Norton Secure VPN Review (Read These Drawbacks First)
|VPN||Norton Secure VPN|
With a pedigree that includes online security giants like Norton and LifeLock, you would expect the Norton Secure VPN to be an industry leader. But the kids don’t always live up to their parents’ expectations.
Norton Secure VPN is super easy to use, and uses quality security and encryption protocols to hide your online activity from prying eyes. But it has some serious flaws and shortcomings that you need to know about before relying on it to protect your online privacy.
In this Norton VPN review, we take you along as we look at the pros and cons of Norton Secure VPN. In particular, we’ve highlighted the factors that we don’t like. Not because we dislike Norton, LifeLock, or their Secure VPN, but because there are so many excellent VPN services to choose from. We hope that this review will be useful to you in your search for the VPN that best meets your unique needs.
Norton Secure VPN Overview
As a result of our Norton Secure VPN research and testing, we have learned the following. We will, of course, cover each of these items in more detail during this review:
Norton Secure VPN PROs:
- Easy to use
- Solid privacy and security features
- No VPN leaks detected during testing
- Support for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android
- Ad (and tracker) blocker built in
Norton Secure VPN CONs:
- Norton keeps some logs
- Limited number of countries and no control over which cities you connect to
- Features limited and vary across operating systems
- No Linux support
- No router support
- Subscription price jumps sharply after the initial period
- Inconsistent and sometimes slow speeds
Additional interesting FACTS:
- Secure VPN and NortonLifeLock Inc. (background info)
- Mixed results for Netflix and other streaming services
- No support for P2P / torrenting
- Customer support has plusses and minuses
Norton Secure VPN PROs
Norton’s Secure VPN gets several things right. Here are the positive points you should know about this product:
1. Norton Secure VPN is easy to use
Norton Secure VPN is really easy to use.
- Launch the client from either the desktop icon or the System Tray.
- Tap the Virtual Location tab.
- Select a country and that’s it.
If you aren’t picky about which country you appear to be in, there’s an Auto-select option that will find the best country for you automatically. Here’s the Windows app, connected to a location in the United States:
This simplicity would be ideal for people who are new to VPNs or who just want something that works out of the box, without having to fiddle with anything.
2. Solid privacy and security features
Norton Secure VPN uses solid, industry-standard privacy and security features.
In keeping with this VPN’s ease-of-use approach, there are no real options to adjust when it comes to privacy and security features. When you use it, your configuration is:
- OpenVPN protocol for Windows, Mac, and Android; L2TP/IPSec for iOS
- AES-256 data encryption (described in the marketing as bank-grade encryption)
Norton Secure VPN doesn’t support the WireGuard VPN protocol, IKEv2, or any other protocols.
3. No VPN leaks detected during testing
The Secure VPN desktop and mobile clients made it through our usual VPN tests without a problem.
Unlike competitors such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN, Norton VPN does not offer very many configuration options in terms of encryption or a kill switch. Nonetheless, everything seemed to work well in testing.
For this Norton VPN review, I ran the Windows and Android clients through leak testing. Here are Windows VPN leak testing results:
There is one possible problem here. Our ISP doesn’t support IPv6 at this time, which is why you see the IPv6 test not reachable message in the image above. We have heard reports from users stating that they have seen IPv6 leaks. While this isn’t a problem today for most people (as most ISPs are still only using IPv4) it could become an issue in the future.
4. Support for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android
Norton provides VPNs for the four major operating systems: Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. You’ve already seen what the desktop app looks like above in the review. Here’s the Android version of the Norton Secure VPN app:
As we have already noted, the VPN clients are very basic, and also lacking in some features and preferences. Norton does not offer the best Android VPN, but it’s also not the worst.
Note that Norton Secure VPN doesn’t offer any browser extensions.
5. Ad (and tracker) blocker built in
One nice bonus feature of the Norton Secure VPN is its built-in ad and tracker blocker. I spoke to Support about this and it appears to be basic ad and tracker blocking, without any customization or options besides the ability to turn it on or off.
Using a good ad blocker with your VPN is not a bad idea, since ads can be very invasive. We have tested a handful of VPN ad blockers. Some do well, but others are not very effective, as was the case with Cyberghost VPN.
Now that we’ve covered the pros, let’s examine the cons of Norton Secure VPN.
Norton Secure VPN CONs
Here are the main things we don’t like about Norton Secure VPN:
1. Norton keeps some logs
- Device name
- Device type
- Operating System version
- potential security risks
- “URLs of websites visited that the Software deems potentially fraudulent,”
- malware files that might include personally-identifiable information (this piece can be deactivated manually)
- “other information that is used for purposes of analyzing and improving the functionality of Norton products.”
Not looking good. But on the bright side, none of this information is supposed to be correlated with any personally identifiable information.
This is still a lot more information than we are used to seeing being logged.
As is usual, NortonLifeLock may disclose the information they have on you if requested by law enforcement, a subpoena, or other legal process. They may also share information with researchers and other security software vendors, “to promote awareness, detection, and prevention of internet security risks.”
Then there is the NortonLifeLock Product and Services Privacy Notices document, which in the Norton Secure VPN section states that they may log diagnostic data, including,
Temporary Usage Data to assist with debugging a problem with the service (serial number from app to give installation status)
This data is,
pseudonymized using internal identifications and not made available to the User. Diagnostics information is kept in an encrypted pseudonymized form and cannot be deleted/forgotten request.
Presumably the bit about, “cannot be deleted/forgotten request” means that the GDPR’s right to be forgotten rules do not apply to the temporary usage data the product may log. This right is discussed in the Norton LifeLock Global Privacy Statement, where it states in the Your Privacy Rights section that you may have the right to delete or request the erasure of personal data concerning you.
Combined, these privacy documents don’t make us feel very comfortable about the privacy of your data. Most VPN users expect a higher level of privacy and there are many no logs VPNs that cater to this crowd.
2. Limited number of countries and no control over which cities you connect to
When you activate Norton VPN, you can let the service handle the connection for you, or you can manually select the country for your VPN server. As of this review, the server network is limited, with locations in 31 countries. This selection of locations is on the low side when you consider that other large VPNs give you more than 50 countries to choose from, as you can see with NordVPN and IPVanish.
Note also that we said you can choose the country. Unlike most services, you can select the country you want, but not a specific city within that country. In some cases, that is just fine. In others, it can be a real problem. The United States is the 4th largest country on Earth, with lots of room for VPN servers.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that we don’t know exactly how many locations Secure VPN has in the United States, nor how we get assigned to one of these spaces when we connect. Here’s an example of the kinds of problems this can cause.
My bank gets twitchy when I log in from a different location than I did the time before. I have to go through various steps to confirm my identity every time this happens. With Norton Secure VPN, I don’t know where I will connect within the United States. This time when I connected, it was to a New York IP address. Last time it was to a California IP address. This would make my bank’s security system go crazy which would drive me crazy.
The inability to control what city you log into is a major drawback of this VPN.
3. Features limited and vary across operating systems
One reason Secure VPN is so easy to use is that it has a very limited feature set. For example, users don’t have to worry about which connection protocol to use, since that is fixed. In addition, when considering Norton Secure VPN, you need to be cognizant of which operating systems you will be using it on. That’s because not all features are available on all operating systems.
One example will suffice to make the issue clear. Norton Secure VPN does provide a kill switch to prevent your data from leaking, except with the Android client. Even the windows and Mac OS VPN apps did not have a kill switch.
If you are considering this product, do your due diligence to ensure that all the features you need are available for all of the operating systems you are considering using.
4. No Linux support
Norton Secure VPN does not support the Linux operating system.
If you are a Linux user, it’s time to move on. See these other VPNs for Linux.
5. No router support
Norton Secure VPN does not support installation on routers.
Using a VPN on a router offers some advantages, namely full encryption for all devices connecting to the VPN router. Most VPNs support this, but Norton VPN does not.
6. Subscription price jumps sharply after the initial period
If you are like most people, you hate hidden clauses and surprises when it comes to payments.
The initial pricing for Norton Secure VPN is reasonable if you are a new user signing up for the first time.
$39.99 for 5 devices for an annual plan is a good price. In fact, this would meet our criteria of a cheap VPN. But as you will see if you scroll down the page to the subscription details, the price is only for the first year. After that, your subscription reverts to full price. In this example, that is $79.99 per year, which isn’t nearly as good a deal. They accept all major credit cards as well as PayPal.
Norton VPN refunds
It is hard to say what would happen if you cancelled the VPN and wanted a refund. The Cancellation and Refund Policy page is filled with clauses and exceptions and regional variations. It was too much work to try and figure out, so we gave up.
7. Inconsistent and sometimes slow speeds
For this Norton VPN review we ran tests with servers around the world. All tests were conducted on a 500 Mbps connection from the United States.
There was no way to select the city for speed tests, but instead you can only select the country.
First, we tested the US, which should have offered the fastest speeds. The Norton VPN server in the US was geolocated somewhere in New York. It only gave us about 50 Mbps:
Next, I tested a Norton VPN server in Canada. This server was a bit faster at 84 Mbps, but still a far cry from our baseline speed of 500 Mbps.
While this server speed test was a bit better than before, it is not in the realm of our best VPNs for Canada, which are consistently faster than Norton VPN.
Next, I tested a Norton VPN server in the United Kingdom. This was the worst speed test result of them all, at only 7 Mbps:
Finally, I tested a Norton VPN server in Germany, which gave me about 45 Mbps.
Overall, these are not very good speeds. These slow speeds could visibly affect performance when interacting with websites or online games.
If performance is your top priority, you may want to look at other options. The 7 Mbps test results were bad. And even the fastest test result, at 84 Mbps, it not very good performance when you consider the 500 Mbps baseline connection speed.
Comparison: When testing out WireGuard vs OpenVPN speeds, we were able to hit 445 Mbps with NordVPN using the WireGuard protocol and a nearby server. This was our fastest VPN speed test result. If you want to give NordVPN a shot, here is a discount for 68% off.
Additional Interesting FACTS
Here are a few additional interesting facts about Norton’s Secure VPN:
1. Secure VPN and NortonLifeLock Inc. (background info)
The Norton Secure VPN is a product of NortonLifeLock Inc. The company, formerly known as Symantec, is based in Tempe, Arizona, USA. NortonLifeLock is a publicly traded US company that also has offices in India.
Unfortuately, the United States is not an ideal place for a VPN service to be based. Between being the heart of Five Eyes (FVEY) and many other international intelligence gathering organizations, US law is not very pro-privacy. Companies can be forced to gather information about their users and provide it to various government organizations, while also bound by gag orders from even revealing what’s happening to the people being targeted.
One example that illustrated this problem was a case with IPVanish. Despite being a “zero logs” VPN service, the FBI successfully forced IPVanish to log user data and hand it over for a criminal investigation.
2. Mixed results for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and other streaming services
Streaming services constantly battle against VPN services. The VPNs want you to be able to access the content you want regardless of where you happen to be seated at the moment. The streaming services want to limit who can see their content based on physical location. Netflix is the leader of the pack when it comes to battling against VPN services. It is also the service most VPN users want access to.
In trying out Norton VPN with BBC iPlayer, we found it to not get through with the UK server tested. See these other VPNs that work with BBC iPlayer instead.
Some VPN services are very successful when it comes to getting around streaming service defenses. Norton Secure VPN is not one of those services. While they can sometimes get through, the Secure VPN is not a great choice for anyone who needs this kind of access.
If watching streaming content is important to you, then we urge you to consider other VPNs for Netflix.
Lastly, there are reports of Norton being a VPN that works with Amazon Prime, although we did not test this for the review.
3. No support for P2P / torrenting
Norton Secure VPN does not allow P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing or torrenting on any of its servers.
This is clearly explained in their support section. The VPN client will give you a warning message if they detect any torrenting activity.
If these capabilities are important to you, we recommend you check out our top-recommended VPNs for torrenting.
4. Customer Support has plusses and minuses
The Support information for NortonLifeLock products can be a little hard to find. Not the Support area itself; you’ll find a link to that at the top of most every page on their website. Then look for a Products & Services menu at the top of the page, or click this link. Once you get there, you’ll see an FAQ section, additional resources, and a search box to track down the answer you need. Despite all the options here, I found it hard to find the specific information I wanted, so scrolled to the bottom of the window and selected Contact Support.
I used the 24 hour live chat system to get more information directly from the Customer Support team. The service here was really fast (maybe 1 minute wait time) and the rep was helpful.
There is a large community area with discussion forums, ideas (suggestions), and blogs. Navigating this area can be confusing, so you’ll want to scan down the right side of the window and look for relevant filters you can use to narrow your focus.
Norton Secure VPN review conclusion
Norton Secure VPN isn’t up to facing the competition just yet. It is easy to use, is built around strong security and privacy protocols, and passed our leak tests with no problems. Unfortunately, aside from the built-in ad tracker blocking, there are no advanced features that would impel you to use this service over its competitors. Additionally, there is no kill switch available for desktop and iOS VPN apps.
Performance is erratic even on an extremely fast internet connection, with speed test results ranging from not very good to absolutely horrible. Streaming service access (including Netflix) isn’t reliable, and P2P torrenting is not even allowed. The server network covers only 30 countries, which is low, and your control over server locations is limited in that you have no ability to select cities. This can lead to all sorts of problems.
Norton VPN’s policies are also problematic:
- Subscription prices skyrocket after the initial phase
- The refund policy is convoluted and difficult
- The collect lots of data (a far cry from a zero-logs VPN).
Features offered by the product (including vital ones like an automatic kill switch) are only available for certain operating systems, further complicating the decision-making process.
Despite its pedigree and usability, we can’t really recommend this particular VPN. But don’t worry. There are some excellent alternatives available.
Alternatives to Norton Secure VPN
Click the VPN name below to read our full review – or grab the discount for the best savings. All three of these VPNs have a 30 day money-back guarantee.
- ExpressVPN [49% discount + 3 Months Free]
- NordVPN [68% discount]
For more info on our top recommendations, see our list of the best VPNs.
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