NordVPN is one of the most popular virtual private network services on the market today. VPNs are meant to protect you and your online activities from unwanted snooping. NordVPN takes things a step further than that, essentially offering a full-on digital security suite for consumers.
In this review, we’ll examine NordVPN’s core security features, its pricing structure, and who it might be ideal for.
There are several factors to consider when evaluating a VPNs security and privacy capabilities.
Essentially, you want to ensure that the service you choose has a track record of shepherding human rights, keeping users safe but not collecting their personal data. You also want to confirm that the service uses the latest VPN protocols and security features, all of which we’ll discuss in detail below.
As one of the most popular VPNs available worldwide, much has been made of NordVPN’s security claims. There has even been some controversies around the product that are worth mentioning.
One such incident was a data breach in October 2019 where an attacker was able to remotely access a single NordVPN server. NordVPN maintains that the attack did not reveal any significant customer data. As a result of this incident, NordVPN has invested heavily into its server-side security, buying server clusters and transitioning to diskless, RAM-based server architecture.
Additionally, NordVPN has created a bug bounty program that pays out cash rewards to users able to find flaws in the security systems they use. In October 2021, the company announced it was going to offer as much as $50,000 or more to those who find and report “critical” bugs.
NordVPN is also a founding member of the VPN Trust Initiative, a trade group with a stated goal of setting standards for security and data protection in an industry that has historically been shrouded in secrecy.
As several other VPNs do, NordVPN subjects itself to regular audits of its security processes. Penetration tests completed by security firm VerSprite found no critical vulnerabilities according to a company press release, and smaller exploits were found and patched. PriceWaterhouseCooper has also conducted two server infrastructure audits since 2018. The firm concluded that NordVPN does not log any consumer data or information, living up to its promises.
VPN technology has continually progressed through the years, and many different types of VPN “tunnelling” exist today. These are known as encryption protocols, and make up the backbone of every VPN.
NordVPN actually utilises three different encryption protocols in its security architecture.
The first two are well-established, industry standard protocols, while the last is a bit more unique. NordLynx is essentially a custom version of WireGuard, one of the newest and most advanced protocols available to the public.
Despite this, Nord makes the claim that the one weakness in WireGuard is that consumer privacy cannot be guaranteed. To remedy these, they’ve developed what they called the double NAT (network address translation) system on top of the standard.
NordVPN has one of the largest server fleets on the market today, sporting over 5,500 servers across 60 countries. Some companies (like ExpressVPN) have more, but Nord makes up for it by having servers in several restrictive countries like Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Turkey.
The vast majority of the servers on offer are based in the US and UK. There are a fair amount of options in Europe, South America, and Asia as well. Though often ignored by VPNs, NordVPN also has servers in Africa, the Middle East, and India.
The amount of servers a given company has does not necessarily indicate anything about the quality of those servers. It does, however, increase the chances that there will be one near you to connect to.
Like many top VPN options, NordVPN features a fully-fledged no-log policy for consumer data. As mentioned above, this practice has been verified by means of an external audit. After an extensive review of NordVPN’s policies, fine print, and knowledge base, we’ve found that there aren’t any red flags to report with the VPN itself.
The company behind NordVPN is incorporated in Panama, though it also maintains offices globally. The laws within Panama regarding data are very ideal, in the sense that there are no laws that require data retention.
NordVPN does not currently provide a free version of its software for consumers. That said, it does offer a 30-day “free trial” that essentially amounts to a 330-day refund policy. You can request to cancel within that first month and get a full refund on your initial purchase, regardless of which plan you opt for (more on plan specifics below).
The core NordVPN has a very straightforward pricing structure. You can essentially choose from a one month, one year or two year subscription when you sign up, with the bulk plans offering a better value overall on the monthly rate.
The regular monthly rate is $11.99 per month, which goes down to $4.99 for the one year option and $3.99 for the two year. Each of the latter two are “introductory” rates, which go up after the first year. (or two).
Above and beyond this, you can also choose between optional “Plus” and “Complete” packages that have some extra features. These include things like a password manager, a data breach scanner, and an encrypted cloud storage solution.
NordVPN’s MacOS interface has been updated to a sleek new design that puts the key functions front and centre. The update also introduces the new Presets function, which allows you to combine custom VPN settings and automatically open a series of web pages or applications. You can set a preset that, for instance, opens Netflix in a content-unblocked server location.
If you’d rather just get online, the quick connect button will choose the optimal server and security protocol configuration for your location and personal connection. Similarly, clicking on any country location in the left-hand column will automatically connect you to a server in that country. If you’d like to manually select a server, you’ll need to click the three dots next to a country as you hover over it. From there, you can see the full list of servers available, as well as their current status.
Bringing it all together, the NordVPN interface is simple, intuitive, and surfaces the most important features in a way that won’t confuse new users. That said, advanced users will still find a lot of tinker with in the settings.
NordVPN’s advanced features are hidden away in the menus, but they are presented in a very clear way nonetheless. There are the usual features, like auto-launch and auto-connect functions, there are also more unique settings like the dark web monitor and Meshnet, which we’ll get into below.
Firstly, the dark web monitor will periodically scan for your personal information being passed around the “dark web,” which is a section of the internet that is not indexed by search engines like Google. Meshnet, on the other hand, is an advanced feature that allows you to link several different devices in an encrypted “mesh,” allowing you to securely work across devices or share files with your local network.
Many VPNs only feature a few city locations in the UK, limiting the options for those living in the country and looking for the fastest speeds. Nord, on the other hand, has server locations spread across the entirety of the country, making it a great option for locals looking for a reliable VPN solution with a wealth of local options. 440 different options make it one of the most flexible options for UK users, and despite its slightly higher pricing, if you’re looking for an advanced VPN with a more dedicated digital security angle, NordVPN is a comprehensive package that might well suite your needs.