SurfShark is a relative newcomer to the VPN (Virtual Private Network) scene, making its debut in 2018. In short order, however, it has made a name for itself as a solid choice, offering a wealth of advanced features at a budget price.

How a VPN Works

Few software tools are more important for security than a VPN. A VPN allows you to securely connect to the provider’s virtual network, thereby masking your traffic when you visit websites or conduct business online. The sites you visit will see the VPN’s IP address, rather than being able to trace you back to your computer or device.

SurfShark Review: An Affordable VPN Packed With Features

Because the connection to the VPN is encrypted, using one also provides a necessary layer of security when using an unsecured or unknown network. For example, when using the local coffee shop’s WiFi, anyone on the same network could intercept your digital traffic and pull out important information.

Even if you are connected to secure sites and email servers, so that credentials cannot be read, a hacker could still see that you are connecting to those servers. A VPN solves both of these issues, securing your traffic and providing anonymity.

SurfShark Review: An Affordable VPN Packed With Features

For a VPN to do that effectively, however, it needs to offer the right combination of features to ensure your connection stays secure, regardless of your location or the stability of your internet connection. Fortunately, SurfShark scores high marks in all of these areas.

Security and Privacy

Let’s address the most important factors first: security and privacy. After all, no amount of features or extras are worth it if a VPN doesn’t deliver on its basic premise.

First and foremost, SurfShark’s headquarters are located in the British Virgin Islands, an autonomous territory of the United Kingdom that has no data-retention laws. As a result, SurfShark is able to operate with a no-logs policy, promising that no logs of user activity or location are kept.

SurfShark is working to migrate its servers to RAM-only operation. This means that the servers run entirely off RAM, and have no hard drives or local storage. As a result, the server does not record or maintain any information. The company told PCMag.com that they intend to have their servers migrated to RAM-only operation by June of 2020. While admirable, some of SurfShark’s larger competitors switched to RAM-only servers some time ago.

When it comes to encrypting your connection, SurfShark uses industry-leading AES-256-GCM, with Perfect Forward Secrecy. That means the company frequently changes encryption keys to ensure connections are not compromised. The VPN also includes a kill switch feature, meaning that your network access will be immediately cut off if a connection to the VPN service fails. This is a critical feature that all good VPN services should provide, and ensures your network activity is not inadvertently exposed.

SurfShark also offers Camouflage Mode, which is designed to hide the fact you’re using a VPN. This is extremely useful, as some internet service providers, media companies and streaming sites will block users if they detect a VPN is being used. SurfShark has so much confidence in their Camouflage Mode that they promise your own ISP won’t know you’re using a VPN.

Everyone has probably seen a movie where the character routes traffic through multiple servers around the world in an effort to avoid being traced. SurfShark offers a similar feature, called MultiHop. MultiHop lets you route your connection through multiple countries for that extra layer of privacy and security, whether you need it or just want your very own Ethan Hunt moment.

Another significant thing in favor of SurfShark is the fact they hired an independent firm to audit their browser extension security. The auditing firm, Cure53, gave the service high marks for its security, only finding two low severity issues. In all fairness, Cure53 said only one of the issues was a true vulnerability, and even it was not related to the browser extension. Even so, SurfShark worked to address both issues.

Privacy Policies

As mentioned, because SurfShark is located in the British Virgin Islands, it is not required to maintain logs of user data. The company takes full advantage of that legal protection, and promises that it keeps no logs whatsoever, as its Privacy Policy makes very clear:

“Surfshark respects your privacy, therefore we are committed to not process any data related to the online activity of our users. Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, which does not require data storage or reporting. We do not collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data.”

Just as important, SurfShark’s Privacy Policy is written in plain English, is very easy to read and leaves no doubt about where the company stands on privacy issues.

Another important feature is the company’s Warrant Canary. Ever since the Snowden Leaks revealed the extent of government surveillance, many companies have been under gag orders that prevent them from disclosing the national security requests they have received.

As a result, many companies have started using canary pages, a page that says they have not received any warrants or NSLs (National Security Letters) since a given date, acting as an “all clear” signal. Should the company receive such a warrant or NSL, they simply remove the relevant line. Because the company is not explicitly saying they have received a warrant or NSL, removing the “all clear” statement from the canary page acts as an implied notice. 

As of the time of writing, SurfShark’s Warrant Canary page says the company has received no warrants, NSL, or gag orders.

Servers and Worldwide Support

Despite its relative newcomer status, SurfShark has wasted no time expanding around the globe. This is an important factor in providing the fastest speed to users, as connecting to a nearby server will provide a far faster connection than trying to use one on the other side of the world. Similarly, the more servers a company has, the more users it can support without any one server being bogged down from traffic.

As of time of writing, SurfShark has some 1,700 servers in over 63 countries. This isn’t as many as older, more established services. For example, ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries. Even so, it’s an impressive footprint for a newer VPN service, and the company is aggressively expanding, adding both servers and countries to their coverage.

Features

When it comes to features, SurfShark offers a plethora of advanced options, including some that older, more expensive services don’t offer.

One of the main, differentiating features between SurfShark and other services, is how many devices you can use the VPN with on a single account. Industry leader ExpressVPN allows you to use their service on five devices, while Private Internet Access allows 10. SurfShark, on the other hand, allows the service to be installed on an unlimited number of devices with a single account.

Another important feature SurfShark offers is the ability to whitelist domains. No matter how much VPN providers try to work around companies’ efforts to block their services, it is the digital equivalent of escalating warfare, with each side trying to circumvent the efforts of the other.

In addition, there are some services where maximum performance is more important than security. Whatever the cause, the ability to whitelist certain apps or domains, and exclude them from routing through the VPN, is an essential feature.

SurfShark Review: An Affordable VPN Packed With Features

SurfShark also includes CleanWeb, an ad and malware blocker. Companies use ads to help track your movement across the web, building a disturbingly accurate profile of your life.

Also, hackers and malware authors are sometimes successful in their attempts to inject malicious ads into legitimate websites, thereby posing a security risk when you visit those sites. Similarly, phishing is an attempt to dupe someone into using a malicious site or service by posing as a legitimate one.

CleanWeb helps protect you from all of these threats while, at the same time, protecting your privacy. The fact that CleanWeb is included with SurfShark adds quite a bit of value, as many ad and malware blockers are paid services.

As a result, this is another layer that helps improve the overall security of your computer or device.

Speed

While virtually all VPNs have some impact on speed, it can vary greatly from one to another. Any number of factors can impact this, including how many servers the company has, whether there are servers near you, how the VPN is load balanced and more.

When it comes to speed, SurfShark does reasonably well. It doesn’t quite match the speed of some of the very top-tier services, but it offers solid performance. Some users report the company’s performance has increased as time has went on, no doubt as a result of bringing more servers online in more locations.

Support

The company offers 24/7 live chat support, in addition to a knowledge base and FAQ. While its online offerings aren’t quite as thorough as some of its competitors, what it has available is probably sufficient for most users.

Device Support

Just as security is important, so is having apps for the various devices you use. No matter how good a VPN is, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t run it on your chosen platform.

Fortunately, SurfShark offers support for a wide array of platforms and devices. At the time of writing, SurfShark supports the following:

Desktop Platforms: macOS, Linux and Windows

Mobile: iOS, Android

Browsers (Extension): Firefox, Chrome

Consoles: Xbox, Playstation

TVs: Apple TV, FireTV

Price

As mentioned at the outset, one of SurfShark’s biggest selling points is its price. Despite the wealth of features it offers, SurfShark remains squarely in the budget category of VPN services.

For customers wanting to pay month-to-month, the service costs $11.95 a month. Pay a year at a time, however, and that drops to $5.99 a month. Pay two years at a time, and that price drops to a paltry $1.99 a month.

SurfShark Review: An Affordable VPN Packed With Features

The Verdict

Looking at everything SurfShark offers, it’s hard not to recommend this VPN. The company has made a name for itself, and it’s easy easy to understand why. SurfShark has established itself as a cheaper alternative to more established rivals, while still offering a plethora of features and services—including ones the leading services don’t include.

If there are any concerns about the company’s service, they relate to its relative youth. At the time of writing, SurfShark’s worldwide footprint still doesn’t approach ExpressVPN, or other, more established services. Even so, the fact that it has reached the size it has in just two years is impressive, and likely an indicator of how quickly it will reach parity with its rivals.

Another concern is SurfShark’s relatively untested status, again, largely as a result of its youth. Like some other companies, SurfShark touts its no-log policies and designs but, as of yet, that has not been put to the test. In contrast, an ExpressVPN server was seized by Turkish officials in 2017 in the hopes of getting data from it, only to discover there was no data specifically because ExpressVPN operates exactly as it says it does. Because SurfShark is so new, it hasn’t been tested to that degree yet, so we have to take the company’s word about how it operates.

Again, taken together, SurfShark is a solid choice for a VPN service. The company uses industry-leading technology, has excellent privacy policies, and its advanced features offer additional value as they can replace other paid services.

The Good

  • Affordable price
  • Advanced features add additional value
  • Wide platform support
  • Uses industry leading encryption protocols
  • Promises log-less operation

The Bad

  • Worldwide footprint not as big as rivals
  • Speed, while good, is not top-tier
  • Privacy claims are untested

The Ugly

  • There really isn’t any at this time

Rating

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars

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