Norton Secure VPN Review
Norton, also known as NortonLifeLock following a 2019 merger, formerly known as Symantec (yes, we understand that’s a lot), is one of the most prominent names in computer security. With an all-encompassing suite of cybersecurity services including anti-virus software, identity theft protection, privacy protection and more, Norton is widely known in the digital security industry, with a footprint spanning the globe and millions of customers. In this review we’re going to look at one facet of their offerings, the Norton Secure VPN, a no-frills but competitively priced addition to the VPN market, and see if it’s worth your investment.
The Good and the Bad of Norton Secure VPN
Of course, we’re going to get more detailed and hands-on with the service a bit later on in this review. But first, let’s take a quick overview and highlight and lowlight some of the good and not-so-good aspects of Norton Secure VPN.
- Flexible, Competitive Pricing: One of the major pros of Norton Secure is its price point. Plans are tiered out based on how many devices you’d like to cover with the VPN, with individual devices costing only $4.99 per month. If you were to sign up for an annual plan, which we would recommend, that price can be knocked down to a little more than $3 per month. That’s a pretty solid price point for the market.
- Professional-Grade Customer Support: Because Norton is such a big company with nearly 11,000 employees worldwide,1 their customer support provides a top-tier resource, especially for the less tech-savvy user. We were really impressed with their online knowledge base, live chat, and 24/7 phone support, a total anomaly for most VPN companies.
- Built-In Ad Tracker Blocking: The Secure VPN doesn’t outright block ads, but we appreciated that it had an integrated ad tracker blocker, which stopped advertisers from tracking our movement around the websites we visited.
- Extremely Easy to Use: Norton Secure VPN is about as no-frills as it gets. We liked how set-and-forget it was, but feel that it may only be ideal for the most passive VPN users.
- No PC Kill Switch: A kill switch in a VPN shuts down your online activity should you lose connection. We were disappointed that Norton Secure VPN only featured a kill switch on its Android app.
- Lackluster Streaming Support: One of the major bonuses of using a VPN is gaining access to other countries’ streaming service libraries. We found the ability to access streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Disney+, HBO Max, and more) inconsistent at best, with some of the services working with the VPN in some regions but not others.
- No P2P or BitTorrent Support: While many VPNs offer peer-to-peer and torrent downloading on specified servers, Norton Secure VPN has a blanket ban on this type of file sharing, which is disappointing.
Privacy and Security Concerns With Norton
One of the main concerns when using a VPN is trust. We turn to a VPN to protect our data, to ensure that the websites we visit aren’t being tracked and that police and law enforcement won’t get access to our data should they subpoena the company. Let’s take a look at the company’s footprint and data policies to see how safe of a choice they are.
A Jurisdictional Issue
Unfortunately, Norton is a US-based company, which puts them under a jurisdiction notorious for gathering data from its citizens. The United States is a global leader in Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, international cooperatives of countries committed to sharing intelligence. On its face, this is a red flag for us since it indicates that the company may be forced to hand over user data at some point.
To Norton’s credit, however, they do provide a transparent look at how they handle data, which gave us a bit of reassurance. Norton doesn’t log where we visit on the Internet, so even if they were forced to hand over data, there wouldn’t be much for governmental agencies to go on.
The data Norton does collect is relatively benign, and generally standard for the industry, though there were a couple of points that gave us pause. On their website they offer a detailed look at how they handle data, with subsections for each of their products, VPN included. This transparency is a nice way for the company to assuage some of our reservations about their jurisdictional shortcomings. One of the data fields the company collected was our IP address and geolocation, which even though it’s anonymized, made us a little uneasy. They also collected aggregate bandwidth usage, OS version for mobile devices, and certain diagnostic data.
Server Count and Location
The number of servers and the spread of those servers across countries creates the conditions for a VPN to be successful. When we’re evaluating VPNs, we tend to favor those with the largest footprints, because it typically means that there are multiple servers in our general region which can help increase speeds as we’re surfing the web. For a good example, check out our NordVPN review, which features more than 5,000 servers in more than 60 countries.
Norton Secure VPN has 1,500 servers spread across 29 countries, with 200 server locations in 73 cities. This footprint is modest, but it’s not a noticeably paltry number. Another point to note is that of their 1,500 servers, 1,200 are virtual servers. Virtual servers are essentially a way to use software to mimic the presence of physical servers, and it’s a more cost-effective way for VPNs and other web hosts to increase their server count without having additional, dedicated physical servers.2
Virtual servers can also be configured to give the appearance of a larger footprint. For example, Norton could set up a virtual server in New York City but have it configured to display its location in London. To Norton’s credit, they claim that all of the virtual servers they use are in the countries they display.
Quick Facts: Norton—like many VPNs—doesn’t work and doesn’t offer server locations in China due to the country’s aggressive censorship and Internet monitoring policies.
Norton Secure VPN’s Encryption and Security
One of the major selling points that Norton highlights about their VPN is “bank-grade encryption”. The VPN features an AES-256 encryption which is what we’ve come to expect from VPNs, and the industry standard. While we’re happy to see Norton come through on encryption, there were some security vulnerabilities that gave us pause, however.
- No Kill Switch: A kill switch is a great way to keep protected should something happen to the VPN connection. While Norton doesn’t claim that the VPN offers a kill switch, we figured we’d put it to the test anyway to see what happened. We brought our Windows laptop to a local library and used their public network. After losing service, our browser continued functioning normally, which meant that our Internet Service Provider could see our web traffic and IP address, defeating the purpose of the VPN in the first place.
Note: While there is no kill switch for Windows PCs, Macs, or iPhones, Norton Secure VPN’s Android app does include the feature.
- DNS and WebRTC Leaks: We could get in the weeds explaining what DNS and WebRTC leaks mean, but the long and the short of it is we ran tests to determine if our information was exposed while running the VPN. Thankfully, after running our tests we determined that our IP address wasn’t exposed in either instance, and our location was successfully shielded. Check out the screenshots below from our tests:
Testing the VPN’s Speed
Because VPNs run your Internet activity through additional servers, there can be significant degradation in the speed of your browsing, downloading and streaming. We put the Norton Secure VPN through the ringer to see how much it would affect our speeds. Here’s what we discovered. First, let’s take a look at our tests on a Windows PC.
As you can see, our speed on Windows was much slower, especially with regards to ping rate (more than 11 times slower) and upload speeds (more than 60 percent slower). Download speeds were surprisingly good, coming in only 27 percent slower than without the VPN running.
Now let’s see how the tests went on Mac:
The ping rate on our Mac was about three times slower, and the download rate was around 30 percent slower as well; but impressively, upload speeds barely lost anything at all, coming in only four percent slower.
Generally speaking, Norton Secure VPN’s speeds are roughly in line with the normal degradation of service we’ve come to expect from VPNs. We weren’t blown away by blazing speeds with the VPN connected, but it also didn’t bring our computers to a total crawl while it was operational.
Some Odds and Ends
As we mentioned earlier, Norton Secure VPN is a relatively no-frills service. Meaning, there are few advanced settings or additional features that blew us away as we were using the VPN. Broadly speaking, however, there are some features that we’ve come to expect from VPNs that we were missing with Norton that we’d like to take a second to discuss.
- Streaming Services: One of the best gifts a VPN can offer is access to streaming libraries of international versions of services like Netflix. While Netflix has made it clear3 that they don’t plan to cater to VPN users, certain VPNs are able to bypass regional blocks to unlock international libraries (check our Hotspot Shield review for one of the best VPNs for streaming). We used Norton Secure VPN to access U.S Netflix, which is better than some VPNs can offer, but accessing the German Netflix was verboten. The story was the same for other streaming services as well: we used the VPN for HBO Max, but Disney+ was blocked, for example. This inconsistency was not ideal when we’re really in the mood to watch Aladdin.
- BitTorrent: It can’t be said enough, but we can’t condone illegal torrenting. With that out of the way, legal torrenting and P2P file sharing is a great way to download content (especially if you’re as into public domain movies from the 1940s as we are). Unfortunately, BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file sharing is banned for use on Norton Secure VPN, which is a bummer.
A Quick Word on Subscription Plans
One of the best parts about Norton Secure VPN is its price point. For a more broad look at the company and its offerings, check out this more in-depth Norton pricing overview. Norton offered three tiers of service based on the number of devices we wanted to cover: one, five, or 10. We were also able to get lower monthly rates by paying for a full year of service up front. Some of those tiers brought the price down to just over $3 per month, which is a great deal (though check out our CyberGhost VPN review for a sub-$3 service).
Note: The prices for annual memberships jump significantly after the first year, so if you are planning on signing up for an annual membership be sure to keep that in mind.
Here’s a quick look at how their plans compare:
|Number of Devices||Term Length||Billing Amount|
|1||Annual (First Year)||$39.99|
|1||Annual (Second Year On)||$49.99|
|5||Annual (First Year)||$39.99|
|5||Annual (Second Year On)||$79.99|
|10||Annual (First Year)||$59.99|
|10||Annual (Second Year On)||$99.99|
Recapping Norton Secure VPN
As a standalone VPN, Norton Secure doesn’t have a whole lot to offer beyond basic privacy protection. But the truth is, this VPN isn’t necessarily intended to be a standalone service. When thought of as an add-on to a more robust antivirus system, Norton Secure makes a whole lot more sense. We were provided basic protection with minimal maintenance, and there was little customization or advanced features that required our attention. But along with this basic protection, we found some holes in the service, like a lack of a kill switch, some problematic privacy issues in logging our anonymized IP address, and issues with streaming services and BitTorrent support. Norton Secure is fine as a set-and-forget service, but for those interested in a serious, dedicated VPN, we’d recommend looking elsewhere.
Info Security. (2020). Layoffs Planned at NortonLifeLock.
NetStandard. (2020). Virtual Servers for Dummies.
Youtube. (2016). Netflix Q1 2016 Earnings Interview.