You’ve likely heard the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” In George Orwell’s “1984,” this referred to the leader of Oceania, a fictional totalitarian surveillance state with complete control over its people. And while our society is still a ways off from Orwell’s dystopian nightmare — that doesn’t mean Big Brother isn’t out there.
Our version of Big Brother is internet service providers compiling your browsing habits. Advertisers building detailed files about you and your family by harvesting your data. Government agencies snooping on your search history. Eyeballs on you at all times.
Want Big Brother off your back? Invest in a virtual private network.
In this review, we’re going to be looking at one of the most affordable VPN options out there — Surfshark. They position themselves as one of the best general-purpose VPNs, but could they really keep up with the big boys with their rock-bottom price point? We put them to the test to find out.
FYI: In the most simple terms, VPNs work by creating a secure tunnel for your data as it travels through the internet. Their two biggest benefits are security and anonymity. With a reputable VPN service, no one will be watching what you’re doing and you’re not going to leave any footprints to indicate where you’ve been.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty with Surfshark, though, let’s take a quick look at their pros and cons.
On paper, Surfshark looks like a great option for most users. And honestly, at their price point, they seem a little too good to be true. Have a look at their subscription plans below.
|Surfshark Subscription Duration||Price|
|1 Month||$12.95 per month|
|6 Months||$6.49 per month|
|24 Months||$2.49 per month|
Admittedly, the month-to-month price is a little steep for what these services usually go for. But if you sign up for 2 years, you’re paying less than a cup of coffee per month. You can read more about this in our breakdown of Surfshark’s pricing and plans, but take our word for it — that’s crazy inexpensive, and one of the most affordable premium services we’ve seen on the market. If you’re not ready to make a two-year commitment, Surfshark offers a 30-day, no-questions-asked refund on this subscription tier. You can try it out for a month, and if you don’t like it, you’re not coming out of pocket for anything.
So with all this in mind, we selected our subscription plan and hit the ground running.
So the good news is there were no real surprises here and no hoops to jump through. We selected our plan, created an account using our email address, and entered our payment information. So far so good.
Two quick things to note here, though. First, similar to what we found when we reviewed IPVanish and their additional cloud storage option, we had the option to tack on some bonus privacy features: Surfshark Alert and Surfshark Search.
The former would alert us if our email address was showing up where it shouldn’t (similar to an identity theft protection service), and the latter was a private search option — both would cost $.99 extra per month. More on both of these later, but at the moment, we figured why not?
Second, we were given the option to pay using cryptocurrency.
This is something pretty cool that we don’t see too often. Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, so they don’t have to abide by the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, but they still have to keep record of your account and basic payment information. If that’s troubling, paying with cryptocurrency will add yet another layer of anonymity to your use of Surfshark VPN. Great news for people who really take their privacy seriously.
Did You Know: The 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances refer to three international intelligence-sharing agreements. The Five Eyes are the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — these are the originals. Adding Denmark, France, Holland, and Norway made it the Nine Eyes, and the final addition of Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, and Spain brought the number in the international compact to Fourteen Eyes.
Once we purchased the Surfshark VPN plan, we created a password and we were all set.
Once in our account, we were directed to the dashboard. Here we could set up two-factor authentication — we did that, as it makes things more secure; we could change our account language — we didn’t do that because we had a tough time with high school of German; and we could turn off notifications — which we did as our inbox is already stuffed to the gills.
On the sidebar of this dashboard, we had what we really came for … the VPN. You’ll also see the data leak alerts and our private search function. We’ll cover it all, but first we wanted to dig into the VPN.
Clicking on the VPN link took us to the launchpad where we could download Surfshark onto all of our devices. They work on macOS, Windows, and the Ubuntu and Debian Linux distributions. Their extensions work in Chrome and Firefox, and they’re available for FireTV and Android TV. Surfshark is also available on Android and iOS phones and tablets.
So first things first, we wanted to download Surfshark onto our computer. Clicking through was familiar — just like downloading any other software. We downloaded a .dmg file, which mounted with no problems, and we drug the software over to our applications folder. No surprises here.
The gist of it is that Surfshark is going to hang on to your email address, your password, and gather anonymous application usage data. More than reasonable in our opinion, and we have to say — we really appreciate how upfront Surfshark is being right here. Their commitment to privacy really inspires confidence in their service.
FYI: Surfshark is what’s known as a “no log” VPN provider. This means they do not store any information about any of their customers’ browsing habits. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to violate your privacy.
Everything was all downloaded and ready to go, so once we were logged in, we were off to the races.
We used Surfshark for a few days to get a feel for how it performed, and overall we were really satisfied with the results. For the most part, it ran in the background without any hiccups or interruptions — which is really the first thing you’re looking for with any VPN service. The dashboard was well designed and intuitive. Everything was sleek and shiny and up-to-date.
As you can see here, we’re on the basic, default settings. For most folks looking to browse the internet securely, this is all you’ll ever really need — you can select between the fastest server and the nearest country. To be honest, in our day-to-day browsing, there was little need to ever switch between these.
By pulling up the “connected” tab, we were able to see the IP address we were using through the VPN and toggle the kill switch on and off. This is a function we’re really happy to see with Surfshark and one you should be on the lookout for when shopping around for VPNs. Allow us to explain.
A kill switch is critical if privacy is your top priority. With this functionality, if your VPN service becomes interrupted, your internet connection will immediately terminate. Without a kill switch, if the VPN goes down, your true location and IP address will become exposed. This is bad news if you’re purposefully obfuscating things — torrenters, lookin’ at you.
On the main dashboard we could also select a server location we wanted to use. This is pretty common functionality, but great to have if you’re looking to avoid geo-restrictions. Streamers — lookin’ at you now. If you want to access Canadian Netflix because you’re in America and want to watch some A24 movies,1 Surfshark has you covered. (Hereditary is a wild ride.)
FYI: Just because the server says “Australia” doesn’t mean it’s physically located there. The IP address will match the country you select, but the servers might be somewhere else. Virtual locations provide better speeds and reliability in countries that might not have robust internet infrastructure.
There are also static servers available, meaning you will be assigned the same IP address every time you connect, and these static IP addresses are only available to you. This is great if you need a dedicated IP address for advanced security settings, or if you’re working remotely and frequently use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) for teleconferencing.2
And finally, we wanted to point out one of Surfshark’s more unique features here. Under the “multi-hop” tab you can find server pairings, meaning your traffic will be routed through one server, then another. Like we saw when we reviewed ProtonVPN and their Secure Core technology, this offers extreme protection for anyone looking to really take their privacy into the stratosphere. Be careful though, since you’re bouncing around so much, your speeds might suffer.
And speaking of speeds, we always like to test to see how using a particular VPN might impact how quickly we can browse and stream. The answer with Surfshark? Not that much. On a day-to-day basis, we really didn’t notice any significant slowdowns, and when we put it to the test, the impact was negligible. Our download speeds suffered slightly, but upload speeds were running strong.
Check out the speeds we experienced below. And note that without VPN is on the left, and with VPN is on the right…
Also, keep in mind these are point-in-time tests. But over the course of our use period, we didn’t notice any significant change in speeds while using Surfshark.
So that’s about that with Surfshark’s day-to-day operations. We were really happy with their performance and some of the fancy server-hopping we could do with the touch of a button. But to get the full scope of what they’re offering, we had to pop the hood.
But first, watch our full video review of Surfshark VPN below. In it you’ll learn exactly what to expect from this VPN service — from pros and cons, to features and price, and everything in-between.
Although they position themselves as being the common man’s VPN, Surfshark offers some pretty advanced features. If you head over to the Settings section, you’ll see everything on display.
First, we have CleanWeb. This is an extension that blocks ads and trackers. Not only will this help make your browsing and streaming experience less cluttered, it might also increase your speeds a bit by saving significant amounts of network data.
One neat thing we noticed about this — if you’re running a browser extension like Adblock Plus, you might run into sites that recognize it and make you turn it off before you can access their content. With CleanWeb, though, you’re not going to run into that problem. No youtube ads, either. Honestly, that’s almost worth the cost of admission right there. It’s a toss up between which adblock service is our favorite, to be honest. We found a pretty great one when we analyzed NordVPN, too.
Next we have Alert. This is one of the add-on features we mentioned when we were purchasing the plan. Honestly, we think they downplayed it by saying it’s simply going to let us know if our email address is showing up in breached data sets. This is actually a bare-bones identity theft protection service that watches out for not only our email address, but our credit cards and IDs as well. It’s not quite Identity Guard, but it still offers some basic identity theft coverage.
Once you set up two-factor authentication, you’re able to enter your information and select your notification preferences.
Finally, we have the Search option — the second add-on we purchased when we signed up. Clicking “Go to Search” took us to a new window that looked similar to other popular search engines. We typed in VPNs just to see what we came back with, and the results looked pretty good. Using this as your primary search engine will ensure internet service providers and other big-tech names aren’t harvesting your data to sell to advertisers and your searches won’t be tracked by other agencies or organizations. Pretty well worth the extra 50 cents a month in our opinion.
In the settings you’re also able to switch between which VPN protocol you’d like to use. It’s a little beyond the scope of this review to get into the differences between all of these, but you’ve got options here.
Surfshark supports the following VPN protocol:
If you’re not super comfortable with the alphabet soup here, we recommend using either IKEv2 or OpenVPN. They’re both strong, popular protocols that are great for day-to-day use.
Did You Know: L2TP protocols are fast, but can easily be blocked. OpenVPN protocols have the strongest encryptions but sometimes lack speed.3
Finally, we have NoBorders Mode; you’ll find this under the advanced features. With it turned on, Surfshark VPN will recognize when you’re connected to a network with strict internet restrictions — like if you’re in Russia, the UAE, or China. If needed, NoBorders mode will activate and allow you to connect to a special list of servers that allow you to bypass these country’s severe internet limitations. This is great for folks who regularly travel to places where the internet is closely monitored/censored.
Did You Know: Most of China is behind what’s known as The Great Firewall, which has enabled the government to inspect all data being received or sent over the Chinese internet and block domain names and IP addresses.4
So that about wraps up all of Surfshark’s more advanced features. There are a few we aren’t able to mention here because they’re inaccessible on a Mac, though.
Most notably missing is Surfshark’s Camouflage mode, which makes your VPN traffic look like a regular internet connection. This is an added layer of protection similar to the NoBorders function, but that’s available at all times. We hope this mode is made available in the future on Macs, but its absence isn’t really a dealbreaker.
Next, let’s discuss Surfshark VPN’s mobile experience.
So sometimes we say “the app is exactly like the desktop experience” and that’s a bad thing. Sometimes services just port everything over to mobile and their app ends up clunky and unnavigable. Here, though, when we say Surfshark’s mobile app is the same as the desktop, it’s a really good thing.
As you can see, the mobile app is almost an exact mirror of the desktop version of the service, right down to the design details. It’s easy to navigate, and everything that’s accessible on the desktop is available on mobile as well. That’s a huge tick in the “pros” category for us.
We even had access to the same bonus features on our phone that we did on the desktop version. Really, there isn’t a whole lot to criticize here. If you like Surfshark on your computer, you’ll like it on your phone as well — it’s as simple as that.
But before we wrap up and give you our final wisdom, we wanted to make note of one last thing.
FYI: If you’re looking to save a couple bucks, check out our guide to VPN deals and sales. It’s the best way to ensure you’re getting the most for your money.
Surfshark also offers browser extensions — essentially a VPN proxy — for Firefox and Chrome. These run in the background and are just as secure as the actual VPN software, according to third-party security auditor Cure53. If you’re looking for a VPN browser extension, it really doesn’t get better than this.5
So that’s Surfshark from nose to tail. Now let’s bring it all home.
Surfshark is a great VPN for anyone looking to protect themselves in the open waters of the internet. Its core functionality is solid, and its add-ons and bonus features pair well with its overall purpose.
There were a few things we weren’t too happy with — we’d like to see some of the currently missing functionality carried over to Mac platforms in the future — but all of the negatives we can point out are pretty easily forgivable.
And the price? Come on. If you go with the two-year service package, you can probably find the monthly subscription fee in your couch cushions. While it’s not our favorite VPN out there, we’d absolutely recommend Surfshark any day of the week.
Surfshark’s month-to-month subscription is $12.95, but if you purchase a two-year subscription, that monthly cost goes down to $2.49.
Yes, Surfshark offers a robust ad blocker and a private browsing tool for $.99 more per month.
Yes, if VPN service is ever interrupted, Surfshark will terminate your internet connection.
Unless you opt to use a server that’s offshore, you won’t notice any significant decreases in speeds.
Surfshark works on Windows, macOs, and popular Linux distributions. It’s also available on iOS phones, Android devices, and FireTV.
Hudspeth, C. (2019, July 17). Netflix In Canada Is Way Better Than It Is In America And I Have The Evidence To Prove It. Buzzfeed.
Vaughan-Nichols, S. (2020, April 22). Static vs. Dynamic IP Addresses. Avast.
Harkness, A. (2019, May 15). 5 Common VPN Protocols Explained. NetMotion.
Economy, E. (2018, June 29). The Great Firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s Internet Shutdown. The Guardian.
Heiderich, M. (2018, November 12). Pentest-Report Surfshark VPN Extension. Cure53.
Derek Prall is a VPN and cybersecurity expert with more than seven years of experience in the industry. He has spent thousands of hours researching identity theft protection, VPNs, and other ways to keep safe online. To date, Derek has written nearly 100 comprehensive resources for SafeHome.org. As a professional journalist, he has contributed to reputable publications such as TD Magazine, New Jersey Herald, and many others. Learn more about Derek here