Norton Secure VPN
Half of cybersecurity professionals would rather walk barefoot across a public restroom than use public Wi-Fi, according to a survey.
When you consider some of the security risks of connecting your devices to public networks, this distate for them by industry pros isn’t entirely unsurprising.
Some general public Wi-Fi threats include:
- Network “sniffing” (interception) by cybercriminals looking for sensitive data
- Insecure apps leaking usernames or passwords while they authenticate over a network
- Potential disclosure of location information to strangers
But for some people use of public Wi-Fi is unavoidable at times; for example, for those who travel frequently and stay in hotels.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN) offer a key way to protect against network-based threats.
In our view, use of a VPN could be considered basic security hygiene for people who routinely connect to open networks.
It’s been a while since we posted a VPN review, so we thought we would explore the features of Norton Secure VPN which we’ve recently been testing out and have been impressed with.
What is a VPN?
But before we carry on, lets briefly revisit what a VPN does.
When using a VPN service with a computer, tablet, or smartphone all of the data sent from the device is encrypted and passed over the internet through a secure “tunnel” to a server run by the VPN provider.
This VPN server then decrypts the data it receives from the device (e.g. a request to connect to an online store) and performs the plaintext action on behalf of it. In this example, responses from the online store are then sent back to the VPN server where they are encrypted before being sent back to the device.
Essentially, using a VPN service means that network data sent to and from your device should be secured and virtually useless to anyone sitting nearby intercepting traffic and trying to access data they shouldn’t be.
But many modern VPN apps offer a load of additional benefits that go beyond that basic service. Lets unpack Norton Secure VPN’s features.
Starting with the connection, Norton Secure VPN supports two protocols depending on the device you are using.
The OpenVPN protocol is used for Android and iOS devices and is known for its particular stability when roaming on Wi-Fi and 5G networks. Windows and Mac connections are supported by the Internet Security Protocol (IPSec), which can offer slightly faster connection speeds than OpenVPN.
In reality both of these VPN protocols should be perfectly fine for most users looking for a ready-to-go VPN package that doesn’t require advanced configuration.
Norton uses the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) to secure its VPN connections. This is often referred to as “bank grade” encryption and is also a US Government standard and will be more than adequate for any normal user.
A common question many people will have is how well the connection works for streaming videos. We tested it with Netflix and YouTube videos and it worked perfectly with no lag.
Choose Your Location
If you’re worried about your geographic location being identified by criminals or marketers, a key benefit of many VPNs is the ability to choose from a selection of VPN servers around the world. By connecting to a server in another region or country, your IP address will appear as originating from that area.
Norton Secure VPN will automatically select the best performing connection based on your location, but we found you can also manually choose to connect to 28 global servers – more than enough for most users.
Compromised and Insecure Network Detection
One slight question with running a VPN is deciding when to switch it on an off.
For example, if you’re just sitting at home in the US, you might not want to appear to the online world as if you’re accessing the internet from say, Switzerland, because you will be served content (trending news, search results etc) from that region.
Norton Secure VPN offers a handy way around this through its ‘compromised and insecure network detection’ feature. Simply put, if it thinks a network you connect to isn’t safe, it will provide a warning to activate your VPN and keep your connection secure.
On the other hand if you’re using a trusted household or office network and there is no suspicious activity occurring, the VPN will remain disconnected.
So what types of network compromise does Norton’s VPN aim to protect you from? We looked into that and specific types of threat include:
- Content manipulation – where an attacker manipulates the appearance or content of a website to try and force the user to perform harmful actions e.g. reveal credentials.
- SSL Attacker-in-theMiddle – where an attacker hijacks the connection between a user and the website they are trying to visit.
- SSL Stripping – an attacker removing the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption from a user’s web connection to reveal their browsing data.
Another nice feaure we found with Norton Secure VPN is the ability to set a ‘kill switch’.
If your device loses it’s connection to a Norton VPN server for any reason – and your data is not longer passing through an encrypted tunnel – the app will automatically disconnect you from the internet.
For those who need a consistent internet connection for things like video calls, it’s worth noting you don’t have to enable the kill switch.
At time of writing this particular feature was only available for Windows and Android devices.
A problem with many VPNs we’ve tried in the past is the all or nothing approach to encrypting your connection: your VPN is either on or it’s off and all your data goes through it when it’s running.
We were pleased to see the addition of a ‘split tunnelling’ option in Norton Secure VPN. This allows more granular control by letting you choose which apps do or don’t pass through your VPN connection.
So for example, if you don’t want your social media apps passing through a VPN and having their apparent location changed, you can add them to an exception list.
Once again, this feature is only available for Windows and Android devices.
Another consideration when selecting a VPN provider is whether they log your connection data, which could be problematic if a security breach occurred. Case in point: in 2020 security researchers reported that one VPN provider exposed millions of user log files including their IP addresses and passwords.
Norton state fairly clearly that they have a no-log policy, which is exactly what you would expect when paying for a VPN.
How much does it cost?
Norton Secure VPN is available in several annual subscription packages that get progressively cheaper based on the number of devices your purchase for. We’ve broken down the cost per device in US Dollars as an example:
At time of writing Norton are offering a 29% discount on the 5 device annual plan and 33% off the 10 device plan, which is reflected in the considerably lower device costs for these subscriptions.
Most people in the market for a VPN will probably have more than one device to protect, so the 5 device plan may offer the most balanced option in many cases.
As with many subscription packages the price for an annual renewal may be higher than the first year. Subcriptions renewal automatically (unless you choose to cancel) and you can keep track of the prices here.
It’s also worth noting that that Norton Secure VPN comes included with more comprehensive security packages such as Norton 360 and Norton 360 Deluxe. If you’re also looking for features such as anti-virus protection, PC cloud back-up or a password manager then one of these subscriptions may be more cost effective than buying products seperately.
How does Norton Secure VPN compare to free VPN services?
There are free VPN offerings out there to be sure, but as the saying goes “if you aren’t the customer, you’re probably the product”.
An interesting point we noted during our research is that a lot of cheap or free VPNs are actually owned by a relatively small number of companies. In fact, a report by VPNpro found 105 VPNs run by just 24 companies. This isn’t necessarily bad but could raise questions about data security and when signing up for a VPN you want to know where your service provider is based.
The US-based Norton brand has been a leader in the cybersecurity industry for decades and is well known and trusted.
Download and Installation
We tested the Norton Secure VPN on an Android smartphone and found it easy to get up and running. You purchase one of the described subscription packages from the Norton website, create an account and download the Norton Secureline VPN app. From there you will be prompted to log in and simply hit ‘Turn ON VPN’ button to protect your connection.
Norton offers its VPN for use on Microsoft Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
So to wrap up, we really like Norton Secure VPN. It comes from a reputable provider, is easy to use, reasonably priced for multiple device use and comes packed with additional features that make use of a VPN more convenient.