Surfshark is a big fish in the VPN service provider sea. Over the past couple of years they’ve taken a huge a bite out of other providers’ market share.
Not only do they have a very competitive price, but they can also back it up with useful features. So, in this Surfshark review, I’ll take deep dive to find everything about their capabilities to protect your Internet traffic, unblock streaming services, and more. Going from security setup to features, pricing, clients, and support, you’ll learn everything there is to know about this VPN.
|Country:||British Virgin Islands|
|Support:||knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat|
Surfshark pros & cons
- Strong security features
- GPS-spoofing feature
- Shadowsocks support
- Unblocks most streaming platforms
- 7-day free trial
- Accepts cryptocurrencies
- Privacy-friendly business location
- RAM-only servers
- Very fast
- WireGuard protocol
- Superb customer support
- No split tunneling on iOS
- Apple product apps are slightly weaker
Is Surfshark secure?
For VPN services, the safety requirements are extremely high. Luckily, Surfshark delivers in this regard, covering even some bases other top VPNs neglect.
Unlike most VPN service providers, Surfshark does bring a bunch of new things to the table. In 99% of the cases when reviewing a VPN service, their primary encryption cipher is AES-256. Surfshark doesn’t stray that far from this path, and it offers AES-256-GCM, which is a very secure cipher.
However, on their Android app, they allow switching between AES-256-GCM and Chacha20Poly1305. So, you have options, and both are very safe. The difference is that they rely on different instruction sets supported by different processors. If your device supports AES hardware acceleration, AES-256 will be a bit faster. In contrast, Poly1305 is an alternative encryption method for processors that don’t support it (which may be relevant to some phones). In any case, most modern processors have support for both. So, whichever method you’ll choose, you’ll still be protected by a very advanced cryptographic library.
Surfshark’s authentication is processed by scrambling your login credentials into binary digits, 512 of them, to be precise. These are compared to login data stored in their servers, granting you a green light if the hashes match (no unencrypted data is in play). This is done using SHA-512. Meanwhile, most other providers are using SHA-256, which is still very secure, but slightly weaker.
Even in terms of tunneling protocols, Surfshark is breathing down the competition’s neck. They have a wide palette for all usage scenarios and devices.
WireGuard – the most recent addition, and the fastest modern tunneling protocol. Not only is it efficient, it’s also very secure. Available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS clients.
OpenVPN (TCP/UDP) – one of the most popular tunneling protocols. Although released almost two decades ago, it’s still very secure and fast. Surfshark allows you to pick between UDP and TCP versions. So, if you need better security, go for TCP, but UDP will usually be faster. It’s available on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Shadowsocks – this isn’t in the same ballpark as the other tunneling protocols. That’s because it’s more of an encryption protocol for proxy connections. So, it covers only your browser (or other app) traffic. It’s mainly used for bypassing censorship measures like the Great Firewall of China. It’s available on the Windows and Android clients, but you can set it up manually with more devices.
IKEv2 – one of the most common tunneling protocols. Its support is widespread, and speeds are comparable to those of WireGuard. It’s perfect for weaker devices and performs well on weak Internet connections.
Surfshark has a kill switch to limit the chances you’ll accidentally expose your real IP address and location while connecting via VPN. All of your Internet traffic is blocked if you enable it, unless you connect to a VPN server.
Compared to other VPN service providers, this approach might seem a bit strict. Other VPNs mostly trigger the kill switch when the link to the VPN servers is interrupted. Surfshark’s kill switch works in these situations as well. However, the blend of both options makes this great implementation of the feature.
While great, this feature could use some improvements. When your whole connection is shut down, you’re not given any notification about what is happening. This may confuse the new users who didn’t carefully read what Surfshark’s kill switch does.
Most VPN service providers are renting their servers from data centers – that’s how they keep their server count high. However, that also means that they’re being supplied with the standard disk-based hardware.
The problem is that a VPN service provider operates very differently from a standard business. Even if logs are instantly purged from the hard drive, the data can still be recovered. Plus, they may hold private keys that could be stolen if hackers manage to access them. Those factors are the major built-in vulnerabilities of such a setup.
Surfshark is one of the few VPN service providers that have transitioned to RAM-only servers. By design, it’s a different form of hardware that purges data so it can’t be recovered. So, it takes the hard drive out of the equation and gives a much safer alternative.
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands – one of the best places for a VPN service. This is because this is a privacy-friendly location outside the jurisdiction of surveillance alliances like Five Eyes and away from European Union directives. Even if you’re one of the most wanted people on the planet, your data will be quite safe in the BVI.
For cybersecurity companies, transparency is a gateway to trust. Which is why it’s always important to check whether your chosen VPN service was independently audited.
Surfshark, with many other VPN service providers, has been independently audited. Cure53 penetration testers did a security check of some of their software, but they didn’t check all of their products. The audit was limited to Chrome and Firefox extensions. I expect them to extend these audits further, building even more trust with their user base.
Speed: How fast is Surfshark VPN?
When you connect through a VPN, you’re connecting via an intermediary, which reduces your baseline connection speed by some amount. However, Surfshark is one of the fastest VPN service providers that we’ve tested.
Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Location||IKEv2||OpenVPN UDP||OpenVPN TCP||Wireguard||Shadowsocks|
The highlight of this is their WireGuard performance. The most significant recorded download speed drop, when compared to the baseline, was only 23%. It also occurred when connecting to Argentina, so the distance is a factor. The lowest reduction was only a 6% drop in several European countries. So, if you pick a nearby location, there’s barely a point to ever turn off your VPN due to performance.
IKEv2 is the second fastest option for Surfshark. During our tests, the biggest drop off from the baseline download speed was 45% when connecting to a server in Australia. Considering that most competitors would have twice as big reductions, it is an impressive result. The lowest drop was 18% in nearby European countries. This is still three times slower than the best score of WireGuard.
As expected, OpenVPN speeds most depend on the variant. With UDP, the biggest download speed drop is 64%, while TCP goes as far as 98%. Location is a factor, but with TCP, the speed drops are severe. The lowest recorded drops were 54% for UDP and 49% for TCP. Overall, these are not bad scores on their own. OpenVPN usually isn’t the leanest solution when it comes to VPNs.
There is also the Shadowsocks protocol, but it’s really in a category of its own. It protects your browser traffic and functions more like a proxy. Thus, its download speed reductions are almost non-existent: 1% as the lowest reduction and 52% as the worst drop.
VPN setups are usually download-focused, so upload speeds often will be slower. The worst reductions are 89% with WireGuard, 95% with IKEv2, 57% with OpenVPN UDP, 98% with OpenVPN TCP, and 95% with Shadwosocks. Exclusively, 3 of these scores were in Argentina, while 2 of them were in Japan, so on the other side of the globe. Upload speeds with the lowest reduction percentages were 10% with WireGuard, 51% with IKEv2, 50% with OpenVPN UDP, 49% with OpenVPN TCP, and 22% with Shadowsocks.
NoBorders is a unique feature that allows you to use VPN in heavily restricted countries. If your client detects restrictions imposed by your network, it toggles NoBorders automatically as to bypass them. It also then switches your server list to those that perform best under such circumstances. You can also turn this mode on manually, whenever you need it.
So, really this is Surfshark’s take on obfuscated servers. It renders most VPN blocking measures useless and can provide free Internet access in dire situations.
Most VPNs rely entirely on their apps. However, there may be some cases when the app isn’t available for your device. For those using PlayStations or Smart TVs, it may be a deal-breaker. It takes away the possibility to unblock geo-restricted media streaming sites like Disney+ or Hulu on your preferred device.
Surfshark comes up with a solution for all such use cases. They have created SmartDNS, which you can set up on many types of devices. Even those that don’t support VPN clients. You’ll need to activate it from your main account dashboard, and they will generate DNS addresses that you can then set up on your devices. By default, it allows you to unblock US-based shows and libraries that are often unavailable for users from other continents.
What if you want to be absolutely sure that your real identity is behind several intermediary servers rather than just one? Well, Surfshark has a list of MultiHop servers that come in pairs. After your connections reach the first VPN server, they are then routed to the second one. Meaning, the last intermediary has no ties to your real IP address or location.
When you go to the MultiHop section, you can see which countries will be involved in the process. It’s generally the best idea to pick the first country according to which is the most nearby, while the second should be the one whose location you want to spoof. The speed drops will be pretty severe, but it does add more peace of mind.
Sometimes keeping a VPN turned on at all times can be a nuisance. Your banking page may recognize a different country’s IP and flag you or not show the appropriate local version. Surfshark has a solution for all those cases when you just want to come as you are, and it’s called Whitelister.
This is really their name for a feature some VPNs call split tunneling. It’s nice to see that it works both ways: by routing only some apps via a VPN connection, or routing the whole connection via VPN, and adding exclusions. It’s also possible to set it up on a per IP basis. This means that you’ll be connecting directly without the need to disconnect or switch the server when connecting to your added websites.
Not only is it an amazing feature, but it’s also one that’s still pretty hard to find. This is especially true for customizable split tunneling. During our tests Surfshark routed all the data where you would expect it to go. There were no issues.
Surfshark goes as far as to offer a search engine tool. If you have an account, you can head to s.surfshark.com to start using their safe and private search. It may not have as many users as Google, but it’s completely ad-free. Your search results will not change based on your previous searches, nor will this data be collected.
All the displayed search results are strictly organic, with no user manipulation. So, not only can it make it easier to find what you’re looking for, it works as a true incognito mode. You can use it to find videos, images, or webpages. It’s very similar to Bing, so if you’re familiar with that search engine, Surfshark offers a very similar option that’s also easier on the eyes.
Surfshark aims to protect your safety not only via VPN connections. They’ve added the possibility to use alerts that warn you if your data gets leaked for all of their subscribers.
Alerts work with emails, credit cards, and IDs after you type them in and add them to the list. Using two-factor authentication is mandatory to protect your data. When a major breach occurs, and the data is leaked to dark web marketplaces, you will be warned.
You can customize the frequency of these reports. A regular newsletter option informs you about the data breaches that occurred recently and notifications only in cases when your accounts are affected.
CleanWeb is Surfshark’s proprietary DNS feature that blocks ads from loading and various online trackers from gathering your data. It’s not turned on by default. To do that you’ll need to head to settings.
When turned on, it will block IP addresses that are blacklisted. This means that known ad hosts will not be able to load, so you won’t see their popups. The same goes for hosts distributing malware or gathering user data. During our tests, it did work on par with other ad blockers like uBlock origin, so it can be a substitute.
If you’re an Android user, with Surfshark, you can spoof your IP address and your physical GPS location. You don’t even have to install any separate software. Most applications installed on your phone have access to your location data, so it’s one of the most harvested pieces of information about any user.
Spoofing your location not only allows you to match your VPN IP with corresponding GPS data for privacy reasons. You can take advantage of this when catching creatures in Pokemon Go or swiping in Tinder.
Streaming: Does Surfshark work with Netflix?
One of the main angles that Surfshark uses when advertising is offering the possibility to unblock several Netflix libraries. This does ramp up the expectations for this VPN when we’re talking about streaming media unblocks.
Surfshark delivers on their promises. They successfully unblocked several Netflix libraries, proving that this isn’t limited to the US. So if you want to access Japan-exclusive libraries, this is definitely doable.
I managed to unblock BBC iPlayer and YouTube. Where Surfshark stumbled is DAZN, I didn’t manage to unblock it with US or UK servers. However, overall, Surfshark seems like a great choice for streaming.
Is Surfshark good for torrenting?
Surfshark allows torrenting on their dedicated P2P servers. They will be compatible with streaming players like PopcornTime as well as software for torrent downloads. However, they also mention that you can torrent on any of their servers, the ports will not be closed. Dedicated servers will just have better speeds.
Plans & pricing
Just like most VPN service providers, Surfshark doesn’t lock certain features behind different plans. The only deciding factor is the duration. The longer is your subscription is, the bigger the savings you get.
The shortest subscription is for one month and costs $12.95, a standard entry fee when we’re talking about VPNs. In this pricing segment, the price is almost universally the same. You get much better savings if you opt for the 6-month option, which charges $38.94 or $6.49/month. That way, your subscription costs are cut in half. The best money saver is a two-year option that charges $59.76 or $2.49/month. Considering that the offer is for two years, and is only $20 more expensive than their half-year option, it’s a fantastic deal.
As for payment options, you can pay for Surfshark by credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, and cryptocurrencies. If you want to have a way out if you don’t like the service, there’s a 7-day free trial available on Google Play and Apple App Store. So, after you activate on mobile, you can log in to desktop clients.
Servers and server locations
Since the inception of the service, Surfshark has almost tripled its server count. Now they rock almost 3200+ servers in 65 countries. Every single server runs on RAM, has a private associated DNS server, and all of them are P2P-friendly. Their fleet does pack a punch.
When it comes to global coverage, their country count list doesn’t disappoint either.
Europe: 38 countries
Americas: 9 countries
Asia and Oceanic region: 14 countries
Africa: 4 countries
Although Africa and the Middle East can’t boast of good coverage, the rest of the world has plenty of options. It won’t be hard to find a fast server nearby.
Does Surfshark VPN work in China?
The Great Firewall of China works in cycles. This means there are periods when the blocks are reinforced and mitigated. Surfshark does work, and it’s possible to use this VPN to bypass Internet restrictions.
That said, there may be some times when the client doesn’t work, and you’ll have to set up a manual connection. All said, it should work without problems, even in cases when the client fails.
Interface and ease of use
Surfshark has a slick Windows client that looks quite nice and is pretty intuitive to find your way around. From the main screen, you can pick one of the categories: Locations, Features, or Settings. Each is pretty self-explanatory, and even novice users won’t have a hard time finding what they need. There is no map interface, but the country list has flags, and you can use the search function, so it’s hardly a drawback.
Though I found it a bit annoying that countries are sorted alphabetically, but the cities seem to be sorted randomly. However, every server has a marker indicating how much load it currently sustains. So, if you need better speeds, you have a simple way to filter them out. Or, if you find it too confusing, there’s also a latency indicator.
There are some differences between the app macOS users get from the app store and the one they download from Surfshark’s website. The one that you get from the app store is sightly better because it has OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), WireGuard, and IKEv2 tunneling protocols. While the one that you download from their website has only IKEv2, but it comes with an option to opt-in for beta updates. If you download the service and find yourself missing promised features, make sure that you download it from the app store.
The client itself is quite similar to the Windows app, but the interface has been tweaked to blend in with the OS. Sadly, what they gain in UI, they lose in features, as macOS users don’t get Shadowsocks or Whitelister. So, there are some downsides, which may be concerning if Mac is your primary platform.
Linux users don’t get any visual interface with Surfshark’s app. Their only option will be terminal, which presents you a list of countries with corresponding numbers that you can connect to. You’ll initiate the connections by typing in the numbers, which isn’t the most convenient method.
The upside is that the terminal tells you explicitly which servers you’re choosing from. Yet, if you want to jump from one server to the other quickly, this makes the process take longer than it should. Overall the connections were stable, and the app had no crashes or weird disconnects.
Surfshark mobile apps
Both Android and iOS apps visually look almost identical. If you turn on system-wide dark mode, the apps will adjust and show you the appropriate theme.
The differences are more prominent when we look at the features. The Android version has GPS spoofing, which is a feature that no other VPN offers. There’s also the Whitelister, and Shadowsocks support, so you’re essentially getting desktop-grade features for your mobile.
In contrast, iOS looks slightly more modest. The only features available to it are the kill switch, auto-connect, CleanWeb, and NoBorders mode. It’s worth mentioning that plenty of VPN service providers have not implemented a kill switch for iOS versions or don’t add WireGuard support for mobile devices. So, although iOS looks less impressive than its Android counterpart, it’s still a solid app.
Surfshark has a great customer support page, where you can find many guides. So, if you need help to set up something, in most cases, you’ll just have to head there and follow the “how-to”.
For more complicated questions, they have a 24/7 live chat. When I tried to connect to them, it took maybe a minute of waiting time, tops. The response times were fast, and the customer support agent quickly answered all of my questions.
Do I recommend Surfshark?
As a cybersecurity tool, Surfshark is a pleasant surprise. It might be lesser-known, but it’s an extremely resilient VPN with many features and applications.
They’re not cutting corners with security and providing innovation (where part of the VPN market is stalling). This is visible from their encryption measures to their server fleet that is running only on RAM.
Also, Surfshark is one of the fastest VPN services on the market. Their apps do favor Android, and Windows users a bit more, but this may be a consequence of Apple’s policies rather than Surfshark developer neglect.
Also, all of this is available for much cheaper with the two-year option than its closest competitors. So, there’s little not to love about this service. If you don’t have a VPN provider and want an affordable but solid product with many features – Surfshark is a great pick.
Is Surfshark trustworthy?
Yes. Surfshark operates out of the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands and has a strict no-logs policy. This makes it a safe and trustworthy VPN service provider.
Which is better NordVPN or Surfshark?
NordVPN is a bit more well-rounded service for all platforms. With Surfshark, you’re getting a somewhat better deal if you’re an Android or Windows user. For more information check our NordVPN vs Surfshark comparison.
Is Surfshark a free VPN?
Surfshark doesn’t have a free mode, but it has a 7-day free trial redeemable through Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
What is Surfshark dark mode?
Surfshark’s dark mode is a dark-theme for your app interface. It doesn’t add additional features, just changes your background to black to save battery power.