Norton Secure VPN 2020 Review
Reviews score: Very good
A very fast VPN from a world-class cybersecurity brand. It is now included for free in Norton’s 360 antivirus products, making it a very good deal.
You’ll get a top-tier antivirus, with a fast and reliable VPN, for the less than most other standalone VPN.
However, Norton’s VPN lacks a few security features, doesn’t feel as premium as some other VPN, and it does not allow you to download torrents (P2P) on its servers.
If you can live with that, then Norton Secure VPN – packed into the Norton 360 antivirus solution – is probably the best all-in-one cybersecurity deal.
- Very fast: Norton Secure VPN belongs to the fastest VPN in the world
- Maximum privacy: Norton has a very clear no-logs policy and does not track anything you do online
- Servers in 28 countries: Norton has servers on every continent.
- Flexible amount of devices: Norton allows you to choose how many connections you’ll need (1, 5 or 10)
- Low pricing: Norton is cheaper than most competitors
- Works with Netflix
- Lacking security features: Norton has no kill-switch, uses AES-128 encryption (instead of the more secure AES-256), and does not use its own DNS servers.
- Does not work with torrents (P2P)
- Does not work in China
- Best deal: $ 3.33 / month
- Refund Policy: 45 days
- Customer Support: 24/7 Live chat
- Devices per account: 1, 5 or 10
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android and iOS
- Works with US Netflix: Yes
- Works with Torrents: No
- Works in China: No
- Speed: 91 Mbps
- Servers in: 31 countries
- Server count: Unknown
- IP Addresses: Unknown
- Jurisdiction: United States
- Data leaks: None
- Logging policy: No logs
Privacy and Security
The Good: Norton uses a very clear no-logs policy, and does not track anything you do online.
The Bad: Norton uses the AES-128 encryption standard, which is less secure than the widely used AES-256. Moreover, it doesn’t use its own DNS servers and doesn’t feature a kill switch.
What privacy and security elements do we test for?
- Logging Policy
- Own DNS Servers
- Kill Switch Test
- Leak Test
1. Logging Policy
What is the definition of a logging policy and why is it important?
All information a VPN provider keeps about you and your activities is known as logs. In an ideal world, your VPN provider wouldn’t keep any such information. However, the world we live in isn’t ideal.
In order to enhance its services, a VPN provider will need to gather some data. It will do this to improve the performance of its servers and to avoid any potential abuse of its service. The amount of data needed to accomplish this will vary between providers.
Roughly speaking, there are four types of information your VPN provider could gather about you. Some are harmless, others are not. They are:
- VPN service data: Which VPN server you’ve connected to, the operating system you use, and the app version.
- Connection data: The times and dates you logged in or logged out, the amount of time you used the service for, how much you uploaded and downloaded.
- Original IP address: This is the IP address of the device which you used to log in to the service. Your location can be determined using this.
- Online activity: Which websites you visited, which searches you performed, and which services you used. In essence, this is your browsing history.
The first two of the four, service and connection data, are pretty much harmless. Particularly when providers gather them in anonymous form – this is where information on all users gets bundled together. This allows the VPN provider to optimize its service, and the users can stay anonymous. Numerous VPN providers will gather some of this data.
Next up is the original IP address. Its collection is not a capital offense, but most users won’t prefer it. In the end, you’re using a VPN to stay anonymous, meaning you don’t really want the VPN provider to know your exact location.
Finally, there is your online activity. This is what you need to look out for above all else. A VPN provider which gathers this information raises major concerns.
Because of this, the VPN providers we endorse do not collect this type of data. However, certain free VPN providers do. Subsequently, this information will get sold to data collectors. That’s the reason we do not recommend you use free VPNs.
What is Norton Secure VPN’s logging policy like?
Norton has a clear no-logs policy. Both your connection data and online activity are never stored:
- Norton never stores your originating IP address and therefor cannot identify you.
- Norton never stores the services you use or websites you visit.
It only collects aggregated and anonymous information to improve its service and perform cybersecurity research.
What is the definition of jurisdiction and why is it important?
Jurisdiction refers to the VPN provider’s country of incorporation. Seeing as all companies have to abide by state regulations, this is important.
If you look at the United States, Australia, or many EU countries, you will see that they have strict laws regarding data retention. According to them, ISPs (internet service providers) are obligated to store user data such as emails or website visits.
With a VPN, the data you send through an ISP’s network will be encrypted. As a result, the ISP can’t read or collect it. Avoiding such mass surveillance is one of the primary reasons people use VPNs.
Now, some people are afraid that VPN providers may also be required to gather data regarding their users because of data retention laws. But, while an ISP is a public network provider, a VPN is private. VPNs thus do not have to follow the same rules. In other words, there are no legal obligations for VPNs to collect data.
Of course, highly sophisticated institutions such as the relevant government agencies also look for other means of collecting the data they want. For instance, there are secret subpoenas US federal agencies can issue (a National Security Letter is an example of this). These allow such agencies to seize the data logs or even entire servers of VPNs.
And while this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it most definitely is not. In 2013, the NSA wanted to spy on Edward Snowden so it ordered Lavabit, a provider of encrypted email services, to turn over some of its data. Rather than sell Snowden out, the company suspended its operations. Another example is when Private Internet Access decided to close its Russia-based servers in 2016 in order to avoid local rules on data logging. The point is that there are governmental agencies out there which are actively trying to seize such data.
Users wishing to avoid these issues can do one (or both) of the following things:
- Opt for a VPN provider from a country without data retention laws and which isn’t a member of any international intelligence agreements (like the UKUSA agreement). This basically means going offshore. An example would be NordVPN, which is registered in Panama, or ExpressVPN (British Virgin Islands).
- Opt for a VPN provider with a zero-log policy, meaning it won’t keep records of your online activities. If there are no logs in the first place, there’s nothing to hand over.
What is Norton Secure VPN’s jurisdiction?
Symantec, the company owning Norton, is incorporated in the United States (US), which is not known for its online privacy. Luckily, Norton has a very clear no-logs policy. And as it it does not store any data on your online activity, it cannot hand anything over when asked.
You are safe using Norton, even in the US.
What is the definition of a protocol and why is it important?
A VPN protocol is the technology which determines the way data gets formatted and then transmitted over the internet or a local area network (LAN). Different protocols exist and offer varying levels of security and speed. Experts generally consider OpenVPN to be the most secure, beating out SSTP, IKEv2, L2TP, and PPTP.
What protocols does Norton Secure VPN use?
Norton uses the highly secure and open source OpenVPN protocol.
What is the definition of encryption and why is it important?
The definition of encryption is taking readable data and transforming it into something resembling gibberish. This is achieved with the help of an encryption key, which only allows the parties with access to it to decipher the data and read it once again.
The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the current benchmark in this regard. Those in the VPN industry will generally use it with two key lengths: AES-128 or AES-256. Even AES-128 is basically unbreakable, and AES-256 ramps the security even higher.
What encryption standard does Norton Secure VPN use?
Norton uses the 128-Blowfish (AES-128) encryption standard. Although this is widely regarded as unbreakable, some VPNs use an even more secure standard: The AES-256.
5. Own DNS Servers
What is the definition of DNS servers and why are they important?
When you want to visit a website, you’ll type in, let’s say, Facebook.com. But, you’re actually visiting a long sequence of numbers – the IP address. Seeing as humans cannot remember such complex numbers, we have domain names (like the aforementioned “Facebook.com”).
To use older technology for reference, a DNS server is a bit like a telephone operator. It contains many domain names and their associated IP addresses. So when you type in the domain name of the website you plan to visit, the DNS server ensures you get to the correct IP address.
A VPN provider that has its own DNS servers can encrypt this process using the same VPN tunnel it uses for your other online activities. Therefore, third parties cannot create logs of it, and governments or organizations cannot intercept or censor it.
Does Norton Secure VPN use its own DNS servers?
No, Norton does not use its own DNS servers.
6. Kill Switch Test
What is the definition of a kill switch and why is it important?
If the secure VPN connection you’ve established stops being active, a kill switch will automatically stop your internet connection. This is an important safety feature which ensures your online activity won’t be exposed if the VPN fails.
Does Norton Secure VPN use a kill switch?
No, Norton does not feature a kill switch.
7. Leak Test
What is the definition of a “leak” and why is it important?
Does Norton Secure VPN leak your data?
No, we have not found any data leaks using Norton.
The Good: Norton is one of the fastest VPN we have ever tested. It is faster than most big name VPNs, including ExpressVPN.
The Bad: –
What is the definition of a speed test and why is it important?
Using a VPN will slow your connection down. There is no way around this. That is simply the cost of encrypting data and sending it over a VPN server.
This can impact how much time it will take you to download a file, the quality of the media you’re streaming, and how long web pages take to load.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to boost your speed:
- Purchase a fast VPN. There can be major differences in terms of speed between different providers. Hotspot Shield, for example, is extremely fast and will barely have a negative impact on your speed. Tunnelbear is on the opposite end of the spectrum and is dreadfully slow.
- Choose a VPN that’s close to you. Practically all VPNs allow you to select the location of your server and the closer it is, the smaller the distance the data needs to travel. This will benefit your download speed and latency.
- Try different servers. The VPN provider will automatically assign you a server, but you don’t have to accept it. Oftentimes, there will be faster options. So, connect to different servers, use speed tests, and select the fastest one. This can make all the difference.
How did Norton Secure VPN score in the speed test?
We were testing from Europe on a base of connection of 90 – 100 Mbps.
When we first tested with the VPN off, our figures were as follows: 98mbps download and 99mbps upload and 4ms ping.
Next, we tested with Norton Secure VPN running and the speed drop by 10% in both categories. We had 91mbps download and 95 upload and 7ms ping.
The way things looked, Norton Secure VPN was fast enough for all online activities, including gaming.
Norton Secure VPN’s global performance wasn’t as stellar as local, though we managed to get some pretty good speeds. As to be expected, the proximity of the server had a significant impact. Keep in mind that all tests were run in the UK.
The server in Germany performed exceptionally as expected. We achieved 80mbps for download and well above 90mbps for upload. The latency was also low.
The server in the United States was a lot slower, actually even slower than the one in Singapore. Here are the results. It gave us 36mbps download and 31mbps upload.
In contrast, the Singapore server performed better than expected. It was able to give us a maximum download speed of 49mbps and an upload speed of 43mbps.
Finally, the faraway server in Australia was the slowest. Our top download speed on this server was 37mbps, with the upload peaking at 33mbps. Of course, the ping would be too big for playing fast-paced games like Fortnite and CS: GO.
The Good: Norton features servers on all 6 continents, in a total of 28 countries. Allowing nearly every user to find a server close by. Norton supports all major operating software, including Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and works with streaming services like Netflix. On top of that, Norton offer flexible pricing, by allowing you to select how many connections you’ll need (1, 5 or 10) and pay only for those.
The Bad: Norton does not allow you to download torrents (P2P) on its network, does not have any browser extensions, and does not work in China.
What features do we test for?
- Server Locations
- Platform and Devices
- Number of Connections
- Streaming and Torrenting
- Bypassing Censorship
1. Server Locations
What is the definition of a server location and why is it important?
When we say server locations, this refers to the countries housing the servers you can connect to. In most cases, VPN providers will own servers in around 30 countries all over the world. With some, you will have the option to select your server according to the country, while others go further and let you choose according to the city. So, you could select the United States and then go for New York or LA.
This is important because in order for you to connect to the internet, data needs to go from the device you’re using to the VPN server. Let’s say you’re in France but are connecting to a server located in Australia – this will noticeably affect your speed. With servers in multiple locations, almost all users can locate one that’s reasonably close.
Where are Norton Secure VPN’s servers located?
Norton Secure VPN has servers in 28 countries, covering all 6 continents.
2. Platforms and Devices
What is the definition of platforms and devices and why are they important?
This refers to the operating systems, web browsers, and devices supported by the VPN provider. For example, most build their apps to work on Windows, MAC OS, iOS, and Android, but some will also support Linux. A VPN can go even further and allow you to install it directly onto your router and give you browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.
Speaking of browser extensions, it’s a good idea to check how the extension operates. It can work as a proxy server without encryption, as a proxy server with encryption, or as a full VPN. There is a big difference:
- Proxy server: If the VPN extension operates as a proxy, it will mask your IP address. Consequently, any website will believe you’re located in whatever country the VPN server is. This can be very useful if, for example, you like Netflix and want to access American content. However, there is no encryption, meaning ISPs or hackers can still collect your data.
- Proxy server with encryption: This means any data sent via the browser will be encrypted, and ISPs and hackers won’t be able to read it. But, there will be no encryption for your other online activities such as using dedicated streaming apps (e.g. Spotify).
- Full VPN: This means the browser extension will have full control of the VPN app. Your IP address will be masked, and anything you do online will be encrypted using the VPN tunnel. This gives you the option to adjust VPN settings without the need to leave the browser.
What platforms and devices does Norton Secure VPN support?
Norton supports all major operating software, including Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. It does not feature any browser extensions.
3. Number of Connections
What is the definition of connections and why are they important?
This shows the number of devices you can protect at the same time using the VPN subscription. Three connections are enough for most users as this covers their computer, phone, and perhaps a tablet. But, additional connections will help if the plan is to share the VPN with a family member or a friend.
How many simultaneous connections does Norton Secure VPN support?
Norton allows you to select the amount of connections you need, ranging from 1 to 10, and pay only for those. It is one of few VPNs that does it, and is a big plus.
4. Streaming and Torrenting
What are the definitions of streaming and torrenting and why are they important?
If you want to watch American programming on Netflix but aren’t from the States, a VPN will help you. If you log into a VPN server in the US before you access Netflix, you will see the local movies and television series. This can also help people who are from the States but are currently abroad.
An added benefit of using a VPN is the ability to safely download torrents. Due to the encryption, your ISP won’t be able to determine what you’re doing over your connection and won’t be able to penalize you for using such services.
Does Norton Secure VPN support streaming and torrenting?
Norton works with all major streaming services, including Netflix, but does not allow you to download torrents (P2P) on its servers.
5. Bypassing Censorship
What is the definition of censorship and why is it important?
A VPN provides a great way to sidestep internet censorship, but there are countries in which certain VPNs won’t work. Seeing as China’s regulations are very strict and affect the greatest number of people, we use it to test how a VPN provider battles censorship.
If you’re interested in learning more about the topic of online censorship, here are some sources we recommend:
- Access Now
- Center for Democracy and Technology
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Fight For The Future
- Freedom House
- Internet Defence League
- Open Media
Does Norton Secure VPN bypass censorship successfully?
Norton does not work in China, but might work in other highly censored countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
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