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A little over a year ago, Surfshark was completely new. Since then, the VPN has managed to penetrate most Top 10s and earn the consumers’ trust. With this Surfshark VPN review, I want to learn whether that trust is warranted:
Is this a secure VPN? Does it log user data? And crucially, how good is Surfshark for torrenting or Netflix?
Right off the bat, we see that Surfshark offers better prices than most competitors. Heck, they even offer free accounts for small businesses hit by a COVID-19 outbreak!
Let’s find out if it’s as good in practice as it would seem on paper.
Security and privacy features
There’s plenty of good to say about the privacy and anonymity credentials of Surfshark. The company has added a kill switch last year, which is a great improvement, but that’s not all. The list of brilliant security tools in Surfshark’s arsenal just keeps on growing.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
Surfshark offers military-grade AES-256 encryption, which is used by financial institutions and militaries around the world.
Surfshark currently offers the following tunneling protocols:
- OpenVPN TCP
- OpenVPN UDP
More choice is always preferable, but these are good, safe protocols, which do great in most situations. While neither of them can penetrate the Great Firewall alone, Surfshark VPN has Camouflage and NoBorders modes for use in China.
Surfshark has a great kill switch that will automatically deactivate your internet connection if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly. This allows the VPN to protect your privacy by ensuring your online traffic is always encrypted and is a critical feature for any secure VPN to have.
My tests have shown the Surfshark kill switch to work reliably each time I deliberately disabled my VPN connection.
The only caveat here is that Surfshark for Linux doesn’t have the kill switch turned on by default and there’s no article on their website telling how to do it. However, the always helpful Surfshark customer support team provided me with the instructions.
No IP or DNS leaks
My basic tests indicate that Surfshark has no leak 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.
Privacy-friendly location: BVI
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is a British overseas territory that has no data retention laws and isn’t involved in any shady intelligence-sharing agreements (unlike its “parent” country).
No logs policy
As the company is subject to BVI laws and regulations, they have the luxury of a meaningful no-logs policy, which states that Surfshark “does not collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection timestamps, network traffic, and other similar data.”
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, which means that the provider is one of the few actual “no-logs” VPNs out there. That’s extremely rare and impressive.
HackLock: ID protection feature
In 2019, Surfshark introduced two innovative security features, the first being HackLock. This ID leak protection feature was first available via the Surfshark website, but now it has been integrated into the apps.
HackLock is very relevant in the age of data breaches – it warns users when their passwords, social security numbers, and other sensitive details get leaked.
How does Surfshark’s HackLock work?
HackLock scans leaked databases, looking for password or email matches. If it finds any, Surfshark users will receive a notification. HackLock enables you to change your credentials in a timely manner, minimizing the damage caused by data leaks and breaches.
Android-exclusive: GPS spoofing feature
In 2019, Surfshark introduced the first-ever GPS spoofing feature for Android devices. This allows users to protect their online presence with an extra layer of protection – not only by changing their IP address, but also the device’s physical GPS location.
It’s an optional feature that is not on by default and can be enabled from the app settings.
How does Surfshark’s GPS spoofing feature work?
Surfshark’s GPS spoofing virtually changes users’ actual GPS location by connects to one of the VPN servers. When GPS spoofing is activated, any app that will request the user’s physical coordinates will be overridden by the coordinates of the selected VPN server. This means that a web service that wants to access a user’s GPS data will think that the user is, for example, in the US instead of its real location, the UK.
BlindSearch: Surfshark’s incognito search
The second new Surfshark to be integrated into its VPN apps is BlindSearch. This is an alternative to the bigger search engines, such as Google or Bing.
Why would you need BlindSearch?
Well, both Google and Microsoft Bing are known for ads and tracking. BlindSearch ensures that your privacy will remain intact, and your patience untested.
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 was 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.
Other technical features
- 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.
Speed: is Surfshark VPN fast?
I tested Surfshark in the field to see if its speeds have improved from the last time I reviewed the service. My base download and upload speeds were 240 Mbps. Here’s what I found:
- Download: 73 Mbps (69% drop-off)
- Upload: 34 Mbps (85% drop-off)
- Ping: 52 ms
US, New York
- Download: 95 Mbps (60% drop-off)
- Upload: 4 Mbps (98% drop-off)
- Ping: 120 ms
- Download: 47 Mbps (80% drop-off)
- Upload: 8 Mbps (96% drop-off)
- Ping: 279 ms
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.
Overall, the speeds are very fast, and they seem to be increasing each time I update this review. There’s obviously a lot of investment going into this VPN. While Surfshark is already among the fastest VPNs in 2020, I believe that its speed will continue to improve.
Does Surfshark VPN support my device?
Very likely, yes. The people at Surfshark have evidently been working overtime. Over the year, they managed to release apps for all the major desktop and mobile platforms, Smart TVs and gaming consoles, as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
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.
Surfshark desktop apps: Windows, macOS, Linux
Regarding ease of use, the Surfshark desktop apps are 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.
Connecting to a Surfshark server is just as easy – just click on Locations on the left sidebar menu and choose your preferred location from the list of cities and countries. Surfshark’s physical servers are sorted by region, while virtual and P2P servers are on separate lists.
You can get under Surfshark’s hood by pressing the white Settings gear. There, you can toggle the startup and auto-connection options, as well as tinker with the security features.
Thankfully, the Surfshark for Mac app is just as secure as the Windows version. This is relatively rare – most VPNs release macOS apps with limited security features, which is not the case with Surfshark.
Surfshark’s Linux app doesn’t feature a GUI and has a command-line interface instead. Moreover, this version doesn’t have a kill switch, which means that Linux users should rather wait for an update or go with another VPN.
Surfshark mobile apps: Android and iOS
Surfshark mobile apps, both on Android and on iOS, are lightweight and simplified versions of their desktop counterparts. The security is almost as good as what you’d get on our PC or Mac, with several minor caveats.
Most importantly, the Android version now finally has a kill switch so you’ll no longer have to use the native Android kill switch or a third-party app to complement the VPN.
You can get the Surfshark Android app from Google Play or just download it directly as an APK file from their website.
The Surfshark iOS app is available from the App Store.
Surfshark for web browsers: Chrome and Firefox
Surfshark 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.
Other platforms for Surfshark
Surfshark also has an app for Amazon TV FireStick and supports SmartDNS on Apple TV, other smart TVs, and Xbox & PlayStation consoles, which means you can also set it up on these devices to seamlessly unblock streaming services or play online games in other regions.
The VPN has instructions for configuring your router as well, so you could use it to protect your entire home network.
Netflix and other streaming services
According to Surfshark’s website, the VPN is great for streaming geo-blocked content. And it’s true.
I’ve tested Surfshark for Netflix from Europe, and found that it can unblock Netflix in every region I tried, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Japan libraries.
What’s more, Surfshark VPN can unblock Hulu, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, and other streaming platforms. I would also recommend Surfshark for Kodi any day of the week.
Does Surfshark support torrenting?
Surfshark is good for torrents – the speed is fast, and 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.
Does Surfshark work in China?
Last time I checked in on Surfshark, I was 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 now. Since the introduction of the Camouflage and NoBorders modes, Surfshark is now capable of disguising VPN traffic. These 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 here.
Support: Surfshark live chat, FAQs, and installation guides
First things first: Surfshark VPN has a great 24/7 live chat support. The waiting times are short, if any, while the agents are helpful and polite. And I’m basing this assumption on more than a few instances.
Here’s how the rest of the support section looks like:
- Installation instructions
- FAQ articles
- Knowledge base (tutorials, general info, billing)
- Submit a request
Overall, while Surfshark has considerably expanded its self-help section, I would still use live chat to put most of my concerns aside.
Pricing: is Surfshark the cheapest top-tier VPN?
Surfshark VPN has three different pricing plans, all of which offer the full set of functions:
- 1-month plan for $11.95
- 1-year plan for $5.99/month
- 2-year plan for $1.99/month
This is a great price – their 2-year plan is actually one of the cheapest deals on the block. 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 a couple of bucks, I’m inclined to say, “Go for it!”
There are plenty of payment options you can choose from to pay that 2-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.
Surfshark is also one of the few to offer a lengthy 7-day free trial on Google Play and Apple App Store. Sadly, that means “no” for Windows and Linux users. But all plans are subject to a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you’re not losing anything if you don’t want to.
Corona response: free accounts for SMBs
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Surfshark VPN stands with those that need support more than ever. If your company is up to ten employees and is located in a country that’s under lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you can sign up for a free 6-month subscription. What you need to do is go to Surfshark’s website and fill in a short application form.
Should I get Surfshark?
Having thoroughly investigated this VPN, I can confidently say that you should get Surfshark VPN before it raises its prices.
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 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.
To me, it seems just a matter of time until we get more features and content from Surfshark VPN that will further strengthen its already solid position among the industry’s best.