CyberGhost is a robust and affordable VPN service. But does it have what it takes to compete against security juggernaut NordVPN?
The internet’s in the middle of a teenage growth spurt that’s making us all a little nervous.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (and no one would blame you if you had been), you know what I’m talking about. Social media has run amuck, artificial intelligence has infiltrated the web, and the internet privacy wars are on full blaze (Facebook vs. Apple is just the latest installment of that).1
There’s plenty of disruption, but some amazing new tools, too. Tools — like virtual private networks (VPNs) — that let us take back some control over our digital lives in these pretty out-of-control times.
If you caught my headline, you might be thinking I teamed up with my friends in the Marvel Universe. (I wish!) Actually, CyberGhost is yet another pretty great VPN service with outstanding privacy chops and a host of special features that’s been on my must-try list for a while.
Think it can take on VPN giant NordVPN? Time to find out.
NordVPN and CyberGhost: What They Have in Common
When you rip the wrapping off both of these boxes, you’re going to find all the key features you’d want to tick off your list before commiting to a VPN service — and a few you probably hadn’t been expecting.
First off, NordVPN and CyberGhost stand out for their sheer server reach and numbers. They both give you a staggering amount of servers (5,000-plus) in a pretty impressive number of far-flung locations (80-plus), with easy, secure connections from whatever device or platform you want.
With both, you get clean, robust desktop and mobile experiences that let you fine-tune your connections to the degree you’re comfortable with: server loads and locations, if that’s all you’re looking for, or plenty of nooks and crannies to explore if you like tinkering under the hood.
You get native ad and malware blockers, a conversation on its own. You’ll be able to outwit VPN-thwarting streaming services like Netflix, game to your heart’s content, and download torrents comfortably.
Both give you plenty of speed, too, because they both pack WireGuard protocol technology — a new and welcome development for fans of CyberGhost.
Also worth mentioning up top: both NordVPN and CyberGhost give you the option of connecting with a dedicated IP address (more on this later because it’s something many of you may be interested in).
What else? You get all the live support you need, sometimes in 30 seconds flat (thank you, Jefferson from CyberGhost).
Finally, both NordVPN and CyberGhost give you a variety of pricing options with monthly and yearly rates. We’ll unpack those for you in a minute.
So, with all the usual suspects out of the way, what sets these two VPN services apart?
I was hoping you’d ask that.
Pro Tip: When you’re choosing a VPN service, server numbers are important, but so are location numbers. VPN provider HideMyAss, for instance, has a presence in a bunch of locations (190), but relatively few servers (1,000). That’s a recipe for server overload. Newcomer Surfshark, on the other hand, has a better mix with plenty of servers (3,200) in a fair amount of countries (65-plus).
NordVPN and CyberGhost: What Sets Them Apart
Security and Privacy (the Full Story)
If you’re into VPNs, you probably know that NordVPN got into some serious trouble back in 2018 with a security breach that compromised a ton of user data. Since then, however, they’ve done a stand-up job putting user privacy front and center.
In 2019, for instance, NordVPN migrated its whole network from disks to RAM servers, which means even if hackers did break in, there would be nothing to steal. NordVPN also comes with obfuscated servers to further encrypt their basically unassailable AES-256 encryption, and CyberSec, a native ad and malware blocker (not yet working on the Android app, unfortunately).
On top of that, NordVPN doesn’t keep any logs of your activity: no timestamps, session data, bandwidth usage, IP addresses, etc.
For the dedicated privacy geeks among you, NordVPN does something else that very few VPN providers do: they run periodic full-scale audits of their entire infrastructure with third-party independent cybersecurity experts to back their claims up. In other words, your average Swiss bank vault is more hackable.
We haven’t even touched on NordVPN’s Onion support for fully anonymous browsing on the open-source Tor Browser, or the privacy extras you can add to your subscription via the NordSec umbrella service: NordPass, to store your passwords and test for breaches, and NordLocker for secure file storage.
If you’re really into privacy and want the full lowdown on all of NordVPN’s security and privacy features, you’ll definitely want to check out my hands-on NordVPN review.
Bottom line: Since the 2018 breach, NordVPN has evolved into a top-of-the-line security juggernaut. Even better, you’ll have no trouble accessing any of that advanced protection because NordVPN’s dashboard makes it so easy to find and use (more on this in a bit).
So, CyberGhost has some pretty big shoes to fill. But does it?
CyberGhost gets some things right, for sure, starting with a bunch of useful, privacy-enhancing connection features that you can toggle off and on easily. You can tell CyberGhost to block ads, trackers, malicious websites, and even all http connections, for example, with a flip of a switch.
As I said, great news. Except for the fact that when I actually tried to activate those features, I ran into a few snafus, including a wonky features list that repeated itself.
Even more wonky was the actual performance of CyberGhost’s ad blocker. When I peeked under the hood, I saw that with CyberGhost’s ad blocker activated, my browser was actually making five times as many requests and was about four times slower than when it was running naked. Ouch.
I had the same less-than-stellar experience with CyberGhost’s private browser, which piggybacks off the DuckDuckGo API like Surfshark does with Bing. To read more about private browsing with Surfshark, check out my NordVPN vs. Surfshark comparison guide.
On the plus side, CyberGhost does have a photo vault, which is just potentially cool to have and show off. “Did you get that photo I sent? No? Hold on, I probably didn’t decrypt it.”
Overall, I have to admit, NordVPN’s very public security campaign has made me a lot more willing to trust their revamped products and services.
CyberGhost, on the other hand, which malware-dumping Crossrider bought out in 2017,2 isn’t quite filling me with confidence — even if Crossrider has since rebranded as the cleaner, SaaS-focused Kape Technologies.
Have some of Crossrider’s “under-the-table” activities rubbed off on CyberGhost? I’m hoping not. What I can say without a doubt is that CyberGhost still has some privacy bugs to iron out, and that those bugs will affect your day-to-day use of their otherwise pretty stand-up service.
Winner: NordVPN, hands down
FYI: How hacker-proof is the VPN industry standard AES-256 encryption? Take the number 256. A hacker, human or otherwise, would need 2^256 combinations to hit on a key that could break the seal on a tunnel protected by AES-256. That’s more than the number of atoms in the universe.
Ease of Use
NordVPN is famous for its gorgeous UI, which, I admit, is pretty darn gorgeous. But the map view can also get a little crowded with geo pins, if you’re searching for connections in places with a lot of them.
The good news is, you can always switch to the stripped-down countries list. Once you do that, it’s relatively smooth sailing with NordVPN. Just pick a country and NordVPN will find the fastest connection for you. If you want to experiment with other locations, click “more.”
But the thing I really love about NordVPN’s countries list is being able to choose my connection based on task using NordVPN’s specialized servers. This means, if I want to download a torrent, NordVPN shows me the best peer-to-peer (P2P) option I have. Ditto for dedicated IPs (you need to pay extra for this) — for sneaking past Netflix or working remotely on firewalled networks. NordVPN will even show me the best servers for browsing anonymously with Tor!
How does CyberGhost’s dashboard compare?
Unlike NordVPN, the ghostly navy-and-yellow-themed CyberGhost doesn’t give you a map view, which is fine, because their location picker has everything you need to get going: servers, distances, loads.
Another thing I instantly liked about CyberGhost isn’t a game changer, but just in case you’re like me (and you work on a large desktop with multiple browser and app windows open at the same time), CyberGhost lets you resize your dashboard.
Do you have a thing for dashboard UI, too? You can read all about CyberGhost’s pretty amazing dashboard and more in my CyberGhost review.
Back to the nuts and bolts? While CyberGhost does give you the equivalent of NordVPN’s specialized server list — so you can choose connections based on what you need to do — they’ve also thrown in a Smart Rules panel, which remembers the servers you use with specific websites, apps, and browsers.
This might not sound like much, but just think about how many different things you do on the web everyday. Imagine if you had to find the best connection for each of them every time you connected.
The bottom line?
You won’t go wrong with either of these desktop clients. They’re well-put-together, relatively easy to use, and — as you’d expect — they give you plenty of smart, powerful features under the hood.
Winner: Draw. Unless you like map views (with actual boats floating in the ocean). Then I’d go with NordVPN.
Pro Tip: Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are great for sharing files with a lot of people at once because every downloader is an uploader, too, boosting transfer speeds. That efficiency is also what makes P2P networks ideal for sharing pirated content. Internet service providers (ISPs) have thrown the baby out with the bathwater: if they suspect you of P2P file transfers, they may cut off your internet service for violating piracy laws. Which is one more good reason to invest in an IP-masking VPN.
The Mobile Experience
NordVPN on Mobile
When you open up the NordVPN app on Android, you won’t be in for any surprises — except maybe for the surprisingly unified experience you’ll find if you tested the desktop client first.
Choosing and connecting to servers by task, load, or location is straightforward and safe, thanks, in part, to NordVPN’s auto-connect feature, which knows if you’re connecting to an untrusted network and jumpstarts your VPN for you automatically.
I also really liked the fact that tapping open the settings menu let me activate NordVPN’s phishing-and-malware-blocking feature, CyberSec. Basically, I liked that it was there because I might have forgotten to enable it otherwise.
The only thing I’d ask the NordVPN engineers to consider is adding an “enable kill switch” toggle to the app. I didn’t really appreciate having to hunt around for that in my Android system settings. It was simple enough to find, but if they’ve got that great CyberSec toggle, why not the equally important “block connections without VPN”?
In case you’re an Apple person, the NordVPN iOS experience is stellar, too. Maybe even better because the iOS app has a built-in kill switch, and now a dark mode. You can even connect with Siri! (Just remember to pronounce those country names extra clearly.)
CyberGhost on Mobile
You won’t have any trouble using CyberGhost on your mobile devices either. As soon as you open the app, CyberGhost connects you to the closest server (by default). If you want something more exotic, just tap on a location. You’ll see server loads and even user numbers. If you like what you see, tap again to add that location to your Favorites list.
If you’re on the go a lot, like me, the CyberGhost app also gives you some pretty granular control of your mobile experience. For instance, I could tap on individual connections and tell CyberGhost what to do every time, e.g., always protect me when I connect at Starbucks. And that’s just iOS.
The CyberGhost Android app is a lot more feature-packed with a Favorites list that keeps the locations you access most often, so you don’t have to track them down when you’re on the move.
And there’s a lot more under the hood: a random port option (in case you’re connecting to a streaming service that collects and bans IPs), and split tunneling (if you need to connect to a firewalled network), to name two biggies.
I did notice CyberGhost also has mobile ad-and-tracker-blocking and url-filtering options. Based on my experience with the desktop client, I admit, I stayed clear of those.
Finally, for the VPN tech connoisseurs out there, CyberGhost supports domain fronting.3 (Don’t worry, this isn’t something you use to purchase or sell grenade launchers on Tor.) Domain fronting is yet another pretty smart way to escape the clutches of VPN blockers. In this case, CyberGhost funnels traffic through a content delivery network (CDN), which makes it look like that traffic is coming from somewhere else.
A close call, especially since I just found out that CyberGhost is now beta testing the super fast WireGuard protocol on Android.
In my experience, knowing that CyberGhost knew what to do with each connection I’d saved when I was out of the house was a very good feeling. Ditto for having a kill switch just in case I needed it. That said, my mobile connections with NordVPN were watertight, too.
At the risk of not being able to choose, I’m going to say CyberGhost on Android wins this one.
FYI: Privacy-minded chat apps like Signal and Telegram use domain fronting to hide their servers’ actual locations. First, they use software like Psiphon to route their traffic to a CDN server. Then, as soon as it reaches the CDN server, data is re-routed through a special domain-fronting server and sent along to its final destination. Except when it gets there, it looks like it’s coming from a perfectly normal domain hosted by the CDN.
Dedicated IP Addresses
Why would you need a dedicated (i.e., unique) IP address?4 There are some pretty compelling reasons.
First, if you’re working from home, like many of us, you may need to access your company network. Companies usually only whitelist specific IP addresses. Second, if you bank online, and log in from a different IP address every time, your bank will get suspicious.
Without a dedicated IP address, you can also get blacklisted from streaming services that are on the lookout for crowded IPs, and you’ll probably trigger annoying CAPTCHA tests wherever you go.
So, a dedicated IP is a pretty useful thing to have. What’s the dedicated IP situation with NordVPN and CyberGhost?
You can purchase a dedicated IP from NordVPN for $70 per year on top of your basic subscription. With CyberGhost, you pay $5 per month. So about the same, right?
CyberGhost goes to elaborate lengths to protect your anonymity by making sure your dedicated IP address can’t be traced to your CyberGhost account. They do this by issuing you an encrypted token (not a password) that not even they know. Once you activate it, you’re golden. If you lose it, you’re in trouble.
If you’re a six or above on the Edward Snowden internet privacy scale, investing in a dedicated IP address that can’t be traced back to you will probably be money well spent. Otherwise, trust NordVPN and rest assured that if you ever get separated from your IP address, you’ll be reunited.
If you caught my NordVPN vs. IPVanish comparison guide, you know that NordVPN is tough to beat when it comes to raw speed.
In some cases, NordVPN’s advantage is simply server numbers. With thousands more servers than many competitors (again, thinking of IPVanish here) loads are spread out, letting NordVPN run faster. Then there’s NordLynx, NordVPN’s super light, rocket-fueled, WireGuard-based VPN protocol.
But CyberGhost has even more servers than NordVPN, and is rumored to be pretty fast itself.
To even out the playing field, we ran both NordVPN and CyberGhost using OpenVPN protocols on a connection that averaged about 160 Mbps in the U.S. without the VPN running.
So who was the winner?
I clocked NordVPN at around 145 Mbps (download) and a whopping 190 Mbps (upload). Compare that to CyberGhost’s 122 Mbps (download) and 150 Mbps (upload).
So even on a 160 Mbps line, running against a service with even more servers — and without any help from the speed demon NordLynx protocol — NordVPN wins again.
NordVPN vs. CyberGhost: Subscriptions and Pricing
Usually, if you strip away any extras like yearly storage and password vault subscriptions, you’re comparing yearly, not monthly, pricing. Because who wants to pay triple for the privilege of paying by the month?
I’m going to do the same here, with this caveat: Many of us do need a dedicated IP. NordVPN gives you that feature for $70 per year extra, CyberGhost for $60.
So please keep that in mind when I give you the numbers, which can get a little tricky.
NordVPN has a sweet introductory offer: $3.71 per month for the first two years. It’s sweet because NordVPN offers you so much and is such a solid service. After the first two years, you pay $119 on NordVPN’s yearly plan, or $9.92 per month.
Right off the bat, CyberGhost will try to catch your eye with its 83 percent discount. That’s presumably off it’s $12.99 monthly rate. Either way, if you’re going with one of CyberGhost’s plans, the 39-month plan is the way to go. because it’s the best value for your money. Why those extra three months? Well, why are there birthday cake-flavored Kit Kats? We’ll just never know.
What I do know is that CyberGhost is $2.25 per month for three years and three months, or $87.75, making CyberGhost one of (but not quite) the most affordable VPN services on the market. (VyperVPN’s three-year plans are only $1.61 per month, for example. No strings. I promise.) But just so that we’re on the same page, your first three years and three months with NordVPN would cost you $230.
And the winner is …
So What’s the Better All-Around VPN Service, NordVPN or CyberGhost?
If you made it all the way down here, you’ve got more on your mind than just security and privacy. Because if security were your only concern, you’d have stopped reading paragraphs ago. NordVPN has got the edge there, definitively.
We’re left with performance and ease of use. NordVPN is significantly faster even without its blazing fast, proprietary VPN protocol, NordLynx. NordVPN also happens to have a well-designed, intuitive dashboard for both desktop and mobile.
But CyberGhost is no slacker. It’s faster than many VPN services in its price range, if not as fast as NordVPN, and its mobile experience is particularly outstanding.
Price-wise, even when you figure in the extra bucks you need to pay for a dedicated IP, CyberGhost is still less than half the price of NordVPN after the first two years.
Is that enough to push you over into the CyberGhost camp?
My advice? I’d probably go with NordVPN. But If you’re considering CyberGhost, for whatever reasons, and you’re still not feeling super gung-ho about committing to a three-year (and three-month) plan, take it out for a test-drive. CyberGhost gives you a 45-day trial period, with a full refund if you’re not happy.
And that, folks, is a win-win.
Both performed well in our leak tests, both have no-logging policies and offer ad- and malware-blocking features. Put to the test, NordVPN’s privacy features were more robust and reliable.
CyberGhost is one of the most affordable VPN services on the market with yearly subscriptions running about $27 per year as long you commit to 39 months. NordVPN, by comparison, costs $119 per year after the first two years.
CyberGhost is quick, but on a 160 Mbps OpenVPN connection, NordVPN runs 15 percent faster when downloading and 20 percent faster when uploading.
No, if you want a dedicated IP, you have to purchase one. NordVPN charges $70 per year, CyberGhost, $60.
Both mobile experiences are excellent, but CyberGhost might have the edge with the degree of useful connection customization it gives you.
Short answer: Practically everything, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. Both have browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, too. CyberGhost claims to work seamlessly with Fire TV (and Fire Sticks), Xbox, Apple TV, Roku, etc., but each platform requires its own setup.