There are a lot of players in the commercial VPN space today. And the competition is growing, as people become more and more aware of the ways their privacy is being eroded in the digital domain.
Using a VPN is one of the best tools available to privacy-conscious individuals. And it’s a critical one too. A VPN can make or break your digital privacy.
Choose the wrong VPN provider and you could be worse off than using your ISP’s “raw” connection to the Internet.
I've spent a lot of time crawling the Web, looking at the different offerings and policies in the commercial VPN space. And NordVPN is one of them.
In this article, I look at NordVPN’s service offering in detail, to see if I can in good faith, recommend them to our readers.
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Here's what matters most.
NordVPN is one of the top players in the commercial VPN space. They offer a well-balanced set of privacy, security, and convenience features. We can confidently recommend NordVPN to any privacy-minded individual.
NordVPN is a strong contender in the commercial VPN space.
On offer is a private, no-logging VPN service, with native apps for most platforms, industry-standard encryption, and a good mix of security and convenience features.
Their promise is a secure and private Internet, without restrictions. Do they live up to their promise? Let’s find out.
NordVPN was founded in 2012 by four long time friends. Having all spent long periods spread out across the world, they became aware of growing censorship and surveillance on the Internet and wanted to provide a service that could curb that tendency. So they set up their first VPN server and have since grown massively, serving over 12 million customers worldwide, today.
- Industry-Standard Encryption
- Native Applications
- Strict No-Logging Policy
- Ads & Tracker Blocker
- VPN Kill Switch
- Don’t own their entire infrastructure
- NordVPN was hacked in 2018
- Cannot choose your ciphers/level of encryption
What to Consider Before Buying a VPN Subscription?
Typically, someone looking to purchase a VPN subscription is looking to enhance their privacy. Some may even be looking for full-on anonymity - dissidents in authoritarian countries, for example.
In both cases, the most important thing to look out for will be the VPN provider’s logging policy.
If your VPN provider keeps logs or does not disclose its policy relative to logging, that provider should not be trusted. The logging policy is the most crucial element to consider when considering a VPN subscription.
Another important element with privacy-enhancing services is the accepted payment methods. Specifically, do they accept cash and/or bitcoin, for anonymous payments?
This is important because following the money trail is a critical step in identifying you and could be life-threatening in certain counties, under certain regimes.
By the way, NordVPN doesn’t log and accepts various cryptocurrencies (more on that below…).
NordVPN Features Review
We will look at NordVPN’s offering in-depth. The review will be broken down into four main categories, which each contain multiple sub-points.
The main categories are Security, Anonymity, Features, and Policies. Let’s start.
Security is usually the main reason one subscribes to a VPN service. It's hence a given that the service needs to be secure. Let’s see how NordVPN does on the security front.
Supported VPN Protocols
NordVPN supports IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, and WireGuard (called NordLynx). These are all very secure protocols.
WireGuard, however secure it may be, is still in development and should be used with caution. IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN have both been around for a long time and have demonstrated their effectiveness and security.
These are both trustworthy protocols. And we’re pleased to see that NordVPN does not support weak, obsolete, or compromised protocols, like PPTP and IPSec/L2TP.
Encryption Level & Supported Ciphers
When using OpenVPN or IKEv2 with NordVPN, the cipher used is AES, with 256-bit keys. This is the industry-standard. That is, AES256 is used by banks, governments and the military. It is an established cipher, with no known vulnerabilities.
WireGuard, on the other hand, uses more modern ciphers.
This does not make them better, just newer and potentially more resilient against certain types of attacks. WireGuarduses Curve25519, ChaCha20, Poly1305, BLAKE2, as ciphers, among others.
This is all very secure. The only downside is that you cannot select your ciphers or encryption levels in NordVPN's native apps.
DNS Leak Protection
DNS leaks are a major concern for VPN users.
This is because if your DNS requests leak - meaning your DNS requests are still being forwarded to your ISP’s DNS servers - your ISP is still tracking your activities, despite the fact you’re using a VPN.
NordVPN runs their own no-logging DNS servers inside the VPN tunnel. And they automatically configure their client apps to use the internal DNS servers, protecting you from DNS leaks.
The DNS servers being within the VPN tunnel means that your DNS traffic also benefits from the tunnel’s encryption.
Your DNS requests are safe while on NordVPN.
VPN Kill Switch
What happens if your connection to the VPN server suddenly drops? Normally, this shouldn’t happen, but it occasionally does.
If this happens and traffic continues to flow, it will go out unencrypted, using your ISP’s gateway and DNS servers.
And if this were to happen while your computer is unattended, the traffic could leak for a while before you realize what happened.
This is why NordVPN’s apps all include a VPN Kill Switch. What this does is automatically block all Internet traffic if the connection to the VPN server is lost.
This way, you can rest assured that your traffic will not leak as long as the VPN app is running.
In Which Jurisdiction is the VPN Provider Based?
Jurisdiction can have an impact on a VPN provider’s security. We personally feel that the logging policy is the make or break feature of any VPN service.
But jurisdiction can also be important, especially for dissidents in authoritarian countries.
If you fall into this group, you may want to avoid a VPN provider based in one of the 14 Eyes nations, to mitigate the possibility of your data ending up in the hands of governments. But be sure to still choose a provider that adheres to a strict no-logging policy.
NordVPN would be a good choice: they are based in Panama and have a strong no-logging policy.
For more information on the dynamics between VPN providers, jurisdiction, and Intelligence sharing, take a look at our 5, 9 & 14 Eyes: What Does It All Mean For VPN Users? article.
Do They Have a Warrant Canary?
In certain jurisdictions, such as the United States, law enforcement can serve secret warrants to ISPs, VPN providers and others.
These warrants compel companies to turn over user data to law enforcement to pursue an investigation.
These warrants are also regularly bundled with a gag order. A gag order prevents the company who was served the warrant from notifying the targets of the warrants that their data has been compromised.
A warrant canary is designed to circumvent the gag order, to some degree. A warrant canary is a frequently published statement that confirms that a service provider has not received a secret warrant and gag order.
The idea behind the warrant canary is that if the provider ever does receive such a warrant, the warrant canary is taken down.
It won’t specifically inform the targets of the warrant that their data has been compromised. But it will inform the community of users that these events have occurred so that they can take appropriate action.
NordVPN regularly publishes a warrant canary. We’ll take it.
Do They Own or Rent Their Infrastructure?
Some VPN providers own and control all of their infrastructure. This has the benefit of not having to trust third-parties in the operation of the VPN network. Other providers rent their servers from large data centers.
This can enable them to more easily have a large number of servers on offer, distributed across a large number of countries. But it also introduces the risk of tampering by third-parties.
NordVPN use both approaches. They own some of their servers and rent others. This is where NordVPN loses some points.
While it’s possible to set up VPN infrastructure with trusted and trustworthy partners, the more people have access to the infrastructure, the less secure it should be considered.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Third-party access to critical infrastructure is a weak link.
Have They Ever Been Hacked?
A VPN provider’s reputation is almost as important as its infrastructure. As such, when looking to purchase a VPN subscription, knowing whether or not a provider has been hacked is important.
And not just in terms of the breach itself, but also in terms of how the company responded to the breach.
NordVPN was indeed hacked In March of 2018. The data center that managed NordVPN’s Finland server installed remote management software on the server.
NordVPN was not aware this software had been installed.
The attacker was able to compromise the server by exploiting a vulnerability in the remote management software.
NordVPN acknowledged the issue in October 2019. They claim they waited to audit all their other servers before making a statement on the matter.
When they did acknowledge it, they made it clear that the compromised keys had since expired. And that even if they remained active, they could not be used to decrypt the VPN traffic of their users.
So they got hacked because of their infrastructure model. But no user information was compromised. This ties into the previous point of renting vs owning your infrastructure.
Hacks happen to the best and most security-focused companies, but it is particularly damning for a VPN provider.
While I could still confidently recommend NordVPN to a friend, despite the 2018 hack, they still lose points for this in this review.
For more information on the 2018 hack, have a look at our Is NordVPN Safe? article.Click here to get NordVPN for 70% off
What Information Is Collected at Signup?
Signing-up to NordVPN is easy and straightforward. All they require is a valid email address and for you to choose a password and a package to access the service.
No nonsense. We like that.
Accepted Payment Methods
The payment methods accepted by the VPN provider are also important from an anonymity standpoint. If you’re using a VPN primarily for anonymity, your payment trail could compromise your anonymity.
A good VPN provider will allow anonymous payments. This would be either cash or cryptocurrencies.
NordVPN accepts many payment methods, such as credit cards, payment services, such as AliPay and UnionPay, as well as several cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin. They do not offer cash payments, however.
For anonymous payments, you will need to use Bitcoin.
Using bitcoin anonymously is easier said than done, though it is doable. Just be prepared to set some time aside to achieve this. Here’s a good guide on how to make anonymous payments with Bitcoin.
NordVPN offers dedicated servers to route your traffic through the Tor network after connecting to the VPN server. This adds a rather significant layer of security to your connection.
Tor is a fantastic tool for anonymity if used correctly.
Tor bounces your traffic over many geographical locations (typically 4 to 6) before sending it on to its ultimate destination. Remember not to log in to any services tied to your identity if you want to maintain your anonymity.
But bear in mind that Tor can drastically slow down your Internet speed.Click here to get NordVPN for 70% off
Cost / Packages
NordVPN is on the more expensive side when it comes to VPN services. But, to be clear, I do not consider this a bad thing. You get what you pay for, right? And if you want high-quality service, it usually won’t be free.
All of the NordVPN subscriptions include all of the features on offer. NordVPN offers different prices for different subscription terms:
- 11.95 USD for one month of service;
- 83.88 USD for one year of service (works out to 6.99 USD per month);
- 119.76 USD for two years of service (works out to 4.99 USD per month);
- 125.64 USD for three years of service (works out to 3.49 USD per month).
Again, this isn’t cheap. Quality rarely is. But all subscriptions are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Number of Devices That Can Connect Simultaneously?
NordVPN allows you to connect up to 6 devices simultaneously for a single subscription. This is rather generous. A lot of providers cap it at 3 or 5.
Also, you can install NordVPN on a VPN capable router and connect as many devices as you want to the router. The router will only count as one device, as far as NordVPN is concerned.
We independently tested NordVPN’s speed in our Does NordVPN Slow Down Your Internet Speed? (Tested) article.
We found that their service generally does not slow down your Internet connection, as long as you connect to a server that is relatively close to your actual location.
Our tests found that connecting to a Germany-based NordVPN server from Canada did not impact download speed at all. And slightly affected upload speed.
NordVPN speeds are very good. For more information, have a look at our article linked above, for more information on NordVPN’s speeds.
The Number of VPN Servers Available?
NordVPN operates 5902 servers, in 59 countries. That is uhm… more than enough for anyone? Yes.
Bear in mind that some of these servers are rented and that third-parties may have access to the infrastructure.
Do They Support Multiple Server Hops?
NordVPN offers a feature called Double VPN. Double VPN enables you to bounce your traffic over two different VPN servers. This makes you harder to identify.
The second server hop adds a second layer of security and anonymity to your traffic.
It works as follows (from the NordVPN website):
- Your traffic is first encrypted on your device and redirected to a remote VPN server.
- It reaches the server and leaves it encrypted one more time.
- The encrypted traffic then passes through a second VPN server, where it gets decrypted.
- You reach your internet destination securely and privately.
NordVPN supports all major operating systems for computers, tablets, and smartphones. They also support many NAS devices and routers. This is very complete coverage.
For the complete list and setup instructions, visit NordVPN’s website.
NordVPN provides native applications for the following platforms:
- Android TV
- Chrome (Browser Extension)
- Firefox (Browser Extension)
Again, very complete coverage.
Block Ads & Trackers?
NordVPN does include an ads & trackers blocker, called CyberSec. CyberSec blocks ads and trackers by performing DNS blacklisting.
We spoke earlier about NordVPN’s DNS servers running inside the VPN tunnel. This keeps your DNS requests secure and private.
With CyberSec enabled, your DNS requests are referenced against a blocklist and any offending traffic (ads & trackers) is stripped out before reaching your browser.
If you’re a NordVPN user or plan to become one, I strongly recommend enabling CyberSec.
Torrenting / P2P Support?
NordVPN has a large number of dedicated servers that support torrenting / P2P. These are identified on the Servers page of their website. They are also grouped in the native apps, under the P2P heading.
The servers used for torrenting / P2P are located in jurisdictions where these activities are less likely to be flagged. This is a security benefit.
Having dedicated servers for these activities offers another benefit. Torrenting / P2P can put pressure on a server’s bandwidth.
Having dedicated servers means that torrenting / P2P users are not putting strain on other users’ bandwidth.
Simply connect to one of these servers and torrent with peace of mind.
For more information on NordVPN's P2P support, take a look at our Does NordVPN Allow Torrenting / P2P? article.
Streaming / Netflix
NordVPN make it clear that their service is streaming-friendly.
Streaming over a VPN has a few advantages:
- Circumventing geo-restrictions
- Avoiding ISP bandwidth throttling
- The security benefit of a fully encrypted connection
But what about Netflix?
As you probably already know, Netflix decided to ban VPN use from its service in 2018. NordVPN is able to provide VPN access to Netflix, despite the Netflix ban.
In our Does NordVPN Work With Netflix? article, I tested NordVPN on Netflix and it was as easy as connecting to the server in the geographical location I wanted - and it just worked.
This is a cat and mouse game between VPN providers and Netflix. This means that not all servers will work all the time. And you may need to take some extra, yet still simple steps, to make it work on certain days.
It's all clearly laid out in the linked article, above. Have a look if you want more information.Click here to get NordVPN for 70% off
A VPN provider’s policies, relative to certain events is at least as important as the features they offer.
Have they ever spied on their users at the request of law enforcement?
Their warrant canary claims that they have not. We have no reason not to take them at their word (nor do we really have a choice, though…).
How do they respond to DMCA notices?
In their 2020 edition of TorrentFreak’s Which VPN Services Keep You Anonymous guide, various VPN providers are asked to answer a specific set of questions relative to the provider’s service, its security, and its policies.
NordVPN answer the question as follows:
“We operate under Panama’s jurisdiction, where DMCA and similar orders have no legal bearing. Therefore, they do not apply to us.”
Do they warn users if/when compromised by law enforcement?
From the TorrentFreak guide:
“[Q:] What steps would be taken in the event a court orders your company to identify an active or former user of your service? How would your company respond to a court order that requires you to log activity for a user going forward? Have these scenarios ever played out in the past?"
"[A:] If the order or subpoena is issued by a Panamanian court, we would have to provide the information if we had any. However, our zero-log policy means that we do not store any information about our users’ online activity – only their email address and basic payment info. So far, we haven’t had any such cases.”
I reviewed NordVPN’s logging policies in our Does NordVPN Keep Logs? [NordVPN’s Logging Policy Explained]article. What I found was that NordVPN does not log the activities of its users. Specifically, this means:
- No incoming and outgoing Ip address logging
- No connection date and duration logging
- No transferred bandwidth logging
- No used VPN servers logging
- No visited websites logging
- No downloaded files logging
- No application use logging
For more information on NordVPN’s logging policies, take a look at our article mentioned above.
It is written in plain English (no legalese).
It is clear and easy to understand what they do collect and why (they really don’t collect much).
It is also not written in all caps, as some companies do (usually to discourage people from actually reading it, as text in all caps will tire your eyes quickly).
Click here to get NordVPN for 70% off
“NordVPN guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN services, meaning that your activities using NordVPN Services are provided by automated technical process, are not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party. We do not store connection time stamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or other data. From the moment a NordVPN.com user turns on the NordVPN.com software, their Internet data becomes encrypted. Any online traffic coming from user’s device is no longer visible to ISP, third-party snoopers or cyber criminals. Further, NordVPN have a strict no logs policy when it comes to seeing user activity online: NordVPN is based in Panama, which does not require data storage.”
We're Not The Only Ones
Looking around the Web, you’ll quickly realize that I’m not the first to review NordVPN.
You’ll also find that I’m not the only one who likes what he sees when looking at NordVPN’s service.
I found many recent and high-quality reviews on the Web that essentially echo what I wrote. Here are a few worth mentioning:
"NordVPN has been one of the leading VPN providers with the best security. As you can see throughout this NordVPN review, the reasons for their popularity are valid. It’s secure, fast, and easy to use, with some amazing features to ensure your data and information are always protected. That’s why they take the first place on our list of VPNs.”
"NordVPN has long been at the top of PCMag's ranking of VPNs, and it's easy to see why. It commands an enormous fleet of servers across the globe, and takes a kitchen sink approach to security features. It does all that while not ignoring the user experience, featuring simple, approachable apps that anyone can get the hang of it a few seconds. The company is also looking forward, incorporating new technology like WireGuard into its core products.”
Click here to get NordVPN for 70% off
"NordVPN stays on our list of best 2020 mobile VPNs for many reasons, including its status as the reigning champion of the bang-for-buck ratio. Hands down, you aren't going to get a VPN anywhere else that can do more than NordVPN does, as cheaply as NordVPN does it.”
They do not log any user activity and they own and control all of their infrastructure.
They support almost every platform available and offer helpful guides on setting up their service on all of their supported platforms.
- Based in Gibraltar
- Strict no-logging policy
- Support Multihop servers
- Accept cash and bitcoin
- Blocks ads & trackers (AntiTracker)
- Owns and controls its entire infrastructure
Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a U.S. based VPN service. They put a strong focus on privacy and security while offering a large number of features. They also have a strict and proven no-logging policy.
They have over 3386 servers in 42 countries. They support many VPN protocols, including the obsolete and insecure PPTP protocol (unfortunately).
PIA is also one of the cheapest high-quality and secure VPN services out there.
- Based in the United States
- Strict no-logging policy
- Blocks ads & trackers
- SOCKS5 Proxy support included
- Over 3386 servers in 42 countries
- One of the least expensive high-quality VPN Providers
They don’t collect any information from you when you sign-up. They instead generate a random number as your identifier.
They offer OpenVPN and WireGuard. And also support multiple server hops with their Bridge feature.
Mullvad offers very good service with a strong focus on privacy. And at 5 Euros per month, it’s a pretty good deal
- Based in Sweden
- Strict no-logging policy
- Strong focus on privacy
- No information collected at signup
- Support multiple server hops
- Not very expensive
NordVPN is an excellent VPN service. They offer a great mix of security, privacy, and convenience.
DNS leak protection, CyberSec, strong encryption, VPN kill switch have you covered on the security front.
And dedicated P2P servers, native apps for every major (and not so major) platform and up to six simultaneous connections (or more with a VPN router) make the service very user-friendly.
The downsides are that they don’t own their entire infrastructure, which introduces vulnerabilities, due to possible third-party access to some NordVPN servers. And case in point, their Finland server, hosted in a third-party data center was hacked, in 2018.
Nonetheless, NordVPN remains a top player in the commercial VPN space and we can confidently recommend NordVPN to any privacy-minded individual.
Check out NordVPN’s website for more information.
NordVPN: Complete Review - The Good, The Bad and Everything In-Between
By Marc Dahan
Last updated: April 27, 2020