NordVPN in a Nutshell
Update 2018: I’m no longer recommending NordVPN. The customer support is too weak, and company is too disorganized for me to continue to recommend them.
NordVPN is an easy-to-use VPN service that provides several advanced features. These include anti-DNS leaking, Tor over VPN, “double encryption” and auto-shutdown of your Internet connection if the VPN connection breaks. The service’s pricing plans are competitive easy to understand. It has excellent installation instructions overall, although they could be better for Linux. Performance is generally good, but it can be slow on certain servers.
Here are NordVPN‘s main characteristics:
- Supported platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (including Linux-based wireless firmwares), Android, iOS
- Encryption methods: PPTP, OpenVPN and IPsec (on Linux, only the first two are supported)
- VPN servers are available in over twenty countries, including 316 in the United States
- Up to six devices can connect at one time
- Pricing starts at $4/month for a prepaid twelve-month plan. It’s $8/month if you sign up for just one month
The service is notable for offering advanced features that are not available from all VPN providers. Below is an overview.
Double encryption. Rather than encrypting upload and download traffic only once, NordVPN encrypts it twice using different encryption keys. That means attackers would need two encryption keys to read your data.
Practically speaking, this is not necessarily a huge benefit. Modern encryption keys cannot be broken by brute-force attacks. Chances are that if someone gets a hold of one key, it was by hacking into a database, not going through a time-consuming brute-forcing process. And if the attacker finds a way to steal one key, he can probably steal the other just as easily. So, in real-world situations, double encryption doesn’t really equal double privacy. Still, this feature certainly doesn’t hurt. Few other VPN providers offer double encryption.
Tor over VPN. When selected, this feature routes your VPN traffic through the Tor network. Adding Tor to the mix really do anything to make your activity more private than it already is. The VPN on its own provides a route around censorship and hides your identity.
Still, Tor over VPN is an easy way to route all of your Internet traffic through Tor. That is hard to do otherwise since Tor generally only protects traffic from the Web browser, not other apps.
Kill switch. This feature automatically shuts down connections to any site that you specify in advance in the event that your VPN connection drops. That allows you to prevent accidental connections from your real IP address, which could reveal your identity.
Ultra fast TV. Some of NordVPN’s servers are designed to deliver ultra-high bandwidth to support video streaming.
Anti-DDoS. Some of the VPN servers are designed to prevent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. This is useful if you want to host a website or service over the VPN that someone might attempt to shut down using DDoS. If you just want to use the Web, anti-DDoS on your VPN is probably not necessary. (It won’t do anything to help you connect to sites that are down due to DDoS attacks. That issue needs to be addressed by the site itself.)
DD-WRT and Tomato support. In addition to working on computers, phones and tablets, NordVPN can be installed on a router running the DD-WRT or Tomato operating systems. DD-WRT and Tomato are free, Linux-based firmwares that you can install manually on many home routers.
The advantage to configuring your VPN service to work with your router is that it lets you seamlessly route all of the traffic from all devices in your home through the VPN. This is an easy way to get a comprehensive VPN solution. It also lets you connect as many devices to the VPN at one time as you wish.
NordVPN on DD-WRT and Tomato requires some technical know-how to set up. This is not a click-and-go feature. But it’s a very useful feature in certain situations, if you invest the time to configure it.
Custom Servers and Advanced Features
The advanced features described above are not available on all of NordVPN’s servers. Instead, you have to select the right server to get a certain feature. For example, if you want to watch TV over the VPN connection, you would choose to connect to one of the ultra fast TV servers. If you want Tor over VPN, you would select a different server for that.
This configuration means you can’t use all of the advanced features at the same time. But in most cases you probably would not want to do that.
If you don’t want any special features, you can select a standard VPN server. These servers only deliver standard VPN service. However, they generally have a lower load than the special-feature servers, which makes them faster.
Privacy and Personal Information
NordVPN promises that it has a “strict no logs policy.” As with all VPN providers, users have to take the service’s word for it that this is true. But there’s no reason to doubt what the company says.
Signing up requires only an email address. You can pay in virtually any way you want, from credit card to direct bank transfer. Several of the payment options, such as Bitcoin, enable you to pay without revealing any personal information.
Installation and Apps
One of NordVPN’s standout features as compared to other services is its very thorough and easy-to-follow installation instructions.
The service’s website has simple step-by-step installation guides for pretty much any operating system and version you can think of. From Windows 10 and Windows 8 to DD-WRT and Raspberry Pi, virtually every platform is covered. There is even a special guide for configuring the service to circumvent the Great Firewall in China.
For popular platforms, such as Windows and iOS, NordVPN provides a custom app. On other operating systems you can use generic VPN apps to connect to the service in most cases.
Our only complaint about installation is that the Linux installation instructions only cover Ubuntu and similar distributions. The service can be installed on other types of Linux systems easily enough, like Red Hat, but there is no step-by-step guide for them. The instructions for Linux also assume your distribution has NetworkManager. Most do, but not all.
Advanced Linux users should have no problem adapting the instructions to cover their configuration. However, if you are not a Linux power-user, or you do not use Ubuntu (or a closely related distribution, like Linux Mint), you may find NordVPN tricky to install.
Not surprisingly, the service’s performance varies according to which server you use. Some of the special-feature servers, like the one for Tor over VPN, deliver lower bandwidth.
That said, getting the best bandwidth is easy as long as you make sure to choose a server that provides the features you need and has a low load. The NordVPN website provides server statistics in real time for monitoring which servers are currently offering the best performance. The custom app also provides this data. Switching between servers is easy enough if the one you are using stops performing well.
NordVPN has pretty competitive pricing. As noted above, a one-year plan paid in advance costs $4 per month. For a VPN service that includes the advanced features described above, rather than just basic VPN routing, this is a good price.
We also like that NordVPN’s pricing plans are simple and straightforward. There is no long list of different plans and prices to wade through. All of the plans deliver the same features and service. The only difference between them is the period of service you commit to. The long-term plans cost less than the month-by-month option.