NordVPN: Is it the best?

NordVPN has been around for about 10 years now and has certainly made a name for itself. From its vast reach spanning the globe to its blazing speeds, NordVPN is one of the fastest and most privacy-focused VPNs on the market.

BLUF: I personally use NordVPN daily and is also my go-to recommendation to all of my family and friends.

Now for a deeper look into NordVPN. NordVPN ranks at the top of every search for ‘Best VPNs’, and it’s not for no reason. First, the company is based out of Panama which has no data retention laws. This allows NordVPN the ability to decide what information to retain and erase. The forefront of NordVPNs privacy policy is its Zero log policy. 

What does Zero log mean exactly and why should I care? Zero logs do not mean they do not collect anything, it refers to not store personally identifiable information (PII), real IP address, or connection and activity logs. The benefit to this is that even IF NordVPN is subpoenaed to turn over server data, they essentially have nothing to give. It also comes into play if a server gets hacked the perpetrators cannot use the data to track consumers. If privacy is of the utmost importance, NordVPN also accepts cryptocurrencies, which allows users to set up and pay for an account completely anonymously. NordVPN has also partnered with a third party, PricewaterhouseCoopers AG, Switzerland, to perform an industry-first point-in-time examination of their no-log claims in 2018 and again in 2020. Both assurance reports concluded with no deficiencies in relation to their logging policy.

Other privacy-focused features NordVPN offers are RAM-based servers, one-click double VPN connection, Kill switch, split tunneling, auto-connect, and VPN over TOR. 

RAM-based servers are an awesome feature and further guarantee privacy because RAM is a non-persistent (or volatile) memory source. This means that when power is removed, anything being run or stored in memory will be erased. Thus, if NordVPN is forced to turn over hardware or just wants to flush its cache; once power is removed anything stored on that server will be gone. RAM is also a solid state memory, so these servers will be inherently faster than a spinning drive counterpart. There is no downside from a consumer perspective, but there is no way to tell if the server you are connected to is a newer RAM based or a traditional hard drive. Either offer the same privacy, RAM-based only offers an additional benefit.

Double VPN, or multi-hop, is when your traffic is routed through two different NordVPN servers at the same time. This makes it even harder for your internet traffic to be tied back to you. NordVPN offers this as an option on the home screen to automatically route through two servers, this makes it very easy to activate either on a case-by-case basis or to connect every time. While this adds another layer of privacy, the trade-off is speed. Connecting to any VPN has the potential to sacrifice speed, so adding a longer route to your destination will further increase latency (the time it takes the distant end to respond to your request).

My favorite features of NordVPN are the kill switch and split tunneling. Sometimes internet connections, even cable, drop or have hiccups. Having a ‘kill switch’ enabled ensures that your internet traffic is paused while the VPN is disconnected. If you do not have this enabled and your connection is interrupted, the VPN will disconnect and when your connection is restored the VPN likely will not reconnect; unless auto-connect is enabled. But even with auto-connect, there is a time when your IP address and internet traffic are exposed. while not a big deal at home or on a trusted WiFi, this is certainly a big deal on a public network. Split tunneling offers two options, you can either include specific applications or exclude specific applications; I use the exclude option. This allows me to connect to NordVPN servers and encrypt all of my traffic but route my music and Netflix traffic through plain wifi. I do this because, Netflix specifically, some programs will limit their content or block your connection altogether if they detect a VPN is being used.

NordVPN over onion (TOR Network) feature is dubbed OOVPN, Onion Over VPN, and is a nice to have feature. But like double VPN you will sacrifice speed when going this route. There are other services that offer to route your traffic over TOR, such as the Brave browser. What is TOR or Onion? That’s a whole nother post in itself; coming soon I’ll say.

NordVPN has over 5,600 servers in 59 different countries. The best way to ensure the fastest connection possible is to be as close to the server as possible. With 5600+ servers available, this ensures you will always be able to find a server in close proximity. I have run speed tests on 4 major regions of the US, the west coast, central, east coast, and south (Dallas-based servers), and experience speeds consistently upwards of 200mbps. Some locations offer even higher speeds! My fastest Nord connection was a server out of Salt Lake City, UT, and hit 600mbps! It’s important to note that you need to have an internet connection capable of these speeds, e.g. if your internet is capped at 100mbps then your VPN connection will max at 100mbps.

NordVPN has a very user-friendly interface that anyone can use. NordVPN offers apps on every platform, currently, Linux users will need to be a little more tech-savvy, but all features are available on all devices; yes, even applications available on Amazon’s FireTV and both Google’s Android TV and Google TV.

I personally use NordVPN daily and is also my go-to recommendation to all of my family and friends. It may very well be the best VPN service available, IMHO.