Last update: 02.07.2019
Surfshark’s entry into the VPN market will turn some heads. Amazing security, anonymity, and speed – all the tool needs is some time!
Everyone knows the surfer community to be accepting and tolerant. But if there‘s one thing surfers won‘t accept, it’s a shark. Famously, even vegetarian sharks are regarded with suspicion on Santa Monica beaches. While Surfshark may sound like a lot of fun, he‘s actually a tragic figure – like Romeo or Rorshach. Luckily, the VPN community will meet him with open arms. Our Surfshark VPN review will tell you why!
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. The letters and numbers refer to an unbreakable cipher, which is also faster than the more commonly used AES-256-CBC (more on that later). Surfshark offers its own DNS network, as well as built-in DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection. Recently, they plugged yet another hole by introducing their very own Surfshark kill switch, making the suite of security features rather well-rounded.
Appropriately for its name, Surfshark VPN is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). These sunny Caribbean islands are a British Overseas Territory, but not subject to British laws or control. 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. Not even Surfshark will know what you’re doing online!
Currently, the service has awesome speeds, an expanding server list (which went from 100 and 14 countries to 500+ 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. Finally, the app is as simple as A-B-C, and if it wasn’t, you could still figure it out by asking their 24/7 live chat support.
That’s a great foundation to build your VPN on, and build is what they’ve done a lot of! At the moment Surfshark has Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and FireTV apps, plus Chrome/Firefox extensions, all of which you can get for $11.95 a month, $5.99 a month billed annually, or $3.49 a month billed every 2 years (by the way, the latter plan is also available for $1.99 a month from affiliates). Only a few months ago, they only offered an Android client, so the tempo is very impressive – as is the service!
Is Surfshark VPN safe to use?
It will take time until we see the VPN subjected to truly serious tests. Nevertheless, the preliminary trials for our Surfshark review suggest some promising things.
Surfshark offers strong ciphers that are a little different from the norm. AES-256-GCM sounds similar to AES-256-CBC, but there is a crucial difference – speed. In order to protect their VPN from something called “chosen ciphertext attacks”, those relying on AES-256-CBC will use a secure Message Authentication Code (MAC) in addition to the AES algorithm. Meanwhile, AES-256-GCM has authentication built in, making the process a lot faster.
Our basic tests indicate that this VPN 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!
Currently, 2 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.
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!
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.
Bonus security features
The list of brilliant security tools in Surfshark’s arsenal keeps on growing. The VPN has recently introduced four great ones:
- CleanWeb – an ad, tracker, malware, and phishing blocker. Many VPN services have introduced some version of this feature.
- Whitelister – some VPN providers call this feature “split tunneling.” It allows users to choose apps that can function outside the VPN tunnel.
- Camouflage/NoBorders mode – it’s misleading to say these are two separate features. In reality, this switches the 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.
All these features combined take Surfshark VPN closer to other security-focused VPN services, like NordVPN, Perfect Privacy, or ProtonVPN.
Browser extension independent 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 market is full to the brim with service providers boasting about their bullet-proof security but never daring to shoot a gun at it. Not Surfshark VPN!
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 2 vulnerabilities, only 1 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.
We hope Surfshark will continue this trend, but we would like to see Cure53 take on the real VPN apps – Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Secure extensions are great, but they’re not the most important part of the service.
Speed & Performance
Normally the VPN services with the best speeds have lots of servers. In this case, our Surfshark VPN review team has 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 500 servers in 50 countries. In addition, the type of encryption Surfshark VPN uses is faster than the regular AES-256-CBC with separate authentication.
We’ve tested Surfshark in the field, with a base speed of 302 Mbps download and 285 Mbps upload in Europe.
43 Mbps download and jaw-dropping 152 Mbps upload can still be considered very good, even though percentage-wise the speed drop-off is very huge.
US, New York
34 Mbps download and significantly reduced upload of 29 Mbps. The fact that downloading speed hasn’t dropped off that much after crossing the Atlantic left us impressed. The latency is 112 ms, meaning you should still be able to play online games.
US, Los Angeles
The latency has increased to 171 ms, but download speed remains solid at 49 Mbps, not to mention the Western boost to upload, clocking at 72 Mbps.
Surfshark’s servers in the Far East seem to be doing well. We’ve measured 48 Mbps download and 8 Mbps upload. The latency was 279 ms, but you cannot expect much different from a location that’s so far away.
Our most remote testing location held up well – 31 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload. This should still be enough to stream 4K videos, but with ping rate exceeding 300 ms you should expect connecting 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!
How to download and install it
Users can 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.
Windows users can download directly from the site, Android users will have to either get it on the Google Play store or download the APK directly from the site. The Mac app can either be downloaded directly or from the App Store, where users will also find the iOS app.
On the App page, users will also find a Linux app as well as browser extensions for Chrome/Firefox.
The installation process is straightforward for all apps – nothing out of the ordinary. However, if you encounter any issues, you can go to Help->Setup guides where all is explained.
Before actually using Surfshark VPN, you’ll have to sign up and pay, which you can do thusly:
- Go to the website and click “Get Surfshark”
- Pick a pricing plan
- Use an email address to create your account
- Decide which payment method you will be using
Apps & Extensions
The people at Surfshark have been evidently been working overtime. Over a period of a few months, they managed to release apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and FireTV. Until very recently, there was only the Android version and extensions for Chrome/Firefox. The VPN has a Router app as well, so you could use it to protect your entire home network.
The 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. If you just want to protect your browser, you’ll be glad to hear that the Surfshark VPN apps have recently undergone an independent audit checking for security issues and the like. Only minimal vulnerabilities were found.
Surfshark VPN for Netflix
According to Surfshark’s website, the VPN is great for streaming geo-blocked content. And it’s true! This may appear surprising because many more established VPN providers have given up their fight against Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and others. But, 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, 290 Mbps being our original speed.
US, New York
25 Mbps, just enough for UHD streaming, though it was strange to find Netflix choosing servers in LA and San Jose for this test. Loading and skipping took 3 seconds at most, with flawless streaming.
US, Los Angeles
62 Mbps! We’ve noticed during general speed test already that Surfshark gives us better speeds in West Coast, even though it’s thousands of kilometers further from our test location in Euope than New York. Needless to say, this speed is more than enough for UDH. Loading times are similar to those in NY, and streaming is as smooth as a new-laid egg.
38 Mbps, pretty good. A rarity among our recently tested VPNs, Surfshark was able to unblock Netflix Canada library. Waiting times were a tiny bit longer compared to LA, but the streaming was as smooth as a doorknob.
77 Mbps, more than you really need. Loading and skipping takes 3 to 4 seconds. Streaming is as smooth as a road in Venice.
10 Mbps, not enough for UHD (4K) but what matters most is that Shurfshark is among the few VPNs that were able to unblock Netflix in this country, streaming its content smoother than the fur of cats.
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 Surfshark VPN review. However, we will recommend it for Kodi any day of the week!
Surfshark VPN for Torrenting
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.
When we initially checked for our Surfshark review, the program had no kill switch. As such, we were somewhat reluctant to give our whole-hearted recommendation to use it for torrents. That, however, has changed – there’s now a kill switch as well as apps for all the main platforms. So, if you’re looking for a nimble frigate capable of outsailing the authorities, look no further!
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.
Is it good for users in China?
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/NoBorders mode feature. 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.
Finally, it’s cheap and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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. You’ll find installation instructions, some FAQ articles, helpful technical information texts, but the website still needs a bit of fleshing out.
Surfshark VPN has 3 different pricing plans, all of which offer the full set of functions. You can get a subscription for 1 month at $11.95, 12 months at $5.99 a month, or 24 months at $3.45 a month. Affiliates are also offering the 2-year deal at an even lower cost – $1.99 a 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 5 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.
Conclusion of Surfshark VPN review
Having investigated long and hard for this Surfshark review, we can say we like the road the VPN is taking. They have 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!