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NordVPN is one of the top VPN services in the world, but is its sheer popularity a good indicator of its security features and overall performance?
Not exactly. It excels in a few key aspects, but NordVPN can also do better in others. Anyone considering it should first read our latest assessment of the much-touted VPN provider.
With its legally favorable location and detailed no-logs policy, NordVPN has a strong foundation to build its set of features. Some see them as overkill, but we argue that one can never go wrong with too much privacy and security. If anything, it’s the support and server aspects that NordVPN must further refine.
Privacy and Security
NordVPN is located in Panama, which is outside of EU and US jurisdictions — away from both Five Eyes and Fourteen Eyes surveillance alliances. The country itself has no law on compulsory data retention.
NordVPN doesn’t identity, store, nor distribute sensitive user data. Unlike other top VPN services, it does not need bandwidth tracking (to detect unusually high bandwidth use), IP addresses, or activity logs.
The VPN service only collects data necessary to account creation, account management, payments, and customer support:
- Email address
- Billing information
- Customer service chats
Users can pay with cryptocurrency to lessen security risks — and they can request NordVPN to remove customer service inquiries immediately. Otherwise, they’ll be kept for two years.
However, the VPN for privacy does track usernames and specific timestamps to enforce its rule on just six simultaneous VPN connections — giving hackers valuable data if they infiltrate the database.
Thankfully, NordVPN removes the usernames and timestamps within 15 minutes after a disconnection.
Moreover, PwC Switzerland has performed an independent audit of its no-logs policy and didn’t have concerning findings.
NordVPN uses AES 256, the NSA-approved encryption standard. Thus, public institutions and military organizations rely on it to safeguard confidential information.
AES 256-bit encryption is practically impossible to decrypt. Brute force attacks (trial and error) are useless against it — and supercomputers can’t break it if they have a billion years to work together.
The top VPN provider limits its VPN protocols, ditching the outdated, highly vulnerable PPTP protocol.
Instead, NordVPN sticks to one promising and two proven protocols:
IKev2/Ipsec remains as the ideal VPN protocol for mobile devices, providing top-tier encryption and speed.
Arguably the overall best VPN protocol, OpenVPN is well-respected for its stability and security — thanks in part to its easily auditable open-source nature.
OpenVPN users pick between the speedy UDP port and the slightly slower but more reliable TCP port.
Likewise, NordVPN combines 256-bit AES encryption and 4096-bit Diffie-Hellman (DH) keys enhanced data security.
NordLynx is essentially NordVPN’s modification of the relatively young WireGuard VPN protocol, which could beat OpenVPN with its ideal features such as:
– industry-leading encryption
– better performance
– smaller codebase (i.e. takes less time to audit and debug)
– cross-platform use
Instead of just allowing WireGuard itself, NordVPN addressed its privacy issue by employing its double NAT system — ensuring its servers don’t store data that could lead to a specific user.
Otherwise called server chaining, a double VPN encrypts traffic through two VPN servers using UDP and TCP protocols.
The first server modifies the real IP address. When the data goes through the second server, it won’t have a trace of the user’s actual information.
However, Double VPN isn’t an essential feature for everyone — and it slightly lowers connection speeds. Instead, it’s for people like activists and journalists safeguarding themselves from political persecution.
The kill switch prevents a device (or all other apps) from sending or receiving traffic if the device loses its VPN connection or has an unstable connection.
NordVPN has a different kill switch for Windows and for Android, iOS, and macOS, but they both enable system-wide blocking of internet connections.
NordVPN has over 5,000 servers in 59 countries in four regions:
- The Americas (2167 servers)
- Europe (2089 servers)
- Asia Pacific (636 servers)
- Africa, the Middle East and India (121 servers)
Over a third of all servers are in the US, and regions The Americas and Europe already cover more than 90% of the overall server count.
The distribution is understandable, but entire continents like Oceania and Africa having only 208 and 48 VPN servers, respectively, is a bit disappointing.
NordVPN has six types of VPN servers:
- Dedicated IP
- Double VPN
- Onion Over VPN
However, only eight countries have at least three server types other than Standard — and they’re all in The Americas and Europe regions.
Many countries have P2P servers, but some countries like Argentina and Indonesia are limited to just the standard VPN servers. Thus, disparities in server distribution and server options are apparent.
Ease of Use
NordVPN has one-click encryption: Users can connect to a VPN server with one tap since the service has automatic server selection, which decides based on location, load, and user preferences.
For VPN protocols, we recommend IKEv2/IPSec for Apple devices while OpenVPN is ideal for all other platforms. The speed reduction when using OpenVPN UDP is noticeable, but far from inconvenient.
Dedicated and Shared IP
We tested the dedicated IP address ($70/yr) and the standard shared IP address — and both worked as intended.
The former prevented constant captcha requests, especially for accessing bank accounts and P2P sites.
On the other hand, the shared IP was ideal for actual P2P file sharing, simultaneous connections, and user privacy. The best part, however, is NordVPN allows users to freely switch from one to another.
NordVPN has official apps for:
- Windows (7 and later)
- Android TV
However, the NordVPN app in the Apple App Store is only for the IKEv2 protocol. The OpenVPN version is available for download on the website.
The top VPN service has .deb and .rpm packages to work with many Debian-based and RHEL-based Linux distributions. Plus, NordVPN works on Raspberry Pi through OpenVPN.
The first-gen Amazon Firestick doesn’t work with VPNs, but the NordVPN app in the Amazon app store is compatible with other Amazon Fire devices.
Users who need a VPN for smart TVs (other than the Android TV) should use a Tomato-compatible or DD-WRT router. Lastly, NordVPN has Chrome and Firefox extensions.
NordVPN doesn’t have introductory rates and its monthly rate is expensive, but plans with longer billing periods are reasonably priced.
1 Year ($6.99/mo)
2 Years ($4.99/mo)
3 Years ($3.49/mo)
Trial Period and Money-Back Guarantee
Despite its popularity, NordVPN still doesn’t provide a no-questions-asked free trial.
The company has a 30-day money-back guarantee, but this means even those only slightly interested must pay to see if the service is for them.
This is a security risk since users must submit details to complete transactions.
Not everyone can pay by cryptocurrency (thereby anonymizing the transaction), so they’ll have to use credit cards, AliPay, and other familiar methods — except for PayPal that’s no longer accepted.
A workaround is to get a physical NordVPN box at retail stores like Best Buy and Amazon. People can pay with cash to eliminate the need for online transactions.
The main support section is the Help Center, featuring a search bar and links to four article categories:
- General Info
- Connectivity (troubleshooting)
It’s easy to navigate. Main categories and their subcategories are on the right side of the screen while related articles are at the bottom of the article.
All articles are well-written and have proper formatting. Some contain screenshots, helpful hyperlinks, and videos too.
Also, the top VPN provider has active pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube — and all have a sizable following.
Chat and Email
NordVPN has no phone support, although it has chat and email support. The chat option uses a chatbot, which redirects users to a live support agent if it was unable to give the right answer.
The response to email queries varies, but NordVPN ensures that it is sent within 24 hours.
As one of the world’s top VPN providers, NordVPN is in a constant search for innovative security features and opportunities to increase its server count and add more locations. But the Panama-based company should already hold its head high for its present range of comprehensive privacy and security features.
NordVPN likely has no problems improving its regional server allocation. In contrast, it needs to consider phone support — even if the majority of users prefer chat and email. NordVPN must partner with more retail stores, especially beyond the US and UK, to allow more users to anonymously avail its service.
If NordVPN invests more in customer acquisition, support, and payment options, it might well become the best VPN provider in terms of global market reach.