CyberGhost is a Romanian-based company that is currently undergoing some major transitions. Having recently been acquired by an Israeli (but UK-registered) company, Crossrider, it has recently gone through a rebranding phase, including testing of various aspects of its business model. While this initially caused some confusion on the pricing side of things, these issues appear to have been ironed out.
Overall, CyberGhost offers an easy-to-use and reliable service at mid-range prices. There is also a 30-day money-back guarantee, something that is offered by many VPNs these days, but a nice-to-have all the same. Let’s see what else they have to offer!
Features and pricing
As part of it’s rebranding, CyberGhost has moved its main site to pro.cyberghostvpn.com. On the CyberGhost Pro pricing page, you’ll see that there is just one package available – CyberGhost Pro – which keeps things simple. There are, as is usual with VPN providers, steep discounts if you opt for a longer term. The monthly payment pricing is $10.49 per month, there’s a six month option ($5.90 per month) and a two-year option ($2.90 per month). This is pretty average pricing when it comes to VPN packages.
The pricing page gives three options for payment: Visa, PayPal, and cheque/money order. It appears that under new ownership, the company may be moving away from accepting Bitcoin, which will be a disappointment for those wishing to pay anonymously. The lack of credit card options might also be an inconvenience to users who don’t use Visa and don’t have a PayPal account.
So, what can you expect from this package? CyberGhost’s plan enables you to cover up to five devices, and downloads are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
When it comes to browsing, you can also choose your server location, and the selection is adequate with over 850 servers in 27 countries. You can also tailor your browsing with additional features, such as ad blocking, automated HTTPS redirect, and data compression.
You also have the option to access various streaming sites such as Hulu and BBC iPlayer, and the ability to download torrents anonymously.
Setup and interface
Getting started with CyberGhost is very simple. Once you log into your account (we were using the original CyberGhost website for this), you can go to the My Devices tab where you’ll see spots for five devices. Click Add a new device and download and install the app for whatever operating system you’re using. Once it’s installed, you’ll just have to log in using your account credentials. There’s no need to restart your device after installation.
For the purposes of this review, we tested the apps for Windows 10 and iOS.
The desktop app opens to a selection of six features and asks you which one you’d like to access:
When you select Surf Anonymously, you’ll have the option to choose your server’s location from a dropdown list of 27 countries. If you don’t make a choice, it will choose a server for you when you hit Start Anonymous Surfing. Before hitting that though, you can also choose to enable or disable (many are enabled by default) a list of features including Block Online Tracking and Extra Speed.
Once you do start surfing, the dashboard will show you your server location, your replacement IP, and time connected.
You can also scroll across to find out info about ads, tracking, and malware blocked, as well as download volume and speed.
If you want more choice when it comes to server location (the previously mentioned dropdown only allows you to select the country), then you can choose your precise server location by hitting Choose My Server in the main dashboard. Here you can view user load, torrent capability, and ping latency (which can indicate speed – lower being faster). You can also choose to view servers listed under various criteria, including most empty and fastest. While in this mode, if you want to apply the additional features, such as ad blocking and data compression, you can go to the Extra Features tab to see a set of options.
If you’re looking to unblock streaming, when you select this mode from the main dashboard, you’ll be greeted with a selection of streaming sites to choose from, including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.
Beneath each one, you’ll see the default server that will used to access it. Some, such as Amazon Prime and YouTube, will have multiple server options in the dropdown for you to choose from.
Additional modes include Torrent Anonymously, Unblock Basic Websites (such as Google, Facebook, and Wikileaks), and Protect Wi-Fi. For more advanced features, including startup behavior, connections, and WiFi protection, you can visit the Settings tab in the top right hand corner of the dashboard.
Closing the dashboard won’t cause CyberGhost to disconnect and it will continue to run in the system tray. You can access it by right clicking, and it will display a mini dashboard showing your server location, IP and session duration. It will also give you the option to disconnect or switch to a recently selected service.
The mobile app, which as mentioned is available for both iOS and Android, looks quite a bit different from the desktop version at first glance. It opens to a slideshow of options, starting with Secure Wi-Fi, moving onto Secure Streaming, Surf Anonymously, and finally Choose My Server. There is also a menu button in the top left hand corner where you can manage your settings and access your account, as well as support if needed.
However, once you’ve selected your service, your options are much the same as they appear in the desktop version. Just a note that it seems the only real difference between Surf Anonymously and Choose My Server (within the desktop and mobile apps) is that with the latter you get to choose the exact server you want to use. Both offer additional features such as ad blocking, as well as the option to simply connect using whichever server you’re allocated by default (if you decide not to choose).
Overall, it’s an intuitive, well-designed app. It’s responsive, sleek, and easy to navigate. It also isn’t bogged down with a ton of options.
Servers and performance
CyberGhost currently has over 850 servers in 27 countries. That’s a decent number but not huge compared to some of the larger providers.
We were able to seamlessly stream 1080p video with no buffering while connected to servers in Canada, Germany, and the US (the three YouTube options offered) from the test location in Canada. We could also play online games without any noticeable lag. The connection didn’t drop at all while surfing, although it often took several minutes to connect to specific servers in the Choose My Server option. In the same mode, there were also some instances where a connection couldn’t be made on the first try.
This wasn’t an issue in the Surf Anonymously mode, in which you simply specify the server country rather than its exact location. Therefore, it’s only really a concern for advanced users who are choosing the precise servers they want to connect to.
When it comes to speed tests, we aim to be as empirical as possible by downloading the same file (266MB in this case) from a Chicago server. We did this using three sample VPN servers at three different times during the day. We also compared the results to those of two other VPNs (ZenMate and PrivateVPN) that was tested in the same manner, as well as those of a control test using no VPN. The tests were conducted from Toronto, Canada using servers in New York, Los Angeles, and London. In the boxplots below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.
CyberGhost performed well in the tests as compared to our other test VPNs. It recorded an impressive mean download time which sat at around half the speed of the control tests without a VPN. The spread wasn’t very large, indicating consistency across servers. This would have been even tighter if it wasn’t for an anomalously slow result using a London server at around 5:30pm in that time zone.
Of course, these tests aren’t absolutely definitive and serve only as a general indication of the speed you might see. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so tests such as these need to be taken with a grain of salt. They were run on a 30 Mbps connection so those with slower connections will endure longer wait times and potentially smaller or larger discrepancies.
Does CyberGhost unblock Netflix?
While CyberGhost’s promo video states that it can unblock Netflix, this appears to be outdated. A customer service representative advised that they are currently working on adding new servers that will allow access to Netflix, but that it’s not available at this time. Indeed, when you access the streaming option from the dashboard, you’re presented with a list of accessible sites, such as Hulu and BBC iPlayer, with Netflix being notably absent. When trying to access Netflix while surfing anonymously, we got an error message, even when using an in-country server.
As with many other VPNs, streaming can be hit and miss. With providers detecting and blocking known VPN IP addresses, it appears that companies like CyberGhost are struggling to provide reliable access to Netflix and other major sites. Within the Windows app, we tested several sites, some of which worked, for example BBC iPlayer and French site, Canal.
On the other hand, some didn’t, including Amazon Prime. For the desktop app, an attempt to access Amazon Prime resulted in an error message due to being in the wrong country, even though it was using a US server. For the mobile app, it actually returned an error message specifically citing VPN usage.
Although this doesn’t sound too promising for CyberGhost, it’s an ongoing issue for many VPNs, as streaming sites are getting better at identifying the IP addresses VPNs are using, and blocking them. As such, this is a gray area when it comes to evaluation, so shouldn’t be considered a huge black mark for CyberGhost itself.
Update (11/16/17): CyberGhost can now be used to unblock Netflix.
Does CyberGhost work in China?
You can use the Unblock Basic Websites option to bypass the Great Firewall of China. This means you should be able to access sites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube while visiting. However, there have been reports of it not working for some users more recently, so it may be a case of trial and error.
Security and privacy
While CyberGhost was originally developed in Germany, the company later moved to Romania, a country in which there are no mandatory data retention laws. This is good news for users seeking privacy as personal data can only be retained if unequivocal consent is given.
However, as mentioned earlier, CyberGhost was recently acquired by Israeli company, Crossrider, which is registered in the UK, a country that is subject to data retention laws. CyberGhost insists that it will continue to run as a standalone company based in Romania, and will therefore only be subject to Romanian law. Therefore, there should be no concerns here.
CyberGhost doesn’t log user behavior, web targets, or communication. Payment and registration details aren’t logged and users are given an anonymous ID. It uses 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN protocol which is considered pretty much as good as you can get. This is in conjunction with 2,048-bit RSA keys and MD5 HMAC authentication. MD5 is an uncommon choice amongst VPNs for hash authentication but it is considered roughly on par with SHA256. If you’re concerned, CyberGhost offers up a lengthy argument for its choice.
Update: CyberGhost has now switched to the SHA256 authentication algorithm due to requests from users.
When connected to a CyberGhost server, your IP will be hidden and replaced by one of their own. This address will be shared by others using the same server as an additional layer of security, but with no chance for data cross-transfer. However, this feature makes it easier for sites like Netflix to identify and block VPN IP addresses, a scenario which appears to be harming the streaming side of things.
A kill switch is enabled by default, so all internet traffic is blocked automatically if the VPN connection is dropped unexpectedly for whatever reason. If this happens, you will have the option to continue browsing without protection or wait until the VPN connection is restored. Additionally, if you want to ensure that a particular app never runs without the protection of the VPN, you can use the App Protection option in the settings menu to specify it.
CyberGhost automatically provides protection against DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and port forwarding leaks. You can also block tracking while browsing so that sources uses trackers will not be able to load content on the websites you visit. Additionally, the HTTPS redirect feature will automatically favor an encrypted connection if it’s available for the site you’re accessing.
CyberGhost’s support page offers help in the form of guides, troubleshooting pages, and FAQs. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, you can submit a request. Both of the requests we submitted were answered within 12-14 hours. Due to the time difference they would have been sent fairly late at night in Romania, but were answered the following morning.
CyberGhost offers live chat within regular working hours (9am – 6pm Bucharest time). They also tell us they are working to extend this to 16 hours live chat per day. Although it’s limited, this might be good thing for privacy, since it’s clear that all support comes directly from the company itself. However, it might be considered an inconvenience if you simply need a quick answer.
Overall, CyberGhost is offering an easy-to-use, fast, and reliable service. It has plenty of servers to provide you with options such as anonymous surfing, unblocked streaming, and anonymous torrenting. CyberGhost can provide access to geo-restricted sites, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
This provider boasts strong security, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and an automatic kill switch. Its limited live chat support might be a turn-off for some users.