Surfshark Review

The homepage of Surfshark's website

Surfshark VPN logoScore:
8.5/10

It’s rare to see a new VPN company become a serious contender as quickly as Sharksurf has. But, when you start from the ground up with absolutely airtight privacy, a clean and easy to use client and back it up with a large global server network that offers excellent performance, it’s time for everyone to take notice.

Pros

  • Privacy doesn’t get much better
  • Great performance
  • Unlimited connections
  • Purpose optimized servers, including for video streaming, peer-to-peer and Tor
  • Works with Netflix and BBC
  • P2P and Torrenting support

Cons

  • No software client for Mac
  • Kill switch on Windows only

The VPN industry is a cut-throat business. Anytime a new provider comes on the market, you almost feel sorry for them, knowing what kind of competition they’re up against.

Surfshark is one such new provider. But, unlike many others who struggle, they are thriving and pushing full steam ahead.

As you’ll see from this Surfshark review, thanks to a slick and intuitive client, great performance and an impressive set of features, this is one VPN that is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and did I mention privacy also doesn’t get much better than this?

Features

Being new shouldn’t be an excuse to skimp on features. By offering just about everything any serious VPN provider should, Surfshark clearly gets it. In fact, they even include something which no-one else (to my knowledge) does.

Limits

These days, no data and bandwidth limits are the VPN industry standard. Surfshark does not disappoint there. It’s no restrictions across the board.

But, they also up the ante by offering an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. No other VPN provider does this. Way to go Surfshark for being a trendsetter.

Split Tunneling

Split tunneling is a fairly common VPN feature and one which is also supported here. It’s available on all of the clients (minus the browser extensions, where split tunneling makes no sense) and comes disabled by default.

I’m a fan of split tunneling and happy to see Surfshark chose to implement it. It’s a feature I often use with P2P. I send the P2P client through the VPN, and everything else continues to use my regular (and faster) internet connection.

When only a small subset of your apps need to use a VPN, there is no point forcing them all to do it.

P2P Support

The majority of Surfshark servers do support P2P and Torrenting. That’s excellent, especially when you consider their strong privacy policy and outstanding performance.

The downside, however, is it’s not clear which those servers are. They’re not marked in any way, shape or form.

Selecting a server location using the Surfshark's app

If you happen to connect to a server that does not allow P2P and proceed to use it, at least Surfshark will keep you safe. Your traffic will be automatically redirected to a Netherlands based server.

But, by essentially double VPN’ing your Torrent traffic (without you knowing I might add), your download and upload speeds will undoubtedly take some kind of a hit.

It would be nice if the client app clearly marked the servers which allow P2P. Alternatively, I would also be happy with a filter to show only those servers on which Torrenting is permitted.

Depending on which platform you’re using, another Torrenting shortcoming is the lack of kill switch functionality. The windows client has it. None of the other ones do.

If you’re running a VPN to hide your P2P usage from your ISP, in my opinion, a kill switch is a must.

I have to say, I have not experienced any connection drops with Surfshark. But, were it to happen without a kill switch present, all your downloads would happily continue, leaving you exposed.

So, at least at the time of this review, I can only recommend using this VPN provider for P2P on Windows. Unless you’re a bigger risk taker than I, of course.

CleanWeb

If you’re running an ad blocker, with Surfshark, you no longer have to. CleanWeb is essentially a version of one that’s built right into the VPN client.

It’s disabled by default and can be turned on from the Settings on any version of the app, including the browser extensions.

Once enabled, I found CleanWeb worked very well. Not an ad in sight.

In addition to blocking ads, it’s also supposed to help keep you safe by disallowing various trackers and preventing malware infections.

Does Surfshark work with Netflix

Getting your hands on the Netflix library from another market is not as easy as it once was. Many VPN providers threw in the hat and no longer support it. Some claim to support it when in reality they don’t. Surfshark makes a similar claim and… actually delivers.

I had zero problems connecting to and streaming from either the US, UK or Canadian Netflix site (using the servers in the respective countries, of course).

Thanks to how good server performance is, I also had no issues streaming in glorious, glorious 4K.

Privacy and Security

From running operations in a privacy-friendly country and having a strict no logging policy, to strong encryption and several features designed to keep your information safe, Sharksurf does very well on the privacy and security front.

Jurisdiction

Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). That’s a very good thing for privacy.

BVI does not currently have any data retention laws. They’re also not part of any intelligence sharing agreements.

Surfshark Logging Policy

Even if someone were to come knocking on Surfshark’s door asking for information about your online activities (which, again, simply will not happen in the BVI), they’d be out of luck. This is because of one very strict no logging policy.

After reviewing all of Surfshark’s legalese, here’s a quote directly from their Terms of Service that perhaps summarizes things best:

“No-logs Policy is one of the most important features of our Services. It means your activities are not in any way logged, retained, or transferred to third parties when you connect to our Services. We do not collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data.”

Because Surfshark offers unlimited everything (simultaneous connections, bandwidth and data), their logging policy is easy to believe.

Many other providers claim no logging, but still, for example, restrict your connections to some given number. How is that possible if they don’t log anything? They must at the very least store that you’re currently using four connections to deny you a fifth one.

Privacy at Signup

During the signup process, you need to provide an email address and a form of payment. Both are kept on file.

According to Surfshark, your email is only needed for password recovery reasons, and your payment information for cases where a refund is required. At any point, you can request to have both pieces of data removed by contacting support.

That said, if you’d like to do so, feel free to use a fake email address. I didn’t have to confirm the email I supplied and was able to use the service just fine. Just be sure to remember/write down that password.

Payment wise, the most private form of it accepted by Surfshark is cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple are all options.

Privacy and Security Features

All signs point to Surfshark trying to take user privacy and security very seriously. That said, due to the fact they’re a young company, not every security feature is yet available on every platform.

So, depending on what your needs are, you may need to look at other providers (at least until Surfshark’s clients all catch up with each other).

Security options menu in the Surfshark client software

That all said, every platform which has an app (Windows, Android, and iOS), currently includes a double VPN feature.

The same is true for the VPN auto-connecting on Wi-Fi.

Macs don’t yet have an app. So, if you’re a fellow OS X user and either of these features is important to you, you will need to look elsewhere (hello NordVPN).

Also, for the time being, kill switch functionality is only available on the Windows client. Though according to my sources, it’s coming to the mobile platforms very soon.

Surfshark does not currently offer anything akin to TOR over VPN, nor do they have any obfuscated servers. But again, I was told that at least server obfuscation is just around the corner.

Do note that neither the Chrome extension nor the Firefox add-on implements any of these security or privacy features. As mentioned, neither does the Mac app, because, well… it doesn’t exist.

Surfshark Double VPN

MultiHop is Surfshark’s version of double VPN. You can choose to enable it when establishing a connection using the client.

A list of double VPN connection options

With this feature enabled, your data is sent through two VPN servers instead of just one. That’s double the encryption which, if you’re very privacy minded, is not a bad thing.

The downside of using MultiHop (and indeed any other double VPN implementation) is the hit to performance. Because data is now encrypted twice and needs to travel to a second VPN server before reaching its final destination, your connection speed will suffer.

I ran a quick test comparing a direct connection to a Los Angeles area server with a MultiHop connection that first went through Canada. The latter showed an additional 20% to 25% drop in speed on top of the standard VPN connection.

But, depending on what your base internet connection speed is and what you’re trying to do with the VPN, those drops may still be more than acceptable.

Double VPN pairings supported at the time of this review are as follows:

  • France through UK
  • Germany through UK
  • Netherlands through US
  • Portugal through US
  • Sweden through France
  • UK through Germany
  • US through Netherlands
  • US through Canada

Auto-connect on Wi-Fi

Another useful security feature from Surfshark is the ability to automatically connect to the VPN when your device is using Wi-Fi. The purpose here is to protect you and your data anytime you’re on a public network.

This feature is off by default.

Reviewing the Surfshark client connectivity options

When enabled, it works on a whitelist basis. The client app will assume all Wi-Fi networks are public (and therefore potentially dangerous) unless told otherwise.

So, in the cases when you’re home, at a friend’s place or anywhere where you do trust the network, you can tell the Surfshark client to not automatically establish a VPN connection. This way, you don’t take an unnecessary VPN performance hit at home but will still be protected by default anytime you visit your local coffee shop.

Protocols and Encryption

Surfshark currently supports two protocols: IKEv2 and OpenVPN. These days, that’s all you need. Both are fast, secure and between the two, you’ll be able to connect from just about any platform.

But unless you’re willing to do a bit of manual setup, you don’t really get a say which protocol you’ll be using. None of the client implementations let you change it.

The iOS and Android apps both use IKEv2. That’s a very sensible choice.

IKEv2 is much easier on your phone’s battery than other protocols. It also automatically re-establishes the VPN connection after any internet interruption. So, you’ll stay connected even as your phone changes provider networks or switches between mobile and Wi-Fi.

The Windows client locks you into OpenVPN. It does, however, let you pick between the UDP or TCP transport layer protocols.

Selecting the OpenVPN UDP or TCP protocol

If you’re comfortable enough to do a bit of manual setup instead of using the client application, you’ll get a bit more choice. Surfshark allows manual configuration of IKEv2 on macOS and Windows, and OpenVPN on macOS, Android, and Linux.

When it comes to encryption, we get an AES-256-GCM cipher with SHA-512 signatures. Unless someone has infinite resources (both time and computational), no one is ever breaking that.

AES-256-GCM also has a slight advantage over AES-256-CBC used by most other providers. It has built-in authentication, which makes encrypting faster.

The difference won’t be massive, but every little bit counts. So, kudos to Surfshark there.

Leak Tests

A VPN is a great way to hide your IP, assuming that IP is not somehow being leaked. After randomly picking and connecting to several Surfshark servers, I ran my standard battery of tests which attempt to identify any such issues.

A review of the Surfshark IP leak test results

Every test passed with flying colors. None of the IPv4, IPv6 or DNS addresses were being leaked, including through WebRTC.

Apps and Clients

When you start up a Surfshark client, the first thing you notice is how clean it looks. You get a feeling this thing is going to be a breeze to use. And it is.

The Surfshark software

The client is laid out very logically. Everything is where you would expect it to be and navigating between different features and sections is easy.

Unlike many other VPN providers, Surfshark also keeps the look consistent between various platforms (including the browser extensions). Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I certainly appreciate it. I don’t like being forced to re-learn the same application every time I switch between my phone, PC, and MacBook.

Surfshark Supported Platforms

Among the major platforms, the client app currently supports Android, iOS, and Windows. Though the Windows version is officially marked as in Beta, it certainly feels like a fully finished product.

List of available Surfshark clients software

The Chrome extension and Firefox add-on share their look with the all the other implementations. They work well, though are currently missing some of the features the stand-alone clients have (double VPN, for example).

In case you’re wondering, the browser extensions need the following permissions:

  • Access to your data for all websites
  • Access to your location
  • Permission to read and modify privacy settings
  • Control of browser proxy settings
  • Access to browser tabs

No Mac Client

One of Surfshark’s bigger shortcomings in the client software department is they don’t currently have one for OS X. If you’re not a Mac user, no biggie. But personally, it’s the platform which I use most often.

If you want to use Surfshark on a Mac, you have two choices:

  • Use a browser extension.
  • Set up the VPN manually through either the Network settings (for IKEv2) or by using a third-party app like Tunnelblick (for OpenVPN). Far from ideal. But, at least the help section of the website provides detailed how-to instructions.

Routers

Surfshark can also be set up on certain routers. They have detailed guides on how to do so for AsusWRT, DD-WRT and Tomato products.

The firmware on most other routers (Netgear, TP-Link, Linksys, etc.) doesn’t support OpenVPN connections, which is a requirement. To get those going, you’ll need to flash to a custom firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato.

Server Locations

For a reasonably new VPN provider, Surfshark is doing very well for global server coverage. They currently run over 500 servers in 50 countries around the world.

Several countries get multiple locations too, like the US and the UK, bringing the location total to 60. All these numbers are on the upper end of the scale. In fact, they blow several more established providers out of the water.

Country wise, every major one I could ever want to connect to is there and accounted for. You can see the entire Surfshark server list here.

List of countries with Surfshark servers

If you’re specifically interested in a smaller Asian or African country, you may need to look elsewhere. PureVPN has a massive server network and may be an excellent choice. But for 99% of us, Shurfshark’s coverage should work great.

Speed and Performance

A good number of servers and great global coverage are one thing. But both mean nothing if not back up by solid performance.

The good news is, here too Surfshark is doing very, very well.

The speed test results speak volumes just on their own. But it’s also the little details, like opting for the faster AES-256-GCM cipher that shows this provider’s commitment to speed.

The tests below were run using a 250 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload connection based out of Europe. The optimal server location was automatically detected by the Surfshark client.

Optimal Server

Surfshark optimal server VPN speed test results

Connnected to VPN

Surfshark optimal server speed test baseline results

No VPN

United States Server

Surfshark US server VPN speed test results

Connnected to VPN

Surfshark US server speed test baseline results

No VPN

In both cases, the results were jaw dropping. This is one of the fastest VPNs I’ve ever tested and you would be hard pressed to make your connection quicker.

With this kind of speed, anything from streaming 4K video to downloading large files is a breeze.

Customer Service

When the need arises, help from Surfshark’s support staff readily available. The company offers 24/7 customer support via either chat or email.

Support seems on the ball too. After updating my Windows client, I ran into an where I wasn’t able to connect due to all TAP-Windows adapters being in use. The problem was resolved within a few hours (and turned out to have nothing to do with Surfshark).

Screen capture of Surfshark's client support portal

For those of us who prefer a more hands-on approach, the company’s website also has a growing knowledge base. But, with only about 35 articles in total between the FAQ, setup guides, billing, account, and technical categories, the amount of information feels a little light.

That said though, all the basics seem to be covered.

Subscription Cancelation

Contacting customer support is the official way to cancel any ongoing subscription. I find that a little annoying. If possible, I prefer to avoid human contact.

But, to give credit where it’s due when I canceled the subscription I used for this review, they were responsive and didn’t give me any grief.

If you pay with PayPal, you should also be able to cancel by stopping the recurring subscription through your PayPal account. It’s a route I frequently take with other services.

Price and Value

I like not to spend more money than I have to, and I’m sure you do as well. And depending on which subscription you opt for, Surfshark can offer one of best (if not the best) deals around.

The pricing structure is currently broken up into single month, 12-month and 24-month plans.

A review of Surfshark's price plans

The first two are comparable to many other providers, give or take a dollar.

The 24-month plan, however, is one of the best VPN deals you can get. It would be hard to find another provider giving you access for USD 1.99, let alone one which offers the features, privacy, and performance that Surfshark does.

Payment Methods

As far as payments methods go, Surfshark accepts all standard forms. Major credit cards and PayPal are all there, payable in one of six currencies (AUD, CAD, CNY, EUR, GBP, and USD). AliPay is available as well.

A list of available payment options

For those of us who are more privacy-minded, three cryptocurrencies are also an option: Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.

Surfshark Free Trial and Refunds

Though not officially advertised on their website, you can get a 7-day free trial of Surfshark on Android and iOS.

If you would like to take the VPN for a spin on any other platform, you’ll have to rely on their 30-day money back guarantee. During that period, you can request a full refund for any reason by contacting customer support.

Closing Thoughts

When you’re going up against many well-established companies, you have your work cut out for you. Surfshark though is more than up to the challenge and ready to go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest players in the VPN industry.

Yes, as this Surfshark review showed, client support for a platform or two is still missing. Some of the available platforms also don’t yet have all the features.

But, an easy to use and clean client, fantastic privacy, great global server coverage and performance, and Netflix and Torrenting support more than make up for any shortcomings. And, based on what I’ve seen from this provider in the past, I’m willing to bet good money all current shortcomings are very much temporary.

Surfshark VPN logoScore:
8.5/10

2 Comments

  1. Mona 2018-11-23
    • Tim Tremblay 2018-11-24

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