|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
Can one of the most popular VPNs on the market also provide premium speeds and strong security, despite the below-average price?
In this updated NordVPN review for 2020, I put the service through extensive testing to see how it compares to the competition. All test results are backed up with screenshots posted below in the review.
- Numerous speed tests conducted with NordVPN servers around the world
- Leak tests conducted on the desktop applications (checking for IPv4, IPv6, and DNS leaks)
- Testing the kill switch and leak protection features
- Streaming compatibility checks with Netflix on US servers
- Testing the specialty servers, including the Double-VPN and P2P servers
This NordVPN review is an in-depth summary of test results and research. Here is a brief overview of my findings:
Pros of NordVPN
- Strong privacy and security features
- Fast and consistent speeds
- Secure apps with no leaks
- Large server network (with no virtual locations)
- Great customer support
- Verified no logs VPN provider (audited)
- NordVPN based in Panama (good privacy jurisdiction)
- Security upgrades for 2020 and beyond
- Works great with Netflix
- Excellent prices and refund policy
Cons of NordVPN
- Big discounts only available for longer subscriptions
Additional research findings
- NordLynx: WireGuard implementation for Linux
- Is NordVPN good for torrenting?
- NordVPN dedicated IP address
- NordVPN router
So now let’s dive into the details of NordVPN.
Pros of NordVPN
Here are the pros (advantages) of NordVPN.
1. Strong privacy and security features
NordVPN offers some solid features to enhance user privacy and security – above and beyond most other VPNs. Let’s take a look at NordVPN’s encryption and some of these enhanced features.
Strong encryption standards
For encryption, NordVPN secures data with an AES-256-CBC cipher and an HMAC SHA256 hash authentication. NordVPN utilizes Perfect Forward Secrecy through a DHE-4096 key exchange. Without a doubt, this is a high level of encryption.
For VPN protocols, NordVPN uses the two industry-leading standards: OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2. Both of these are considered to be very secure, with OpenVPN having the upper hand because it is open source. We’ll discuss which NordVPN clients use which VPN protocol further below.
NordVPN CyberSec is a security feature that includes a malicious sites filter and an advertisement and tracking blocker. I found it to work well in testing, effectively blocking all advertising/tracking domains on different sites I visited.
CyberSec is activated directly from within the NordVPN client.
There are three distinct benefits of CyberSec for NordVPN users:
- More privacy – In today’s world, ads are advanced tracking tools that record your online activities and match this up to your data profile. This is how ad networks come up with targeted advertising. Blocking ads via CyberSec is crucial for privacy reasons.
- More security – The CyberSec feature is also critical for security. Online ads are usually fed in through third-party domains, which can be malicious (see malvertising). These malicious domains will use ads as an attack vector to infect your device – even if you don’t click them. CyberSec protects you against this by blocking domains based on a real-time threat list.
- Faster page load speeds – Ads can eat up a lot of bandwidth and really slow down page load speeds. Blocking ads can significantly improve performance, particularly on mobile devices.
NordVPN’s CyberSec feature seemed to do well with blocking ads in the tests I ran for this review.
Note: CyberSec uses real-time filter lists that are blocked via DNS requests. Therefore this feature is only active when connected to the VPN.
Double VPN (multi-hop)
NordVPN is one of a handful of VPN providers that offer multi-hop functionality – or in this case, double-VPN servers. With NordVPN’s double-VPN servers, your traffic is encrypted across two separate VPN servers before exiting onto the regular internet. This also offers some advantages.
- Double-VPN gives you an extra layer of encryption between your device and the regular internet.
- This could also protect you against a compromised data center. In a double-VPN setup, no single server can see both your IP address and sites you visit.
- Distributes trust across two different servers.
Unlike the photo above, I would not recommend using a double-hop on the other side of the world due to the performance tradeoffs (high latency). You’d be better off with nearby double-VPN servers that provide the same security benefits, but with better speeds.
Using a multi-hop VPN is certainly not a bad idea. While there will be a performance tradeoff, I still found speeds to be excellent with the double-VPN servers I tested in Europe (screenshots posted below).
NordVPN currently offers 31 double-hop VPN configurations. These can easily be selected from within the NordVPN client. For those wanting a higher level of privacy and security, the double-VPN servers are a great option to consider.
Note: In previous reviews, I’ve also discussed NordVPN’s “Onion-over-VPN” servers. Currently, this feature is unavailable due to issues with Tor servers. A chat representative said this may get rolled out again, but I still wouldn’t use it since the Tor network is quite slow on its own.
2. Fast and consistent speeds
To update this NordVPN review with the latest information, I ran dozens of speed tests with servers around the world. The results were surprisingly good compared to previous reviews.
I conducted all NordVPN speed tests using the OpenVPN protocol with AES-256 encryption. My baseline (non-VPN) speed was about 150 Mbps and all tests were conducted from my location in Western Europe. Now to the results!
Nearby NordVPN speed tests
Here was my first test with a nearby NordVPN server in Germany: 125 Mbps.
So far so good. Although 125 Mbps is not maxing out my baseline speed, it’s still quite fast.
Next, I tested out a NordVPN server in Luxembourg, which also gave me great speeds: 128 Mbps.
The last NordVPN server in Europe I tested was in Italy, which gave me speeds of 121 Mbps.
Overall, these are great speeds for nearby servers.
Next, I tested servers further away in the US and Canada.
Long-distance NordVPN speed tests
First up was a NordVPN server in New York at about 112 Mbps.
This is still pretty good considering the further distance.
Next was a NordVPN server in Dallas at about 106 Mbps.
Finally, I tested a few NordVPN servers in Canada, which were also consistently fast.
Here was a NordVPN server in Toronto at 109 Mbps.
For Canadian users, NordVPN also has servers in Montreal and Vancouver. The Montreal server gave me about 107 Mbps.
NordVPN Double-VPN speeds
Lastly, I also ran a few tests with NordVPN’s double-VPN servers to check for speeds.
First I tested the double-VPN server configuration for Switzerland > Netherlands and was able to get about 108 Mbps.
For a double-VPN connection, these speeds are excellent. Because traffic is getting encrypted and routed over two servers, I was surprised to get speeds over 100 Mbps.
Next, I tested the double-VPN servers for Switzerland > Sweden and again got great speeds: 116 Mbps.
To get the best speeds with NordVPN’s double-VPN feature, I’d recommend connecting to nearby servers as I did in the examples above. Overall, NordVPN’s double-VPN servers are fast.
Conclusion on speeds – With the latest round of speed tests for this review, I can conclude that NordVPN offers fast and consistent speeds.
3. Secure apps with no leaks
NordVPN also offers a nice lineup of secure apps (clients) for all major operating systems and devices:
- Mac OS
- Android and iOS (mobile)
- Android TV
Here were my main takeaways from testing and reviewing the NordVPN clients on Windows and Mac OS:
- Fully-featured – The NordVPN apps are loaded with features, to include specialty servers, leak protection, and startup/connection settings.
- Easy to use – Whether you are new with VPNs or a seasoned pro, you should find the NordVPN clients user-friendly and intuitive. Adjusting settings and selecting features is simple.
- Secure – Aside from the strong encryption we discussed above, NordVPN also secures data with a kill switch. This blocks traffic (or closes applications) if the VPN connection drops for any reason. We’ll examine this more below.
NordVPN Windows client
The NordVPN Windows client utilizes the OpenVPN protocol and offers all features.
To connect to a server in the NordVPN Windows client, you can use the list on the left or click a location on the map. In the screenshot below, I’ve selected the double-VPN servers from the list of “Specialty Servers”.
I found connection times to be very good, with NordVPN quickly connecting to servers (no long delays).
NordVPN kill switch
NordVPN is one of the few VPNs that offers two different kinds of kill switches. A kill switch is important because it blocks traffic if the VPN connection drops, which protects you from de-anonymization and your regular traffic being exposed.
In the screenshot below you can see the two different kill switches:
- Internet Kill Switch – This will block all traffic if the VPN connection drops via the firewall (recommended).
- App Kill Switch – This will close applications if the VPN connection drops, but will not block traffic.
If you are concerned about IP address leaks, it would be best to use the “Internet Kill Switch” as this will block non-VPN traffic via the firewall. And if you are using the Internet kill switch, then you probably don’t need to use the App kill switch.
Note: For those using NordVPN on Mac OS, there are two different options, with each one having a different kill switch:
- Mac OS IKEv2 client – This offers both the Internet Kill Switch and the App Kill Switch (exactly like above with the Windows client).
- Mac OS OpenVPN client – This offers only the App Kill Switch.
Both the IKEv2 and OpenVPN clients are secure and reliable options for Mac OS users. If you want the Internet Kill Switch, however, you’ll need to be using the IKEv2 client.
NordVPN leak tests (no leaks found)
I ran the NordVPN Windows and Mac OS clients through some basic VPN tests and checks to identify any leaks or problems. Additionally, I also tested out NordVPN’s kill switch to see if it was effectively working in both clients.
With the NordVPN Windows client, I did not find any IP address leaks or DNS leaks. In the screenshot below, you can see:
- the IPv4 address matches up with the VPN client (no IPv4 leaks)
- IPv6 is effectively being blocked (no IPv6 leaks)
- No WebRTC leaks (but this is blocked in your browser)
- DNS requests are being handled by NordVPN’s server (no DNS leaks)
I also found the Internet Kill Switch and App Kill Switch to work well – no issues or problems to report.
Mac OS leak tests – I ran the Mac OS clients through the same tests as above with the Windows client. The results were the same in that I did not find any leaks or problems. Additionally, the Mac OS kill switches worked correctly without any issues.
4. NordVPN’s large server network (with no virtual locations)
NordVPN boasts a huge server network, which currently includes over 5,500 servers in 59 countries.
In the past few years, NordVPN has continuously expanded and updated its server network to improve performance. This has resulted in less congestion and better speeds for all users.
Obfuscated servers – NordVPN also has a nice lineup of obfuscated servers, which will automatically obfuscate (hide) all VPN traffic to look like regular HTTPS traffic. This is useful wherever VPNs may be getting blocked. NordVPN is currently one of the best VPNs for China.
Does NordVPN use virtual server locations?
In the past, we have investigated the issue of virtual server locations. This is when a VPN claims to have a server in one country, but it’s actually in a different location. While there are justifiable reasons for doing this in some cases, transparency is also important.
In the case of NordVPN, we did not find any virtual server locations. Additionally, a NordVPN representative confirmed with me that no virtual locations are in use. In other words, NordVPN truly has servers in all of the advertised locations.
5. Great customer support
NordVPN now offers 24/7 live chat support and the representatives are quite helpful.
Chat support is always available through the NordVPN website in the bottom-right corner. You don’t have to log in, simply click on the chat icon.
I tested out the NordVPN chat support a few different times for this review, asking them basic questions, and it worked well without any issues.
In all my interactions with NordVPN support, it did not take long to connect with a representative (under a minute). The support staff was helpful in answering all my questions.
Support with some of the larger VPN providers can be hit or miss. With NordVPN, support seems to be very good right now.
6. NordVPN no logs policy (audited)
Another important aspect in terms of privacy is NordVPN’s logging policy. NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that has had its no-logs claims audited and verified.
In November 2018, NordVPN underwent an audit to examine all aspects of the service and verify the no-logs policy. The audit was performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG in Zurich, Switzerland.
Existing NordVPN users can view the full report in the NordVPN member’s area.
I obtained a copy of the audit and examined the findings. Here is a brief summary that I posted in the no logs VPN guide:
- NordVPN was audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG, Zurich, Switzerland, which had full access to examine NordVPN’s servers, interview employees, observe operations, as well as inspect configurations, databases, and any other relevant aspect of the VPN service.
- The audit officially verified NordVPN to be a “no-log service” that remains true to its policies.
- NordVPN does not store connection logs, IP addresses, traffic logs, or any internet activity information.
NordVPN strictly keeps no logs of your activity online. That means we do not track the time or duration of any online session, and neither do we keep logs of IP addresses or servers used, websites visited or files downloaded. In other words, none of your private and secure data is logged and gathered at any time. As a result, we are not able to provide any details about your behavior online, even if you request it yourself.
NordVPN is based away from the EU and US jurisdiction and is not required to collect your personal data and information– it means nothing is recorded, monitored, stored, logged or passed to third parties.
Overall, NordVPN is a solid choice if you are looking for a no logs VPN provider that has been verified and proven to be true.
7. NordVPN based in Panama (a good privacy jurisdiction)
As NordVPN explains on its website:
We are based and operate under the jurisdiction of Panama. There is no mandatory data retention law in Panama so we do not need to store logs which is perfect for a VPN provider.
Being based in Panama is indeed a good jurisdiction that gives NordVPN advantages over other VPN providers, as I also explained in my NordVPN vs PIA comparison.
8. Big security upgrades for 2020 and beyond
NordVPN is currently investing significant resources to improve security and network infrastructure. These changes will be permanent for 2020 and beyond.
Why is NordVPN investing so much into security upgrades? Well, in late 2019, news surfaced of a security incident affecting one server (out of 5,000+) in Finland. Even though this was a limited event that did not expose any user data or impact NordVPN users, NordVPN has responded by upping security across the board.
Here’s an overview of NordVPN’s security upgrades:
1. Ongoing security audit
NordVPN is one of the few VPNs that has undergone a full third-party security audit. Here is an overview of the security audit, conducted by Versprite, and the results:
We invited VerSprite, a leading security research group specializing in software vulnerabilities, to search our apps inside and out with total access to ensure they found everything possible.
After analyzing our infrastructure, their team simulated malicious attacks on the apps from every angle (a penetration test) while also identifying internal architecture that could make the apps vulnerable to those attacks. As soon as they found and documented a vulnerability, they reported it to us so our team could get to work. Every single potential vulnerability they found was meticulously eliminated and then tested again.
NordVPN is continuing to work with Versprite and their in-house team of penetration testers to ensure the highest security standards:
- Comprehensive penetration testing;
- Intrusion handling;
- Vendor risk assessment;
- Source code analysis.
The main audit (and findings) were completed in late 2019, but it is a continual process going forward.
2. Bug Bounty Program
NordVPN has officially launched a bug bounty program and it is now live. They will reward anyone who finds security vulnerabilities with NordVPN.
Our job is to anticipate and prevent bugs before they ever go live. If one does slip past us, the next best line of defense is a vigilant and engaged cybersec community prepared to help catch and fix it before it puts anyone at risk.
3. Infrastructure security audit
Another aspect of NordVPN’s security upgrades is a full infrastructure audit. This includes all physical infrastructure of their VPN service, as they explain:
We are setting the groundwork for a full-scale third-party independent security audit in 2020.
This will include and may not be limited to: infrastructure hardware, VPN software, backend architecture, backend source code, and internal procedures.
4. Vendor security assessment and higher security standards
This part of the security plan deals with the third-party data centers where NordVPN servers are physically located. This is a two-part plan. First, NordVPN will be upping their requirements for data centers. Second, they will also be implementing their own (self-owned) servers.
Right now, the majority of the datacenters we work with meet or exceed numerous stringent security standards. As we continue to review our infrastructure, however, we will hold the datacenters we work with to even higher standards than before.
At the same time, we will also begin to build a network of collocated servers. While still located in a datacenter, collocated servers are wholly owned exclusively by NordVPN.
5. Diskless servers
Lastly, NordVPN will also be implementing diskless servers (running their network on RAM-disk memory rather than hard drives). This is a smart move that we’ve already seen with other VPN providers, such as ExpressVPN and also Perfect Privacy.
We are preparing a plan to upgrade our entire infrastructure (currently featuring over 5500servers) to RAM servers. These will allow us to create a centrally controlled network where nothing is stored locally.
Additionally, if these servers are ever seized, there’s nothing available, since data cannot be stored on RAM-disk servers. No power means no data.
9. Works great with Netflix and other streaming services
For this review, I also ran a few tests to see if NordVPN works with Netflix.
I used NordVPN servers in the US to access my American Netflix account (from Europe). Everything worked perfectly without any issues.
In the screenshot above, you can see the Netflix movie I was streaming with the connected NordVPN client in the background (right). NordVPN did well in all these tests. It unblocked Netflix without any issues and gave me fast speeds for HD streaming without interruption.
With NordVPN you can get full access to American Netflix, UK Netflix, and some other regions around the world. It is definitely one of the best VPNs for Netflix.
Additionally, NordVPN also works with other streaming services, such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Note: If you have any trouble getting Netflix to work with NordVPN, simply ask support. The live chat representatives will tell you exactly what servers you should use.
10. Low prices and good refund policy
NordVPN is one of the cheapest VPN services you will find that is still good quality.
At the time of this review, NordVPN is offering a discounted three-year subscription price with the three-year plan. While the duration is certainly long, the savings are indeed significant, at only $3.49 per month.
Below are the NordVPN subscription prices:
- $3.49/month for the 3-year plan
- $4.99/month for the 2-year plan
- $6.99/month for the 1-year plan
- $11.95/month for the 1-month plan
You can pay with all major credit cards, Amazon Pay, Alipay, UnionPay, and even a variety of cryptocurrencies. One drawback, however, is that NordVPN is no longer supporting PayPal payments.
If you are hesitant about the two or three-year subscription plans, NordVPN also offers shorter duration subscriptions, but they are more expensive. (I’m also maintaining a NordVPN coupon page to track the latest offers and deals.)
NordVPN refund policy (30 days)
NordVPN provides a 30 day money-back guarantee, which is quite generous for VPN standards. This is one of the best VPN trial windows you will find, as I explained in my guide on free trial VPNs. I previously put their refund policy to the test and they were quick to issue me a refund.
Cons of NordVPN
Now we’ll examine the cons of NordVPN.
1. Big discounts only available for longer plans
One gripe I have with NordVPN is that the discounted rates are only available with the three-year subscription. Three years is a long commitment to make for a VPN service. Although the 30 day refund window gives you plenty of time to test everything.
Along these same lines, the one-month deal is rather pricey at $11.95 per month. This is more than three times the monthly price of the three-year plan. But steep discounts for long subscriptions are becoming more common in the industry – so it’s not surprising.
Additional research findings
Here are the additional research findings for this NordVPN review, based on my own tests.
NordLynx: WireGuard implementation for Linux
Some people are looking to test/use WireGuard – a new VPN protocol that is still in development.
NordVPN now supports WireGuard through NordLynx on Linux operating systems. According to their website, the plan is to slowly roll out WireGuard support for other operating systems in the near future.
One issue I discussed in my main article on WireGuard is the protocol’s inherent privacy drawbacks. To get around these issues, NordVPN developed a “double NAT (Network Address Translation) system” to ensure user privacy.
The double NAT system allows us to establish a secure VPN connection without storing any identifiable data on a server. Dynamic local IP addresses remain assigned only while the session is active. Meanwhile, user authentication is done with the help of a secure external database.
To use WireGuard with NordVPN right now, do this.
- Get a NordVPN subscription
- Download the official NordVPN Linux app for your Linux distribution.
- Enable WireGuard through the NordVPN app (see support docs here)
- Connect to a NordVPN WireGuard server
I’ll update this NordVPN review with more information when WireGuard support for other operating systems comes out later in the year.
Is NordVPN good for torrenting? (Yes)
NordVPN is an excellent choice if you need a good VPN for torrenting. Here are three reasons why.
- Fast and consistent speeds – This will be useful when torrenting large files.
- Leak protection – The NordVPN apps come with built-in leak protection settings. This allows you to torrent for hours without worrying about your IP address being exposed.
- Safe jurisdiction – NordVPN is based in Panama. Unlike the US and Europe, Panama does not have draconian copyright laws. NordVPN can simply ignore DMCA/copyright requests from other countries.
Additionally, NordVPN also has dedicated P2P servers. These servers are listed under the “Specialty servers” and are fast and ideal for torrenting. I tested out the NordVPN torrenting servers and everything worked well.
The NordVPN app will automatically connect to the fastest P2P server for a given country you select. Additionally, you can also manually connect to certain torrenting servers through the NordVPN app.
When torrenting with NordVPN, be sure to enable the kill switch to protect your IP address in case the connection drops. You can also find guides showing you how to setup NordVPN with uTorrent and BitTorrent clients.
NordVPN Dedicated IP address
NordVPN also gives you the option to get a dedicated IP address, which may be beneficial in some use cases. They offer dedicated IP addresses in the following locations:
- United States (Buffalo, Los Angeles, Dallas)
- Germany (Frankfurt)
- United Kingdom (London)
- Netherlands (Amsterdam)
The cost for a static IP address from NordVPN is $70 per year, regardless of the location you choose. NordVPN is probably the best VPN for a static IP. You can purchase a dedicated IP address by contacting NordVPN support to arrange the IP location you want.
NordVPN is also a good VPN to use on a router. I’ve tested many different VPN providers on various routers and put together an in-depth VPN router setup guide that answers most questions.
If you are looking to use NordVPN on a router, you basically have three different options:
- Get a pre-configured router from an outlet such as Sabai Technology or FlashRouters. These will be somewhat expensive, but it will be ready to use with NordVPN right out of the box and pre-configured with the router firmware you need.
- Get a VPN-enabled router that can be used with a VPN without any flashing required. The best selection of VPN-enabled routers comes from Asus. Asus offers numerous routers that can be easily loaded with OpenVPN configuration files (from any VPN provider) and be working in just minutes.
- Flash your existing router. This can be tricky and somewhat risky (bricking your router), so you will want to proceed with caution if you go down this route. The degree of difficulty will depend on the router you are using.
Tip: When using NordVPN on a router, connect to the nearest server with the lightest load.
NordVPN review conclusion
I’ve been testing NordVPN for about five years now, as both a personal user and also for VPN reviews. This NordVPN review for 2020 is one of the best I’ve published, simply because of the good test results. With this level of performance, NordVPN is a premium VPN at a very reasonable price.
NordVPN has made major improvements over the past six months in many areas and continues to get better. Here’s what stands out to me with the latest review:
- Faster speeds and better reliability throughout the server network
- Improved application stability and features (CyberSec)
- Big security upgrades, to include an ongoing third-party audit and bug bounty program, rolling out self-owned servers, and converting the network to run only in RAM-disk mode
- Support for WireGuard (currently limited to Linux)
- More support for Netflix and other streaming services
The main drawback I see is that the big discounts are only available for long-term subscriptions (three-year plans). On a positive note, however, you will have plenty of time to test out the service risk-free with the 30-day refund window.
It’s great to see NordVPN continuing to improve and upgrade their service with the latest developments. If you want to test-drive this VPN, give it a shot with the coupon below.
If you have used NordVPN, feel free to share your honest review (good or bad) below.