Editor’s Note:What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.
- Linux app got an update, with the main feature being the WireGuard support. (April 2020)
CyberGhost VPN boasts more than 7,100 servers across 89+ countries, a major leap since our last review when there were ‘only’ 4,800 servers in 58 countries. Torrents are allowed on many, although not all servers, and the company offers custom clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and more.
Apart from the regular VPN functionality, CyberGhost includes a host of bundled extras. It can block malicious websites, ads and trackers. Automated HTTPS redirection ensures that the most secure connection possible is made to every website, and optional data compression can reduce bandwidth, maybe saving money on mobiles.
- Want to try CyberGhost? Check out the website here
CyberGhost VPN supports connecting up to seven devices simultaneously. That’s a little better than most (the industry standard is five), but keep in mind that these must be specific devices. Connect from a phone, or a games console, or a smart TV, just once, and that’s one of your slots used up. If you run out of slots later on, you can log out of individual devices, but if this happens, it quickly becomes annoying,
Elsewhere, a web knowledgebase is available if needed, while chat and email support is on hand to help you through any particularly tricky bits.
We would like to tell you about the many new features CyberGhost now offers, but apart from the big increase in the server numbers and locations, there’s not much to get excited about.
The apps don’t support L2TP any more, for instance – your choice is IKEv2 and OpenVPN. Scratching around the release notes, we also noticed that the iOS app now has a Dark Mode, and there was a themed sticker pack available on Halloween. Well, uh, thanks. We think.
Plans and pricing
Signing up for CyberGhost VPN’s monthly account costs $12.99 a month, at the high end of the industry-standard $10-$13.
The price falls steeply as you extend your subscription, though, with an annual plan costing an equivalent $5.99 a month, dropping to $3.69 over two years.
The three-year plan is now $2.75 a month, up from $2.50 during our last review. It’s still better than most – NordVPN’s three-year plan is $3.49, for instance – but if price is your top priority, you might prefer SurfShark’s two-year plan at just $1.99 a month.
Choose a CyberGhost deal and you’re able to pay by Bitcoin, as well as PayPal and credit card.
There are free trials available, although they’re more complicated to understand than usual.
Download and create an account via Windows, for instance, and you’ll get just 24 hours to try the service out. Not only is this very short, you’re also not getting access to the full service. The client doesn’t enable using some of the specialist streaming connections, for instance, and every time you connect at all you’re warned that all the ‘free slots’ are used up, and you must wait a minute or two. It only supports a single device, too.
You can get more trial time by signing up with the iOS app, giving you seven days. But you have to sign up with the app first. If you create your account via Windows, then sign in to your iOS app using the same account, its trial will also expire after 24 hours.
Install the Android app, though, and you don’t have to create or log in to a CyberGhost account, which means you’ll get your full 7-day trial, no matter what.
Confusing? Yep. The best approach is probably to start with the Android app, if you can, to get a feel for CyberGhost performance and see if you can access Netflix and other blocked sites. If you like what you see, pick a day when you’ve nothing else to do and spend it intensively testing the desktop client.
We would prefer a simpler scheme of things – would it really be so difficult to have seven days free, whatever your platform? – but at least CyberGhost gives you a chance to try before you buy. And if you do sign up and then find the service doesn’t work for you, there is good news: the company has a lengthy 45-day money-back guarantee, one of the most generous deals around.
Logging and privacy
Like many VPNs, CyberGhost’s website proudly boasts of a ‘strict no logs policy’ on its front page.
“More than this, when using the CyberGhost VPN, we are NOT storing connection logs, meaning that we DON’T have any logs tied to your IP address, connection timestamp or session duration.”
For customers who aren’t sure about the technical details, the policy goes on to spell out the implications.
“We do NOT know at any time which user ever accessed a particular website or service.”
“We do NOT know which user was connected to our CyberGhost VPN service at any given time or which CyberGhost VPN server IP they used.”
“We do NOT know the set of original IP addresses of a user’s computer.”
If you need more, a ‘Does CyberGhost log? No!’ support document adds a little extra detail.
The company backs this up to a degree with a Transparency Report where it lists DMCA, police and other requests it receives, and how much data it hands over. (Hint: none.)
While this is welcome, the reality is these are just words on a website, and there’s no way for an individual user to know how the service actually works. Some VPN providers (NordVPN, VyprVPN) are addressing this by having independent audits run on their systems, and we hope CyberGhost and the rest of the industry will soon do the same.
In the meantime, we can at least run some basic privacy checks of our own, using sites such as IPLeak.net and DNS Leak Test to look for DNS and other privacy leaks.
None of the tests revealed any problems, and an issue we spotted during the last review – connecting from the UK to New York, and being allocated a US IP, but a UK DNS address – has been fixed. Wherever we connected, we now received a DNS IP address from that country, just as we’d expect.
Measuring VPN performance is difficult as there are so many factors involved, but we tried to get an idea of CyberGhost speeds by testing local UK and US performance with benchmarking websites including SpeedTest and TestMy.net.
Our nearest UK servers delivered very acceptable speeds, averaging around 65-70Mbps on our 75Mbps fiber broadband line.
The added encryption of OpenVPN reduced performance, inevitably, but CyberGhost still only cut our speeds by around 6-7%, a minimal overhead.
We carried out US tests on a 600Mbps connection, but speeds were slower than in the UK, at 30-75Mbps.
These tests took place in late March 2020, though, when many people were working from home to reduce their coronavirus risk. It’s highly likely that our results were affected by the increase in internet traffic, although there’s no way to tell that for sure, or know how much of a factor it was.
The best we can say is that CyberGhost managed below-average speeds, even by coronavirus era standards (other VPNs reviewed recently have done better). But because of the exceptional circumstances, we’re not going to mark the company down for this.
Unblocking Netflix and similar sites can be a challenge, even with the best VPNs. That’s because most providers won’t tell you which servers work, and which don’t, forcing you to work down every server in the target country until you finally get lucky.
CyberGhost’s apps seem to make life much easier by highlighting locations which support the services you need. When we chose the Streaming filter in our Windows client, for instance, we saw recommended locations for US Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, YouTube TV and more, along with other specialist servers for Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Poland, Brazil and more.
The UK servers worked for us, bypassing the BBC’s VPN detection and allowing us to stream iPlayer content without difficulty.
Viewing US Amazon Prime can be tricky, but CyberGhost got us in, and we were able to stream US content from the UK without any issues.
Accessing Disney+ was our only problem. We connected to CyberGhost’s recommended streaming location, but found that disneyplus.com mostly didn’t respond, and our absolute best result was a 503 error (web server-speak for ‘sorry, you can’t have that content right now’).
Disney Plus had just launched in Europe at review time, so it’s possible that the server was just overwhelmed, especially with a potentially huge housebound audience, courtesy of various coronavirus-related lockdowns.
Whatever the cause, as we weren’t able to see whether Disney Plus detected our CyberGhost connection, we’re not going to count this issue as a black mark for the service.
While some VPNs hide their torrent-friendly status, CyberGhost is rather more upfront. Just launch the Windows client, for instance, and you’ll find one of its server lists is titled ‘For Torrenting’.
There are some helpful tweaks buried in the Settings, too, including the ability to automatically connect your preferred CyberGhost connection whenever you launch your torrent client (more on that later).
Bonus features include a malicious URL filter, enabled by default, which could help you avoid a lot of trouble.
If you ignore the ‘For Torrenting’ list and connect to a VPN location manually, there is some scope for problems. CyberGhost explains that “we have to block P2P protocols on certain servers, either due to strategic (this is traffic that unnecessary slows down other user’s traffic) or due to legal reasons in countries where we are forced by providers to block torrent traffic, among them USA, Russia, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.”
If you stick to the recommended list, though, CyberGhost works well, and overall, it’s a simple and straightforward way to anonymize your torrenting activities.
CyberGhost does its best to make sure the setup process is as easy as possible, and for the most part it’s very successful.
Clicking the Trial link on the website quickly downloaded the tiny Windows installer. We accepted the terms and conditions, entered our email address and password, and after clicking the usual ‘please confirm your address’ link in a follow-up email, that was it. We were ready to go, with no payment or other details required.
It’s much the same story with the mobile apps. The CyberGhost site links you to each app store, and you download and install the apps in the usual way.
If you need the OpenVPN configuration files to set up a router or other device, though, your life becomes considerably more complicated. While other VPN providers typically give you a bunch of standard .OVPN files to download, CyberGhost asks you to go through the following lengthy process: Log in to your account; add a device profile; choose the features you need (ad blocking, data compression, malware protection, more); choose OpenVPN TCP or UDP; choose your target country; note down a server name, custom username and password; and download the .OVPN file, certificates and key files in a ZIP file.
If you’re looking to set up multiple locations, you must also rename each .OVPN file to something appropriate.
This approach has some advantages – it’s secure and gives you a high level of control over how each connection works – but if you’re just hoping to download 50 standard OpenVPN configuration files, get ready for disappointment. There’s a lot of setup work to do.
CyberGhost’s Windows client opens with a clean, lightweight interface: a simple console with connection status, a list of locations and a Connect button.
Don’t be fooled, though – there’s a lot of functionality tucked into a right-hand panel which you can open whenever you need it. A location picker lists all servers, along with their distance and current load. You can filter this to display servers optimized for streaming or torrents, and a Favorites system makes it easy to build your own custom list.
Right-clicking CyberGhost’s system tray icon also displays all the available servers, with submenus for torrenting, streaming and your favorites. You can opt to choose, switch and close connections without ever bothering with the main client interface.
Options start with a Connection Features panel, where you can enable privacy features including blocking for ads, trackers and malicious websites. CyberGhost can automatically redirect HTTP connections to HTTPS for extra security, and a bonus Data Compression feature compresses images and ‘other elements’ to reduce traffic and improve performance.
While that sounds impressive, these extras aren’t always worth very much.
When we turned on the ad blocker and accessed an ad-packed UK newspaper site, for instance, our browser made 671 requests, downloaded 5MB of content and took 43 seconds to fully load.
When we disabled CyberGhost’s ad blocker and switched to uBlock Origin, the same page made 156 requests, transferred 469KB of data and loaded in 3 seconds.
A Smart Rules panel is far more useful, and gives you an unusual level of control over how the client works. Most VPNs have an option to launch when Windows starts, for instance, but CyberGhost also allows you to connect to your preferred server, and automatically launch a particular app, such as your default browser in incognito mode.
There’s even more flexibility in the Wi-Fi Protection panel, where CyberGhost allows you to decide exactly what happens when you connect to new networks. You can have the client automatically connect to the VPN if the network is insecure, for instance; never connect if it’s encrypted; perform custom actions for specific networks (always protect at home, never protect at work), or simply ask you what to do.
The surprises continue everywhere you look. App Protection can connect you to a specific location when you open an app, for instance. No need to remember to enable the VPN before you use your torrent client – CyberGhost can automatically do it for you.
There’s another handy touch in the Exceptions feature, where you can build a list of websites which won’t be passed through the tunnel. If a streaming site is only accessible to users in your country, add it to CyberGhost’s Exceptions and it’ll never be blocked, no matter which VPN location you’re using.
If this sounds too complex, and maybe you’re only after the VPN basics, no problem; it can all be safely ignored. You’ll never even see it, unless you go looking. But if you’d like to fine-tune the service, optimize it to suit your needs, CyberGhost gives you a mix of options and opportunities you’ll rarely see elsewhere.
Elsewhere, the Settings box enables choosing your preferred protocol (just OpenVPN or IKEv2, L2TP support has been dropped), using random ports to connect (which might bypass some VPN blocking), and enabling or disabling a kill switch, IPV6 connections and DNS leak protection.
Our tests showed the kill switch worked very well. Whether we forcibly closed an OpenVPN or IKEv2 connection, or even killed the openvpn.exe process entirely, the client spotted this, raised the alarm (sometimes a little slowly, but eventually), and automatically reconnected, without ever exposing our real IP. That’s a tough test, but CyberGhost passed it without difficulty.
CyberGhost’s iOS app is far simpler than its desktop cousins, with much less functionality and a relatively basic interface.
The iOS app opens with little more than a Connect/ Disconnect button, for instance. By default, it connects to your nearest server, but you can also browse a list of locations. Tapping a location displays load information, including the number of connected users, and you can save specific locations to a Favorites list.
Settings are minimal – you can’t even choose your protocol – but the app does a good job of helping you define how it should be used with particular networks.
When we first launched the app, for instance, it displayed our nearest Wi-Fi network name on the opening screen. That’s unusual, but a very good idea, as it helps you see what you’re using to connect. If you tap the name, you can specify whether you want CyberGhost to automatically protect it in future, or prompt you to decide each time. And the app can save the appropriate actions for all the networks you use regularly, so it knows exactly what to do at home, work, the coffee shop or the library.
The Android app doesn’t display your current wireless network, unfortunately, but the feature list is longer, with many desktop features included.
There’s a Favorites list for storing your most commonly accessed locations, for instance, which is especially handy on a mobile device where it’s less convenient to find items on a lengthy list.
Although there’s no choice of protocol (it’s OpenVPN-only), you do get the desktop client’s ability to use a random port when connecting to the VPN, a simple trick which might help bypass VPN blocking.
Split tunneling is probably the highlight, allowing you to decide which apps use the VPN and which don’t, in just a few clicks.
The app includes many of the connection extras you’ll see with the desktop build, too: ad and tracker blocking, data compression, and URL filtering to keep you away from malicious websites.
Overall, CyberGhost’s mobile apps aren’t bad, but they’re still short of some of the core functions you’ll often see elsewhere (kill switch, a choice of protocol and protocol settings), and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Point your browser at the CyberGhost support site and it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer weight of articles. There are guides for Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, Linux, Kodi, consoles and routers, along with troubleshooting articles and assorted other FAQs.
When we looked more closely, though, we began to spot plenty of issues. These start with how the articles are organized. We would expect installation issues to have a section all on their own, for instance, but instead they’re spread around and mixed with other articles. You can search the articles for keywords, but this doesn’t help very much, as the results don’t seem to be sorted by usefulness.
Article content is often poor, too. We headed off to the Troubleshooter’s ‘Connection and speed problems’ section and noticed that there wasn’t a single guide offering generic speedup advice (connect from a different network, connect to a different location, try a different protocol, reboot your hardware – you know the drill.) Instead, we found pointless content like this: “If you use UMTS boards to connect to the Internet, you normally install that board’s software as well. These programs may cause problems, when using CyberGhost VPN, surprisingly even after stopping using the UMTS board.”
That’s not a snippet, we’ve not edited it or left anything out. It’s the entire article. Previous CyberGhost users seem to share our view – the article states that ‘0 of 9 found this helpful’ – but CyberGhost either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care.
Out-of-date guides are a problem. We searched the support knowledgebase for the keyword ‘OpenVPN’, and the first 10 hits were all three-years-old.
Other articles included some questionable advice. The very first practical suggestion for “What to do if CyberGhost seem to slow down your Internet connection” is to change your MTU from 1500 to 1300. That’s way too low-level and drastic as a first step and could easily slow down your non-VPN connections, too, but CyberGhost doesn’t give you a hint of that, or warn non-technical users to undo the step if it doesn’t work.
Some of these articles appear to have been poorly translated from the original, too (“in daily life quite a few adversenesses influence the real possible speed”). Although they’re still generally understandable, this means the content isn’t always as precise and clear as it needs to be.
You can also talk to a real, live, human being, fortunately, via email and live chat support. CyberGhost does its best to hide the chat support – you must click a Help button bottom-right, then enter a keyword to search the knowledgebase, before the Chat button appears – but we found it eventually.
One click and a couple of minutes later, a support agent was responding to our question. Despite us choosing a slightly technical topic on the generation of OpenVPN configuration files, he immediately understood what we needed, and clearly explained everything we needed to know.
CyberGhost’s support site may be dubious, then, but that’s not the end of the story. If you’re running into problems, there’s a good chance that the live chat support will quickly point you in the right direction.
CyberGhost is a capable VPN service with a highly configurable Windows client, packed with features yet still easy to use. The mobile clients are much more ordinary, but there’s still plenty to like here, from Netflix and iPlayer unblocking to low three-year prices and helpful live chat support.
- Also check out the best VPN services of 2020