPN meets all the criteria for being a great torrenting VPN.
Additionally, NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that offer a free SOCKS5 proxy. This is a convenient way to protect yourself from those situations when you load up your torrent client but forget to turn on your VPN.
Finally, NordVPN doesn’t keep your personally identifiable information and thus can’t be compelled to hand it over to the authorities.
Support: NordVPN’s live chat, email, and tutorials
NordVPN has many customer support options to help answer most or all of your questions. These support options include:
- 24/7 live chat support
One way to access chat is to visit the Help page, type “chat” in the search box and press Enter. A window will appear right below the box, which will display a chat icon in its bottom-right corner.
I found that the support agents are top-notch, very responsive and knowledgeable. If the issue is too complex to solve during a chat session, you can expect an answer via email within hours. I was relieved that they were ultimately able to solve our imaginary connection problems.
Both the FAQ and the Tutorials sections are detailed and cover the most common issues.
Pricing: is NordVPN the cheapest on the market?
For a top-tier product, NordVPN is very cheap. Here are the available subscription options and their prices:
- 1-month plan for up to 6 devices: $11.95/month
- 1-year plan for up to 6 devices: $83.88 ($6.99/month)
- 2-year plan for up to 6 devices: $119.76 ($4.99/month)
- 3-year + 3 months FREE plan for up to 6 devices: $125.64 ($3.49/month)
All NordVPN pricing plans offer the same suite of features (AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) and IKEv2/IPSec, DNS leak protection, app and internet kill switch, etc.) and allow up to 6 simultaneous connections. There are anonymous payment options available, such as crypto, for those concerned about privacy.
If you’re getting buyer’s remorse, NordVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. This comes with no strings attached and no small print. The only thing to be aware of is that you can’t get a refund if you paid in Bitcoin or something similar.
The cost may not be the lowest on VPN on the market. That said, no other VPN offers as much value for money.
Should you get NordVPN?
Yes, you should get NordVPN. It’s definitely one of the best VPNs on the market right now, and in many ways it’s the VPN global leader.
NordVPN has faultless privacy and security features, with industry-leading encryption and protocols. Its servers are capable of getting around Netflix and other streaming blocks, and its P2P optimized servers is good news for torrenters.
Unfortunately, NordVPN doesn’t offer the best speeds that we’ve seen for VPNs, and it also doesn’t offer native support for routers. Nonetheless, its strong customer support can help any user get what the need from this VPN provider.
If you want an industry-leading VPN for entertainment, security, privacy, or all of the above, you absolutely can’t go wrong with NordVPN.