Pros30-day money-back guarantee Support via email Gets into streaming services including BBC iPlayer Extreme anonymity procedures Operates servers in 29 countries
ConsLive support has gone Repeat billing Can’t get into Netflix Sometimes jams
At the beginning of this review, I have to declare an interest. CyberGhost is the Virtual Private Network (VPN) service that I use. I love it. A couple of years ago, I wanted to book a flight, but the airline website had geo-location blocks on it, so I wasn’t able to enter the site and book. I could see from comparison travel websites that there were only a few seats left at the price I wanted, so I was in a panic.
That was my introduction to the world of VPNs, and the best of the free bunch that I discovered in a hurry was CyberGhost. When you download the free app, you don’t even have to set up an account or register with your email address. It is completely anonymous and easy to use. More importantly, it got me into that airline website.
• 30-day money-back guarantee
• Support via email
• Gets into streaming services including BBC iPlayer
• Extreme anonymity procedures
• Operates servers in 29 countries
• Live support has gone
• Repeat billing
• Can’t get into Netflix
• Sometimes jams Bottom Line
Super cool interface fronts a technical service that is one of the best in the world
Many VPN providers concentrate on the technical complexities of getting the best VPN service in operation, and neglect the ease of use or the design of the company’s image. CyberGhost is super cool. Its website is trendy, the application graphics are appealing, and even their offices are hip. The funky look of the user interface is what makes the public fall in love with this service. However, if the VPN didn’t work properly, even the most design-conscious would uninstall it!
How Much Does CyberGhost Cost?
The VPN has three levels of service: free, premium, and premium plus. Many VPNs have a free version and they all impose some sort of limitations on it, to give users an incentive to buy. However, the limitations that CyberGhost places on its free version are not off-putting.
You can pay with bitcoin and PayPal, as well as with the standard credit and debit cards. The website also says that in some countries you can pay by going into a shop and buying a credit. These factors make the service completely anonymous.
One detraction from the service is that it sets up a repeat billing agreement on your payment account. You can pay monthly instead of for a whole year in advance, but then you have to pay a higher rate. You can cancel the paid service within 30 days of signing up.
I signed up with PayPal, so I had to give my name and address, and of course, connect to my PayPal account. So, no account anonymity there.
CyberGhost is very strident about preserving anonymity, which you will read more about in the Logs and Locations section below. However, a quick note should mention here that the company has special procedures in place to preserve account anonymity.
The company structure of CyberGhost was set up from the beginning to remove any reporting obligations over customer details. The VPN company is completely separate from its sister company, Cleverbridge. It is Cleverbridge that handles all the payments – CyberGhost doesn’t sell directly to the public. This removes the need from the VPN company to maintain links between the payment processing details and the activities of the company. After Cleverbridge accepts payment from a customer, it passes an ID number to the CyberGhost computer, which generates a username and password.
The customer is encouraged to change the username and password to something more memorable. Thus, CyberGhost has no contact information for you, and Cleverbridge has no idea about and no responsibility for your activities with the VPN service.
CyberGhost’s services have altered recently, so it is important to check on the date of a review when you look into the features of the service. For example, older reviews state that alternative VPN protocols are available with the service, but I found no mention of those anywhere on the site or anywhere in the app. Also there is no longer a live chat system, either for sales or support.
Here are some of the benefits of the premium service:
- 829 servers in 29 countries
- No bandwidth limits
- No throughput quotas
- Optimized servers for torrenting, gaming, and streaming
- Account anonymity possible
- Options to pay with cash or bitcoin
- Ad blocker
- Malware blocker
- Tracker blocker
- Optional data compression
- Self-installing app
- Versions for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
- Manual set up options for routers and Linux
- Vibrant user interface with cool design
- Helpdesk via web form and email
You can only connect one device at any one time with the premium version. That annoys many users, because most rival VPNs allow multiple devices to connect simultaneously with each account. The only difference between the premium package and the premium plus offer is that the more expensive plan allows you to connect up to five devices simultaneously.
If you don’t want to shell out the extra money for the upgrade to premium plus, just take out a premium account for the device you use most for gaming or streaming and download the free version onto your other devices.
CyberGhost’s free service starts off with an annoying countdown overlay, which doesn’t only block out the app, but everything else on your computer. Still, given that the app is so cool, and works so well, this is something most people are prepared to put up with.
Other restrictions on the service are that not all of CyberGhost’s servers are available in the free version. This doesn’t really matter for users in the US and the UK, because they still have plenty of servers to access back in their home country on the free list. Australians and Canadians have none, and New Zealanders won’t be able to access streaming services in their country even with the paid version, because CyberGhost doesn’t have any servers there. Users of the free service get access to servers in 13 of the VPN’s 29 operating countries.
Other limitations on the free service include a limitation on throughput. The advertising copy on the website claims that the paid service is five times faster than the free service. That may well be so, but performance on each server is very variable. You can see a speed test comparison of the free and premium versions later on in the report.
You will get the pop-up advert overlaying your screen every 90 minutes with the free version, and you get disconnected after three hours. However, you can reconnect again straight away.
Most people find the free service completely adequate for their needs and never upgrade to the paid service. One drawback is that you don’t get access to the specialist streaming and torrenting servers with the free version. You do really need these – I tried to access BBC iPlayer with a regular CyberGhost server in the UK, but the BBC system detected the VPN and blocked access. When I switched to the premium account and selected the streaming option, I got into BBC iPlayer.
I was able to get into some TV station websites in the US with the premium service and watch videos. However, CyberGhost didn’t get past the Netflix proxy detection system either for the US or the UK versions of the site, even with the premium VPN turned on.
Is CyberGhost Secure?
CyberGhost uses OpenVPN with 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption. This is the industry standard and about as good as you can get with any VPN service. Other VPN providers also offer Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) as alternatives. Although I have seen mention of the availability of these protocols in other reviews of CyberGhost, I could not find any mention of them once I signed up, so that service seems to have ended.
The main security features of CyberGhost are:
- Anti-Domain Name System (DNS) leak system
- Anti-Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) leak protection
- Kill switch system
- Internet Protocol (IP) address sharing
- Forced Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) redirects
- WiFi protection
CyberGhost Logs and Location
The CyberGhost company is based in Romania. This is a very important factor for those who value privacy, because the logs that a VPN service keeps can make or break your legal protection.
Romania is a very good place for privacy services, because the legal framework does not favor the authorities or courts over the individual’s right to privacy. As explained above, the company keeps a strict division between its subscription and operations entities. It is not obliged to keep activity logs and it takes full advantage of this and keeps no records at all of customer activity.
In 2017, the company was bought out by Crossrider, an Israeli company. This worries many anonymity enthusiasts, because the state of Israel is well-known for favoring national security over individual rights. However, Crossrider is officially registered in the Isle of Mann, which is a semi-independent nation in the British Isles. CyberGhost attests that the ownership by Crossrider is purely an investment. The parent company does not interfere with the security procedures of the VPN company and would not be allowed to by law. CyberGhost is still resident in Romania and is subject to the laws there, not the laws of the home countries of its shareholders.
The company also has a development center with a customer support division in Germany.
Whether you want to use the free version or sign up for the paid service, you download the same app. You can do this without entering any credentials at all. Click on the “Free Download” button at the top of every page in the website.
The install file will download while you are shown a download page.
Click on the downloaded file to open up the install wizard. The installation starts with a user agreement, which you have to accept to proceed.
After you click the Accept radio button and press the Next button, the installation proceeds without any further intervention. Once the installation completes, the background services start up.
You will see a CyberGhost icon in the services tray of your desktop.
Click on this to use the VPN client in “minimized mode.”
Select a server from the drop-down list at the top of the app and click on the Connect button. This will provoke the delay overlay screen for free users. However, then you get access to the application.
To get access to the full screen of the service, click on the Maximize button, which is available in the unconnected version of the app, or select the CyberGhost icon in your Start menu or on the desktop of your computer. Mobile device users get the same view that is offered to computer users in minimized mode. Here is the full screen view, showing the VPN in operation:
Subscribing to CyberGhost
You have to set up an account in order to subscribe, and then you go through the payment options. Go back to the site and click on the “Buy Now” button beneath either the premium or the premium plus plan. You will be prompted to set up an account.
Next, decide whether you want the monthly plan or the yearly subscription.
Now you have to enter your contact details.
I paid with PayPal, and something went wrong, so I received a notice saying that I would have to wait.
However, I then received an email with a PayPal Buy Now button to click on. That time the payment processing worked. I received another email with a generated username and password, which were impossible to remember. Fortunately, the email contained a link to reset both and I changed them to values that I can remember.
I then returned to the main screen of the app and pressed the Login link in the top bar menu.
This action unlocked many of the features available on the activity selection screen of the app. It also logged me in on the minimized version.
On the free version, the Unblock Streaming, Unblock Basic Websites, Choose My Server, and Torrent Anonymously options are blocked off.
Free users and paid users alike can access a knowledge base on the website. They can also raise a support issue from within the maximized version of the interface.
The support request screen of the app looks like this:
The help system offers news on recent maintenance issues, as well as solutions to problems.
Is CyberGhost Fast?
Although CyberGhost has many servers in some countries, such as the United States, the system doesn’t allow you to choose a specific location, just a country. This makes the service a bit hit and miss. I got a strange situation a number of times, when I selected to log into the service with the Anonymous Surfing setting in the United States. The application declared that I was logged into the US, but when I checked my IP location with another site, it detected that I was in Romania. It took several reconnect attempts to get allocated a server that actually was in the US.
I connected both with the free service and with the premium service from the Dominican Republic. The internet speeds available in this country are not so great, so you may well get better speeds than shown in these tests.
To start the study, here is a local connection without a VPN applied:
Here are the speeds on a connection to Miami without CyberGhost turned on:
These are the speeds on an unprotected connection from the Dominican Republic to London:
I then turned on the free version of CyberGhost and connected to a server in the US. After I had confirmed that the server really was in the US, I tried the local connection again. Download speeds were slightly improved, but upload speeds were impaired.
I then tried the connection to Miami, and got a fantastic improvement in download speeds.
The application has an “Automatic” option in the server selection list. This is supposed to choose the best server in the world to give you the best speeds. However, testing the connection to Miami under these conditions got me the same speeds as a local connection with the US VPN server engaged, but a much worse performance than I got on the Miami connection with the US VPN service specified.
Returning to the US VPN server, I then tested a connection to London.
Download speeds were greatly improved, but these speeds are not quite good enough to watch streaming video. I switched over to the VPN server in the UK and tested the speed on the London connection again.
This speed improvement was great, and the connection was fast enough to stream HD video from the UK, so I went over to the BBC iPlayer site and tried to watch the new series of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, iPlayer detected my use of a VPN and blocked access to the show.
After signing up for the premium service, I selected the Streaming specialization from the Activities screen in the app. This gave me a list of streaming services to connect to. I selected BBC iPlayer, which opened a tab in my browser with the iPlayer webpage accessed. I tried the Doctor Who video again, and this time, it played.
Here is the speed test for a connection to the UK with the streaming-optimized CyberGhost server in the UK applied to the line:
Those speeds are very good, so I tried to access Netflix UK, but the server there detected the VPN and blocked access to shows.
As a comparison of the difference between the various activity options available on CyberGhost, I then switched to the Anonymous Surfing option and turned on access to the VPN server in the UK. The download speed that I got with those settings was much slower, but still a lot faster than the connection with no VPN and with the free CyberGhost VPN.
I then tested the streaming-optimized server in the US. On a local connection with this server engaged, I got phenomenal speed improvements.
The download speed with the same VPN server activated on a connection to Miami was even better.
The streaming VPN server didn’t get me into Netflix US, so I tried to access Fox TV. The video delivery server first of all moaned that I had an ad blocker in place. However, after a delay for me to read that message, the show that I had selected played. So, CyberGhost got around the regional restrictions on that site.
Should I Subscribe to CyberGhost?
Although CyberGhost doesn’t offer a choice of VPN protocols, the one and only system that it does include is the best method available in the industry. The company’s anonymity procedures are second to none.
The funky graphics of the interface will get you hooked and the speeds it offers will keep you subscribed.
After surviving with the free version for a year, I now know that the small amount of money needed to upgrade to the premium version is worth it. Both the free and paid versions of CyberGhost are highly recommended.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Funky app design
- Self-installing interface
- Versions for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android
- Servers tailored to gaming, streaming, and torrenting
- Kill switch, DNS leak, and IP leak protection
- Servers in 29 countries
- Works with BBC iPlayer and other streaming services
- No logs
- No live support
- Servers in Romania unsuccessfully masquerade as US servers
- Can’t get into Netflix
- Extra charge for multiple simultaneous connections