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Surfshark Benefits

  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Rarely seen multihop and split-tunneling tools
  • Well designed app
  • Excellent speed test results.

 It’s Let Down..

  • High price
  • Needs to complete broader tests of its service

One of our main concerns when reviewing a VPN is what value it offers. Are you getting a lot for what you pay for, or are you getting less than the competition? Surfshark has plenty of additional privacy features and places no limits on the number of devices that can use a single account, making it a great value-even if the price is a bit high. The company also deserves credit for the efforts it makes to improve transparency.

What Is a Virtual Private Network?

When you turn on a VPN, an encrypted tunnel is created between your computer and a server operated by the VPN company. When you route all your web traffic through this tunnel, your traffic is displayed as if it came from the VPN server and not from your computer-which hides your IP address. This makes it much harder for spies, advertisers and your ISP to track your activity online. The latter is important because ISPs can now sell your anonymized data for profit.

VPNs are powerful tools, but they can’t solve all your privacy and security problems. The Tor network offers better anonymity and you have other threats to worry about, so use antivirus, two-factor authentication and a password manager.

Pricing and features

Surfshark recently raised the price of its monthly subscription by a dollar to $12.95 per month. I only compare full monthly fees in my reviews, and that puts Surfshark well on the high end. The average price of one of PCMag’s top-rated VPNs is $10.21 USD per month. That price puts Surfshark and a handful of other services among the most expensive VPNs we’ve reviewed so far, well beyond Mullvad’s $5.54 per month claim.

Like many VPNs, Surfshark offers long-term commitments with steep discounts. An annual subscription to Surfshark costs just $59.76, significantly less than the $71.87 average. The company also offers a six-month plan for $38.94. These plans will absolutely save you money, but I still recommend starting with the shortest possible subscription to make sure it works for you, and then upgrading to longer subscription terms if you decide you like the service.

If that’s too rich for your blood, there are numerous cheap VPNs and even a few worthy free VPNs to consider. ProtonVPN fits into both categories and is especially notable because it’s one of the only free VPNs that doesn’t have a data limit.

While expensive, Surfshark offers excellent value for that money. For one, you can use an unlimited number of devices on one account, while most companies cut you off after just five simultaneous connections. CyberGhost offers seven connections out of the box and ExpressVPN an even more generous 10, but you can’t beat unlimited. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight and Windscribe VPN are the only other VPNs that don’t limit simultaneous connections.

Surfshark allows P2P and BitTorrent over VPN on certain servers, and the CleanWeb tool also offers ad blocking. However, its real strengths are the rarely seen features. One such feature is Whitelister, a split-tunneling tool that routes app traffic or websites outside the VPN tunnel. It’s wise to whitelist websites, as some websites block VPN access. This can be anything from video streaming sites to banks. Surfshark solution is very neat, going above most of the competition.

The other unusual feature is Multihop, which establishes a VPN connection to one server and then hops your traffic to a second VPN server to further increase security. Few competitors offer this feature, which provides enhanced privacy for speed. Both Multihop and Whitelister are powerful tools, and while you may not use them every day (or ever), they justify Surfshark’s high price. More on these features below.

One rare feature that Surfshark doesn’t currently offer is access to Tor via VPN, which is available through NordVPN and ProtonVPN. Notably, ProtonVPN also offers multihop and split tunneling.

With many VPN companies, you can purchase add-ons to your basic subscription. NordVPN and others offer private static IP addresses, which are useful any time your VPN connection is blocked. Surfshark includes static IP addresses in its subscription, but you must share them with other users on the same server.

VPN protocols

There are many different ways to establish a VPN connection. My preferred option is OpenVPN, which is known for speed and reliability. More importantly, it’s an open-source option, which means the code can be examined for potential vulnerabilities. Surfshark offers OpenVPN in its Android, iOS, Linux and Windows apps. The excellent IKEv2 protocol is also available on all platforms and is available by default for macOS.

While OpenVPN is now the top of the pile for VPN technology, WireGuard appears to be the future for all VPNs. Like OpenVPN, WireGuard is open source, but easier to deploy and reportedly much faster than other protocols. WireGuard also uses newer encryption technology, which is always good to see. Surfshark made WireGuard available to Android, iOS, macOS and Windows users in late October 2020. I expect most companies will eventually switch to WireGuard as their protocol of choice, and Surfshark joins the short list of companies, including Mullvad VPN and NordVPN, that have already done so.

Servers and server locations

Geographic distribution is important, as there are many locations around the world to choose from, which means you’re more likely to find one close to home or wherever you’re traveling, and it offers plenty of opportunities to spoof your location. Surfshark covers 64 countries with its servers, which is above average. ExpressVPN leads the pack with a whopping 94 countries, and CyberGhost is close behind with 90 countries.

Surfshark offers above-average coverage to South America and Africa, both regions often ignored by other companies. Surfshark also offers servers in countries with repressive Internet policies, including China, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. Competitors would do well to follow Surfshark’s example.

Some VPNs use so-called virtual servers. These are software-defined servers, meaning a single hardware server can host numerous virtual servers. The technology allows companies to quickly add servers to meet demand, or configure a server to appear in a country where the company can’t guarantee the security of its hardware, while really hosting it in a more secure locale. In general, I don’t have a problem with virtual servers, but I believe that companies need to be transparent about which servers are virtual and specify the actual location of the server. Surfshark clearly identifies its four virtual locations (Albania, Chile, Costa Rica and Slovenia), all hosted on machines in the Netherlands.

In terms of total number of servers, Surfshark offers 1,724 servers in total, putting its server fleet at the high-end midrange level. CyberGhost and NordVPN lead the industry with 5,900 and ExpressVPN, respectively, Hotspot Shield VPN, Private Internet Access VPN and TorGuard VPN offer over 3,000 servers. It’s important to keep in mind that more servers don’t always translate to better performance, and that the total number of servers depends in part on how many subscribers a company serves.

Surfshark Privacy

Using a VPN requires a lot of trust because when your VPN is running, the company has as much visibility into your online activity as your ISP. If a VPN provider wants to spy on your traffic, monetize your activities, or share your personal information with law enforcement, this can very easily be the case. Therefore, it is important to understand the company’s privacy policy and the legal framework under which it operates.

In general, Surfshark seems to protect users’ privacy well. That said, security only works with trust. If you feel you can’t trust a company, look elsewhere.

I’m glad to see that Surfshark has revised its privacy policy and terms of use to be more readable, with break-out sections that explain concepts in plain English. TunnelBear has a similar approach, and other companies would do well to emulate it.

In its policy documents, Surfshark emphasizes that it does not log IP addresses, browsing history, bandwidth used, network traffic or even connection timestamps. This is exactly what you want to hear from a VPN company. I suspect the company is able to provide this anonymity in part because it doesn’t put limits on the number of devices or connections and doesn’t have to monitor its users as carefully.

The company does collect some information, including aggregate analytics data, as well as account information and billing history. The company also notes that it receives third-party advertising IDs, citing Google Play as an example. These are identifiers that you can reset yourself and are used instead of immutable IDs like your phone’s IMEI. A representative from Surfshark explained to me that these IDs are used to determine if the company’s ads are driving installs. The app has no ads in it. I appreciate the disclosure in the documentation, but Surfshark should better contextualize how these IDs are used.

Company representatives have told me that it is a highly decentralized organization with offices in Cyprus, Germany and the UK, and remote employees in China, Finland, India, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Ukraine and the USA. I appreciate the company’s transparency on this point.

Surfshark says it relies on “trusted third-party data centers. “In July 2020, the company completed its migration to RAM-only servers. This effectively makes them diskless and relies entirely on volatile RAM. This means that if someone were to physically remove the server to get at the data it contains, it would be immediately wiped. A company blog post also describes how diskless servers prevent private encryption keys from being stolen from server configurations. Some companies like ExpressVPN made this change a long time ago.

The company has a live warrant report on its website that doubles as a transparency report. Most warrant canaries are a single line that, when removed, subtly indicates that the company has received a national security letter or similar request, which would prevent Surfshark from disclosing the letter’s existence. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, if Surfshark removes the page, something bad is going on. This page is a little different in that it states the number of requests for information the company has received. When law enforcement requests information, the company cannot identify a single user.

Many VPN companies have started commissioning third-party audits to verify company statements about their customers’ privacy and security. Surfshark commissioned such an audit of its Firefox and Chrome browser plug-ins in 2018, which received positive reviews from auditors at Cure53. While an examination of the plug-ins is certainly valuable, I don’t think it goes far enough to evaluate the company’s privacy practices nor the security and effectiveness of its core VPN product. Hopefully, future audits will provide that assurance. The company says it will release a new audit sometime in 2020. TunnelBear, on the other hand, has committed to annual audits of its service.

Hands On With Surfshark

In this review, I tested Surfshark on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10. On Windows, Surfshark offers a small, stylish app with flat colors and smart design that expands and contracts to display more or less information. It looks like you would expect a modern app to look. I especially like that it has a clear, obvious way to get online instantly, and that you can select specific servers, not just entire countries. It’s not quite as friendly as TunnelBear, but it’s very clean in the way that the best mobile apps are. In fact, it looks a bit like a mobile app floating on a Windows desktop.

You can select a server at the country or city level and view the utilization of that server. You can also select a location for future use. It doesn’t seem to be possible to choose between individual servers in the same location-an advanced feature that can be useful if you’re having trouble accessing certain sites and services.

Surfshark offers a surprising number of advanced features, such as split tunneling, which it calls Whitelister, as mentioned above. This tool lets you specify which websites and applications should be routed outside the VPN tunnel by adding URLs or applications to a list. Anything on the whitelist will not be slowed down or blocked by the VPN if the site or service blocks VPN users. It is also not encrypted. It’s a handy tool if you have low-security tasks that require bandwidth, such as streaming video, or critical sites that block VPN usage, such as some banks.

Sort of the opposite of Whitelister is Multihop, which does exactly what it says on the tin. You can have your VPN connect through multiple VPN servers instead of just one. This further obscures your online activity, even to parts of Surfshark’s infrastructure, a bit like a very simplified Tor network. The downside is that you experience even more latency and reduced upload and download speeds. You can’t arbitrarily choose two locations, unfortunately. Still, it’s a rare feature that I’m glad to see included in the app.

Also worth noting is the stealth mode, which disguises your VPN traffic as normal HTTPS web traffic. Other VPNs include this feature under different names (TunnelBear calls it GhostBear, for example), and it’s especially useful if you’re in a region that blocks VPN use.

One problem with VPNs is that they may lose your DNS information or IP address. In my testing, I found that Surfshark successfully hid my true IP and ISP information. Using the DNS leak test tool, I confirmed that at least on the server I was using, Surfshark was not forwarding my DNS requests to my ISP.

Surfshark and Netflix

Depending on where you live, video streaming services like Netflix may offer you different content. With a VPN, you can spoof your location by jumping to a remote VPN location to access content that isn’t available at home. For this reason, Netflix aggressively blocks the use of VPNs.

Fortunately, this shouldn’t be a problem with Surfshark. I had no problems streaming from Netflix while connected to a US VPN server. Note, however, that Netflix is locked in a cat-and-mouse game with VPN companies. A service that works today may not work tomorrow.

Beyond VPN

To stand out in an increasingly crowded market, several VPN companies have begun adding features to their products that go beyond VPN protection. TunnelBear, for example, has a standalone password manager called Remembear and a Bear-themed ad-blocking browser plug-in. Hotspot Shield VPN is perhaps the best example. Sign up there and you get a Pango account that connects you to a variety of privacy and security products included in the subscription fee. Both ProtonVPN and TorGuard have encrypted email services: ProtonMail and.

Surfshark has developed several privacy tools that go beyond VPN protection: a custom DNS service that provides additional privacy, called Smart DNS; an ad blocker branded CleanWeb; HackLock, which notifies you when your accounts have been compromised, similar to HaveIBeenPwned; and an organic privacy-related search tool called BlindSearch. Note that both HackLock and BlindSearch require an additional $benben.99 per month. It’s a good start, but not particularly compelling given the high price of the core service.

Speed and performance

When you turn on a VPN, you add more machines and physical distance to your Internet connection, resulting in degraded performance. To get a sense of this degradation, I use the Ookla Speedtest tool to calculate a percentage change between test batches running with a VPN and those without. To get the gist of how we test VPNs, be sure to read the aptly titled feature, How We Test VPNs. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, who also owns PCMag).

In my testing, I found that Surfshark lowered upload speed test results by only 4.5 percent from baseline, the best result I’ve seen so far for this test. The service performed remarkably well in both the latency and download tests, coming in just below the top score in both cases. It decreased test scores for download speed by 28.3 percent and increased latency by only 35.3 percent.

As mentioned above, Surfshark has deployed the newer, faster WireGuard protocol for most of its users. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, PCMag employees have been working from home since spring 2020. Without access to the PCMag Labs testing network, we don’t believe we can do a fair evaluation of Surfshark’s new technology. We look forward to resuming testing when it is safe to do so.

Keep in mind that my results are from using this VPN at a specific time of day and location. Your results will certainly be different, but this method allows me to make a comparison between services while controlling for variables. My tests have shown that Hotspot Shield VPN is the fastest VPN service for now, but Surfshark is close. That said, speed alone should never be the main concern when buying a VPN.

Surfshark on Other Platforms

Surfshark has Android VPN, iOS VPN, Mac VPN, and Windows VPN client apps. The company also offers an app for FireTV, which is a rarity. There are Surfshark plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox browsers. Note that VPN browser plug-ins spoof your location, but usually encrypt your traffic via TLS instead of a VPN protocol like OpenVPN.

The company offers its custom DNS resolver for Xbox and PlayStation, but does not offer apps for those platforms. It also provides instructions for using Surfshark on Linux and configuring routers to use Surfshark.

Secure, fast surfing

We get a lot of new VPN services every year, most of them small and unobtrusive or creepy and potentially dangerous. It’s a pleasure to see a new VPN service that does so much right. Surfshark has a generous unlimited devices policy, so you can connect as many devices as you like. In addition to the VPN protection of its excellent desktop applications, it also offers rarely seen features like split tunneling and multihop VPN. Surfshark also boasts some of the best speed test results we’ve seen this year, and that was before it deployed new VPN technology. The company has also worked to improve transparency, revised its privacy policy, and implemented RAM-only servers. Overall, it’s an excellent product.

Surf shark has disadvantages. It’s expensive and we’d like its audits to be more comprehensive and go beyond browser plugins. It’s already a strong product and just a hair behind Editors’ Choice winners Mullvad, NordVPN, Proton VPN and TunnelBear.

Conclusion

Surf Shark VPN’s reliable price is balanced with unlimited devices per account and excellent features.

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