NordVPN Review

NordVPN is a no-logs VPN provider based in Panama. This year NordVPN scooped the most coveted prize of them all - our Best Overall VPN award. The ProPrivacy.com Awards have quickly become the industry gold standard, with all the providers battling for a top spot. Keep reading our NordVPN review to find out why NordVPN was crowned the best of the Bunch this year.

NordVPN has a no logs policy, fantastic security features and the ability to unblock content. All of which makes it one of the best VPN choices out there. It has features such as double VPN, VPN over Tor, DNS-based malware protection, Smart DNS, and more, all part of the very reasonably priced package.

Our score
5 / 5
Pricing
$3.49/mo - $11.95/mo
Server Locations
62
Simultaneous connections
6
Jurisdiction
Panama
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average)
70.28 Mbps
Available on:
Works with:
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Video Review

Because of prime time television ads and sponsorship deals with the likes of Liverpool Football Club, NordVPN is one of the most recognizable names in the industry. NordVPN is certainly talking the talk, but can they walk the walk? Let's find out...

NordVPN Review 2020 | Too Good To Be True? | ProPrivacy Deep Dive

NordVPN Review 2020 | Too Good To Be True? | ProPrivacy Deep Dive
NordVPN Review 2020 | Too Good To Be True? | ProPrivacy Deep Dive

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If you want to see how the service stacks up against the competition, check out our side-by-side comparison of NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

Pricing

NordVPN has just the one all-in account plan, although discount “plans” are available for bulk purchases. If you sign up for a long period, this VPN becomes more affordable. Although this is a definitely a cheap VPN, it is one of the best on the market. NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. It also offers a 3-day free trial for desktop users and 7-day free trial for its mobile apps.

It accepts payment via credit/debit card. It also accepts Bitcoin, which allows for potentially anonymous payment. However, as always, please remember that NordVPN will know your true IP address, regardless.

Supported Payment Platforms

Visa/MasterCard
Amex
Cryptocurrency

Does NordVPN unblock Netflix?

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
Netflix
iPlayer
Amazon Prime
Hulu

Whether thanks to its Smart Play feature or not, a wide range of streaming services including Netflix and BBC iPlayer work flawlessly with the VPN connected in Windows and using the older Mac OSX OpenVPN client.

However, although NordVPN says Smart Play is enabled in all its apps, we could not access US Netflix using its new macOS IKEv2 app or its Firefox add-on. This VPN will also unblock YouTube videos that are restricted within your region.

Speed

We have now improved our speed testing algorithm to account for VPN services such as NordVPN whose software selects the best server for its users to offer improved speeds. This provides a much fairer comparison between this kind of setup and services that load-balance across a number of servers at a given location.

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
IPv6 leak detected?
WebRTC leak detected?
IPv4 leak detected?
Data limits
Bandwidth limits
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (max/burst) 227.03 284.91 556.2
ProPrivacy.com SpeedTest (average) 70.28 82.77 63.92

We decided to give the OpenVPN connection a bit more testing, and found the results were very server dependent, with many European servers proving faster than local UK ones. We did however sometimes have trouble connecting to some servers at all (most notably ones in the Netherlands). As far as reliability is concerned, we had no disconnections during our test period. 

We also tested for IP leaks  In Windows and using the new macOS IKE2 client we detected no IP leaks whatsoever. Using the older OSX OpenVPN client, though, we detected an IPv6 WebRTC leak. If you are a Mac user with an IPv6 connection, you should use the IKE2 client, disable IPv6 on your system, or disable WebRTC in your browser.

Ease of use

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
Android
iOS
Windows
macOS
Linux
Windows Phone

Signing up

Signing-up for the service is a straight-forward affair. A valid email address is required, but there is no reason this cannot be a disposable one. Unless paying in Bitcoins, of course, NordVPN will know your payment details, anyway.

Once signed up, you will can download NordVPN’s software immediately, and will receive a confirmation email containing some useful links.

NordVPN provides custom GUI apps for Windows, macOS, Mac OSX, iOS and Android. It now even offers a command-line OpenVPN client for Linux. It also provides manual setup guides for all these platforms, plus Blackberry 10, Chromium, and various routers and NAS. These guides look a little on the bare-bones side, but should work well enough.

It is also possible to purchase a pre-configured NordVPN router from .

The NordVPN Windows client

nordvpn windows client

The map is pretty. VPN newbies might find the Connection Wizard (bottom left) handy.

nordvpn server selection

As we have already seen, there are lots of servers to choose from. These include many specialized servers.

nordvpn speciality servers

There is a per-app kill switch. You can choose which apps will be shut down in the event of a VPN disconnection. This is very handy, but note that it is not a firewall-based kill switch. So if the NordVPN client itself crashes, the specified apps will not shut down, and can continue to access the internet.

nordvpn features

DNS leak protection is enabled by default

The NordVPN Windows client, then, is very fully featured, looks good, and is easy to use.

The Mac clients

NordVPN offers two Mac clients: the older OpenVPN client for Mac OSX, and the newer IKEv2 client for macOS. The newer app is available to download from the App Store.

The older client features a kill switch, which the newer one doesn’t, but we detected a WebRTC IPv6 leak in the older app which we didn’t in the newer one. The older app also allows you to switch between OpenVPN UDP and TCP, which can be useful for defeating modest VPN blocks.

Other than that, neither app offers any features worth mentioning, which makes them much less fully featured than the Windows version of the software.

The Mobile apps

The NordVPN Android and iOS apps are very similar.

nordvpn mobile app

The apps look remarkably similar to the desktop clients. Which is a good thing

nordvpn country selection mobile

I detected no IPv4 or WebRTC leaks while using either app, but please bear in mind that I can't test for IPv6 leaks on mobile platforms at this time. 

The browser add-ons

The Chrome and Firefox apps connect to a NordVPN's HTTPS proxy servers. They provide many of the benefits of a true VPN but limited to just the browser. These include spoofing your real location and encrypting your internet connection so that you cannot be spied on. Which can be very handy!

You need a full NordVPN account to use its browser add-ons. Interestingly, the Firefox add-on was able to unblock BBC iPlayer for me, but not US Netflix.

Customer Service

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
Free trial Yes - 3 Days No No
Money-back Guarantee
24-hour support
Live chat
Money-back guarantee length 30 30 45

24/7 customer support is provided via a ticket system (web form), Facebook, Twitter, or email. A live chat option is also available. When I contacted support via live chat, I usually received an instant or very quick response.

In the past, I have found the quality of its support to be somewhat uneven, but NordVPN seems to have upped its game of late. So much so, in fact, that it won "Best Customer Service" award in our 2018 ProPrivacy.com Awards. NordVPN provided fast, detailed, and knowledgeable responses to our battery of customer service tests, so hats off to them for that. 

A small knowledge-base plus various setup tutorials are also available. A regularly updated blog discusses internet security issues in general, plus NordVPN-specific topics.

Please Note:

While COVID-19 has been a thorn in the side of many businesses across the world, NordVPN has assured us that it is currently “working with full ammunition” and shouldn’t see interruptions to its service. This could change if the coronavirus pandemic worsens, but we recommend understanding where possible, as we all need to come together during this difficult time.

Privacy and Security

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
Self-hosted/Proxied DNS Yes Yes Yes
Kill Switch
Obfuscation (stealth)
IPv6 leak protection
WebRTC leak protection

Logging Policy

NordVPN is based in Panama and promises to keep no logs at all:

NordVPN does not monitor, store or record logs for any VPN user. We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses.

Panama has a completely uncensored internet and zero government surveillance. It is also comfortably outside the direct influence of the NSA and GCHQ. Indeed, the simple fact that this no-logs VPN provider is based in Panama makes it one of the best choices available for privacy fanatics.

There has been a great deal of speculation on the internet of late of NordVPN ties to Lithuanian infrastructure provider Tesonet.

With so much unseemly mud-slinging on all sides, ProPrivacy.com prefers not to enter the debate at this time. But we are monitoring it and performing our own investigations. We will therefore update this review as necessary.

Website tracking

The NordVPN website uses a number of trackers, but these seem fairly benign and non-invasive. Importantly, there are no Google Analytics or Facebook trackers.

Please check out ProPrivacy.com’s VPN Review Process Overview for a discussion on website tracking.

Payment Processors

All payments are handled by a company called CloudVPN, which is based in the United States. NordVPN explained the situation to us:

Being based in Panama has a downside. It complicates our ability to sign our apps, place them in stores and process our payments. Therefore, we've established a proxy based in the US, which in a nutshell acts only as our payment processor and has nothing to do with the actual service... It's not a third-party company, it's under our control, and we use it to process our payments. In short - we handle payments ourselves, just through another company.

VPN Protocols and Encryption

NordVPN ExpressVPN CyberGhost VPN
PPTP
L2TP/IPsec
SSTP
IKEv2
OpenVPN

NordVPN can be configured using most common VPN protocols. OpenVPN is used by default in its Windows and older OSX clients, but its iOS and new macOS app use IKEv2 instead.

Both are solid protocols:  OpenVPN is much more battle-tested than IKEv2 from a security standpoint, but IKE2 is also considered very secure and is faster than OpenVPN. NordVPN uses the following encryption settings for OpenVPN connections:

Data channel: an AES-256-CBC cipher with HMAC SHA256 hash authentication.

Control channel: an AES-256-CBC cipher with an RSA-2048 handshake and HMAC SHA256 data authentication. Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) is provided by a DHE-4096 key exchange.

This is a very strong setup.

NordVPN’s iOS VPN app uses IKEv2 with an AES-256-GCM cipher and HMAC SHA2-384 data authentication. PFS is provided by a DHE-3072 exchange.  The Mac App Store software uses IKEv2 with Cisco’s NGE (Next Generation Encryption) protocol.

Features

The NordVPN desktop apps have a system kill switch. This Windows VPN app also features a per-app kill switch. The iOS app features a kill switch. They all provide IPv4 and IPv6 DNS leak protection, plus WebRTC leak protection. As we have seen, in our tests these features all performed well (IPv6 WebRTC leak on the OSX OpenVPN client excepted).

Visit NordVPN

Double VPN

This feature allows you to “chain” VPN servers so that your data is routed between two VPN servers as it travels between you and the internet.

Double VPN

NordVPN offers several double VPN combinations.

Such chaining can provide some security benefits, but will always result in a major loss of speed. I think the privacy/security benefits of “double-hop” VPN servers are rather limited. But I understand that this is not a view shared by everyone. For those who value the feature, NordVPN is one of only a few providers to offer it.

Tor over VPN

For a full discussion on the pros and cons of using Tor over VPN (or Onion over VPN as NordVPN terms it). In this configuration, you connect first to a NordVPN server and then to the Tor network before accessing the internet:

Tor over VPN

NordVPN achieves this using an OpenVPN configuration file which transparently routes your data from the VPN tunnel to the Tor network. This means that your entire internet connection benefits from Tor over VPN.

This setup does offer some privacy and security advantages, but a similar effect can be achieved simply by using the Tor Browser while connected to the VPN. Crucially, such a setup is much more secure than the method offered by NordVPN.

Tor over VPN (however you do it) will seriously slow down your internet speeds as you get the combined hit of using both the Tor network (which is very slow) and the VPN.

XOR Obfuscated Servers

NordVPN runs obfuscated servers in a number of counties: the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE, and Egypt. These use the XOR encryption algorithm to overcome VPN censorship blocks put into place by authoritarian governments.

XOR is often used by malware to hide from detection, but it also works just as well for hiding VPN ciphers! This means users in places such as China and Egypt should be able to access the open internet by connecting to one NordVPN’s obfuscated XOR servers.

CyberSec

CyberSec is a new feature. It blocks DNS requests based on a real-time blocklist of harmful websites that may host malware. As such, it should shield you against malware, help prevent botnet control, and block many intrusive web ads.

I can't comment directly on its effectiveness, but the principle is sound and there is no reason to believe it does not work as advertised.

WiFiSec

This new feature will automatically initiate a VPN connection whenever a Wi-Fi network is joined. It can be set up to auto-connect to Nord on both secured and unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Visit NordVPN

The VPN market is becoming increasingly competitive, with the result that many providers are becoming very generous with the number of devices they allow to connect at once. Permitting up to six simultaneous connections, NordVPN has joined this trend.

If you connect devices to the same server, you must choose different protocols for the VPN connections. OpenVPN  TCP and UDP are counted as different protocols, so you can connect one device using TCP and another using UDP. We do not consider this to be a major limitation,

Unlike some providers, this VPN allows torrenting on all its servers, although it does not support port forwarding. It also doesn't support port selection, so you can't specify OpenVPN to run over TCP port 443 in order to bypass VPN censorship. This should not be necessary, however, as NordVPN offers Xor obfuscation instead.

NordVPN's use of mixed bare metal and virtual servers is not a big issue for us, although as with other VPN services, we do wish it clearly labeled which are which so that users can make an informed decision about the servers they connect to.

WireGuard (new April 2020)

Dubbed NordLynx, NordVPN has started rolling out support for the WireGuard protocol in its apps. We have only tested it in the macOS IKE client, but we understand that WireGuard support is being built into all its custom software. WireGuard is a lightweight but cryptographically secure new VPN protocol, which is widely regarded as the future of VPN technology. It should be noted that whatever its merits on paper, WireGuard is nowhere near as "battle-tested" as OpenVPN. 

The Linux version of WireGuard recently exited beta and is to be included in all future Linux kernels. This bodes well for the protocol, but on all other platforms it remains in beta, and should, therefore, be regarded as experimental. OpenVPN or IKEv2 are still recommended for maximum privacy. 

One of the biggest mooted advantages of WireGuard is that it is faster than most other VPN protocols. We put this to a quick-and-dirty test using speedtest.net, connecting to nearby VPN and test servers (showing download results only):

No VPN: 126.48 Mbit/s
OpenVPN: 63.49 Mbit/s
IKEv2: 70.8 Mbit/s
NordLynx: 76.88 Mbit/s

So that's a clear win for WireGuard!

Smart DNS (“Smart Play”)

Smart DNS is a technology that enables you to pretend to be elsewhere by resolving DNS requests at a specified location. This makes it ideal for streaming geo-blocked content.

According to NordVPN, users can access over 150 streaming services using NordVPN Smart Play. These include Hulu, Amazon Prime, ABC Go, Zattoo, Cartoon Network, Shudder, WeTV.com, Telemundo, VH1, Vevo, TNT Drama, Sundance.tv, StarTrek, Spike, PBS, Slacker, NBC Sports, FoodNetwork, DramaFever, Discovery, Crackle, and many more.

NordVPN’s implementation of Smart DNS is rather unusual. For a start, it uses an encrypted proxy connection. We are not sure what advantage this brings over an unencrypted connection, as Smart DNS is not really about security or privacy. On the other hand, though, it can't do any harm.

For a second, it requires no additional configuration. It runs inside all NordVPN’s apps (we are told), and when you are connected to a VPN server it detects whether the streaming service requires additional DNS routing. In practice, this meant that we could watch US Netflix even when connected to a non-US server. We have not tested, but NordVPN says all its UK servers now work for BBC iPlayer (both for mobile and desktop).

One downside of this setup is that you cannot configure NordVPN’s Smart DNS to run on devices that cannot run a VPN client: such as your smart TV, games console, or Roku.

Diskless RAM servers

As of May 2020 NordVPN is transitioning to diskless RAM servers, with around half of its infrastructure moved to the diskless setup. NordVPN tells us that "if everything goes as expected, the transition should be completed within a few months."

This is a great move, as it ensures no user data persist on a server once it has been rebooted. Booting from a read-only disk also helps to prevent security issues developing and persisting in servers.

Audits

Since NordVPN is a closed-source VPN, it's difficult to trust the company when you only have its word that it is doing the things it says. Fortunately, Nord realizes this, which is why it has reached out to third-party cybersecurity firms to audit its applications and its no logs policy.

In 2018, NordVPN partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers AG Switzerland for the first evaluation of its no logs policy. Of course, things can change over the years, which is why Nord has continued this partnership into 2020, allowing PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a second analysis of its Standard VPN, Double VPN, Obfuscated (XOR) VPN, and P2P server configurations.

What was true then is true now – we do not, nor will we ever, monitor your internet activity for any reason.

NordVPN

In an effort to fully prove its trustworthiness, NordVPN even entered into a "strategic cooperation" with VerSprite in 2019. The cybersec company conducted a comprehensive audit around Nord's various VPN applications, keeping them all up to scratch.

Other stuff

NordVPN is the only VPN service we know of to offer a transparent and public bug bounty program. It is a founding member of the i2Coalition, which aims to improve standards and improve consumer trust across the VPN industry. NordVPN has also entered into a "strategic cooperation" with US cybersecurity consulting company VerSprite to improve its security handling and reduce risk to customers.

Conclusion

NordVPN offers a very fully featured service. The fact that it is based in Panama and keeps n1o logs is also a big draw for those who care about privacy. Its software looks good and works well.

Speed performance is an issue that has plagued NordVPN since its beginning. Implementing our new test algorithm did produce better results with some fairly decent average and max burst speeds. 

The 30-day money-back guarantee gives you plenty of opportunity to ensure that everything works for you as it should. What you get with NordVPN is a very fully featured, privacy-friendly VPN service with decent speeds and the ability to access restricted content on major streaming platforms such as Netflix. 

Overall, we recommend NordVPN! But, if you're still not sure - why not compare NordVPN and ExpressVPN side-by-side?

Visit NordVPN

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

197 Comments

Mudassir Mirza
on February 8, 2020
Reply
Nice Review........Thanks for sharing it
Elias
on January 6, 2020
Reply
Works relatively well for most uses and I honestly feel safer online using their service. It allows me to access entertainment options restricted in specific countries (some Swedish channels don’t make their content available outside Sweden). Sometimes it takes some time to find a better working server to connect to, but I’ve also seen many improvements released over the past year, so would recommend this if you want a cheap solution with a perfect UI.
Junglist
on January 5, 2020
Reply
So, no mention of the password leak that NordVPN had? https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/11/nordvpn-users-passwords-exposed-in-mass-credential-stuffing-attacks/
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Junglist
on January 6, 2020
Reply
Hi Junglist. As you can see from its publish date, this review was written before this incident occurred. We did, however, report the incident at the time. Please see NordVPN admits it was hacked
Ron
on January 3, 2020
Reply
Overall I feel NordVPN has benefited from unwarranted reviews from technical publications, possibly they are good if using servers in the country of residence, but I required a VPN that would allow me to stream content, initially this was OK, but the servers have been overloaded, and streaming is often not possible. I have been having a dropped service issue which occurs at the same time each day, right at crucial moments of a football games. The time the drop occurs actually changed with daylight savings time. Support has a list of try this or try that which wastes time especially after multiple issues, since NordVPN support only repeats the list, and seem to be unaware that the same suggested solutions were provided on multiple occasions. While the pricing is low, and does supply some assistance, it is degrading do to publication reviews and advertising, reducing server capacity with subscription gains and not adding capacity, sort of local governments adding multiple housing developments with out increasing road capacity until you have a commuting nightmare. I suggest you think twice before subscribing to this service
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