What Is a VPN?
When you switch on a VPN, all your web traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel to a server operated by the VPN company. This prevents anyone, even those on the same network as you, from intercepting your data. It also helps hide your identity, by having your network traffic exit from a location other than your computer. You need a VPN because it’s an incredibly powerful privacy and encryption technology, and one that has been used for years by journalists and political dissidents operating in countries with restrictive internet policies.
Using a VPN also prevents your not-so-friendly neighborhood ISP from intercepting your data and selling anonymized versions of it. That’s legal, thanks to a decision from Congress, so be sure to complain to your senators and representatives when you get a chance.
Because your traffic appears to come from the VPN server, anyone monitoring it will see the IP address of the VPN server, not your actual IP address. That helps hide your identity, but it also hides where you are, since IP addresses correspond to geographic locations.
This same ability can also be used to spoof your location by connecting to a VPN server that’s a long way from where you are. That’s handy for a number of reasons, but especially for accessing region-locked streaming content. For instance, the BBC streams content for UK citizens, but any red-blooded American can also watch by connecting to a VPN server in London.
Pricing and Features
Like most VPN services, CyberGhost offers the same slate of features billed at different intervals. You pay more up front for a longer interval, but save more overall for doing so. A one-month plan with CyberGhost costs $12.99, while a six-month plan costs $47.94, and an annual plan costs $63.00. That’s a bit higher than the current industry average of $10.38 per month, and even more than NordVPN (for iPhone).
Of course, many VPN services come in well below the average price. TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone), for instance, costs just $9.99 a month, while Private Internet Access offers a robust but spartan experience for $6.95 per month. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is notable for having a wide variety of pricing plans, starting with an ultra-low-cost weekly plan, and going all the way up to a lifetime plan.
You can easily purchase a CyberGhost plan with traditional payment methods such as credit card or PayPal, but you can also pay anonymously with BitCoin. Other VPN services also offer the option to use prepaid gift cards, such as those from BestBuy or Starbucks, as anonymous options.
Cost doesn’t have to be a hurdle when it comes to security, as there are many serviceable free VPNs available. TunnelBear has a free offering that restricts the amount of data to 500MB per month, although you can boost this cap. ProtonVPN also has a free offering, but it limits the speeds available to free customers.
A subscription to CyberGhost lets you use seven devices simultaneously, making it a good value for a household with lots of devices. The industry average for VPN companies is five devices; NordVPN offers six connections for the same price. Golden Frog VyprVPN (for iPhone) and ProtonVPN do not provide even five connections at their respective base-level offerings; you have to pay a bit more in order to get that many devices.
If you’re a fan of BitTorrent, you’ll be glad to know that CyberGhost allows BitTorrent and P2P file sharing via VPN. Some companies require that you limit this activity to certain servers, while others disallow such activities altogether in their terms of service. Of course, torrenting is more a desktop activity than a mobile pastime.
In addition to BitTorrent-friendly servers, CyberGhost also has servers specially made for streaming. That’s great, and we’d like to see more VPN companies work to ensure that users can access their favorite video streaming services without having to switch off VPN protection.
There are many ways to create a VPN connection. Our preferred method is OpenVPN, which is known for its speed and reliability. It’s also open-source software, meaning that experts have picked over its code for any potential vulnerabilities.
CyberGhost supports OpenVPN on its Android, Linux, macOS, and Windows clients. On an iOS device, it uses IKEv2, a modern protocol that’s also acceptable. Note that because Apple places additional requirements on apps that use OpenVPN, VPN companies tend to not include it in their iOS apps.
Servers and Server Locations
We look at the number of servers a VPN service offers as an important differentiator. VPNs with more servers tend to be more robust. Plus, you’re more likely to get a server that’s not overburdened with other users when there are simply more to choose from.
CyberGhost has about 3,000 servers (3,061 at the time of writing), a number that varies from time to time. That’s a robust offering, putting it on par with some of the best VPN services out there. NordVPN, however, costs slightly less than CyberGhost and offers 4,800 servers. Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone), on the other hand, costs about half as much per month as CyberGhost and has 3,275 servers.
The geographic distribution of servers is also important. The more varied the distribution, the more choices you have when looking to spoof your location. A strong geographic diversity also means that you’re more likely to find a nearby server when traveling, which is important because you tend to get better performance with a nearby server than a distant one.
CyberGhost has 90 server locations available, across approximately 60 countries. It’s a good mix, with a better-than-average showing for Africa, a continent ignored by many VPN companies. Hide My Ass VPN (for iPhone), however, has the largest network of servers, covering 286 locations in 220 countries. CyberGhost does offer servers in Hong Kong, but it does not have servers in Turkey or Russia, all of which are regions with repressive internet policies.
Your Privacy With CyberGhost
Hands On With CyberGhost
We had no trouble installing the CyberGhost app on the Apple iPhone SE we used for testing. Note, however, that if you lose your login information, you’ll need to use a special key sent in your activation email. If you’ve lost that, too, you’ll have to restore your account through CleverBridge, the payment processor used by CyberGhost.
The CyberGhost app is unusual in appearance. You swipe left or right to reveal four panels, representing four modes of VPN operation: Secure Wi-Fi, Secured Streaming, Surf Anonymously, and Choose My Server. Each panel offers a simple explanation of the selected mode and includes a high-resolution image that’s just slightly animated. For example, Secured Streaming shows the face of a movie viewer munching popcorn. The Windows edition uses slightly different names for some of these modes, and adds Torrent Anonymously and Unblock Basic Websites. PureVPN (for iPhone) uses a similar approach, helping users get online with different approaches for specific circumstances.
Secured Wi-Fi and Surf Anonymously include an options button. Clicking to start Choose My Server brings up a similar options page. All three include settings to block tracking and malicious content. Surf Anonymously and Choose My Server also let you save money by compressing web traffic. Other settings differ for different modes.
With Secure Wi-Fi, you can control how CyberGhost reacts when you connect to specific hotspots. Its default behavior on connecting to a hotspot is to ask whether you want to turn on VPN. You can set it to always turn on for a specific public hotspot, or always turn off for a trusted network. The options to block tracking and malicious content are on by default.
With Secured Streaming you see a slate of streaming services like Netflix and Crunchyroll, as well as the preferred servers for accessing those services. You can also add your own; just punch in the URL and the preferred VPN servers. We like this a lot, although we’re disappointed it doesn’t feature access to services like Netflix from different countries.
By default, Surf Anonymously selects a country for you; you can also make your own choice. As with Secure Wi-Fi, the options to block tracking and malicious content are on by default. If you want to save money by compressing content, you must turn that one on manually.
All three options are off by default on the Choose My Server panel; we advise turning them on. Here you can select not only the country you want, but also the precise server. This ability would be significantly more useful if CyberGhost offered details about each server, to help you make a choice. IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) reports ping latency and load percent for each server, and VyprVPN uses color coding to represent the best server choice in each country. Running under Windows, CyberGhost shows you which servers are most crowded and most empty, and can also seek the fastest server. CyberGhost under iOS just gives you a list of names like Oslo-S07-102.
While the four main panels, with their detailed images, are appealing, we found some problems with other screens such as the options pages and pages to select a country or server. The app does not seem to handle the smaller screen size of the iPhone SE in all cases. The letters in headings such as Location and Options appear with odd spacing, some of them overlapping each other. It’s a minor point, but it seems sloppy.
CyberGhost and Netflix
Oppressive governments aren’t the only ones that block the use of VPNs. Streaming services will often block VPN traffic to prevent people from spoofing their location to access region-locked content. Someone in the US could, for example, make it appear as if they were in Canada to stream episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which is on Netflix outside the US but requires a CBS All Access subscription to view domestically.
Netflix is perhaps the most aggressive when it comes to blocking VPNs, but fortunately that isn’t an issue for CyberGhost. When we tested the service, it didn’t interfere with streaming while connected to a US server. That said, blocking VPNs is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, so a VPN that works with Netflix today might be blocked tomorrow.
Using this feature on the iPhone proved rather awkward. To start, you can only select US servers, making it useless for region-spoofing. When we swiped to Secured Streaming and chose Netflix, it opened the Netflix website. And when we tried to play an episode of Black Mirror, it sent us to the App Store to get the Netflix app. Tapping Open in the App Store opened the existing Netflix app installation, but required us to locate the desired episode again. At least streaming did work after that rigmarole.
While the protection afforded by a VPN is important in itself, some VPN companies include add-ons and sweeteners to seem even more attractive. TorGuard has the most comprehensive menu of options, letting you purchase additional simultaneous connections, static IP addresses, and access to a Gigabit network for monthly fees.
CyberGhost provides ad blocking through its VPN connection, as well as malware and tracker blocking. On Windows, it also has the option to enforce the use of HTTPS; we didn’t find this feature in the iPhone edition. TunnelBear also provides ad blocking but does it through a stand-alone browser plug-in, which provides more options for users than unseen blocking.
NordVPN goes even further, offering specialized servers for increased anonymity and improved video streaming. You can, for example, use NordVPN to connect to the Tor anonymization network, which will bounce your traffic around even more, making it far more difficult to intercept and track.
Speed and Performance
The number one concern we hear from people about VPNs is that using one will bring their web browsing to a crawl. Indeed, you typically experience an increase in latency and a decrease in upload and download speeds when you use a VPN. That’s because a VPN doesn’t route your internet traffic in the most efficient manner, instead having it jump through hoops for security’s sake.
We try to get a sense of the impact those extra steps cause by running a series of comparative tests with Ookla’s internet speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) Ookla tests latency, upload speeds, and download speeds, so those are the criteria we use as well. We run five tests, both with the VPN active and without. We then discard the top and bottom results, average what remains, and compare the VPN performance to the baseline performance to get a percent change.
As networks can be finicky things, we don’t consider these tests to be the last word in the performance for each VPN. Rather, they’re a snapshot for comparison. Your mileage may vary.
Initially, CyberGhost’s results looked terrible, enough so that we repeated the tests twice. In both other tests, it scored very well, so we chalked up the bad scores to an internet fluke. We used the Secure Wi-Fi mode, because it’s the first thing a user sees and hence the most likely choice. CyberGhost had a minimal effect on latency, increasing it by just 3.7 percent. The two next best products, Private Internet Access and AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone), increased latency by 15.7 percent and 16.9 percent respectively.
The absolute winner as far as download speed goes is Hotspot Shield. Using a variety of optimization techniques, this product increased download speed by 76.1 percent. And yes, we repeated that test to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. CyberGhost did the best of the remaining products, slowing downloads by just 9.5 percent. This jibes with our Windows-based testing, in which CyberGhost earned one of the best scores.
Hotspot Shield speeded uploads as well, by 4.3 percent. Here again, CyberGhost came in second, slowing uploads by just 4.8 percent. It’s worth noting that the scores here are all close. Private Internet Access and TorGuard slowed uploads the most, but just by 8.5 percent.
Just to see what would happen, we tested CyberGhost once more, this time using Surf Anonymously, with the compression option enabled. Indeed, with this custom configuration CyberGhost actually sped up both uploads and downloads, though not as much as Hotspot Shield.
CyberGhost performed well in our speed tests, especially when we dug in to configure it for speed. Still, we encourage readers to look at all factors, not just speed, when choosing a VPN. Value, privacy, and usability are all much more important. But if you are in the market for the fastest VPN for your iPhone, that seems to be HotspotShield. In our Windows Testing, TorGuard proved the fastest.
A Solid Choice
The service is also on the pricier side, although the price matches its features, and seven licenses is certainly a generous offering. CyberGhost is an excellent VPN service. However, we continue to recommend our top performers and Editors’ Choice winners for iPhone VPN, NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.