NordVPN Review

NordVPN was founded in 2012 by two childhood friends— isn’t that sweet? Now, they serve over eight million people, definitely not a small number. Their goal is to create a censorship and surveillance-free Internet, and they pride themselves on the fact that their infrastructure has never been compromised. Yep, NordVPN has never experienced any data breaches, has never had to disclose any private keys or user information, and have never been forced to modify their system to allow access to data. This sounds really promising to me, but I’m going to hold off on making an opinion until I actually get to test this VPN out.

In this review, I’ll talk about NordVPN’s pros and cons, the company itself, its features, and how it performed on multiple tests. Then, I’ll go over your subscription options with NordVPN, explain how customer support works, review the NordVPN app, and finally, see how it compares to competitors. If you’re looking for a VPN, you probably have things to do, so let’s get started.

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NordVPN offers Netflix access, a great app, and most importantly, they won't log your data. 

Pros and Cons of NordVPN

I’ll be upfront with you: I have a LOT to say about NordVPN, so I want to give you a quick pro and con list before we dive headfirst into the NordVPN waters.

NordVPN Pros:

  • Panama location: NordVPN’s location ensures that they’ll never be legally forced to share your data.
  • Access to Netflix: stream entertainment from foreign Netflix servers with NordVPN.
  • Does not log files: a given of any VPN.
  • Great app ratings: the NordVPN app has an average rating of 4.45 out of five stars on the Apple and Google Play stores.

NordVPN Cons:

  • Static IPs: you’ll get the same IP address every time, although it will be shared with other NordVPN users.
  • No split tunneling: you won’t be able to use NordVPN and a public network at once.
  • Not the best customer support: customer support wasn’t easy to reach, according to NordVPN customers.

About NordVPN

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Panama

NordVPN is located in Panama, which is awesome because there are no mandatory data retention laws there. Panama is not part of any international surveillance alliances which would make handing over people’s data legal, a necessary feature of any VPN company. Panama: come for the canal, stay for the privacy-friendly data laws!

With 5,264 servers in 62 countries, NordVPN has a presence all over the world, which is important because your Internet speed will be greatly affected by your distance from the nearest server. All in all, I’m liking the sound of NordVPN, but let’s talk about its actual features.

NordVPN Features

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In a nutshell, NordVPN creates a private network when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi. It’s perfect if you’re in a foreign country, are looking at sensitive materials, or just want to avoid malware. Let’s go over the specifics.

Will NordVPN Log My Data?

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NordVPN Logging Policy. Screenshot from NordVPN Website.

Short answer: no. NordVPN does not track when you use their VPN, how long you use it for, your IP addresses, the servers you used, the websites you visited, or the files you downloaded. Phew!

Does NordVPN Have A Kill Switch?

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NordVPN Kill Switch. Screenshot from NordVPN Website.

A kill switch, otherwise known as a network lock feature, means that if your VPN connection drops, whatever you’re doing will be “killed,” or terminated”. Although “kill” is usually not a word used in a positive light, you’re going to want a kill switch with your VPN.

NordVPN does have a kill switch, which is another feather in their hat. Please note that in the NordVPN iOs app, the kill switch doesn’t shut down applications. Rather, it disables your Internet access for your entire system.

What Kind of Tunneling does NordVPN Offer?

I’m a bit disappointed that NordVPN doesn’t offer split tunneling, which would enable you to be on the VPN and the public network simultaneously. Once you enter NordVPN, everything you access will be under this private network.

Can I Use Netflix with NordVPN?

Everyone watching “You” on Netflix right now will be thrilled to know that you can access Netflix when you’re using NordVPN using Windows, macOS, or Linux computers. If you’re on mobile, Netflix will work on Android, iOS, smart TVs, TV devices, and more. As long as you’re on a server from the U.S, Canada, Japan, the U.K, or Netherlands, you should be fine.

NordVPN Encryption

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Encryption means transforming data into code that only authorized users can see. Here are the ways in which NordVPN encrypts your data:

IKEv2/ IPSec

IKEv2 makes sure that your VPN connection is re-established if your Internet connection is lost. It’s great for someone who is switching between Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots. IPSec is used to increase security, either encrypting the data packet message itself or the entire data packet.

SHA2-384

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VPN Hashing Algorithm

SHA stands for Secure Hash Algorithm. What’s a hash, anyway? Rather than dealing with original data, computers use algorithms to transform it into a hash, both irreversible and unique. Irreversible means that from the hash, you can’t figure out the original data, making it completely secure. Unique means that no two pieces of data will produce the same hash. Hashes are used in encryption but also authentication, making sure the data has reached the right person. SHA2 is the current standard for the SHA, although researchers are already working on SHA3.

PFS

Perfect Forward Secrecy means that your encryption system automatically and frequently changes the keys it uses to encrypt and decrypt information. Think of it as getting your locks changed, except instead of doing it once a year, it can be done every time you load an encrypted web page.

Double VPN

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One of the best aspects of NordVPN is that it uses double-VPN, meaning that your data is encrypted twice. While most VPNs connect you through one server, double VPN redirects all the information to another server before the traffic reaches its final destination. Twice the servers means twice the encryption, so it’s useful if you’re looking for even more privacy. The disadvantage of double VPN is that it will slow down your Internet connection even more. You should really only use double VPN if it’s totally necessary, ideal for journalists, activists, and bloggers working in areas with a lot of censorship and surveillance.

NordVPN Protocols

VPN protocols affect how data is transmitted over a network. There’s definitely some overlap between protocols and encryption, as you’ll see below.

TLS

Transport Layer Security is used by many online retailers and service providers. You can think of it as a secret handshake between two people. Two systems must exchange encryption keys, their “secret handshake” in order to create a secure connection.

OpenVPN TCP

OpenVPN is the most secure software to bypass firewalls. Instead of being created by a specific company or agency, OpenVPN is sourced by the community, who constantly improves the code to prevent tampering by surveillance agencies.

TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol, which breaks data into smaller packets and then puts it back together. In a nutshell, TCP transports data and makes sure it gets to the right place.

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NordVPN
NordVPN
NordVPN

NordVPN offers Netflix access, a great app, and most importantly, they won't log your data. 

OpenVPN UDP

User Datagram Protocol is like a less careful TCP. It sends data through messages called datagrams, which use less bandwidth than that of TCP. The downside of UDP is that packets may be lost or received out of order. If you’re on the same server and using multiple devices, you’ll need to choose either UDP or TCP for each device.

Testing NordVPN

I perform all my speed tests from my apartment in Brooklyn, New York using a Macbook Air and a Windows Vivobook. My internet service provider is Optimum.

Speed Test

Keep in mind that your speed will vary from mine based on tons of factors— how close you are to your server, your internet service provider, what device you’re using, etc.

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NordVPN Download Speed Test

Download speed-wise, NordVPN affected the two computers pretty much the same, with a 52% decrease on my Macbook Air and a 50% decrease on my Windows computer. This is pretty middle of the road.

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NordVPN Upload Speed Test

NordVPN actually slowed down my upload speed less on the Vivobook, with a difference of about 11% compared to 23% on the Macbook Air. This is one of the smallest upload speed differences I’ve seen from a VPN, so I’m impressed so far.

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NordVPN Ping Test

The last thing I want to take a look at is ping, or latency. While NordVPN increased latency by 43% on my Mac, on Windows it was 72%. Overall, I’m happy with the speed of NordVPN on both computers. 

DNS Leak Test

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DNS Leak Test

DNS stands for Domain Name Server, but in layman’s terms, it’s the address you type in when you want to go to a website, like Google.com. Of course, the DNS is only for your benefit— each really represents an IP address that your computer will travel to. DNS leak tests make sure that all of your traffic remains in the encrypted VPN tunnel so no one can tell what sites you’re on. NordVPN had no DNS leaks on either Windows or Mac, which is a great sign!

WebRTC Leak Test

Are you a Firefox, Chrome, Opera, or Microsoft Edge user? Then you might want to think about WebRTC leaks. WebRTC lets browsers communicate directly with each other rather than traveling through an intermediate server. While it allows for greater speed, especially during file shares, live streaming, or video chat, it does require the device’s to know the other’s private IP address. Remember all those browsers I mentioned? They all default to WebRTC, so that’s why it’s super important to check for WebRTC leaks as well as DNS leaks. We’re in luck: NordVPN didn’t have any WebRTC leaks on either computer system!

NordVPN Subscription Information

NordVPN is reasonably priced, at anywhere from about three dollars to 12 dollars a month. I like that they give you flexible options so you can try out the VPN before making a long term commitment.

Options

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Obviously, the longer the term length, the lower the monthly cost will be. You’ll be able to use six devices on one subscription, and you can have all those devices connected to the VPN at once. However, all the devices must use different protocols (see above for more information).

Manual Configurations

NordVPN works on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Proxy, Router, and NAS.

Supported Browsers

I’m a bit surprised that NordVPN only works on Chrome and Firefox, not Safari.

NordVPN Customer Support

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NordVPN Customer Support

If you’re having trouble connecting to NordVPN or you have any issue at all, it’s essential that their customer support team knows what they’re doing. There’s nothing more frustrating than having paid for a service that you’re not getting, so I’m hoping that the NordVPN customer support team has what it takes to truly help people.

Features

NordVPN  offers help through a live chat and email 24/7, which is amazing and necessary considering their presence worldwide. There’s also an online help center with pretty useful FAQ’s and troubleshooting.

Customer Support Ratings

The NordVPN app has a rating of 3.8 on Amazon, which is pretty good. While a little over half of the reviews were five stars, I was disappointed to see that nearly 20% of the reviews were one-star. Clearly, people had a variety of experiences.

When I looked at reviews mentioning customer support specifically, only three came up— two negative, one positive. It seemed like some people had issues getting customer support to reach back out to them after they requested help.

The NordVPN App

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NordVPN App

The NordVPN app is how you’ll enter your VPN on your mobile device. I’m pleased to say that it’s rated highly, with 4.5 stars on Apple and 4.4 stars from the Google Play store.

“Installed the service a few days ago. App works great and very easy to setup. Only issue was Netflix detecting a VPN and giving an error message, only in my Samsung Smart TV, quickly solved by NordVPN technical support by chat. Very happy with the app and the service so far!”

wrote Fernando Spiitaliere in a five-star review.

NordVPN Vs. Perfect Privacy

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NordVPN Vs. Perfect Privacy Features

Perfect Privacy is a much smaller VPN company than NordVPN, with only 55 servers in 23 countries. Like NordVPN, it’s not part of any international surveillance alliances, and Switzerland is all about privacy and freedom of speech. How else are the two similar? Well, they both have kill switches, they both allow torrenting (although it won’t work with Perfect Privacy’s servers in the U.S and France), and they both have anonymous IP addresses.

While NordVPN allows streaming on Netflix, unfortunately Perfect Privacy does not. On the other hand, Perfect Privacy features split tunneling, while NordVPN does not. These features aren’t necessarily “bad” or good”— it really depends on what you’re looking for in a VPN.

Recap of NordVPN

I think NordVPN is a great VPN with few disadvantages, save for its speed on my Windows computer. However, I do recognize that different people are looking for different things in a VPN, so let me break it down for you.

I’d recommend NordVPN to you if you’d like…

  • No international surveillance alliances: Being based in Panama is certainly advantageous for a VPN.
  • Torrenting and Netflix allowed: This is definitely a good VPN for streaming.
  • Double-hop: Twice the servers means twice the encryption!
  • Great app ratings: Both iPhone and Android users loved the NordVPN app.

But steer clear if any of the following are dealbreakers…

  • No split tunneling: if it’s essential that you go on public and private servers simultaneously, then NordVPN is not right for you.
  • Customer support: Reviews on Amazon were mixed, to say the least.

To explore more great options, check out the best VPNs of 2019. 

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner is an attorney and journalist with a passion for home tech and secure, efficient living. Since graduating from NYU Law, he has maintained a paradoxical existence of trying to live life adventurously while remaining staunchly risk-averse. He is torn by the dual desires of wanting to only be in Brooklyn writing about housing policy and smart home tech and aspiring to visit his friends scattered across the globe. Gabe believes that stable, safe communities are the cornerstone to a vibrant and healthy society, and it is this passion that brought him to contribute to Security Baron.

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