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NordVPN review: Sincere about security and privacy

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VPN services: The basics
Whether you’re in the office or on the road, a VPN is still one of the best ways to protect yourself on the big, bad internet.
Read more: https://zd.net/2BNF7ne

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The Best VPN services for 2019

A virtual private network enables users to send and receive data while remaining anonymous and secure online. In this directory, we look at a few of the very best commercial VPN service providers on the Internet.

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When I started learning about NordVPN for this review, one of the first things I noticed was that, although its branding seems Nordic, the company’s headquarters is actually in Panama.

When I spoke to Marty P Kamden, the company’s CMO, he told me the name “was inspired by Nordic ideals of confidence, trust, and innovation. It reflects how we value our customers’ freedom of choice, how we strive to be innovative with our technology, and the way we work.”

There are definitely jurisdictional privacy benefits to using Panama as the country of record for a VPN provider. In particular, the nation doesn’t have mandatory data retention laws and doesn’t participate in either the Quadripartite Pact (better known as Five Eyes or UKUSA) or SIGINT Seniors Europe (or SSEUR, better known as Fourteen Eyes).

These are signals intelligence sharing agreements between certain nations that allow for data sharing. For VPN users concerned about security and government access to communications data, the fact that a VPN private network provider isn’t subject to either of these agreements is a plus.


NordVPN at a glance


NordVPN is a product worth considering if you’re concerned about protecting your Internet connection from prying eyes. The company boasts 5,100 servers in 62 countries.

This metric is important, because one of the key reasons to use a VPN service is that you connect from your machine to a server somewhere else, often in another country. The more servers available, the better chance you can anonymize your connection.

Beyond basic VPN

The company provides a list of server locations, and each location provides different categories of service beyond basic VPN. There are a total of five communications services offered: P2P, Double VPN, Dedicated IP, Onion Over VPN, and Obfuscated (which means “to render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible).

P2P: P2P stands for Peer-to-Peer. Back in the days of Napster, P2P was huge. While we definitely don’t condone sharing copyrighted materials, P2P networks have great value in distributing large files without exacting too much of a load on any one machine. For example, many Linux distributions are shared via P2P. NordVPN supports P2P sharing in many countries.

Double VPN: When you connect from your computer to a VPN server, your data is encrypted once along the path. Double VPN routes you through a second VPN server, which provides a second layer of encryption and hides your originating IP address from the second VPN server.

Onion Over VPN: You may have heard of TOR (for The Onion Router). While TOR routes data through multiple servers and encrypts it, the biggest benefit is that, to anyone trying to spy on packets, every TOR user looks the same. It’s a powerful boost to anonymity. Onion Over VPN is Nord’s method of allowing you to use all the benefits of TOR, but across your own VPN connection, as well. If you want anonymity, this is big.

Obfuscated: These are servers that Nord says “can bypass network restrictions such as network firewalls.” This only works with OpenVPN, so you’re limited to their Windows, Mac, and Android apps.

Dedicated IP: This is just about the opposite of everything else we’ve discussed. Many users want to blend in with all the other users as a way to hide their identity. Dedicated IP assigns your account a specific IP that you and only you use. Why would you want to do this? Some servers and systems require certain IP addresses for access or ease of login. It’s a special case. Don’t worry if you don’t understand this one. If you need it, you’ll know it.

Not all countries offer all five of these services. In fact, only the NordVPN servers in The Netherlands offer all five. Some countries offer just P2P, some offer just Obfuscated, and some only allow connections without any enhanced VPN service.

Performance testing

I installed the NordVPN app on a fresh, fully-updated Windows 10 install. To do this kind of testing, I always use a fresh install so some other company’s VPN leftovers aren’t clogging up the system and possibly influencing results. I have a 1,000Mbps fiber feed, so my baseline network speed is rockin’ fast.

To provide a fair US performance comparison, rather than comparing to my local fiber broadband provider, I used speedtest.net and picked a Comcast server in Chicago to test download speed.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t choose a specific location in the US to connect to, so I let NordVPN make what it considered to be the best connection. UPDATE: Since I first looked at NordVPN, the company has added the ability to connect to specific cities.

nord.png

Beyond the US, I tested connections to Sweden, Russia, Taiwan, Australia, and India. For each test, I connected to each server three times. The number shown below is the average result of all three connections.

While I was connected, I also ran DNS and WebRTC leak tests (to make sure that DNS and IP are secure) using DNSLeak.com, ipleak.net, and dnsleaktest.com. These tests are basic security tests and not much more. If you’re planning on using NordVPN (or any VPN service) to hide your identity for life and death reasons, be sure to do far more extensive testing.

And, with that caveat, here are the results:

Speed Test Server

Baseline download speed without VPN (higher is better)

Ping speed without VPN (lower is better)

Time to connect to VPN

Download speed with VPN (higher is better)

Ping speed with VPN (lower is better)

Leaks

Chicago – Comcast

188.67Mbps

71ms

19 sec

43.14Mbps

61 ms

None

Stockholm, Sweden – Datacom

361.70Mbps

195ms

15 sec

15.97Mbps

217ms

None

Moscow, Russia – Rostelecom

11.99Mbps

220ms

15 sec

23.77Mbps

217ms

None

Taipei, Taiwan – NCIC Telecom

82.45Mbps

175ms

18.99 sec

18.65Mbps

160ms

None

Perth, Australia – Telstra

123Mbps

217ms

16 sec

16.64Mbps

242ms

None

Hyderabad, India – Excitel

338.25Mbps

243ms

17 sec

1.44Mbps

326ms

Maybe

In looking at these numbers, it’s possible to get carried away by the difference in the baseline speed compared to the VPN speed. That’s not the best measurement, mostly because I have broadband over fiber, so my connection speed is extremely high.

When you use a VPN service, it’s natural for performance to drop. After all, you’re running all your packets through an entirely artificial infrastructure designed to hide your path. The real numbers you should look at are the download speed and the ping speed. Are they high enough to do the work you need to do?

Ping speed is an indication of how quickly a response gets back after a network request is sent from your computer. Some of the limitations here are due to actual physics. If you’re sending a packet across the planet, it will take longer to hear back than if you’re sending a packet across town.

For all connections, with the exception of India, NordVPN download performance was quite good. Since you don’t really need more than about 6Mbps to 8Mbps to stream HD video from sites like YouTube, the NordVPN connections were certainly fast enough. For years, most of us would have been thrilled to have the broadband download speeds reported after this VPN was enabled.

Then there’s India. My non-VPN performance was blazing fast. Yet, my VPN performance was terrible. I retried connecting to what NordVPN considered the best India server a bunch of times, and then tried selecting random Indian servers (Nord labels them as India #1, India #2, and so on). Performance was terrible with each. I also found that DNSLeak.com reported a leak, although I couldn’t find any evidence of a DNS leak with some cursory checks of my own.

I reached out to the company about this. According to Daniel Markuson, Digital Privacy Expert at NordVPN, “This specific website is configured in a strange way. If it detects a difference between the DNS server address and the IP address, it considers this to be a DNS leak. However, if the DNS displayed is not your original regular DNS servers, then no leak has actually occurred. Simply put, this is a false positive due to strange interpretation of what DNS leak is.”

The bottom line of my basic performance tests is that you can probably get the job done unless it involves India. If you have a specific country you want to connect to, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the company’s full 30-day refund policy and just try it out.

See latest NordVPN plans and deals

Double DNS performance

I was very intrigued by the Double VPN offering, but the results were mixed. When I tried to connect via Double VPN to the fastest US server, I waited two minutes, lost patience, and got up to get coffee and pet the dog. By the time I sat back down at my computer five minutes later, there was still no connection.

I stopped the connection attempt, selected Netherlands as my server location instead of the US, and was connected in about 30 seconds. I ran the same speed test to Comcast in Chicago that netted 188.67Mbps natively, and got 1.49Mbps download. Of course, that was from The Netherlands to Chicago. When I connected to Duocast in Groningen (a large city in the north of The Netherlands), my speed increased to a still-meager 2.02Mbps.

Clearly, Double DNS speeds are slow, but they’re workable enough if you’re not transferring large media. If you’re connecting to mail servers, sending messages, browsing Facebook, etc, it should be tolerably fine.

Privacy and security features

Big on our list of questions for any VPN vendor is what kind of data they log. NordVPN does need an email address so you can log into your account, and they do capture anonymized performance metrics to tune their systems, but the company says it doesn’t log any traffic or access data.

In terms of platform support, NordVPN has apps for iOS and Android, Windows, and Mac. On top of that, NordVPN supports a huge number of platforms ranging from all the way back to Windows XP, forward to Raspberry Pi, Synology, and Western Digital, along with QNAP NAS boxes, Chromebook, a whole bunch of routers, and more.

At its core, a VPN encrypts and decrypts your data, so the method of encryption is very important. Unfortunately, it’s really not possible to say which encryption protocol is best, because that depends on what you need. We can say that certain protocols are proven to be no longer safe, and while some VPN providers still encrypt using those protocols, NordVPN does not. NordVPN offers OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec, which are well-respected protocols.

In addition, NordVPN is now offering something it calls CyberSec, which shares a lot of the characteristics of an antivirus program, but works very differently. CyberSec monitors network transmissions for malware, where antivirus programs tend to monitor running programs.

CyberSec also watches out for on-system botnet activity and tries to block any participation in a DDoS (distributed denial of service attack). It also blocks pop-ups, auto-play videos, and known dangerous websites. It’s a very nice and welcome addition to its VPN offering and is provided at no additional charge.

Finally, they support Bitcoin payment, so if you want to keep your identity completely private, you don’t even need to give them a credit card number.

The bottom line

Going back to our mantra that everyone’s needs are different, we can’t tell you which VPN service to choose. We like what we’ve seen of NordVPN, performance is generally good, and the company’s attention to security and privacy seems sincere.

NordVPN is not a free VPN, but given the company’s fair 30-day refund policy, we can definitely say they’re worth giving a try. If you’re curious about other VPN vendors, take a look at my comprehensive best-of VPN directory over on CNET.

See latest NordVPN plans and deals


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission on services featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated by Nord for this independent, unbiased review.



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Mini John Cooper Works convertible and coupe pack style and performance

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Mini has unveiled its convertible and coupe John Cooper Works sports cars. The hardtop is rated for a combined fuel economy of 7.1-6.8 l/100 km, with the convertible rated for 7.4-7.1 l/100 km. The vehicles also have low CO2 emissions making them sporty, fun to drive, and green. Mini said that the cars have fresh design features and new equipment for the current year model.

Both versions of the John Cooper Works have round LED headlights and a larger hexagonal radiator grille. The larger radiator grille works with larger side openings to channel more cooling air to the drivetrain and brakes. Mini also paints the bumper strip in body color and has modified the side scuttles on the front side panels and the rear diffuser on both models.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with TwinPower turbo technology. The engine produces 231 horsepower and 320Nm of torque. The car can reach 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds in hardtop form when fitted with the standard six-speed manual transmission. When fitted with the optional eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission, the vehicle can reach the same speed in 6.1 seconds.

The convertible is a little slower to 100 km/h needing 6.6 seconds with the manual and 6.5 seconds with the automatic. Buyers of the convertible get an electrically powered textile soft top and can choose an optional Mini Yours soft top with woven in Union Jack graphics. The top can be opened at speeds up to 30 km/h.

Both models feature Brembo brakes and 17-inch wheels; 18-inch wheels are an option. The latest version of the optional Adaptive Suspension is available to provide a balance between sportiness and ride comfort. The car also gets standard heated steering well, lane departure warning, and stop & go function for the active cruise control. An 8.8-inch touch display is used for the infotainment system. Pricing for both models is unannounced at this time.

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Opel Manta GSe ElektroMOD teases innovative Pixel-Vizor front grille

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Last March, Opel gave us a teaser of its latest Manta GSe ElektroMOD concept, an all-electric version of the brand’s popular sports coupe from the 1970s. The German carmaker is back to reveal more about its latest electric restomod, notably its unique Pixel-Vizor front grille that allows the car (and driver) to send animated messages to other road users.

“The Manta GSe ElektroMOD is the work of passionate designers, 3D modelers, engineers, technicians, mechanics, product and brand experts,” said Pierre-Olivier Garcia, Opel Global Brand Design Manager. “With the Manta GSe, we are building a bridge from the great Opel tradition to a very desirable sustainable future. This mixture of zeitgeist and modern is absolutely fascinating.”

Other EVs like the Mustang Mach-E and Kia EV6 have blanked-out grille designs, while others have illuminated units. Opel’s Pixel-Vizor front grille takes it further. It’s a digital screen spanning across the entire front of the vehicle. It can display a bevy of messages to communicate with pedestrians, onlookers, and other cars on the road.

In Opel’s video, you can see the car displaying “My German heart has been ELEKTRified,” “I am an ElektroMOD,” and “I am on a zero e-mission.” You can also see an animated manta ray gliding over the screen between the headlights. Yes, we’re talking about a concept vehicle, but we can’t see any reason why this feature won’t make it to production.

Opel utilized a Manta A model from its classic warehouse in creating the GSe ElektroMOD. If you’re old enough to remember, the original Manta was an iconic sports coupe with twin round headlights, a Hemi Cuda-esque hood, and a sporty two-door coupe silhouette.

Opel’s first electric car, the Elektro GT, debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1971 and is based on the Opel GT sports car from 1968. It came with a pair of Bosch electric motors and an all-electric range of only 27 miles. Despite this, it rockets from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds, pretty quick even by modern standards.

As you can see, Opel’s been dabbling with electrification since the early 70s, and it seems the incoming Manta GSe ElektroMOD is bridging the gap between the old and the new. We have no idea if this electric Manta is entering production, but there’s a glimmer of hope.

According to Opel, the Manta GSe ElektroMOD is getting its final touches at the company HQ in Rüsselsheim, Germany. It will also reveal the concept in all its glory this May 19, 2021. Until then, we’ll be back to share the deets.

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Ferrari 812 Superfast Versione Speciale has the most potent Ferrari V12 engine

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As the name suggests, a standard Ferrari 812 Superfast is, well, a stupendously quick supercar. However, Ferrari recently unveiled a ‘faster’ and more potent version of the 812 Superfast. It will debut on May 5 as having the most powerful and highest-revving V12 engine in Ferrari’s history.

Ferrari refers to it as Versione Speciale or Special Version, although the name might change upon the vehicle’s debut in the next couple of weeks. Despite this, Ferrari was able to whet our appetites by releasing a couple of tidbits about its latest high-speed creation.

The Versione Speciale will have the same 6.5-liter V12 engine as a standard 812 Superfast. However, it now pumps out an astonishing 830 horsepower, 30+ more horses than stock. It has the same power output as Mansory’s Stallone GTS convertible (a highly-tuned version of the 812 Superfast), and we reckon it’s going to just as quick.

Officially, the 812 Versione Speciale’s V12 is the most powerful gasoline engine in a roadgoing Ferrari. Granted, the Ferrari SF90 Stradale and Spider have 986 horsepower from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, but the SF90 is a hybrid.

The new V12 also revs with authority, spinning close to 9,500 rpm. Considering a stock 812 Superfast produces maximum power at 8,500 rpm, we’re pretty sure the Special Version will sound more epic at full chat. Ferrari failed to mention the torque numbers, but we expect the new V12 to have more twists than a stock motor’s 530 pound-feet output.

We have no word yet on the performance numbers. But with more power than stock, the Ferrari 812 Superfast Versione Speciale will go like stink. A standard 812 Superfast goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.9-seconds, zero to 124 mph in 7.9-seconds, and has a top speed of 211 mph. Meanwhile, the Mansory Stallone GTS accelerates to 60 mph in 2.8-seconds and has a top speed of 214 mph, all while having the same power output as Ferrari’s latest 812 VS.

Other juicy features include Ferrari’s Slide Slip Control vehicle dynamics system and four-wheel steering for better handling. The exterior mods consist of more oversized air intakes, a new lip spoiler, new bumper fins, and an aluminum lover panel covering the rear glass. We also heard it’ll weigh less than a stock Superfast, tipping the scales at under 3,362 pounds (1,525 kg).

We’ll know more about Ferrari’s most extreme version of the 812 Superfast in the coming weeks.

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