NordVPN in brief:
- P2P allowed: Yes. Dedicated servers.
- Business location: Panama
- Number of servers: 3,000+
- Number of country locations: 58
- Cost: $69 (billed annually)
- VPN Protocol: OpenVPN
- Data encryption: AES-256-CBC
- Data authentication: TLS 1.2 with 2048-bit DH
- Handshake encryption: SHA2 – 512
Panama-based NordVPN is a popular choice among VPN users and is also the recipient of much praise from experts. After spending some time with the service, it’s not hard to see why. First off, NordVPN lets you watch U.S. Netflix from anywhere in the world—a rare feat these days. NordVPN also manages to create an interface that’s simple yet feature-rich enough to satisfy power users willing to dig a little deeper.
It’s not a perfect VPN by any means, but it’s a service that will have broad appeal.
When you first fire up NordVPN, you’re confronted with a world map and a marker for each country where it has servers. The map is zoomed-in by default otherwise it would be too difficult to choose from the many servers located in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
As you can tell from the map, the country selection is impressive, with nearly 60 state-level locations to choose from. If you just want a connection inside the United States or the United Kingdom without thought to a specific server, just click the place marker for that country; NordVPN will then automatically connect you.
Note: This review is part of our best VPNs roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.
Update 10/28/19: NordVPN recently revealed that one of its servers was hacked in early 2018. This news event does not change our recommendation as the risk to users was very low. The attack was against a single misconfigured server run by one of NordVPN’s contractors in Finland. The hackers were able to extract an expired TLS key, which cannot be used to decrypt user traffic. No customer account information was revealed during the intrusion. The hackers could’ve used the stolen TLS keys to impersonate the NordVPN website in a targeted attack, but it appears that didn’t happen. For anyone who is concerned about the attack, an option is to go with a VPN service that is directly responsible for its server network and does not use third parties, such as Mullvad or VyprVPN.
If you just need a solid VPN server regardless of location, hit the Connection wizard button, and NordVPN will connect you to the closest server.
For those who can’t stand the map approach, clicking the List option in the upper-left corner of the map summons a slide-out panel from the right. Here, NordVPN lists all of its country options in an alphabetized list, along with options for its P2P, Onion over VPN, Double VPN, Anti DDoS, and Dedicated IP servers (more on all this later).
But for those interested in getting into the minutia of the NordVPN network, select Servers from the desktop program’s top menu.
Again, you are confronted with a list similar to what we just saw. This time, however, there’s a small “hamburger” menu icon to the right of each country name. Click on any country you want, and you can pick the server of your choice from the NordVPN network. The individual server listings will show you how far away a given server is and what its current load is, with 100 percent being maximum capacity.
Power users will also want to look into NordVPN’s Settings where you can find standard VPN features like a kill switch that terminates your connection automatically when you disconnect from the VPN. NordVPN ups the ante on this a little bit since it has two kill-switch options. You can just have a generic kill switch that cuts off your internet if the VPN connection drops. Alternatively, you can use an app-specific kill switch under Settings > App Kill Switch. If, for example, you were using a torrenting app to download the latest version of Ubuntu, and you only wanted to do that over a VPN, then NordVPN could halt that application should your VPN connection drop.
There’s also an auto-connect option so you don’t have to bother choosing a server, and other general options. For those who really want to dig deep there’s even a system log you can look at.
Features and services
NordVPN has a number of specialized servers that VPN power users will want to take note of. The first are the P2P servers, which allow file-sharing traffic. NordVPN has an interesting feature where if you start running a file-sharing program on a non-P2P server it will automatically shift you to a dedicated P2P option.
NordVPN also provides three dedicated TOR servers for those who want to combine the anonymity of the TOR network with the VPN. The nice thing about this feature is that you don’t have to be using the dedicated TOR browser. NordVPN takes care of all the configuration and routing for you. Once you connect to one of the service’s Onion over VPN servers, you are on the TOR network.
There are also Double VPN and Anti DDoS servers for those inclined to use them. Double VPN is supposed to give you extra anonymity by routing your traffic through two VPN servers such as the U.S. and Canada, or Taiwan and Hong Kong. Anti DDoS, meanwhile, is supposed to provide a more stable connection with “an advanced stability checking system.”
For users in countries where connecting to a VPN is not allowed or generally blocked, NordVPN offers obfuscated servers that make it easier to connect to its service. This feature also adds servers in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates that brings NordVPN’s country count up to 60. Finally, there are dedicated IP servers where you can purchase an IP address that only you use. Static IPs are available in the U.S., Germany, UK, and the Netherlands.
One final new feature is the addition of a built-in ad blocker and server-level antivirus called CyberSec.
NordVPN allows six devices to connect simultaneously from a single account. It offers applications for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, and proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox. It also has tutorials on how to use NordVPN on routers, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and Chrome OS.
NordVPN’s overall average speed has increased since we last looked at the VPN. Previoulsy the score was 39.43 percent of the base speed across five different country locations. This time that score jumped to 49.33 percent—a gain of nearly 10 percentage points. Every country we tested with came back with more than acceptable speeds for 1080p video streaming and other demanding tasks.
Oh yeah, and U.S. Netflix works
Through some form of witchcraft, NordVPN has figured out how to consistently get around Netflix’s VPN filters. The company has dedicated support pages explaining how to watch Netflix and Hulu on NordVPN servers. Netflix is accessible from any U.S. server on NordVPN, while Hulu only works with a specific range. These workarounds seem to change from time to time so we won’t list them here. Just refer to NordVPN’s support pages to troubleshoot any difficulties.
Privacy, anonymity, and trust
NordVPN only asks for an email address and password when you create an account. Payment methods can be via credit card, PayPal, or Bitcoin meaning you can get about as anonymous as realistically possible short of paying with cash.
The company is based in Panama, and has a business address of 50th Street Global Plaza Tower, Panama City, Panama. However, the company doesn’t list any of its team members on the company site. “Being a security firm, for privacy reasons we do not disclose identities of our staff nor management,” a company representative said via email.
The company also says it doesn’t track you, but its terms of service note that it does use tracking cookies for “analyzing trends, administering the site, tracking users movements around the site and to gather demographic information about our user base as a whole.”
I find it troublesome when even one person won’t stand behind the company as CEO, CTO, founder, or some other high-level position. There are a few public NordVPN employees, but only in the marketing and PR departments.
NordVPN is a well-performing VPN with a great user interface, a good amount of respect for privacy and anonymity, and the advantage of accessing U.S. Netflix overseas. Overall, I’d like to see upper management in this company take accountability for the service they’ve created.
If you’re looking for ultimate privacy and security, you can probably do better than NordVPN. That said, anyone looking to access their U.S.-based streaming services from anywhere in the world would do well to look at this service.
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.