Last update: 04.03.2019
Rarely do up-and-coming VPN services merit a review, but there are reasons to keep an eye on Surfshark VPN. This is a very secure tool that uses AES-256-GCM and SHA-512 encryption to protect your data andoffer offers its own DNS network, as well as built-in DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection.
Appropriately for its name, Surfshark VPN is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). There are no data retention laws in the BVI, and the territory does not belong to the 5 Eyes or 14 Eyes country groups. This, together with the fact that Surfshark doesn’t limit the number of simultaneous connections users can have, allows us to trust in their no-logging policy.
Currently, the service has awesome speeds, an expanding server list (which went from 100 and 14 countries to 800+ in 50+ countries in just a few months), will easily bypass the geo-blocking of Netflix and other streaming platforms, and reportedly works in China.
That’s a great foundation to build your VPN on, and build is what they’ve done a lot of! Only a few months ago, they only offered an Android client, so the tempo is very impressive – as is the service!
Security and privacy
The list of brilliant security tools in Surfshark’s arsenal keeps on growing:
- Military-grade AES-256-GCM encryption
- OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocol pair
- Kill switch
- CleanWeb – an ad, tracker, malware, and phishing blocker.
- Whitelister – some VPN providers call this feature “split tunneling.” It allows users to choose apps that can function outside the VPN tunnel.
- Camouflage and NoBorders modes – these switch your tunneling protocol to OpenVPN with the XOR patch. This scrambles your traffic and makes it more difficult to detect through Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
- MultiHop – for those engaging in extra-sensitive activities, multihop is an awesome feature. It chains two VPN servers creating more insulation between the user and his online activities.
Currently, two security protocols are being offered by Surfshark – OpenVPN and IKEv2. More choice is always preferable, but these are good, safe protocols, which do great in most situations. The only concern here is that the limited selection might hurt Chinese users – neither protocol is known for its reliability in the face of the Great Firewall.
To conclude the security part of Surfshark VPN review, there’s plenty of good to say about the privacy and anonymity credentials of Surfshark. The company has recently launched its kill switch, which is a great improvement, but that’s not all.
Does Surfshark log your data?
Short answer: no.
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which have no data retention laws or shady intelligence-sharing agreements. As the company is subject to BVI laws and regulations, they have the luxury of a meaningful no-logs policy. As a matter of fact, if their FAQ is to be believed Surfshark doesn’t log anything at all, except your email address and billing information. That’s extremely rare and impressive!
Does it leak?
Our basic tests indicate that Surfshark has no leaking issues (meaning, no DNS/WebRTC/IPv6 leaks).
The program has inbuilt DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection, as well as a private zero-knowledge DNS network.
Simply put, unlike many tools on the market, Surfshark VPN keeps your personally-identifiable information hidden!
Browser extension independent security audit
Recently, we wrote that Surfshark posted a report on the independent audit of its Chrome and Firefox browser extensions. Submitting your VPN apps for an independent audit is a commendable move regardless of results.
The independent audit for carried out by a respected German cybersecurity company, Cure53, which also performed the very first independent VPN audit (kudos to TunnelBear) in 2017. You can read the full report here.
In short, Cure53 found only two vulnerabilities, only one of which had any potential to cause problems for users. This is a very good result and gives a lot of credence to this young VPN service provider.
Speed and performance
We’ve tested Surfshark in the field, with a base download and upload speed of 300 Mbps in Europe. Here’s what we found:
- Download: 73 Mbps (24% of base speed)
- Upload: 34 Mbps (11% of base speed)
US, New York
- Download: 95 Mbps (31% of base speed)
- Upload: 4 Mbps (1% of base speed)
- Download: 47 Mbps (15% of base speed)
- Upload: 8 Mbps (3% of base speed)
The speeds in remote testing locations held up well – most of the time, they should be enough to stream 4K videos. and can still be considered very good, even though percentage-wise the upload speed drop-off may appear huge. However, with ping rates exceeding 200 ms you should expect connections lagging behind during video and VOIP calls.
There is obviously a lot of investment going into this VPN. Servers cost money, as do talented professionals. We have no doubt that Surfshark VPN will continue their meteoric rise!
Normally the VPN services with the best speeds have lots of servers. In this case, owe found it to be not true: Surfshark VPN was quite fast even before getting a huge server list.
Now, however, their network has expanded exponentially and includes over 800 servers in 50+ countries. Also, the type of encryption Surfshark VPN uses is faster than the regular AES-256-CBC with separate authentication.
Ease of use and multiplatform support
The people at Surfshark have evidently been working overtime. Over a period of a few months, they managed to release apps for:
- Linux (no kill switch yet)
- Fire TV Stick
- Browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox
The VPN has instructions for configuring your Router as well, so you could use it to protect your entire home network.
The Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are essentially proxy services – you can use them to secure your browser traffic and nothing else. In other words, if you want to use torrents, try one of the regular clients or run the VPN some other way.
You’ll find all of the Surfshark VPN downloads on the Apps page of the website. Once you’re there, choose your device and where you wish to download the app from.
The installation process is straightforward for all apps – nothing out of the ordinary.
Regarding ease of use, the Surfshark app is as simple as A-B-C. The interface is clean and intuitive, while most of the settings can be found with a click of a button.
Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms
According to Surfshark’s website, the VPN is great for streaming geo-blocked content. And it’s true. If you think about it, Surfshark being a solution is not so surprising. Until recently, the VPN was simply too small to warrant the attention of streaming giants.
We’ve tested Surfshark for Netflix from Europe, and found that it can unblock Netflix in every region we tried, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Japan libraries.
Whether Surfshark VPN remains good for Netflix in the long run, is a question for another day – we’ll just have to wait and see if there’s a need to update our review. However, we’ll recommend it for Kodi any day of the week!
P2P and torrenting
Surfshark is not a bad choice for torrents – the speed is good, the security credentials are almost faultless. Surfshark is not shy to invite torrenting fans to try their service and they don’t discriminate against P2P traffic.
One more thing: if you’re going the Android route, there’s still no kill switch. But there might be one solution: Always-on VPN. This is a native Android 7+ app, which is essentially an external kill switch. We would suggest getting in touch with Surfshark VPN support to figure out whether this will work.
Online censorship in China and elsewhere
Last time we checked in on Surfshark, we were skeptical that it could be a reliable service in China. The reason was the list of available tunneling protocols, which only included OpenVPN and IKEv2. One of the features of the Great Firewall of China is that it employs Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to detect VPN traffic within the network. OpenVPN is known as particularly vulnerable to DPI and Surfshark had nothing else to offer.
The situation has completely changed since the introduction of the Camouflage and NoBorders modes. Surfshark is now capable of disguising VPN traffic – the features switch from the default tunneling protocol to OpenVPN with the XOR patch, scrambling your traffic and confusing the censors.
Additionally, the extra security features added by Surfshark are great for the more sensitive user types: journalists, political activists, whistleblowers, hackers, etc.
Read more about using Surfshark in China
Surfshark starts strong and introduces 24/7 live chat support right at the outset. That’s a big statement of intent – it’s a lot easier to just have a support email and be done with it. Needless to say, that wouldn’t be enough in the long term, and Surfshark VPN steps ahead of that obstacle right away.
As for the rest of the support section, there are only pure basics at the moment:
- Installation instructions
- FAQ articles
- Helpful technical information texts
Overall, the absence of more support options doesn’t do Surfshark any favors, but the presence of live chat support puts most of our concerns aside.
Surfshark VPN has three different pricing plans, all of which offer the full set of functions:
- 1-month plan for $11
- 1-year plan for $5.99/month
- 2-year plan for $1.99/month
This is a decent price – neither very high nor very low. Surfshark VPN has certainly proven their worth, and the prospect of getting a long-term subscription should no longer be particularly worrying. If you can get the tool for just five bucks, we’re inclined to say, “Go for it!”
There are plenty of payment options you can choose from to pay that 5-dollar fee as well. That includes anonymous options, like crypto. There are PayPal and AliPay as well, for those interested. Some of the best VPN service providers have overlooked the type of privacy given by a crypto payment option, and it’s a great shame.
As far as our Surfshark VPN review guys can tell, there is no free trial, but all plans are subject to a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you’re not losing anything if you don’t want to.
Having investigated long and hard, we can say we like the road Surfshark VPN is taking.
They’ve done well to cover the basics – security, jurisdiction, speed, support, etc. – and have taken steps in unique directions. Rarely do you see a paid VPN with no limit to the number of simultaneous connections and a real zero-logs policy. Between that, an anonymous signup process, and an option to pay in cryptocurrencies, Surfshark is already one step ahead of the competition.
It seems just a matter of time until we get more features and content from Surfshark VPN, making the whole market stronger!