Editor's note: This is a slightly updated and streamlined version of an original review that appeared on CNET. This article is part of ZDNet's in-depth series of VPN reviews on DIY-IT.
CyberGhost is all about helping you become a ghost while surfing the Internet. They aim to protect you so that you're not seen when you're online, you don't leave any footprints where you've been, and there is never a record of your actions.
In addition to basic VPN services, the CyberGhost service comes with a complete suite of security services. We'll examine all of that in this full review.
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.
Unfortunately, while we found a lot to like in CyberGhost, if you're trying to protect your online tracks from a nation state observer, you're probably going to be disappointed. Our testing showed CyberGhost does protect anonymity (at least as much as we could test), but it does not hide the fact that you're using a VPN.
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.
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.
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:
However, looking up the IP 22.214.171.124 using the ARIN Whois service resulted in a listing for an Internet service provider, Nobis Technology Group:
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:
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:
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.
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.
I tried testing with DNS Leak Protection both on and off, and regardless of the setting, some leak test reported I was using CyberGhost servers.
Many VPN vendors provide basic traffic re-routing 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 hands, 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.
I installed the CyberGhost application on a fresh, fully-updated Windows 10 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:
Speed Test Server
Baseline download speed without VPN (higher is better)
Ping speed without VPN (lower is better)
Time to connect to VPN
Download speed with VPN (higher is better)
Ping speed with VPN (lower is better)
Chicago - Comcast
VPN in use and brand
Stockholm, Sweden - Datacom
VPN in use and brand
Taipei, Taiwan - NCIC Telecom
Perth, Australia - Telstra
VPN in use and originating country
Hyderabad, India - Excitel
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?
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.
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.
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 okay 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.
Going back to our mantra that everyone's needs are different, we can't tell you which VPN service to choose. We like what we've seen of CyberGhost and appreciate the very well thought out app and with 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 almost 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.
Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission on services featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated by the vendor for this independent, unbiased review.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.