NordVPN is truly a titan of the VPN industry thanks to its plethora of cybersecurity features that are proven effective to protect your privacy online. Today, we take a deep dive into this top-tier provider’s VPN applications, reviewing how they work to lock down your Internet connection and guarantee your digital rights no matter where in the world you go.
In this article, we’ll be looking at how the NordVPN service works, what makes it unique, and why its features are designed to keep you safe and anonymous as you go about your business on the web. But first, we’ll briefly explain what a VPN is, how it works, and why it’s wise to use one in 2020 (and beyond).
In the last 5 years, we’ve become painfully aware of how fragile our online security really is. From Edward Snowden to Wikileaks and beyond, a series of people and events has let us know that criminals, governments, and organizations like the NSA can easily monitor everything we do online. To that end, it’s good to know that a simple technology called VPN can give you the protection and anonymity that everyone should be able to enjoy online. If you’ve done any searching around for a privacy solution to fit your needs, you’ll probably have come across NordVPN. So, how does NordVPN work? Let’s explore below.
Some basics – What is a VPN?
The acronym VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. That may sound like a mouthful to a non-techy – but as you’re about to find out, this technology is both simple and effective. The way it works is easy for anyone to understand, and it lets you access the Internet anonymously and securely – even if your ISP or government are actively trying to keep tabs on you. We’re about to explain how it works – but first, it’s important you understand how the Internet works when you’re not using a VPN.
Why using the Internet without a VPN is dangerous
Every time you want to open a website, play a video game, stream a video, or do anything else that requires the Internet, your computer makes a data request. It first goes through your Internet Service Provider – and then through a complicated network of international organizations that route data between users and servers. Eventually, the data you send is received by the other party’s Internet Service Provider before being relayed to its recipient.
Now here’s the thing. In its raw form, data is unencrypted. This means that every single node that carries your data between it leaving you and another party receiving it has full access to anything you send. This includes sensitive data like your credit cards, personal correspondence, social security number, and more. It also includes your private photographs, social media data, etc. In other words, anyone passing your data from one point to the next in the above process can see everything you do online.
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Why is this a problem? First, it means that 3rd party organizations can quickly and easily track you at all times. This includes your ISP, criminals, corporations that want to harvest your data – anyone who wants (and can access) your data. It also includes government organizations like the FBI and NSA, both of whom have been proven to collect private information. To wit, the NSA has tripled its collection of data from phone companies in recent years, just as the wireless Internet is becoming more popular.
If you value your privacy at all, finding a way to protect yourself from this kind of snooping is extremely important. It becomes even more important if you’re in an environment where someone might use your data for malicious purposes. For example, if you’re traveling in a country like China, your computer records might be used against you, leading to confiscation of your property, intellectual property theft, and even imprisonment. The same applies if you’re traveling in a country like Saudi Arabia, where strict censorship makes many things illegal. Even an employer you suspect may want to monitor you is a good reason to seek protection. The risk of using the Internet without a VPN is just too high when you consider that everything you do is plain to see online.
How does a VPN work?
The first thing a VPN does is encrypt your data while it’s still on your computer. The ways it might do this vary – we’ll cover specific encryption protocols later – but the best encryption standards are virtually impossible to crack. This means that your data is already shielded from anyone who doesn’t know your encryption passcode before it even leaves your computer. When it goes out to your Internet Service Provider and travels from node to node internationally, the same applies. Your data is encrypted, meaning that nobody can see what you’re doing. Not even the NSA can see VPN-encrypted data consistently, since a regular VPN passcode has more possible combinations than there are atoms in the known universe.
Here’s another cool thing your VPN does: It routes all of your data through remote servers, rather than through your Internet Service Provider’s servers. This means that all the data you send appears to originate from remote servers rather than from your real location. Quality VPNs have hundreds of servers with thousands of different IP addresses, meaning you can appear to use the Internet from anywhere you like. This hides your real location, device, and identity, and also lets you digitally relocate anywhere you like.
All of this makes VPN-enabled Internet usage far more secure. First, nobody can identify where your data is originating from. Second, nobody can know what you’re doing because all your data is encrypted and protected. Last but not least, you can choose to appear in one place when you’re really someone else. Provided you know how to use a VPN correctly and have a solid understanding of cybersecurity, this can make you very safe, even if you’re traveling through a country with strict censorship (e.g. China, the UAE, Venezuela).
NordVPN is one of the best – possibly the best, depending on your needs – VPN services on the web. It all starts with a massive server network of over 5,800 servers in 59 countries. Their server network is the biggest in the industry and still rapidly expanding – which means that you can get thousands of IPs from hundreds of locations worldwide. This is incredibly convenient if you want to stay anonymous or digitally migrate elsewhere. (For example, you can get a US IP while in China and enjoy Netflix, the NFL, and other online entertainment freely.) Another thing that makes NordVPN special is its wide range of specialty servers, which we’ll cover in more detail below. These include P2P servers optimized for torrenting, obfuscated servers that hide your VPN use, and more.
Another area in which NordVPN shines is encryption and security. It uses all the most cutting-edge encryption standards, including OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP protocols. We’ll cover these in-depth below, but for now, here’s an important fact: NordVPN’s standard keys are 256-bit AES passcodes, each of which would take millions of years to crack–even if you pooled all of the world’s processors together right now. This level of difficulty makes it tough for anyone, even major world governments, to track your online activities. Moreover, NordVPN has a strict no-logging policy that ensures they never keep track of what you do on the web. The policy covers traffic, your real IP address, browsing history, and more – which means that, for all intents and purposes, NordVPN doesn’t track what you do online.
NordVPN comes with a suite of apps that make installing the VPN easy on all modern devices. The holding company is based in Panama, a neutral country that doesn’t cooperate with major world governments’ surveillance pacts. The service is friendly to P2P users, gamers, streamers, and virtually everyone else. Award-winning customer support is available 24/7/365, and you can make payments any way you want – including via iTunes Gift Card and Bitcoin. With up to 6 simultaneous connections and a very fair price point, NordVPN is, hands down, one of the best providers out there.
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Which encryption protocols does NordVPN use?
As we learned above, the first thing a VPN does is encrypt your data. With NordVPN, the keys used to encrypt and un-encrypt your data go up to 256 bits, which are virtually uncrackable. The specific encryption technologies used are listed below to give you an understanding of what makes each one of them special.
OpenVPN is an open-source project that hundreds of developers from around the world contribute to. It’s very versatile that’s compatible with TCP and UDP ports, and it uses a huge number of specific encryption algorithms and ciphers. Keys can actually go all the way up to 2048-bit DH keys, making this one of the best protocols to use if you want security. This protocol tends to be fast for most purposes.
This is a Microsoft protocol that works well with legacy devices, especially Windows ones. It’s a solid choice if you’re using older computers or operating systems, e.g. in an office environment. Unfortunately, this protocol is not the most secure by today’s standards. It has many known vulnerabilities and is best left for situations in which encrypting data isn’t critical. This protocol also tends to preserve a high percentage of your natural connection speed.
This is a newer protocol that combines PPTP with the L2F protocol first rolled out by Cisco. Although the theory behind L2TP/IPsec is solid, execution is often lacking. There are also reports of the NSA being able to break this protocol. It is, however, arguably the fastest protocol on the web – so if you want to game while hiding your real IP address, or, say, stream videos, L2TP is very useful.
Co-developed by Cisco and Microsoft, IKEv2 is a far more secure protocol than PPTP. It’s also highly recommended by NordVPN. IKEv2 is fast, reliable, and highly secure – which makes it an excellent all-around choice that’s on par with OpenVPN’s standards.
Can I trust NordVPN to protect my data?
At this point, you know how a VPN works and you know a little about what makes NordVPN special. However, you may have one important question remaining: Can you trust NordVPN to keep your secrets? While their encryption does protect your data from third parties, how do you know NordVPN won’t just roll over and give up your data to the government, corporations, your ISP, or criminals?
This is a great question. For starters, the service has a strict no-logging policy. They keep no track of your session information, bandwidth, traffic data, IP addresses, or anything else. Now usually, you’d have every chance to wonder if you can take NordVPN at their word – and you’d be right. Fortunately, the company understands this natural hesitation – and hired a Big 4 auditing firm to perform an audit of their no logging claims. The report found the policy to be fair and accurate, meaning you really can bank on NordVPN not storing your data.
It’s also important to know that NordVPN has a range of extra cyber security measures designed to protect you. Some come in the form of a wide range of specialty servers. More come via a few extras. We go over both below in the next 2 points.
NordVPN’s specialty servers
NordVPN has a number of specialty servers, each configured to a specific functionality. Here are the main ones:
Dedicated IP servers
Usually, using a VPN means sharing your IP with a number of other people. Unfortunately, this can mean that websites with shared IP blacklists can block your Internet access quickly and easily. A workaround is to get a dedicated IP address via this specialty server type.
Double VPN servers
These route your data through 2 layers of encryption and 2 remote servers. The result is a highly protected, secure connection.
These hide (obfuscate) the fact you’re using a VPN. This is convenient if you’re in a country with highly censored, restricted Internet use. Not only does it help you avoid getting found out – it can make it possible to get connections in places where they’d usually be unavailable.
Onion over VPN servers
NordVPN lets users take advantage of Onion routing technology together with its VPN functionality. The result is an extremely private protection with strong anonymity that essentially provides government-level security for organizations and individuals.
These are optimized for torrenting and other P2P activities. If you want to fileshare anonymously, these servers can help you do so while making sure you don’t lose speed and power to your VPN usage.
Standard VPN servers
These “regular” VPN servers connect to you directly, encrypting your data and giving you a new IP address.
NordVPN’s extra security measures
From dangerous criminals to governments looking to get your information, all kinds of people want to view your data. To make sure they don’t, NordVPN has a number of extra features designed to protect your device, identity, and information. One is the Kill Switch. This feature automatically blocks your device and stops apps from sending or receiving data if your VPN stops working, making sure your data doesn’t accidentally get out without you knowing. Another important security feature is the built-in DNS protection. This feature helps make sure that your ISP can’t see the websites you visit, the files you download, and the apps you use – even if you set up your VPN manually and incorrectly.
Outside these features, NordVPN does a few other things. First, it regularly goes through lists of malicious, dangerous websites and filters them out on your behalf. This means that if you try to visit a website or open an app that could harm you, NordVPN will block your access and let you know about the threat. Second, NordVPN stops unauthorized parties from accessing your device and using its processing power for criminal ends. Some VPN users have had their computers’ power harnessed for DDoS attacks – but thanks to this feature, this could never happen with NordVPN. Last but not least, NordVPN has a built-in ad blocker that stops you from seeing ads; a useful security add-on for all purposes.
What else can NordVPN help with?
Since all your data is usually routed through an Internet Service Provider, companies like Verizon and Time Warner can easily put artificial limits on your Internet speed. For example, your ISP may throttle your speed during busy day times, to limit access to specific websites, or simply to encourage you to buy a more expensive, faster subscription. Most commonly, throttling affects P2P users and anyone who’s gone over their bandwidth limit. Fortunately, NordVPN has a cool anti-throttling feature. It essentially works by taking your ISP’s servers out of the equation and routing everything through a VPN. The result is you enjoying the highest possible speed a VPN provider can give you anytime you want.
Something else NordVPN helps with a lot is access. With many VPNs, you have to set everything up manually, then make sure that your VPN works properly. This is not the case here. First, you get award-winning customer service available to you at any time of the day. Second, you get a help center with clear instructions on installing and operating NordVPN. Last but not least, there’s a suite of apps that work with all modern device types and operating systems, from routers to video game consoles. These make installation and usage even easier.
In the VPN industry, NordVPN is known as one of the best, most solid providers available. Now that you know all about it, what are you going to do next? Leave a comment below to let us know. We love reading your feedback!
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. NordVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.