[UPDATED Oct. 16, 2018 with streaming test results and numbers of available servers. This review was originally published April 5, 2018, and replaced an earlier review published in April 2017.]
VPN services that encrypt all your internet traffic are essential for travelers, political dissidents and anyone who uses coffee-shop Wi-Fi. But VPN services can also keep your internet service provider from seeing what you're doing online and let you watch foreign streaming services.
CyberGhost's client software has more convenient features than most other VPN services, at least in the Windows interface. But it wasn't one of the better performers among seven VPN services we recently tested.
Starting at $13 per month, the service has connection points in about 60 countries around the world, and CyberGhost doesn't stint on secure servers; it's got about 3,000 of them. With headquarters in Romania, the VPN service is theoretically beyond the reach of the FBI.
A CyberGhost subscription costs $13 per month, making it one of the most expensive VPN services if you pay every 30 days.
You don't need to use your real name to set up CyberGhost's VPN service, and you can pay (nearly) anonymously with bitcoin. But you'll have to pay a lot, because CyberGhost is among the most expensive VPN services we've used, and its free plan has been killed off.
Costs and What's Covered
When we first reviewed CyberGhost in 2017, the service had a free plan that gave you unlimited data for a single device, albeit without a choice of connection server. That plan is gone, but CyberGhost still offers a seven-day free trial period, which, nicely, doesn't ask you for a credit-card number up front.
If you decide you like it, a CyberGhost subscription costs $13 per month, making it one of the most expensive VPN services if you pay every 30 days. If you get a one-year plan for $63, the monthly price drops to $5.25, putting it on a rough par with TunnelBear. For the moment, you'll get an extra six months tossed in free for the first year.
CyberGhost doesn't offer a lifetime subscription, but the company does have a 45-day money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied. You can pay for CyberGhost (nearly) anonymously with Bitcoin. Otherwise, an account with PayPal or regular credit cards will do, but the options to use the German online payment systems Giropay and Sofort have been removed from the CyberGhost website.
CyberGhost lets one account install a CyberGhost software client on up to seven separate devices, which may seem more generous than most other paid VPN services, which let you run up to five connections at a time. But while other services limit connections, CyberGhost limits installations (it won't let you download the software until you buy a subscription), which may affect someone who has a lot of devices.
Nevertheless, seven connections at a time should be plenty for most families and small businesses. To cover more devices, CyberGhost has instructions for connecting Wi-Fi routers (running DD-WRT, TomatoUSB or Tomato/Merlin firmware) directly to its servers, without client software.
CyberGhost client software is available for Windows systems (7 and later) as well as Macs (OS X 10.7 Lion or newer). The client software has ad-, tracking- and malicious-website-blocking built in.
Linux users will have to set up connections manually by enabling either OpenVPN or PPTP connections on their operating systems. (The PPTP protocol is no longer secure, so use it just for streaming.) Instructions for doing this are in the company's support pages.
As far as phones and tablets go, CyberGhost has apps for iOS 9.3 or higher and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or newer. The service has browser extensions that provide proxy services (but not true VPNs) for Chrome and Firefox, but the Opera one seems to have disappeared.
Behind the scenes, the Windows version of CyberGhost uses the PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocols to create encrypted connections, and the client application lets you choose among them. On Mac, the client limits you to OpenVPN, but you can select between the TCP and UDP web connection protocols.
You can set up manual connections, without the CyberGhost client software, on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Linux, as well as on ChromeOS and routers running DD-WRT and TomatoUSB open-source firmware.
Overall, CyberGhost has an array of about 1,300 servers in about 60 countries, giving the network one of the widest geographic reaches of any VPN service. It has a presence in countries ranging from Albania to Vietnam, but none in China or Russia.
Features and Interface
TunnelBear has its grizzly bear and Mullvad has its mining-helmeted mole, so CyberGhost has — you guessed it — a ghost. The ghoulish yellow spirit is used on the Mac menu and Windows taskbar icons.
The PC and Mac versions of the CyberGhost client look very different, although that may change with the next iteration of the software, due in October 2018.
When you start the Windows program, you're presented with six large icons that give you a choice of surfing anonymously, unblocking streaming sites, protecting your Wi-Fi connection, using BitTorrent, unblocking websites frequently blocked overseas (such as CNN or Wikipedia) or manually selecting a server to connect to.
Because of the sheer range of possibilities, it can be daunting to decipher each, and I expect most users will never go beyond using two or three of them. A series of mouseover explainers could help ease the transition, but over time, the software becomes easier to figure out.
A variety of settings are a click or two away on Windows, including options to decide between UDP and TCP data protocols and pick the best server to connect to. CyberGhost can help with everything from watching Netflix in South Korea to making sure you can always get to Facebook. You can also manage your devices from this screen, making sure all your equipment has the right software to use CyberGhost's VPN servers.
The settings selection leads to a variety of configuration choices, including setting CyberGhost to automatically run when Windows starts, using a proxy server and connecting via a random port. There's an automatic kill switch to cut off the internet connection when the VPN service is engaged.
My favorite setting on Windows was the service's App Protection, which forces CyberGhost to run when you use certain programs, like a banking app or Facebook. It can be an identity saver.
There are even presets on Windows for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and several overseas streaming services. Adding BBC iPlayer as a streaming preset didn't work at first (the BBC site saw that we were using a VPN), but the preset for France's TF1 worked fine.
Many VPN services' client applications have ad blocking built in, but on both Windows and Mac, CyberGhost adds tracking protection and the ability to block known malicious websites.
The Mac desktop client is more attractive but has fewer options and a less user-friendly interface. There are no preset buttons to stream specific overseas video services; instead, you'll have to scroll or search through a long list of available servers, then make the connection manually.
The Mac client does give you the options of blocking tracking by websites, online ads and known malicious websites, and to force a secure HTTPS connection when available, all of which are also options in Windows. But there's no App Protection and no dedicated interface for torrenting, and there are no preset buttons for overseas streaming services or for frequently blocked websites.
While the Windows interface lets you easily filter available CyberGhost servers by country, usage, speed and load if you want to make a manual connection to a specific server, the Mac interface makes you scroll or search through a long list of available servers.
The iOS and Android apps are more compact than the desktop clients. Rather than the six-icon main page, the mobile interface puts four categories at the bottom of the screen: Wi-Fi Protection, Secured Streaming, Surf Anonymously and Choose My Server.
Both mobile apps have a wide assortment of detailed configuration options that most users will never get to, but it's good to know they're there. My favorite option is the ability to compress website data to avoid hitting a monthly mobile data cap.
Many people get VPN services to access overseas video-streaming services, as TV shows and movies available in some countries may not be available in others. For example, "Star Trek: Discovery," limited to CBS All Access in the U.S., is on Netflix in most of the world. And BBC iPlayer lets you stream new episodes of "Doctor Who," but only to IP addresses located in the U.K.
We can't endorse this practice, as it violates most streaming services' terms of service, and the services might terminate your account. It also doesn't always work, as both Netflix and the BBC try to detect and block VPN and proxy servers. (Other overseas streaming services we tried, such France's TF1 Replay and the Dutch-language BVN.tv, presented fewer problems.)
With CyberGhost, we managed to get BBC iPlayer running most of the time, as long as we were connected to one of CyberGhost's dedicated U.K. streaming servers. Netflix worked in about half the countries we tried, including the U.S.
But when we connected to a U.K. streaming server, we were consistently redirected to the Romanian version of Netflix, even when we tried to edit the URL manually. This didn't happen when we were connected to other countries.
CyberGhost uses the SHA-256 protocol for authenticating users and RSA's 4096-bit encryption for the handshake procedure, which establishes the encrypted channel between your computer or smartphone and CyberGhost's server. All data coming into or out of the system gets AES-256 protection.
That's pretty secure, but you can't change any of the settings. As noted earlier, payment can be made with credit cards, PayPal or Bitcoin. Unlike Mullvad or TunnelBear, CyberGhost doesn't accept cash.
Those who want to maintain a low profile with regard to U.S. law enforcement may be pleased to note that CyberGhost is based in Bucharest, Romania, although its co-founder, Robert Knapp, and some of the engineers are German. That will put you out of the reach of the FBI, but perhaps not U.S. intelligence agencies.
Some VPN services don't tell you who runs them, who owns them or where they're located. That may sound cool and mysterious, but it also means you'll know next to nothing about the people you trust with your private data.
CyberGhost takes the opposite tack. It puts the names, photographs and biographies of almost everyone on staff, from the top brass to the office cleaning lady, online. That One Privacy Site, a treasure trove of exhaustive information about dozens of VPN services, gives CyberGhost pretty good marks for keeping its users' information safe.
After spending a month traveling and using CyberGhost in the New York area, the Netherlands, Germany and Azerbaijan, I've come to the conclusion that despite its impressive client software, the service doesn't completely measure up in performance.
To start, it took an average of 16 seconds to connect to the service, nearly five times longer than the time for Private Internet Access (PIA). At times, it was frustrating to wait for a CyberGhost connection in a coffee shop or hotel room.
The proof of any VPN is its downloading ability, and CyberGhost came up short, with an average speed of 13.4 megabits per second (Mbps), off 63 percent from pretest levels.
Once I was online, the service's average 66.7-millisecond network latency wasn't the worst, because those of Hotspot Shield, Mullvad and VPN Unlimited were almost twice as slow. (Network latency measures how long a data packet takes to travel from one endpoint to the other, and, in our tests, back again.)
Nevertheless, CyberGhost's latency was 450 percent more than the pretest results, before the VPN connection was made. By contrast, PIA had a latency score of 33.5 milliseconds — half CyberGhost's reading and only 150 percent more than PIA's pre-VPN baseline.
The proof of any VPN is its downloading ability, and CyberGhost came up short, with an average speed of 13.4 megabits per second (Mbps), off 63 percent from pretest levels. That puts it in next-to-last place among the seven VPN services I recently tested, just above Mullvad but behind Hotspot Shield, PIA, TunnelBear, VPN Unlimited and Windscribe.
CyberGhost did better under real-world conditions, in which I used each service to download a 780MB video file from Archive.org.
CyberGhost downloaded the big file at 1.26 Mbps, which puts it in the middle of the pack in absolute terms but only off by 35 percent from the baseline reading. (Baseline readings varied by time and date, and VPN tests were taken immediately after each baseline reading.)
That made CyberGhost the downloading leader in real-world conditions. PIA and Hotspot Shield, which each saw their download speed decrease by about 45 percent, tied for second place.
CyberGhost uploaded data at an average rate of 6.4 Mbps, which is 56 percent slower than its pretest level. By this measure, it was the slowest of the seven VPN services in both relative and absolute terms.
Like most of the services, CyberGhost had no connection server in Azerbaijan while I was there. After unsuccessfully trying connection points in Romania and Ukraine, I set the software to connect automatically to the best available server, and it chose a server in Boston, half a world away.
CyberGhost also had trouble maintaining a 12-hour continuous connection, requiring two reconnects along the way. The service did stream enough data to simultaneously stream music and videos to my phone and iPad.
Setup and Customer Support
CyberGhost's PC and Mac client programs are admiringly small, only 8.5MB each, particularly considering all they can do. After agreeing to the company's software license, I created an account.
I was able to use any name (not necessarily my real name) and password. Some other services, such as PIA and Mullvad, assign you a random numerical username.
Finally, after I set up my payment, CyberGhost was ready to let me hide in plain sight. All told, it took a little under 10 minutes for me to get and configure it. Should something go wrong, the company issues a recovery code for reinstalling the software.
CyberGhost has a very deep assortment of online FAQs and guides organized by operating system. There are specific guides to securing a Wi-Fi hotspot and choosing a server location. You can ask CyberGhost's support staff questions via email or an online chat window.
Excellent VPN client software and servers scattered around the world can only take you so far when you want a secure online connection, because CyberGhost was among the least-consistent performers in the U.S. and on the road.
Based in Romania, the company doesn't keep user logs, doesn't ask you to use your own name and may be out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement. You can pay for CyberGhost virtually anonymously, but it's still an expensive service if you pay monthly.
By comparison, Private Internet Access offers most of the same features and much better performance for less money. Anyone wary of Uncle Sam should check out Canada-based Windscribe.
Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS; Chrome and Opera extensions
Supported protocols: IKEv2, OpenVPN, L2TP/ IPSec, PPTP
Approximate number of servers: 3,000
Approximate number of countries with servers: 60
Country of registration: Romania
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max number of simultaneously connected devices: Seven
Customer support: Email
Credit: Tom's Guide