NordVPN Review: Security At A Fair Price
Rating as of based on a review of services March 14, 2023.
An industry leader in accountability, NordVPN gives you unparalleled browsing privacy and streaming options. Here MU30’s full review.
We send sensitive information, financial and personal, across the internet all the time. These days it’s the cost of doing business, but all this info-sharing comes with a tremendous amount of risk — whether it’s the wrong person getting ahold of your identifying information or the constant annoyance of ads targeted to your shopping habits.
Smart internet browsers can keep their data safe through a virtual private network (VPN), and NordVPN offers one of the most reliable, versatile VPNs in the industry. Not only do you get data security around the world, but you can also access peer-to-peer file sharing, and you don’t need to be a tech wizard — NordVPN makes everything easy.
What is NordVPN?
For starters, virtual private networks (VPNs) keep your online data protected in a few different ways. When you connect your device to a VPN, all your network traffic — sites you visit and information you send — is encrypted and routed securely through the private “tunnel” of the VPN’s remote server. This keeps your data from being intercepted by third parties, tracked by your internet service provider, or sold to advertisers, and allows you to access more resources on the network. VPNs also hide your IP address, which means no one can identify you or your location.
NordVPN provides a more affordable, ultra-secure VPN option. They have more serves than most of their competitors and make it a point to allow multiple devices on your VPN with minimal lag.
How does NordVPN work?
First, if you don’t have a VPN already, the NordVPN website alerts you to your unprotected status by pulling up your location and IP address. It’s a good reminder of how public your internet activity is.
To sign up for NordVPN you’ll pick a subscription plan. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee for each plan you choose — the trial “test drive” is a key feature of good VPN providers, since you really need to try a VPN before deciding if it works for you. They collect your payment info just in case.
For a small additional fee, you can add NordPass Premium, a password manager, and/or NordLocker Premium, which will encrypt your files. These aren’t super essential add-ons (it’s easy enough to find a free password manager) unless you want that extra level of document security.
Next, you’ll download the app on your device — NordVPN lets you use a VPN on up to six simultaneous devices — and log in. After that, you can get started pretty quickly.
It’s worth noting that NordVPN’s “zero log” commitment means the company stores as little data as possible about you. Besides the basic info the site needs to set up your account (email addresses and payment details) and site monitoring to improve customer experience, NordVPN doesn’t keep logs of your site visits, software, connection time stamps, or IP addresses, nor do they sell user data. You’re as anonymous as possible.
When you do log on, you’ll see a world map that shows NordVPN servers all over the globe.
Click on “Quick Connect” and NordVPN directs you to the server nearest you. You can manually select a server in a different location or country if you choose.
The menus may look different depending on the device you’re using (desktop and laptops have their “setup” icon in the top right-hand corner; on mobile devices, the icon is in the top left), but the options are the same. You can turn various features on or off, like split tunneling, ad blockers, or the kill switch. You pick when to launch the VPN, which server to connect to, and whether you want to go through a VPN every time you’re using a new WiFi connection.
If you haven’t set up a VPN before, you might need a little guidance, and NordVPN has extensive text and video tutorials that walk you through connection setup on multiple devices and operating systems, including Apple iOS and Android phones, Mac and Windows desktops, and Linux. You don’t need much if any prior VPN knowledge, although it helps.
The handy NordVPN chatbot hangs out to answer any specific questions. If the automated FAQs don’t have the answer you need, a live chat representative can step in. There’s also an email support team standing by if you don’t need an immediate response.
How much does NordVPN cost?
NordVPN’s standard month-by-month plan is $11.95/month or $119/year. That’s pretty steep for VPNs, but a decent price for all the extra features NordVPN offers. NordPass (to secure passwords) and NordLocker (to encrypt files) cost extra; $4.99/year or $7.99/year respectively.
The annual plan bundles are much better deals — the one-year plan is $4.92/month or $59/year right now. That’s about a 50% markdown if you commit to a year.
If you can score one of NordVPN’s frequent introductory sales, you’ll save even more in the first year or two. Their current two-year sale offers a pretty astounding discount of $4.13/month, or just $99 for two years.
And every product comes with the same 30-day money-back guarantee. Android and iOS users get seven days for free when they sign up, too.
Importantly, the sale prices aren’t permanent; they’re only valid for the first year or two. After that, your cost reverts to the standard $119/year.
If you want to encrypt your payment, NordVPN accepts Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as well as the standard credit cards and most online payment systems.
Secure global servers
All together, NordVPN has about 5,600 servers in 59 countries; with more server options than almost any VPN network. The company operates diskless RAM servers — they don’t store information locally on disks, so the data’s protected even if the servers are stolen — and their goal is to make all their physical servers privately owned.
Multiple connections at once
You can run NordVPN on up to six simultaneous devices at once — laptop, phone, router, etc.
NordVPN works on almost all the standard internet browsers, desktop or mobile: Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, with plugins for Firefox and Chrome. NordVPN even supports Linux browsers, which not every VPN does.
Avid television watchers and gamers can download NordVPN to Amazon Fire TV Stick, Android TV, and Apple TV.
With some exceptions, you’ll get similar features and a similar interface no matter which browser you use. For macOS users, NordVPN lets you “preset” a connection so you can save your preferences for the next login.
The encryption NordVPN uses is AES with 256-bit keys, the standard recommended by the National Security Administration and global cybersecurity experts. Encryption includes Perfect Forward Secrecy, which changes encryption keys regularly to keep attackers at bay.
NordVPN uses PGP keys to encrypt your account and contact details, as well as to protect any communication between you and NordVPN representatives.
Users can access three VPN protocols: OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec, two industry-standard protocols, and the newer WireGuard/NordLynx. OpenVPN is reportedly a little tricky to set up on NordVPN connections, but all three protocols give you solid privacy at decent speeds. IKEv2 users find their VPN connection stays intact even if the internet connection drops.
Wireguard/NordLynx is an open-source protocol like OpenVPN, but it’s faster and extra secure due to NordVPN’s double Network Address Translation system. Most NordVPN platforms have NordLynx set as a default, with OpenVPN as a backup.
Tor and Onion over VPN
If you use the anonymous network Tor, or you want to, NordVPN is one of the few VPN companies to support it. Their “Onion over VPN” network option lets you access Tor by rerouting your traffic through an extra layer of networks, with minimal setup and installation required on your part. (Tor is free on its own, but I found it hard to install and super slow—NordVPN takes care of both these problems).
The “double VPN” option runs your data through two servers instead of one, like a multi-leg connection on a flight, which means your data is encrypted twice and your destination IP changes twice. If one “leg” is compromised, the other provides backup.
If you want to access certain sites without the VPN (like a bank website or anything else that requires your real IP address) you can “split tunnel,” or route some apps through the VPN and not others. NordVPN has you hand-pick which apps to tunnel through the VPN if you use this feature.
All VPNs slow down your web browsing a little, often for reasons that don’t have much to do with the VPN itself (like how close you are to a server). But NordVPN keeps speeds moderately fast for downloads and uploads, with minimal latency or communication delays, especially if you use their optional adblocker. A typical VPN cuts internet speeds by more than half, while NordVPN slowed speeds down by less than 30% in a PC Mag test.
Torrenting, or sharing files with other users on a network, is a popular use of VPNs – and NordVPN boasts quick data streaming without an eternity of “buffering” if you’re torrenting video. NordVPN has no torrenting data limits, and multiple servers optimized peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing.
Netflix is notorious for finding ways to block VPNs, but international NordVPN users report success with torrenting Netflix – most commonly to watch shows only available on servers in other countries.
The “kill switch” options either stop your internet traffic altogether or close certain apps (which you specify) if your VPN connection drops, so network data doesn’t leak by accident.
DNS leak protection
NordVPN has its own DNS servers, and multiple tests found no DNS leaks, leaks of IP addresses, or other revealing information escaping the server.
Other security and privacy features
Dark web monitor
On iOS and Android (and other platforms soon), users get alerts if their email, username, or password shows up on the dark web in a data leak.
CyberSec ad blocker
This built-in ad, malware, and phishing blocker keeps the speed flowing and the ads minimal (if not completely absent).
With Pause, you can close the VPN connection and reconnect automatically as needed, saving manual reconnection time.
Invisibility on LANs
If you’re on public WiFi or any other Local Area Network (LAN) this option keeps your device completely hidden.
Transparency and data breach response
NordVPN has made a commitment to security in a pretty impressive way.
It started the now-complete move to diskless servers, partnered with the VerSprite cybersecurity firm, and became the first VPN provider to offer a public “bug bounty” or cash reward to researchers who find flaws in the NordVPN code.
NordVPN also doubled down on its zero-logs policy by enlisting an outside firm to perform an annual audit. The audit ensures NordVPN doesn’t log user IP addresses, activity, data, or other info, and audit results are publicly available.
My experience researching NordVPN
As someone with mild and imperfect tech literacy, I was impressed by how simple and straightforward NordVPN makes the setup process (I had a much harder time trying to install Tor on my own). Most setup elements are automated, regardless of the device you’re using, so NordVPN does most of the hard work for you.
Their tutorials really do walk you through the process step by step, and their language isn’t condescending. If you don’t know a tech term, they’ll explain what it is and how it works. NordVPN even breaks down the basics, like the difference between a public and private IP address.
Their 30-day money-back guarantee is the industry standard, and it makes the pricing structure a little easier to handle – you have to sign on for at least a year to get the best NordVPN deals, while a month-to-month commitment (which I’d prefer) is much more expensive.
Who is NordVPN best for?
Travelers who need extra security
NordVPN has all kinds of features to keep your data private and your internet accessible if you’re moving from WiFi hotspot to WiFi hotspot, or from country to country.
You have the option to manually set up an extra-extra security layer through an obfuscated server, which gets you past firewalls in areas with heavily restricted internet access. Most everyday users won’t need this level of protection.
People installing VPNs on multiple devices
If you use a lot of devices at once for work or entertainment, or you’re trying to set up a VPN connection for the whole household, NordVPN’s six-device limit makes this easier.
Fans of the open-source operating system Linux will find NordVPN compatible, which isn’t the case with every VPN provider.
First-time VPN users
NordVPN does a good job introducing customers to the concept of VPNs, explaining how they work, and making setup seamless. Features like split tunneling and kill switches help you toggle between VPN and non-VPN use as needed.
Who shouldn’t use NordVPN?
People who prefer dynamic IP addresses
NordVPN uses static IP addresses – whenever you connect to the VPN, your IP address stays the same. This doesn’t mean your data is any less protected, but some users prefer a dynamic IP address (one that changes each time you connect), which makes you even harder to track.
People who want unlimited servers for torrenting
Torrenting isn’t supported on all NordVPN servers, so there are some limitations to what files you can share and how.
Pros & cons
- Privacy-friendly Panama location — Ideally, VPNs have their official headquarters in a country without international surveillance agreements (otherwise governments can compel companies to surrender data). Panama, where NordVPN is based, is surveillance-safe.
- Zero-logs policy and frequent audits — NordVPN takes extra care to ensure no one can intercept their servers, and even if someone does, they won’t find any logs of user data.
- Multiple connection options — If you want the anonymity of Tor, the security of a double VPN, or the flexibility of split tunneling, you can set up NordVPN to fit your preferences.
- High non-sale prices — Though NordVPN offers plenty of great introductory deals, especially with the two-year plan, their standard non-sale price is on the high end.
- Not every feature is available on every platform — Some NordVPN perks are only available on certain apps, like Windows or Android, and not others. (This isn’t all that uncommon for a growing tech service, but still, something to be aware of).
- Hard to find phone support — Help is always an email or live chat away, but it’s hard to find a phone number if you prefer communicating with a representative via phone. Since customer service is a crucial feature of VPNs, I’m surprised this contact info was missing.
NordVPN vs. competitors
Here’s how NordVPN stacks up against two other industry leaders, ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN.
NordVPN ExpressVPN ProtonVPN
Simultaneous connections 6 5 1, 4, 10 (depending on plan)
Number of servers 5,500+ 3,000+ 1,240
Jurisdiction Panama British Virgin Islands Switzerland
Cost (one month) $11.95/month $12.95/month $5/$10/$29/month (depending on plan)
Cost (12 months) $4.92/month $8.32/month $5/$10/$29/month (depending on plan)
With servers around the world and multiple IP addresses, ExpressVPN is great for global travelers, and it gets lightning-fast connection speeds almost everywhere. It works across multiple platforms, including Linux, and even plugs into Playstation and Nintendo Switch (a good choice for frequent gamers).
It’s pricier than NordVPN for a very similar array of features, so NordVPN will be the better deal for many users looking to save money.
Designed to protect the internet activity of journalists and activists, this open-source VPN has a large fanbase. ProtonVPN’s tiered subscriptions are priced a little differently than NordVPN and ExpressVPN. Their “Basic” account, the lowest pricing tier, gets you two connected devices, torrenting support, and access to some blocked content. The “Plus” level unlocks ad blockers, Tor support, and streaming. Their most expensive level comes with a private email account (which may be worth the expense if you want to encrypt all your email communication).
One thing ProtonVPN offers that few providers have is a completely free option – the speeds are slow and you have fewer servers to choose from, but you still get the zero-log guarantee.
Getting started with NordVPN is easy, and you can take as much time as you want to browse the website details before committing. Whether you’re an old hand at VPNs or installing one for the first time, you’re likely to find what you need.
And don’t forget to have good “digital hygiene” in place as well, like two-factor authentication and antivirus software.