NordVPN Review

Verdict

If you’re a streaming media enthusiast, NordVPN provides a combination of features and pretty quick download speeds. That said, its privacy credentials have been dented by its recent server breach and slow public response. I hope to see further transparency from the company in line with its recent commitments, but for now, NordVPN's handling of the breach and particularly its reluctance to inform its users has been less than impressive.

Pros

  • Large number of servers
  • Wide range of privacy and security features
  • Wide range of endpoint countries
  • Clear, audited no-logging policy
  • Provides international access to Netflix, All 4 and iPlayer

Cons

  • Late disclosure of 2018 server breach
  • Expensive monthly fee

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £64.26
  • Connect up to six devices
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux
  • Supports OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, L2TP, PPTP, WireGuard
  • £9.15/month, £64.26/year, £73.36/two years, £82.40/three years
  • Clear information on connecting other devices without dedicated clients

What is NordVPN?

NordVPN’s virtual private network (VPN) service provides clients and instructions for a wide range of operating systems and devices, with excellent support for international video streaming services.

The company has had external audits and penetration tests carried out to verify the security of its mobile apps and the accuracy of its no-logging claims. However, in September 2019, NordVPN admitted that one of its servers in Finland was compromised in March 2018 and private TLS keys that could potentially have been used in a targeted man-in-the-middle attack were stolen. No user data was taken, as NordVPN keeps no logs that could be used to identify users or their activity.

However, the affair was not entirely well handled. Although NordVPN says that it didn’t find out about the breach until April 2019, information about the key theft was in the wild as early as May 2018 and the company’s flippant response to criticism from the infosec community when news of the breach became public was in very poor grace.

Breaches are a fact of life for online service operators and their handling of such security incidents – and the duty of informing users – is key. In a detailed official response, NordVPN has committed to carry out even more auditing and testing of its systems, greater assessment of server providers, and an upgrade to diskless servers that should eliminate potentially compromisable local storage.

But I’d also like to see the company commit better communication with users when security breaches occur and less hyperbolic marketing claims about VPN security in general.

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Related: Best VPN 2019

NordVPN – Features and usability

NordVPN has, in the past few months, added some new features and given its Windows client a bit of a polish. A compact version of the client with quick connection options is available as a pop-up from its notification area icon, while its main display shows a map of endpoint locations, alongside a searchable list of available servers, categorised by features and geographic location.

It also provides shortcuts to endpoints with specific extra security features, including double VPN, DDoS protection, Onion Routing via the Tor network or support for peer-to-peer torrenting.

In its advanced settings, NordVPN offers a wide range of features, including autoconnection, CyberSec ad and malware protection, invisibility to your local network and both internet and app-specific kill switches to block traffic if your VPN connection goes down. You can also set a custom DNS provider and attempt to avoid VPN blocking in places where it’s restricted by using some of NordVPN’s obfuscated servers.

While NordVPN’s longest subscriptions work out very cheaply, its other tiers are more costly than many of its rivals. You’ll pay a hefty £9.15 per month, a middling £64.26 per year or £73.36 for two years, or £82.40 per three years. The latter works out at just £2.29 a month, which is much better value.

A free trial is no longer available, but there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, and those in search of extra anonymity can pay in Bitcoin.

The service is owned by Tefincom, headquartered in Panama. The country has no data retention legislation in force and NordVPN itself has a no-logging policy. To back this up, NordVPN has had an independent audit carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers and this is available for all subscribers to read.

NordVPN desktop client

NordVPN – Performance

Endpoints/VPN UK Netherlands United States
NordVPN HTTP 152.4Mbps 167.36Mbps 122.32Mbps
NordVPN FTP 98.42Mbps 136.24Mbps 49.61Mbps

NordVPN, as I’ve come to expect, produced some of the fastest HTTP transfer speeds in this month’s test, although its FTP performance was rather unexpectedly subdued. UK HTTP downloads came in at 152.4Mbps (19.05MB/s) and FTP at 12.3MB/s.

Its Netherlands endpoint gave us the fastest HTTP speed I saw from the Dutch test server at 167.36Mbps (20.92MB/s), with FTP downloads at 17MB/s. And NordVPN also set this month’s record for US HTTP speeds at 122.32Mbps (15.29MB/s), with a US FTP download coming in 6.2MB/s.

Those HTTP speeds are universally excellent and very suitable for even high-quality video streaming.

The company’s recently-introduced NordLynx protocol for Linux, although very much a niche feature, produced download speeds of up to 780Mbps (97.5MB/s) – far faster than a non-VPN connection to the same server, making NordVPN and its command line app perhaps the best choice for Linux users right now, although the technology is still relatively new.

As usual, NordVPN excelled in streaming tests – I was able to watch region-locked content on Netflix US, BBC iPlayer and, somewhat unusually, All 4, as well as Crunchyroll and Shudder’s US services. It has a huge number of servers in 62 different countries, which doubtless helps its IP addresses keep off streaming industry blacklists.

Related: What is a VPN?

Should I buy NordVPN?

NordVPN performs consistently well in my tests, with an excellent range of features at low to middling cost depending on which subscription you opt for. It’s one of the few VPN providers to consistently go undetected by both US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, making it a great option for those who want to watch region-shifted streaming content.

Owned by Panama-based Tefincom, NordVPN has, at the time of testing, 5721 active servers in countries ranging from the UK, the US and most of the EU to less commonly used locations in Egypt, Vietnam, Taiwan and New Zealand. It recently shut down its Russian endpoint servers as its no-logging policy was in violation of Russian legislation.

NordVPN is one of the few VPN providers to have an independent audit that confirms its claim that it stores no personally identifiable information about its users.

Panama has no data-retention legislation in force and NordVPN itself has a no-logging policy. NordVPN says that it runs services in restrictive countries such as Russia by fully configuring the servers it rents from local ISPs itself.

Get Nord VPN here

Verdict

If you’re a streaming media enthusiast, NordVPN provides a combination of features and pretty quick download speeds. It’s a great option if you’re after a best-of-all-worlds VPN. It’s also introducing some particularly interesting features for Linux users.

Its privacy credentials have been dented by its recent server breach and slow public response. I hope to see further transparency from the company in line with its recent commitments, but for now, NordVPN’s handling of the breach and particularly its reluctance to inform its users has been less than impressive.

Privacy-conscious VPN users should instead choose a service that’s been shown in court to keep no logs, such as ExpressVPN if you need reliable region-shifting for video streaming or Private Internet Access if you’re after very competitive pricing.

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