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CyberGhost VPN review: Speed tests, anonymity verification and more

This Romanian-based VPN has a solid suite of security software and a strong privacy policy -- but it won't totally hide your location.

CyberGhost is so-named because it's designed to help you become a "ghost" while surfing the internet. That, of course, is what most VPN (virtual private network) services aim to do: keep you anonymous online, and make sure there's not a record of your actions. CyberGhost also comes with a complete suite of security services to boot.

CyberGhost says that it only makes money from subscriber fees, and that it doesn't log user data. It also offers a full transparency report that details everything from DMCA complaints (tens of thousands per year) to police requests (just a few dozen). As to the latter, CyberGhost told us that it "compl[ies] with none." The service also said that it plans to have its data privacy practices audited by an outside organization "in the future," but it provided no timeline.

While I found a lot to like in CyberGhost, its privacy protections are not absolute: While it does protect anonymity (according to our tests), it does not hide the fact that you're using a VPN. Still, CyberGhost gets points for its very well thought out app and its deep, but easy-to-use, capabilities.

The bottom line of my basic performance tests is that -- at least for the countries I tested -- you can undoubtedly get your job done while using CyberGhost's VPN. If you have a specific country you want to connect to, it's a good idea to take advantage of the company's solid 45-day refund policy and just try it out.

Editors' note: This is the first of several in-depth reviews on VPN services. We'll be updating our list of Best VPN services to fold in this round of updated performance tests once they're completed. Note that CNET earns a commission if you choose to sign up from the links on this page.

CyberGhost at a glance

Home country/jurisdiction Romania
Servers 3,700+
Countries served 60+
Simultaneous connections 7
Kill switch yes
Logging no
Monthly price $12.99/month
Yearly prepaid price $71.88/year ($5.99/month)
Best prepaid deal $99 for 3 years ($2.75/month)
Trial offer 45-day refund period
Supported platforms Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS and more

Secure connection testing

CyberGhost not only allows you to pick the country for your server, but gives you the option to either ask for best connection or even specific servers in specific metropolitan regions.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

The application also allows you to favorite servers at either the country or the specific server level, as well as servers that, for example, will allow you to watch movies from your Netflix account when traveling abroad.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

Beyond the US, I tested connections to Sweden, Taiwan, Australia and India. I wanted to test a connection to Russia, but unlike some other providers, CyberGhost does not have connections to Russia.

While I was connected, I also ran DNS and WebRTC leak tests (to make sure that DNS and IP are secure) using DNSLeak.com, ipleak.net and dnsleaktest.com. These tests are basic security tests and not much more. If you're planning on using CyberGhost (or any VPN service) to hide your identity for life and death reasons, be sure to do far more extensive testing.

At first glance, it appeared CyberGhost failed the dnsleak.com DNS leak test:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

However, looking up the IP 23.82.201.76 using the ARIN Whois service resulted in a listing for an internet service provider, Nobis Technology Group:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

It's important not to read too much into individual ISPs like Nobis. For a small VPN provider to provide worldwide service, they're going to have to contract with ISPs all across the world to provide transmission services.

On the other hand, dnsleaktest.com immediately determined not only that I was using a VPN, but that the VPN was provided by CyberGhost:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

While none of the leak tests presented my home IP address, they did clearly indicate that I was using a VPN.

When connected to Australia, it looks like dnsleak.com was able to identify both that I was using a VPN and that I was originating from the United States. The report included both red blocks below:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

Interestingly, the connection to Taipei seemed completely secure. According to all the testing I was able to perform, my connection was originating from somewhere in Taichung City.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

So what should you take away from this discussion of leaks? It's simple, really. Our basic testing shows that CyberGhost takes good steps in preserving your anonymity. But if you're trying to hide the fact that you're connecting through a VPN or hide your originating country, it's possible that information will get through.

For most people, this won't matter. But for those of you who need that added layer of protection, you might want to do your own careful testing before making a life and death decision.

When I followed up with CyberGhost on the issue, this was the company's response:

We do not obscure the fact that our users are using CyberGhost VPN. We don't want to get our IPs blacklisted or marked as spam. In some cases, being transparent about which IPs are part of our service helped us maintain their reputation. A number of users are actually reassured when they see an IP listed as belonging to CyberGhost, since they trust our service and believe in our product. 

To bypass any problems that might stem from proxy errors, we invest a lot of time and effort in having specialized, obscured servers. For example, we have over 20 servers able to unblock various streaming services. 

We were glad to see that CyberGhost does offer a strong collection of VPN protocol connection options, as well as a number of other options to protect your tracks.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

I tried testing with DNS Leak Protection both on and off, and regardless of the setting, some leak tests reported I was using CyberGhost servers.

All-in-one security kit

Many VPN vendors provide basic traffic rerouting services and anonymity protection. Oh, sure, they'll wrap their VPN connection process in a pretty app and user interface, but they're selling VPN services and not much more.

CyberGhost takes a different approach. They realized they're distributing software as well as the VPN service. As such, they've expanded their client software to offer more than just connection features. They have, essentially, built an all-in-one security kit with the following key features in addition to basic VPN services.

Ad blocking: CyberGhost provides ad blocking. Now, I'll be honest. I'm of mixed-mind when it comes to ad blocking software. Operating any large service requires a lot of expense and something has to pay for it. If all ads are blocked, then there's no revenue, nothing to pay for the servers, services and salaries. On the other hand, some ads are intrusive and others can be malicious. By blocking ads at the network level, CyberGhost prevents those malicious ads from ever touching a browser.

Malicious website blocking: CyberGhost also blocks access to malicious websites. As with ad blocking, the barrier happens at the network interface, not somewhere in the browser. As a result, the browser is effectively protected from malicious sites before ever encountering them.

Online footprint blocking: CyberGhost helps you be a ghost online. Your IP address is not the only way to track you. Websites often leave cookies and other hints to help them track where you've been. CyberGhost blocks those online footprints, so no website will ever know what other websites you've visited.

Force https redirect: Very much like the hugely popular Https Everywhere plugin for Chrome, CyberGhost forces connections to sites over the secure https protocol. While desktop users can add the Https Everywhere plugin, device and mobile users don't have the ability to add plugins. The ability of the network connection to force a secure link is quite valuable for those users.

Data compression: CyberGhost compresses "images and other elements" to reduce bandwidth usage and keep costs under control.

Based in Romania

VPN aficionados often get into deep debates about the merits of jurisdiction and country of origin. This is because some countries have data sharing, retention and discovery laws -- and others don't. For those people who have a strong reason to protect their tracks (or just the inherent paranoia to think they're important enough to be watched), countries who do not participate in data sharing treaties are quite appealing.

CyberGhost is headquartered on Strada Baratiei in the historical center of Bucharest, Romania, a country that doesn't participate in either the Quadripartite Pact (better known as Five Eyes or UKUSA) or SIGINT Seniors Europe (or SSEUR, better known as Fourteen Eyes).

These are signals intelligence sharing agreements between certain nations that allow for data sharing. For VPN users concerned about government access to communication, the fact that a VPN provider isn't subject to either of these agreements is a plus.

Performance testing

I installed the CyberGhost application on a fresh, fully-updated Windows 10 ($102 at Amazon) install. To do this kind of testing, I always use a fresh install so some other company's VPN leftovers aren't clogging up the system and possibly influencing results. I have a 1 gig fiber feed, so my baseline network speed is rockin' fast.

To provide a fair US performance comparison, rather than comparing to my local fiber broadband provider, I used Speedtest.net and picked a Comcast server in Chicago to test download speed.

For each test, I connected to each server three times. The number shown below is the average result of all three connections.

In looking at these numbers, it's possible to get carried away by the difference in the baseline speed compared to the VPN speed. That's not the best measurement, mostly because I have broadband over fiber so my connection speed is extremely high.

And, with that, here are my results:

CyberGhost speed & leak tests

Speed Test Server Baseline download speed without VPN (higher is better) Download speed with VPN (higher is better) Leaks
Chicago -- Comcast 94.29 Mbps 65.53 Mbps VPN in use and brand
Stockholm, Sweden -- Datacom 64.99 Mbps 26.81 Mbps VPN in use and brand
Taipei, Taiwan -- NCIC Telecom 63.14 Mbps 37.69 Mbps None
Perth, Australia -- Telstra 64.26 Mbps 61.56 Mbps VPN in use and originating country
Hyderabad, India -- Excitel 57.75 Mbps 21.03 Mbps VPN in use and brand

When you use a VPN service, it's natural for performance to drop. After all, you're running all your packets through an entirely artificial infrastructure designed to hide your path. The real numbers you should look at are the download speed and the ping speed. Are they high enough to do the work you need to do?

CyberGhost ping speed and connect time tests

Speed Test Server Ping speed without VPN (lower is better) Ping speed with VPN (lower is better) Time to connect to VPN
Chicago -- Comcast 64 ms 63 ms 9.4 sec
Stockholm, Sweden -- Datacom 210 ms 252 ms 13.48 sec
Taipei, Taiwan -- NCIC Telecom 177 ms 136 ms 19.75 sec
Perth, Australia -- Telstra 219 ms 199 ms 16 sec
Hyderabad, India -- Excitel 265 ms 312 ms 14 sec

For all connections, CyberGhost download performance was really quite good. CyberGhost provides connection speeds similar to what many home broadband plans offer to consumers. The only difference, of course, is ping speed. While watching a video would be fine at these speeds, I'd be a bit concerned that lag could cause me to lose a match in a first-person shooter style game.

Ping speed is an indication of how quickly a response gets back after a network request is sent from your computer. The lag limitations here are due to actual physics. If you're sending a packet across the planet, it will take longer to hear back than if you're sending a packet across town.

Smart rules

There's one particularly slick feature we saved for last: smart rules. While most VPN applications offer some basic startup rules, CyberGhost allows you to specify automatic connection rules for Wi-Fi networks, including what to do when connecting to known Wi-Fi networks -- on a network-by-network basis.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

CyberGhost also allows you to selectively exempt certain websites from the VPN tunnel. This can be powerful if you have corporate connection rules or, for example, if you know that a service blocks VPN connections and you're OK with them seeing your connection information. This can be set up on a website-by-website basis, providing a very helpful level of smart automation, particularly for folks regularly moving between a number of known locations.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/CNET

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