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Norton Secure VPN Review | tech radar

Norton Secure VPN Review

Several security vendors offer VPN service – Avast’s SecureLine, Kaspersky’s Secure Connection, Avira’s PhantomVPN – and Norton Secure VPN (the product formerly known as Norton WiFi Privacy) is the company’s entry in this field.

We were interested to see how the service compares to the niche competition, but NortonLifeLock made no real effort to tell us.

How many countries do you support, for example? Any one? Can you choose specific cities? How many servers are there? It’s all a secret, it seems.

The service “uses bank encryption,” the site boasts. What algorithms? Good question.

Well, what protocols are supported, do you get a kill switch, does Secure VPN unblock Netflix? No, sorry, you will not find such information here.

    Norton Secure VPN subscription options:

  • Norton Secure VPN for $39.99/year

The site gives a few more details: there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, there are plans to protect 1, 5 or 10 devices, and trackers are blocked for free.

Later, after installing the service, we discovered that the network covers 31 countries (no single city selections) across Europe and North America, with other locations including Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.

The service uses the fast and secure IKEv2 protocol, but does not provide any instructions on how to manually run it on other devices. It works on apps only.

There is a strict no-P2P policy, and we mean it is very strict. If Secure VPN detects that you’re downloading a torrent, even if it’s something very legitimate like the latest Ubuntu ISO, it immediately shuts down your connection.

Despite the severe lack of detail on the main site, Secure VPN has some new features that are worth shouting about.

The latest version of Windows adds a kill switch to protect your connection if the VPN drops, for example. It can now connect automatically when your system starts up. There’s even a new split tunneling feature that lets you choose which app traffic should be routed through the VPN, and which should use your regular connection. These make the app more capable than the previous version, and it’s unfortunate that Norton doesn’t put in more effort (or “any”) to describe this on the main site.

(Although Norton doesn’t get much done with that, you can find details about new releases on its product update announcements blog. Click Norton Secure VPN in the filter box: labels on the right and you’ll get a summary of any recent improvements.)

Both monthly and yearly plans are available (Image credit: Norton)

Norton Secure VPN Review: Plans & Pricing

Norton Secure VPN is available as a standalone product, but it also comes bundled with some versions of the Norton 360 security suite, and the pricing structure makes it clear that this is what NortonLifeLock wants you to buy.

Secure VPN’s monthly plan costs $7.99 to cover up to five devices ($9.99 for ten), for example, and its annual plan seems cheap at $3.33 a month. At least, until you realize it’s just because you get an introductory 50% discount, and the price goes up to $6.66 upon renewal.

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To put that into perspective, Norton Secure VPN requires you to pay $40 for the first year of service, $80 every year after that; Pay the $80 much stronger than Ivacy and you’ll get five years of coverage right away.

But wait: there is another way. Buy Norton Secure VPN as a bundle with Norton 360 Deluxe and you’ll get antivirus for up to 5 PCs, Macs, mobiles and tablets; Firewall for PC and Mac; Parental controls, password manager, 50GB cloud backup space, and more. But it’s $3.33 per month for the first year of the annual plan, and only a partial higher cost at $8.75 on renewal ($105 per year).

Compare that with the similar Bitdefender to Total Security 2021, for example, and Bitdefender is significantly cheaper ($3.33 per month for the first year, $7.50 upon renewal), but only includes 200MB per day per VPN device. Getting the full VPN requires an upgrade to Bitdefender Premium Security at $6.25 per month for the first year, and $12.50 upon renewal, which makes the Norton bundle seem like a pretty good deal.

A free trial is available if you sign up on a mobile device, and even if you decide to purchase, you are protected by an extraordinarily generous sixty-day money-back guarantee. Well, that’s the idea, anyway – the exact rules vary depending on where and how you buy the product. The best advice here is to read the lowercase letters carefully.

Norton Secure VPN can block ad trackers but the service keeps some logs of its users (Image credit: Norton)

Privacy and Registration

The Secure VPN website claims that the service provides a “no-log virtual private network that does not track or store your activity.” This is a good start, although there are no more details on the first page.

A “What is a VPN without a log?” The support article vaguely states that the service “collects subscriber information for communication purposes, mobile device data, and aggregate bandwidth usage,” although it “does not log information about where you go on the Internet.”

The article directs us to its global privacy policy to learn more, but this is a more general document meant to cover the entire Norton domain (“VPN” doesn’t appear at once.)

The true Norton Secure VPN privacy policy states that the service collects or accesses your IP address or (anonymous) location; Device name, type, OS version (for mobile devices) and serial identification number; Total bandwidth used, and some very basic diagnostic information to help resolve any issues (error status code, for example.)

There are no big surprises here. Locations are collected or accessed, but not linked to your account, apparently to help the Secure VPN app choose the closest server to you. Although it is possible for the service to collect enough data to identify a specific device, if you do not associate that device with a session (connection dates and times, incoming and outgoing IP addresses, etc.), Norton has not logged visited domains or accessed resources This information cannot jeopardize your privacy.

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While this is all good news, it is still more than some. And since Norton Secure VPN has not been subject to a security audit, unlike some competitors, it has left its words on the grounds of trust. While there is no reason to be suspicious of the company, a public audit of its systems will help reassure potential clients.

prove

Signing up for a service via PayPal usually means that you don’t have to provide your full name and address, but not with Norton Secure VPN: you have to hand in all your details, whether you’re paying by PayPal or card.

After giving away our money, the site offered us an opportunity to download an app for our existing device, or to send a download link to any other app (Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS.)

Installing Norton Secure VPN’s Windows client was no easy feat (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

Installing the Windows client can be surprisingly complicated, especially if you purchased the VPN as part of Norton 360. We followed the Secure VPN download link from our Norton account page, but this insisted on installing the full 360 app, instead. This is a problem because it doesn’t have any of the extras or settings you’d get with the standalone version (call on start, kill switch, split tunneling.)

Unfortunately, the first NortonLifeLock support agent we spoke to didn’t have much knowledge of the product (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

We launched a support chat session to get some advice, but the agent didn’t show much product knowledge, for example referring to Secure VPN as Wi-Fi privacy, the old name for a service that hasn’t been used for over a year. But she quickly referred us to the dedicated VPN support team, who directed us to the appropriate download link, and after a few moments we were ready to go.

Norton Secure VPN offers apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

apps

Norton Secure VPN’s Windows app has a new, simple and straightforward interface that even the greenest VPN novice will discover right away.

This is the new user interface for Norton Secure VPN on Windows (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

Click the On button and the app will connect to the nearest server, for example. Alternatively, you can choose from 31 countries in the list of locations. And the simple settings box includes options to launch the app and connect automatically when Windows starts, to enable a Kill Switch, to block ads and trackers or set up split tunneling (select apps whose traffic should not be routed through the VPN, but will. Use your regular connection, instead So.)

The application handles standard connections and disconnection reasonably well as well. It got us to nearby servers within a few seconds, mostly, and used desktop notifications to tell us when we were protected, and when we weren’t.

You can choose your preferred country and not the city when connecting to Norton Secure VPN (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

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Let’s be clear: This is still an essential product. The list of locations does not include cities, for example; There are no server load numbers or ping times to help you choose the best site for you; No favorite system to reconnect faster; No choice of protocol (it’s IKEv2 only) or low-level connection control. But the latest version is a huge improvement over what came before, and we’re guessing there will be more functionality in the future.

Oddly enough, the app doesn’t provide any way in the interface to shut it down completely. Closing the application window minimizes it to an icon in the system tray, and there is no right-click “exit” option. (In fact, there is no right-click option at all. More on that later.)

Lock key is a new addition to Norton Secure VPN (Image Source: NortonLifeLock)

We usually test an app’s kill switch now, but Norton Secure VPN does a much better job of protecting its connection than most providers, and our usual testing methods won’t work.

We’ve tried closing Secure VPN executables, or stopping their services, and the app handled this well. Some processes restarted automatically, our connection was not disconnected.

We turned off our router to simulate a disconnection, and this time the results weren’t great. The app didn’t show any notification that our connection was down, and when we turned on the router, it reconnected to our standard connection, and our system used that as normal. The lock switch didn’t turn on, we weren’t protected, and the app didn’t show any alert regarding the problem.

This is the user interface of the Norton Secure VPN mobile app (Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

Mobile apps are a little weak compared to the desktop, which is unusual. Both Android and iOS versions can be connected automatically if you access an unsecured network, there is built-in advertising and optional tracker blocking, the Android VPN app has a kill switch, but otherwise all you get is the same simple country list with a connect/disconnect button . In particular, there is no split tunneling, which is a bit unusual as most VPNs add this to mobile apps before they reach the desktop.

Overall, Norton Secure VPN apps have improved since our last review, and they are undoubtedly easy to use. But it’s also distinctly lacking in features, and Windows’ shutdown switch appears to be unreliable in the extreme, so there’s a lot of work for the company to do.

Norton Secure VPN was able to unblock BBC iPlayer as well as US Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in our tests (Image credit: Shutterstock/sitthiphong)

Netflix and streaming

Norton Secure VPN is sold mostly on its ability to protect your details from cybercriminals when using Wi-Fi, and the website doesn’t make any big claims (or even small claims) about unblocking big-name streaming platforms.

Secure VPN got off to a good start when it unblocked BBC iPlayer, though, something you couldn’t manage in our last review. We repeat every…


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