Surfshark is a new entry in the crowded segment of virtual private networking providers, and it has proven to be very popular among fans of HBO GO, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and many other streaming platforms.
As it often happens when a new VPN provider enters the market, the hype mill surrounding Surfshark has been considerable; some people are calling it the best VPN solution, or at least one that could soon dethrone NordVPN as the king of Netflix unblocking.
This Surfshark review will look at the various features offered by this new VPN solution, including the pros and cons as well as the main Surfshark VPN protocols, security, encryption, Netflix unblocking ability, and special features.
There’s a New Shark in Town
The first thing that jumps out of the water with Surfshark is that this is a relative newcomer, but this is hardly an issue in the VPN segment because new players come about every few months. As of May 2019, Surfshark has only been active for less than a year, but it is already making ripples in the VPN waters.
As a tech company, Surfshark is a Caribbean species. Located in the sunny British Virgin Islands, specifically in Tortola, west of Puerto Rico.
Even though the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a dependency of the United Kingdom, their local laws and courts are legislatively independent; in terms of company, commercial, trading, and privacy laws, this jurisdiction stands out for offering the utmost confidentiality and for not requiring companies to retain electronic data.
Similar to real estate, location is everything in the VPN world, and Surfshark should be happy to swim in the legal waters of the BVI as long as lawmakers continue to protect the electronic privacy of individuals and companies doing business therein. Since we are discussing the issue of jurisdictional security, it should be noted that Surfshark adheres to the practice known as a warrant canary, and thus far it is not singing.
This is a transparency doctrine that not many companies are able to adopt unless they have a strong legal team behind them; in essence, a warrant canary allows Surfshark to divulge if the company has been served with an order to compel information on its customers. As of late April 2019, the warrant canary at Surfshark is silent.
Basic Surfshark Features
No Surfshark review would be complete without a quick tour of its features, and many of them are standard among the best VPN providers. As for unblocking the Big Three in streaming—meaning Netflix, Hulu and the BBC iPlayer, Surfshark performs swimmingly, as do its main competitors, and this has proven to be a major selling point.
Naturally, there is an entire global market of internet users who need VPN solutions for more than just watching “Game of Thrones” or the various Marvel Comics series on Netflix, and Surfshark caters to these users as well.
The Surfshark VPN protocol defaults to the the IKEv2/IPSec tunneling with a 256-bit AES encryption. The Internet Key Exchange protocol is used by other top VPN providers to ensure privacy and security for all users, particularly those who access the internet with a VPN from iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.
This does not mean that you are stuck with IKEv2/IPsec; you can always switch to the gold standard of VPN protocols, OpenVPN protocol. The VPN tunnels are implemented with SHA512 authentication hash and a 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange for maximum security.
Application Interface and OS Compatability
App interface is very user-friendly and VPN can be turned or off in a matter of seconds, Surfshark comes in a variety of flavors, including macOS, Linux, Windows, iOS, Android, Xbox, PlayStation, Fire TV, and Apple TV.
Internet users who stick to the Google Chrome and Firefox browsers can install a Surfshark extension, but they should keep in mind that their protection would be limited to these apps. To make browsing safer, it is always better to install Surfshark as an operate system app, or better yet, directly on your router.
Surfshark offers router compatibility with the following firmware:
- DD-WRT firmware
- Tomato firmware
- Asus firmware
Should you need any assistance with installation, you could check out their guide: How to set up a router with Surfshark.
Advanced Surfshark Features
Without proper data encryption, even a home security system or a password manager could be rendered useless. Thankfully, the Surfshark encryption protocols follow the AES 256-bit Galois/Counter Mode, which means that even if the U.S. National Security Agency executes a man-in-the-middle attack on your computer, it would take their technicians quite a few decades of supercomputer use to decipher the data they intercepted.
Along with advanced Surfshark encryption, this VPN solution also offers many other advanced features:
- MultiHop mode, which essentially allows users to connect through multiple server locations at once. This is very useful for political bloggers and investigative journalists who need to mask their digital footprint for the protecting their trade and the identity of their sources.
- Camouflage Mode will hide any VPN activity from your internet service providers. This means no one finds out that you are using a VPN in the first place. Camouflage Mode is particularly useful in the United States, where law enforcement agencies and corporate legal teams are constantly shaking down ISPs for information on users who connect through VPNs.
- NoBorders Mode is a features for users whose only hope of accessing the internet is through a restrictive network; this is often the case in the PRC and certain jurisdictions in the Middle East, where NoBorders Mode is strongly encouraged.
- Whitelister enables you to select certain websites that should be accessed outside the realm of a VPN; for example, you may not want to begin an internet banking session while connected to a Russian server unless you have notified the bank that you will be traveling to Moscow for a few days. Once you put URLs on the white list, you will not have to turn off Surfshark; however, there is also a kill-switch feature to completely disconnect from the internet with just a click or a tap should there be security concerns.
Independent audits may not be features with end-user functionality in mind, but they are crucial in the sense of giving subscribers peace of mind. Not all providers of VPN solutions will submit to an independent audit that will back up marketing claims about no DNS or IP address leaking, but Surfshark has taken this step.
Going through an independent audit is a strong sign that this is a company that intends to stay in business as long as possible, and this is another reason Surfshark is the talk of the VPN town in 2019.
Unlimited VPN Access for All Your Devices
This is a special feature that has likely generated considerable hype for Surfshark despite its relatively short time on the VPN market. Going into May 2019, there is no limit to the number of devices that you can install Surfshark on. If you have a Sony PlayStation, a MacBook, an Android smartphone, an iPad, an Apple TV, and a Windows PC, they can all be included in your Surfshark subscription.
If all your devices connect through the same Wi-Fi network in your home, they can be protected by means of installing Surfshark on the router, but there will be no limit as to the number of connections that are encrypted and secured.
Even the most popular and sophisticated VPN solutions on the market will limit the number of device connections, but Surfshark has decided to go on a different direction in this regard.
Only time will tell if this feature will continue to be offered in the future; hopefully it will or at least early subscribers will be grandfathered, which would be a nice gesture. For the time being, grabbing a long-term Surfshark subscription would be a smart option if you wish to protect many devices.
File Sharing and Torrents
Once again, choice of jurisdiction is a factor that determines whether a VPN service provider can safely ignore requests for information about users who use peer-to-peer file sharing networks or applications such as BitTorrent.
If you are concerned that your ISP frowns upon torrent activity (Read more: Are torrents illegal in Canada?), be sure to activate the Whitelister feature to hide your VPN footprint.
Surfshark boasts over 800 serves that are optimized for P2P file sharing and torrents across 50 different countries spread across 6 different continents. You can enjoy downloading and sharing files while being protected by their private DNS service and leak protection technology built in.
It should also be noted that in the British Virgin Islands, there are no laws similiar to the Investigatory Powers Bill of the United Kingdom, which means that monitoring Surfshark customer activity would be an affront to the legislature even in cases when internet users are sharing digital files.
Essentially, there are no laws demanding customer activity. Even with there one, safeguards are built into their technology. You are safe to browse any torrent site and download any file you need to.
Streaming Netflix and HBO
At a time when television networks are rethinking their business models and strategies to withstand the digital video streaming revolution, companies such as HBO seem to be doing everything right. One of the most streamed series in the era of original cable programming has been “Game of Thrones,” and the final season of this violent fantasy story has been attracting more than one billion viewers from around the world.
Let’s say you subscribe to a multi-channel HBO cable package at home in North Dakota; this will give you access to HBO GO, but if you travel outside of the United States you may be surprised to learn that the web app is either blocked in certain countries or the video catalog does not include many programs like the globally famous “Game of Thrones”.
If you have a subscription to Surfshark VPN, missing out on the final episodes of “Game of Thrones” or catching up on previous seasons is not something you have to worry about. Along with HBO, Surfshark is currently considered as one of the best VPNs for Netflix as well.
It should be noted that because Surfshark has only been around for a few months, we haven’t encountered any problems connecting to Netflix US. It appears that Netflix hasn’t been able to crack their technology for circumventing geo-blocks. Just like anything, only time will tell if this will last. But so far, streaming has been seamless.
It’s quite a relief for such a new VPN company to get started on the right track. While a majority of VPN providers log your usage, history and the websites you visit, Surfshark has committed to setting itself apart from the pack and does not log any IP address, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic and other similar data.
When it comes down to subscription pricing, it is extremely reasonable at this time because this is a relatively new service, so you may want to take advantage of the introductory-level pricing now. You can subscribe for as low as $1.99 per month if you sign up for a 2-year plan, which is currently the cheapest 2-year plan of all VPN providers.
Once your payment is processed and complete, you can proceed to install Surfshark on all the devices you want to protect. The company even offers a 30-day guarantee, which means that your payment could be reimbursed if you are not happy with the service.
Surfshark Customer Service
As for customer service, your best option is live chat, which is offered in various languages, although more English and Spanish-speaking reps seems to be available most of the time. Instant email support can be a hit or miss situation, and this is understandable since so many people seem to prefer live chat these days.
You don’t have to be tech-savvy to get the hang of Surfshark; if you have questions, chances are that you will find answers on the various tutorials and anwers to FAQs that Surfshark offers on its website.
The hype surrounding Surfshark can be backed up by its many features. There is no doubt that Surfshark has come out of the cage ready to take a huge bite of the growing VPN market, and it has positioned itself as a big fish, but some users have reported variable speeds.
Keep in mind that if you are selecting a server located halfway around the world, your browsing experience is bound to take a hit. If you are connecting a Slingbox to catch a “Game of Thrones” live on a New York City server at the same time two NBA teams are engaged in a playoff game, you should not expect the most speedy browsing session because servers will likely be handling lots of traffic, they currently don’t have as much servers as an established VPN like NordVPN.
Unlike other VPN solutions that are specifically geared towards heavy BitTorrent users, political activists or to gamers who wish to keep their identity secret, Surfshark aims to please all users.
The company mentions various use cases, which include:
- Identity theft prevention
- Safe use of public Wi-Fi hotspots
- Secure internet banking sessions
- Unblocking Netflix
- Bypassing browsing restrictions
- Keeping cryptocurrency trading sessions safe
- Avoid internet censorship
- Protecting political speech
As we have shown on this review, it is clear that Surfshark provides great value at amazing prices. Whatever your reasons are for getting a VPN; torrenting, unblocking Netflix or HBO, gaining more freedom online by unblocking geo-restricted websites, or protecting your privacy from potential attacks, Surfshark is a recommended VPN.
Q: Can I Try Surfshark for Free?
A: Depending on where you are located, searching for a Surfshark free VPN trial may return an advertisement good for 30 days. If this nice offer is extended to you, all features will be enabled for your evaluation.
Q: How Do I Know Surfshark Can Be Trusted?
A: The warrant canary, choice of jurisdiction and independent audits will tell you that this is a VPN provider that cares about security, and this is what really matters in this business segment. For every user that wants to unblock Netflix, there are many others who are concerned about secure browsing, and this is the customer base that Surfshark is trying to appeal to.
Q: Can I Use Surfshark on My Router?
A: As long as your router supports the OpenVPN protocol, you should be able to install Surfshark on it. The tutorials provided by the company on the three most popular routers are easy to understand and follow.
Q: Is Surfshark More Secure Than ExpressVPN?
A: Both companies offer interesting security features, but Surfshark opts for independent audits, which gives it the upper hand in this regard. You can take advantage of free trial offers from both VPN providers, test them with VoIP apps such as Skype, and determine if they leak your IP address. Even if both VPNs prove to be free of leaks, only Surfshark can attest to this through independent audits.