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One of our primary concerns when reviewing a VPN is what kind of value it offers. Do you get a lot for what you pay for, or do you get less than the competition? Surfshark has numerous additional privacy features and takes the unusual move of placing no limits on the number of devices that can use a single account, making it an excellent value—even if the asking price is a bit high. The company also deserves credit for the efforts it is making to improve transparency.

What Is a VPN?

When you switch on a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server operated by the VPN company. By piping all of your web traffic through this tunnel, your traffic appears as if it is coming from the VPN server rather than your computer—thus hiding your IP address. This makes it much harder for spies, advertisers, and your ISP to track your activities online. That last one is important, as ISPs can now sell your anonymized data for a profit.

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

Pricing and Features

Surfshark currently costs $11.95 per month, $71.88 every year, or $47.76 every two years. That’s a steep discount, but that’s not too unusual in the VPN market. I recommend starting with the shortest possible subscription, to make sure it works for you, and then increasing to longer subscription terms if you decide you like the service.

I compare only the full monthly fees in my reviews, and Surfshark is on the high side. The average price of one of PCMag’s top-rated VPNs is $10.10 per month. At $11.95 per month, Surfshark costs the same per month as NordVPN (which is on the expensive side), and is far beyond the $5.54 per month asked for by Mullvad.

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 is one of the only free VPNs that does not have a data limit.

Screenshot of Surfshark connected to a VPN server.

While expensive, Surfshark does offer excellent value for that money. For one thing, it lets you use an unlimited number of devices on one account, whereas 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 place no limit on simultaneous connections.

Surfshark allows P2P and BitTorrent via VPN on certain servers, and the CleanWeb tool provides ad-blocking as well. Its real strengths, however, are the rarely seen features it provides. One such feature is Whitelister, a split-tunneling tool that routes app traffic or websites outside the VPN tunnel. Letting you whitelist websites is smart, since some sites block access from VPNs. These can be anything from video streaming sites to banks. Surfshark’s solution is very tidy, going beyond most of the competition.

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

One rare feature Surfshark currently does not offer is access to Tor via VPN, which is available through NordVPN and ProtonVPN. Notably, ProtonVPN also offers multihop and split-tunneling.

Many VPN companies allow you to purchase add-ons to your base subscription. TorGuard, for instance, has an à la carte option for the number of simultaneous connections you want. NordVPN and others offer private static IP addresses, which are useful any time you find your VPN connection blocked. Surfshark includes static IP addresses in its subscription, but you have to share those with other users on the same server.

Screenshot showing available static IP locations.

VPN Protocols

There are many different ways to create a VPN connection. My preferred option is OpenVPN, which has a reputation for speed and reliability. More importantly, it’s an open-source option, meaning that its code is available to 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 default for macOS.

While OpenVPN is the top of the pile for VPN technology now, WireGuard seems to be the future for all VPNs. This is still experimental open source technology, and it has not yet had the same level of scrutiny as OpenVPN, but it impressed me when I tried it out for myself. Notably, NordVPN has begun to roll out WireGuard to its Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS clients.

Servers and Server Locations

Geographic distribution matters because having lots of locations across the globe to choose from means you’re more likely to find one close to home or wherever you might be traveling, and it provides lots of options for spoofing 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 provides 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.

A list of Surfshark VPNs, showing which servers are virtual.

Some VPNs make use of so-called virtual servers. These are software-defined servers, meaning that a single hardware server could 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 cannot guarantee the safety of its hardware while really being hosted in a safer locale. In general, I don’t have a problem with virtual servers, but I do believe that companies need to be transparent about which servers are virtual and provide the true location of the server. Surfshark clearly labels its four virtual locations (Albania, Chile, Costa Rica, and Slovenia), all of which are hosted on machines in the Netherlands.

In terms of total server count, Surfshark offers 1,724 total servers, putting its server fleet on the high end of mid-range. CyberGhost and NordVPN lead the industry with 5,900 and 5,300 servers, respectively. ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield VPN, Private Internet Access VPN, and TorGuard VPN all boast over 3,000 servers. It’s important to keep in mind that more servers does not always translate into better performance, and that total server count is partly a function of how many subscribers a company, well, serves.

Your Privacy With Surfshark

Using a VPN requires a great amount of trust, because when your VPN is running, the company has as much insight into your online activities as your ISP does. If a VPN provider wanted to spy on your traffic, monetize your activity, or turn over your personal information to law enforcement, it very easily could. That’s why it’s important to understand the company’s privacy policy and the legal framework the company operates under.

In general, Surfshark appears to be doing a good job of protecting user privacy. That said, security only works with trust. If you feel you cannot trust a company, look elsewhere.

I am pleased to see that Surfshark has overhauled its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service 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 stresses that it does not log IP addresses, browsing history, amount of bandwidth used, network traffic, or even connection timestamps. That’s exactly what you want to hear from a VPN company. I suspect the company is able to provide that level of anonymity in part because it places no limits on the number of devices or connections, so it does not need to police its users as carefully.

The company does collect some information, including aggregate analytical data, as well as account information and billing history. The company also notes that it receives advertising IDs from third parties, citing Google Play as an example. These are identifiers that you can reset yourself, and are used in place of unchangeable IDs like your phone’s IMEI. A representative from Surfshark explained to me that these IDs are used to determine whether the company’s advertising is driving installations. The app does not have ads within it. I appreciate the disclosure in its 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 United Kingdom and remote employees in China, Finland, India, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Ukraine, and the US. I appreciate the company’s transparency on this point.

Surfshark says that it relies on “trusted third-party data centers.” A representative told me the company is migrating to RAM-only servers, which would prevent the recovery of information were the server forcibly removed. As of April 2020, Surfshark reports that 70 percent of its servers have been moved to RAM-only, and the company predicts it will conclude the migration by June of that year. A few companies, such as ExpressVPN, made this change long ago.

The company has a live Warrant Canary on its site which doubles as a transparency report. Most warrant canaries are a single line that, when removed, subtly indicate that the company has received a National Security Letter or similar request, which would prevent Surfshark from disclosing the existence of the letter. 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 reports the number of requests for information the company has received. If contacted by law enforcement for information, the company says it would be unable to identify an individual user.

Many VPN companies have begun commissioning third-party audits to verify company statements about customer privacy and security. Surfshark has commissioned one such audit of its Firefox and Chrome browser plug-ins in 2018, which earned a glowing review from auditors at Cure53. While an examination of the plug-ins is certainly valuable, I do not feel that it goes far enough to evaluate the company’s privacy practices nor the security and efficacy 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, by contrast, 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 show more or less information. It looks like how you’d expect a modern app to look. I especially like that it has a clear, obvious way to immediately get online, and that it lets you select specific servers, and 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 quite a bit like a mobile app, floating on a Windows desktop.

You can select a server at the country or city level, and see the load on that server. You can also favorite a location for future use. It does not appear to be possible to choose between individual servers at the same location—an advanced feature which can be useful if you are having trouble accessing certain sites and services.

Screenshot of SurfsharkVPN, showing the whitelister feature

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

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

Screenshot of Surfshark, showing the multihop options.

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

A concern with VPNs is that they may leak 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 did not leak my DNS requests to my ISP.

Surfshark and Netflix

Depending on where you live, video streaming services such as Netflix might serve you different content. With a VPN, you can spoof your location jumping to a distant VPN location to access content not available at home. For this very reason, Netflix aggressively blocks the use of VPNs.

Fortunately, that shouldn’t be an issue with Surfshark. I had no trouble streaming from Netflix while connected to a US VPN server. Keep in mind, 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

In order to stand out in an increasingly crowded market, several VPN companies have begun adding additional features to their products beyond the scope of VPN protection. TunnelBear, for instance, has a stand-alone 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 host of privacy and security products included in the subscription fee. Both ProtonVPN and TorGuard have encrypted email services: ProtonMail and Private-Mail, respectively.

Surfshark has built out several privacy tools that go beyond VPN protection: a custom DNS service that provides additional privacy called Smart DNS; an ad-blocker branded as CleanWeb; HackLock, which alerts you if your accounts have been compromised, similar to HaveIBeenPwned; and a privacy-respecting organic search tool called BlindSearch. Note that both HackLock and BlindSearch require an additional $.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 switch on a VPN, you’re adding more machines and physical distance to your internet connection, resulting in degraded performance. To get a sense of that degradation, I calculate a percent change between batches of tests run with a VPN and those without, using the Ookla Speedtest tool. To read the nitty-gritty about how we test VPNs, be sure to read the aptly titled feature How We Test VPNs. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.)

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

You can see in the chart below how Surfshark compares with the top nine performers among the approximately 40 services we tested.

Chart showing the fastest VPNs.

Keep in mind that my results came from using this VPN at a particular time of day and at a particular place. Your results will surely differ, but this method does allow me to make a comparison between services while controlling for variables. My testing has shown that, for now, Hotspot Shield VPN is the fastest VPN service out there, but Surfshark is close behind. That said, speed alone should never be the main concern when shopping for a VPN.

Surfshark on Other Platforms

Surfshark has Android VPN, iOS VPN, macOS VPN, and Windows VPN client apps. The company also offers an app for FireTV, which is a bit of a rarity. There are Surfshark plug-ins for the Chrome and Firefox browsers. Note that VPN browser plug-ins do spoof your location, but they typically 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 offers instructions for using Surfshark on Linux and for configuring routers to use Surfshark.

Safe, Speedy Surfing

We get pitched a lot of new VPN services every year, most of them small and unremarkable or creepy and potentially dangerous. It is a pleasure to see a new VPN service that gets so much right. Surfshark has a generous unlimited devices policy, letting you hook up as many devices as you like. In addition to the VPN protection provided by its excellent desktop applications, it also provides rarely seen features such as split-tunneling and multihop VPN. Surfshark can also boast some of the best speed test results we’ve seen this year. The company has also worked to improve its transparency and overhauled its privacy policies. Overall, it’s an excellent product.

Surfshark does have drawbacks. It’s expensive, and we’d like to see its audits become more encompassing, going beyond browser plug-ins. We also want to see the company complete the security improvements to its servers. It’s already a strong product, and just a hair behind Editors’ Choice winners ProtonVPN and TunnelBear.

Surfshark VPN Specs

Allows 5+ Simultaneous Connections Yes
500+ Servers Yes
Geographically Diverse Servers Yes
Blocks Ads Yes
Free Version No
Server Locations 57 Countries

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