September 20, 2020
Norton Secure VPN review: Why we don't recommend this familiar brand's VPN

Norton Secure VPN review: Why we don’t recommend this familiar brand’s VPN


There are few more familiar names in information security than Norton and LifeLock. Long known for their competitive antivirus protection and ability to adapt to an ever-changing security industry, a virtual private network from NortonLifeLock sounds promising at the outset. But with limited server options and a few dealbreaker security issues, it’s clear that the Norton Secure VPN still has some work to do before it can meet the high standards set by its sibling security products.  

Norton Secure VPN still has to to develop its security and server network. I’d recommend holding out before signing up to this service. In the meantime, check out our list of the best VPN services of 2020.

Norton Secure VPN

Linus Strandholm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 57%
  • Number of servers: 1,500 (1,200 virtual)
  • Number of server locations: 29 countries, 73 cities
  • Number of IP addresses: 1,800-plus

Norton doesn’t publicly post its server count on its website, but at last count there were 1,500 servers.

I ran my speed tests over the course of three days, in two locations, using both wireless and Ethernet connections — one location offered slower broadband speeds, and the other offered higher speeds via fiber-optic internet. Internet speeds in the US vary widely by state and provider. And with any speed test, results are going to rely on your local infrastructure, with hyperfast internet service yielding higher test speed results. 

That’s one reason I’m more interested in testing the amount of speed lost (which for most VPNs is typically half or more) across both high-speed and slower connection types, and in using tools like speedtest.net to even out the playing field. Overall, Norton’s speeds are on par with other midtier VPNs, achieving only about 43% of the average 187Mbps speed achieved on a 1Gbps-capable fiber connection during testing, while still maintaining an average of around 81Mbps globally. 

Unlike many other VPNs, Norton doesn’t allow you to choose the city you connect to — only the country. Norton’s Hong Kong servers dragged down overall speed scores, averaging just 6Mbps. So if you’re looking for a VPN to use while traveling in China, you may want to consider a different option. Australian servers performed marginally better, averaging around 50Mbps. 

Mainland European scores could have been better, crossing the finish line with a 78Mbps average, as French servers outperformed German ones. And while US servers landed a disappointing 92Mbps average, UK servers shone with a 181Mbps average. The inconsistency in connection speeds and load times could be starkly improved by allowing you to choose the city you connect to. US speeds, in particular, could be improved if you could choose which coast to connect to. 

Read more: ExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation

Security and privacy

  • Jurisdiction: US 
  • Encryption: AES-256
  • Leaks: IPv6, DNS
  • No kill switch 

Along with city-specific server selection, publicly disclosing more information about its servers would also greatly improve Norton’s security offerings. To that end, a Norton spokesperson told CNET back in September 2019 (before Symantec sold Norton that November) that new security assessments were on the way.

“Symantec worked with (international auditing firm) RSM to conduct a third-party privacy assessment of Norton Secure VPN that is in the process of being finalized,” the spokesperson said. 

Norton offers what it calls bank-grade encryption, standard AES-256. The company offers no kill switch, which would prevent network data from leaking outside of their secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. A lack of kill switch I’d generally consider a deal breaker. 

Norton didn’t mask my IPv6 address, and I saw several DNS leaks during testing with IPLeak.net. These leaks disclose user-identifying data, which compromise your location privacy. While Norton describes itself as a no-log VPN provider, it does detail its concerning collection of usage data in its privacy policy, which includes “temporary Usage Data to assist with debugging a problem with the service.” Norton told CNET it has no plans to stop logging this data. 

“NortonLifeLock is committed to helping consumers protect their online privacy. Upon learning of the issue flagged during the review, we vigorously tested Norton Secure VPN on all major operating systems and were unable to replicate the alleged data leakage. Norton Secure VPN appears to be functioning properly to help protect our customers’ online privacy as designed,” a Norton spokesperson said in an email to CNET. 

Norton Secure VPN does offer a streamlined ad-tracking blocker feature within the app. Although you can’t customize it, it worked like a charm with every testing device I tried. 

Read more: The best VPN services for 2020

Cost 

  • Usability: Extremely simple
  • Platforms: Windows, Android, Mac, iOS 
  • Price: 10-device annual plan for $60
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Plans available for 1, 5 or 10 devices

Norton’s inability to overcome geoblocking as described above is also the likely reason we had difficulty accessing country-specific catalogues for streaming services such as Netflix. Norton also does not support torrenting or peer-to-peer networks. If you’re looking for a VPN that will allow you to access your normal media subscriptions while travelling, we recommend seeking a different VPN for now. 

Norton Secure VPN is only available on the four main platforms — Windows, Android, Mac and iOS. The number of devices you can use simultaneously — either one, five or 10 — depends on which plan you opt for. The least expensive plan is the $5 monthly plan, which allows only one device at a time. The most expensive is the 10-device annual plan for $60

These prices are higher than expected, given the VPN’s limited abilities. Meanwhile, major players in the VPN sphere are getting more competitive with pricing. IPVanish offers comparable speeds and unlimited simultaneous connections for $78 annually, and NordVPN is offering a 68% off deal that puts its two-year plan at $89.

You can pay Norton by either credit card or PayPal, but not via cryptocurrency at this time. Norton does offer a 60-day money-back guarantee, but that offer is exclusively reserved for annual subscribers and not monthly subscribers. Norton also offers a seven-day trial. 

Read more: NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed

Norton Secure VPN.

Correction, 1:08 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Norton has partnered with LifeLock.



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