Many security providers offer a 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 into the field.
We were interested to see how the service compared to the dedicated competition, but NortonLifeLock’s website made no real effort to tell us.
How many countries does it support, for example? Which ones? Can you select specific cities? How many servers are there? All secret, obviously.
The service “uses bank-grade encryption,” the site boasts. Which algorithms? Good question.
Ok, what protocols are supported, do you get a kill key, does Secure VPN unblock Netflix? No, sorry, you won’t find such information here.
The site gives a handful of details: there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, there are plans to protect 1, 5, or 10 devices, and tracker blocking is introduced for free.
Later, after installing the service, we found that the network spanned 31 countries (without individual 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 doesn’t provide any guidance on how to manually make it work on other devices. It only works in apps.
There is a strict no-P2P policy, and we mean seriously strict. If Secure VPN detects that you’re downloading a torrent, even something as obvious as the latest Ubuntu ISO, it immediately closes your connection.
Despite the extreme lack of detail on the main website, Secure VPN has a few new features worth shouting about.
The latest version of Windows adds a kill switch to protect your connection, for example if the VPN goes down. It can now automatically connect when your system boots. There’s even a new split tunneling feature that lets you choose which app traffic goes through the VPN and which uses your regular connection. They’re creating a much more capable app than the previous version, and it’s a shame that Norton doesn’t make more (or “any”) effort to describe this on the main website.
(Although Norton doesn’t make a big deal out of it, you can find details about new releases on its Product Update Announcements blog. Click on Norton Secure VPN in the Filter: Labels box on the right and you’ll get a summary of all recent improvements.)
Norton Secure VPN Review: Plans & Pricing
Norton Secure VPN is available as a standalone product, but it also comes bundled with some editions of the Norton 360 security suite, and the pricing structure makes it clear that NortonLifeLock wants you to buy.
Secure VPN’s monthly plan is reasonably priced at $7.99 to cover up to five devices ($9.99 for ten), for example, and its annual plan seems cheap at the equivalent of $3.33 per month. At least until you realize it’s only because you’re getting a 50% introductory discount and the price jumps to a steep $6.66 upon renewal.
To put it in perspective, Norton Secure VPN asks you to pay $40 for the first year of service, $80 every year after that; pay the far more powerful Ivacy $80 and you’ll instantly get five years of coverage.
But wait: there’s another way. Buy Norton Secure VPN bundled with Norton 360 Deluxe and get antivirus for up to 5 PCs, Macs, mobile phones and tablets; firewall for PC and Mac; parental controls, password manager, 50GB of cloud backup space, and more. But it’s the same $3.33 per month for the first year of the annual plan, and only fractionally more expensive at $8.75 on renewal ($105 per year.)
Compare this to Bitdefender’s similar Total Security 2021, for example, and Bitdefender is much cheaper ($3.33 per month for the first year, $7.50 on renewal), but only includes a limited 200Mb per day per VPN device. Getting the full VPN requires an upgrade to Bitdefender Premium Security at a dry $6.25 per month in the first year, $12.50 on renewal, which makes the Norton package seem like a very good deal.
A free trial is available if you sign up on mobile, and even if you decide to buy, you’re protected by an unusually 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 fine print carefully.
Privacy and Registration
The Secure VPN website claims the service provides a “log-free virtual private network that doesn’t track or store your activity.” This is a good start, although there are no more details on the first page.
The “What is a no-logs VPN?” support article vaguely states that the service “collects subscriber information for communication purposes, mobile device data, and general bandwidth usage,” although it “doesn’t log information about where you go on the Internet.” .
No big surprises here. Locations are collected or accessed but not associated with your account, apparently to help the Secure VPN app choose the server closest to you. And although it is possible that the service collects enough data to identify a particular device, if it does not associate that device with a session (connection dates and times, incoming and outgoing IP addresses, etc.) and Norton does not log the domains visited or access to resources, this information cannot compromise your privacy.
While this is all good news, more than a few still register. And since Norton Secure VPN hasn’t undergone a security audit, unlike some of its competitors, you’re left to take its word for it. While we have no reason to doubt the company, a public audit of it would help reassure potential customers.
Installing the Norton Secure VPN Windows client was not an easy process.
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 it insisted on installing the full 360 app instead. This is problem because it doesn’t have any of the extras or settings you’ll get with the standalone version (connect on startup, kill switch, split tunneling.)
Unfortunately, the first NortonLifeLock support agent we spoke to didn’t have much knowledge of the product.
We started a support chat session to get advice, but the agent didn’t show much knowledge of the product, for example referring to Secure VPN as Wi-Fi Privacy, the old name of the service that hasn’t been in use for over a year. But she quickly directed us to the dedicated VPN support team, who pointed us to the appropriate download link, and a few minutes later we were good to go.
The Norton Secure VPN app for Windows has a simple and straightforward new interface that even the greenest of VPN newbies will understand right away.
This is the new user interface of Norton Secure VPN for Windows
Click the On button and the app connects to your nearest server, for example. Alternatively, you can choose from 31 countries in the location list. And a simple settings box includes options to launch the app and connect automatically at Windows startup, to enable the Kill Switch, to block ads and trackers, or to set up split tunneling (specify apps whose traffic shouldn’t be routed through the VPN , but you’ll use your regular link instead.)
The app also handles standard connections and disconnects reasonably well. It mostly connected us to nearby servers in a matter of seconds and used desktop notifications to tell us when we were protected and when we weren’t.
Let’s be clear: this is still a staple. For example, the list of locations does not include cities; no server load data or ping times to help you choose the best location for you; no favorites system for faster reconnection; there is no protocol selection (it’s just IKEv2) or low-level connection control. But the latest version is a huge improvement over the previous one, and we’re guessing there’s more functionality to come.
The weird thing is that the app doesn’t provide any way in the interface to close it completely. Closing the application window reduces it to a system tray icon and no right-click, Exit option. (There’s actually no right-click option at all. More on that later.)
We usually test the app’s kill switch already, but Norton Secure VPN does a much better job of protecting your connection than most providers, and our regular testing methods won’t work.
We tried closing Secure VPN’s executables or stopping its services and the app handled it very well. Some processes restarted automatically and our connection was not interrupted.
We turned off our router to simulate a broken connection and this time the results were not so good. The app didn’t show any notification that we were disconnected and when we turned on the router it reconnected to our standard connection and our system used that as normal. The kill switch wasn’t activated, we weren’t protected, and the app didn’t show a warning about
This is the Norton Secure VPN mobile app user interface
The mobile apps are a bit weaker compared to the desktop, which is not unusual. Both the Android and iOS versions can connect automatically if you’re accessing an unsecured network, there’s an option to block ads and trackers built-in, and the Android VPN app has a kill switch, but all you get otherwise is one and same simple list of countries with a Connect / Disconnect button. Notably, there’s no split tunneling, a bit unusual as most VPNs add this to mobile apps before it reaches the desktop.
Overall, Norton’s Secure VPN apps have improved since our last review and are undeniably easy to use. But they’re also short on features, and the Windows kill switch seems ultimately unreliable, so the company has a lot of work to do.
Norton Secure VPN was able to unblock BBC iPlayer as well as US Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in our tests.
Netflix and streaming
Norton Secure VPN is mostly sold on its ability to protect your data from cybercriminals when you’re using Wi-Fi, and the website doesn’t make big (or even small) claims about unblocking big-name streaming platforms.
Secure VPN got off to a good start when unblocking BBC iPlayer, but something it couldn’t do in our last review. We repeated all of our unblock tests three times with three VPN IP addresses to check for consistent success, and Secure VPN worked every time.
There was no success with Disney+ using any of our test links, though it wasn’t clear why – we didn’t get a geolocation error, but the site redirected us to a UK login page that didn’t fully display, leaving us unable to log in at all. we can access the service. (The problem went away as soon as we closed our VPN connection.)
Norton Secure VPN wasn’t finished yet and instantly unblocked US Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for us without any issues in all three of our tests.
It’s not quite industry-leading unblocking performance, but it’s better than we expected given Secure VPN is so basic elsewhere, and a better result than we’ve seen from many competitors.
If only the unblocking champs will do, CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, Ivacy, NordVPN and Surfshark got us through all four of our test sites.
We measured Norton Secure VPN performance by connecting to the nearest server from a US location with a 1Gbps fiber broadband line. We then tested download speeds using benchmarking sites and services, including SpeedTest.net (website and command-line app), TestMy.net, Netflix’ Fast.com, and others.
Each check was run five times, repeated in the morning and evening, and we calculated Secure VPN’s average speeds. (We usually also repeat each test again with a different protocol, but since Norton only supports IKEv2, we stopped there.)
The results saw Norton Secure VPN average 190-200Mbps for its best sessions. That’s a huge improvement on the 10-85Mbps we saw last time, competes well with some big name VPNs (IPVanish only hit 40-190Mbps) and will likely be enough for many devices and situations.
However, most providers are much faster, especially when they support WireGuard or have fast proprietary protocols. CyberGhost hit 350-450Mbps, for example, while TorGuard managed 410-480Mbps and ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol hit 490-630Mbps. Now that’s really fast.
If you run into problems with Norton Secure VPN, then you can head over to the support site, but we recommend keeping your expectations low. There are a small number of FAQs, mostly very short on details, and if you have experience with VPNs, we suspect you can create better content in an afternoon.
Chances are you will then contact support directly. Especially since Norton makes it so easy, with 24/7 live chat and phone options.
We opened a session, asking a very simple question: Is there a way to properly close the Windows 10 app, the problem we discussed earlier?
After a long wait, an agent told us we had to click the close windows button. No, that won’t help.
We explained that it was minimized to the system tray, so he suggested we disconnect first. Wrong again.
We told him we weren’t connected, so he offered to remotely access our system using LogMeIn to diagnose the problem. We said yes, it closed the window and told us the VPN was already closed. Still missing the point.
We showed the agent that the client icon was still in the system tray. Ah, he said, you should use the close button in Settings. We could excuse the earlier answers as he understood us, but this was simply wrong.
He tried to do this and found that the icon was still present in the system tray. Giving up, he closed it from the task manager and explained that this was the best method.
We had given the agent a hard enough time, thanked him and let him go. Unfortunately, it had only closed the user process, not the Norton VPN service, and when we next looked, the app restarted and the icon was back. Close, but he was wrong again.
(In case you’re curious, the only shutdown answer we found was to shut down the Norton service. It’s not difficult, but it’s far from convenient, and not something most non-technical users would have even a slim chance of noticing.)
The support agents were friendly and did their best to help, but we suspect they’re trained to deal with issues beyond Norton’s scope and therefore don’t have much in-depth knowledge of VPNs. This may not matter at all to experienced users who can handle almost everything on their own, but if you’re not so confident, we think you’ll usually get better help from the best dedicated VPN providers.
Norton Secure VPN Review: Final Verdict
If your VPN needs are simple, or you’re looking for a VPN and security bundle, then Norton Secure VPN’s back-to-basics approach may appeal. Experts will be disappointed by the lack of features, but the Windows kill switch is a problem, and there are far more capable, faster, and cheaper VPNs around.
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