WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
Best known for their award-winning antivirus software, how does Avast Secureline VPN hold up during testing? Not well, as it turns out. It’ll protect you from hackers and trackers, but it’s still left wanting in terms of privacy, while there’s no point in asking about any additional features. There are other VPNs that fit the bill much better.
Here’s everything you could possibly need to know about the service, including what we thought about the seven-day trial of their software.
As budget VPNs go, Avast’s Secureline VPN isn’t the worst we’ve tested, despite a number of worrying aspects in terms of privacy and security. There’s a great free trial, offering their full range of servers with no restrictions. However, it’s not especially fast, while the premium service does leave a lot to be desired compared to others on the market.
Then there’s Avast themselves, who were forced to issue a groveling apology in 2020 after it was reported that their browser extensions were found harvesting users’ data to supply to marketers. Can they really be trusted so soon after the fact?
About Avast Secureline VPN
Avast has been around for years, as the Czech cybersecurity company was founded back in 1988. They’re better known for their popular antivirus software, and Secureline is just one of the many VPN apps in their stable. For example, they have owned HideMyAss! (HMA) since 2016, while AVG Secure VPN is essentially a copy of Avast Secureline if you scan their payment page.
“While Avast claimed that it collects data based on a user giving their consent, multiple users were unaware of both the collection of data as well as it being sold to large companies without their consent. This includes tracking the date and time of a user visiting a porn site, the search term used on the site, and even the video watched by the user. While the tracked data did not have personal identifiers, the investigation found it was fairly easy to unmask individuals due to the amount of data available.”
Avast CEO Ondřej Vlček responded by saying that he felt personally responsible and ‘would like to apologize to all concerned’, but it’s a major blotch on their record, especially as their business model is supposed to be based around user trust and privacy. (As opposed to selling personal data for profit.)
Considering the above, it’s difficult to give Avast’s VPN the benefit of the doubt, especially when you look at the data they do log with the software.
Pros & Cons
Here’s a roundup of the main pros and cons we observed while using Avast Secureline VPN.
Avast Secureline VPN does have certain features users on a budget or those only concerned with base functionality can appreciate. Here are positives worth noting:
- Great seven-day free trial with no limitations
- Affordable pricing, even if there isn’t much flexibility
- Simple UI
- Supports P2P on some servers
- Kill Switch
While Avast’s VPN service comes with a few positives, there are quite a few red flags we’d be amiss if we didn’t bring them up:
- Lack of additional features
- No flexible payment options
- Avast was in trouble as recently as January 2020 for the sale of user data
- Servers in Russia and China
- Slow server speeds
- Poor streaming capabilities, despite servers that are specific for the task
Avast has chosen to forgo many of the additional features you’d expect to see with a VPN provider. Instead, they’ve packaged everything into a Premium Security bundle, hoping to tempt users into paying more for everything in their suite. It would have been nice to see more choices, especially given their capable antivirus software.
There’s little of note, aside from a Kill Switch. More of a bare minimum as opposed to a real feature, this will allow the user to ensure that their connection will remain private should the VPN stop working unexpectedly.
Aside from that, the free seven-day trial is the only other notable feature.
Avast Secureline VPN has a great free trial which is easy to take advantage of. You don’t need to hand over any payment info, and it’s available for seven days. You get access to all of the servers and there are no restrictions that I found during testing.
However, given their shortest contract is 12 months, you’ll have to commit for the long haul if you want to test it out any further.
- 12 months: $4.99 per month (5 Devices)
- 24 months: $3.99 per month (5 Devices)
- 36 months: $3.99 per month (5 Devices)
As with most VPN providers, there are a trio of contracts to choose from, which are slightly cheaper as they get longer. However, there’s no difference in price for two years or three years, which is a deviation from the norm.
The shortest deal will see you locked in for 12 months, which isn’t great if you’re hoping for more flexibility. If you don’t mind sticking with one device, one year is $3.99 per month, and two/three-year deals are priced at $2.99 per month. However, most users would probably like both mobile and desktop devices to be protected.
There’s also a lack of flexibility when it comes to payment options. There’s no way to do so anonymously, so you’ll have to choose between either PayPal or credit card.
They say as long as you bought the VPN directly through their website, you can contact them within 30 days of purchase to receive a full refund. However, the stipulation is that you can’t have used it to:
“upload and/or download more than 10GB of data in aggregate, or that you have used to connect to our VPN or other communication services more than 100 times”.
Overall, it’s one of the cheaper options on the market, but it’s worth factoring in the length of the contracts. After all, a two-year NordVPN plan is currently priced at $3.71 per month and has to be seen as the better option when all things are considered.
The Avast VPN Policy seems to be relatively straightforward, detailing the types of personal data they don’t store:
“Avast does NOT store the originating IP addresses of our users when connected to our VPN service, and thus cannot identify users when provided the IP address of one of our servers. We are also completely unable to disclose any information about the applications people use, the services they employ, or the websites they visit while using our VPN. We simply do NOT store this information.”
However, they go on to note that;
“Using a virtual private network (“VPN”) is like going undercover while you are on the Internet. We provide VPN services that allow you to be on the Internet securely from anywhere in the world. While we respect your privacy and take strenuous measures to protect it, it does not mean that you are totally unknown to us and that we do not collect any data from you.”
That’s not a promising statement, and they admit to storing ‘connection logs, which include information such as the time you connect and disconnect, the duration of the connection, and bandwidth usage.’ They say that this information is ‘used for diagnostic purposes and to help prevent abuse of the VPN connection.’
They also admit that this information ‘may be shared with members of the Avast Group in order to execute on the provisions of this service, for direct marketing, or to help our product development’.
It’s a lot of information about the user, and more than they necessarily need. There are numerous VPNs on the market which are more privacy-friendly, so we’d look elsewhere for a tighter logging policy.
How would Avast compare in terms of overall connection speeds? Given the popularity of their free antivirus software, I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect from the paid service.
They have no bandwidth limits and the website says that the VPN supports speeds of up to 2 Gbps, so it should be reasonably fast in theory. Firstly, I went to speedtest.net, to record exactly how the connection looked with no VPN. I was connected via Wi-Fi, so speeds were slightly under the 300 Mbps norm:
Next up is the Avast Secureline optimal server, which is based in London. It’s not too far away from me, so I was hoping to see similar results:
As you can see, download speeds went down to roughly 80 Mbps, or a third of the original total. Ping and upload speeds were hardly affected, but it’s still worryingly slow considering that it’s supposed to be the ‘optimal’ choice.
I figured that there could have been a mistake, so I switched over to their UK, Wonderland server, which is supposed to be used specifically for accessing streaming websites. Results were embarrassingly slow:
40 Mbps works out to roughly 5 Mbps, so it was like being taken back a decade in terms of average speeds here in the UK. It’s not a great result if you were planning to use it for streaming 4K videos, or if you don’t have the fastest connection to begin with.
US server locations are always popular, so I switched over to an option based in Miami, Florida. Again, this server was supposed to be optimized for accessing and watching online content, so I was hoping for faster speeds than I had seen already.
As you might expect, ping took a massive hit, but at least the download speed was able to stay in the three-figure range. 111.22 Mbps is still over 50% slower than my normal connection, so it’s another poor result when all things are considered.
Again, speeds were mediocre at best, making it hard to recommend Avast Secureline VPN compared to similarly priced options.
Server Locations & Network
With 34 countries on offer, and just over 50 servers, Avast’s VPN doesn’t have a particularly large network, and it does skew towards the US (16 cities). Notably, they have servers in both Russia and China, which is typically frowned upon for various privacy and security reasons.
For example, Avast-owned HMA was one of nine providers that were instructed to connect to the Russian Roskomnadzor register of prohibited information in 2019. Instead, they opted to pull out of the country while noting:
“That means we won’t be selling our service there anymore (although anyone who currently has us will keep us for the rest of their subscription period) and we’ll be removing our servers. Soon, you won’t be able to access the internet from a Russian-based server, although frankly having read all this we’re not sure why you’d want to.”
The blog post goes on to mention their relationship with Avast, and how it played into their decision making;
“We’re a member of the Avast family (surprise!) which means that if we stuck to our guns with this it would compromise the mothership’s ability to provide free antivirus protection to the Russian people. Which is super important in a time when people are more connected — and at risk — than ever before in our history.”
What’s more important? Free antivirus protection, or a VPN that you can trust to keep your personal data safe? It’s impossible to say whether Avast has made concessions to ensure their free services can scoop up more Russian users, but they do admit that their VPN solutions ‘are currently subject to government restrictions in the region’.
Streaming & Torrenting
Avast’s VPN has servers that are optimized for streaming which can be found in the US, the UK, and Germany. However, BBC iPlayer didn’t work, and Disney + refused to load while using their UK-based Wonderland server.
The same goes for U.S. Netflix, as the Avast VPN doesn’t seem to have a large enough server network to get the job done effectively. Many streaming platforms block the IP addresses used by VPN providers directly, and it appears to be working to inhibit the Secureline VPN. I might have just been unlucky, but I’d look elsewhere if you want a provider that will be able to unblock streaming websites consistently.
Servers with P2P functionality are found in locations seen in the image below:
However, you may have some difficulties when downloading files due to the slow connection speeds seen while the VPN is active. Judging by how they deal with censorship, they’re likely to be stringent if they’re asking to defend any copyright claims.
Given the fact that there are Secureline VPN servers available in China and Russia, I wouldn’t expect it to hold up to any real pressure in terms of censorship. On the bottom of the main page of Avast’s website it states:
“Avast SecureLine VPN is completely safe to download and simple to install on any Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android device. It can offer a more secure way to enjoy true online privacy and anonymity compared to Tor and other proxies. But be aware that VPNs aren’t legal everywhere, so please check the legal implications in your own country before installing Avast SecureLine VPN.”
Wait, what? This is coming from one of the few providers to have servers in China, who are notoriously stringent in terms of online regulations.
We’ve noted above that Avast freely admits that their ‘VPN solutions are currently subject to governmental restrictions on use’ in Russia, while they wouldn’t recommend using their software in the following locations:
Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates
Avast appears to be eager to follow the letter of the law, while Russian users already face censorship despite using their VPN. Avast definitely deserves low marks here.
Platforms & Devices
Secureline is only available on a limited number of devices, which are as follows;
Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Android TV
There’s a lack of support for Linux users, and it’s not as though the app is particularly detailed or special in any way, making it impossible to port over. Linux users have been asking for a client app since 2015, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up for the time being.
However, the Secureline VPN is especially easy to use, and you’ll be able to find your virtual IP address on screen at any given time. There’s a simple On/Off switch in the middle, and it worked perfectly during testing without dropping out once.
There’s a fine line between understated and basic, and Secureline manages to bridge it well.
Encryption & Security
You’re beholden to a specific protocol depending on which platform you’re using with the Avast VPN. They note that: “Avast SecureLine VPN uses the AES 256 bit encryption key, which is bank-grade encryption. It also uses Open SSL and certificate authentication.”
On my Mac, the only option was IPsec, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, I’d prefer a choice of protocols or even WireGuard support. Windows and Android use OpenVPN (UDP), while iOS has IPsec/IKEv2.
In terms of security features, additional extras are minimal, aside from a Kill Switch. Given their loose logging policy and the amount of data they do collect about the user, it’s difficult to recommend from a security perspective.
It is worth noting that my IP was masked successfully, and the VPN appeared to be working as it should from a security standpoint. As such, any worries are based on their stated internal practices, as opposed to flaws found within the software.
Avast has the makings of a decent budget VPN on its hands, but there are too many issues that hold it back from achieving a high score. Take privacy and trust. Avast has been caught selling user data in the past, while they’re happy to conform to censorship as long as they’re still able to sell products to Russian users. Would I trust them with my personal data? Not whatsoever, to the point where I wouldn’t use a free subscription.
Then there’s the low number of servers and the geriatric speeds. There is some leeway considering that the asking price is pretty low, but the lack of any contract flexibility brings Avast’s VPN in line with some of the better providers when looking at longer deals. The trouble is, there’s absolutely nothing that sets Secureline apart from other VPNs, and a number of notable flaws that we’ve detailed at length above raise concerns.
It’s not as though there weren’t any positives. The client is decent enough, and it’s a usable piece of software. They also offer a generous free trial, allowing you a week to decide whether it’s worth the outlay.
Overall, it’s disappointing considering Avast’s reputation, and the user base they have cultivated with their antivirus software. They could have packaged the AV and the VPN together or used their knowledge and experience to build an industry-leading service.
Instead, it’s a wholly forgettable VPN that is reliant on brand recognition.