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Avast SecureLine VPN - Review 2020


Avast SecureLine VPN has the pedigree of a leading antivirus company behind it and offers basic VPN protection, good speeds, and a notably diverse array of server locations. But it lacks additional privacy tools and comes at a steep price. The company also gathers a surprising amount of information on its customers. Avast has the core of a good VPN service, but one that needs a course correction. 

What Is a VPN?

When you’re connected to a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN company’s server. No one on the same network as you can see what you’re up to, and neither can your ISP—which is good, because they are keen to sell your anonymized data. Out on the web, spies and advertisers have a harder time tracking your movements as your true IP address is hidden behind the VPN server.

That said, using a VPN doesn’t guard against all dangers. Malicious ads, malware, and other network attacks can still harm your computer and steal personal information. I highly recommend using antivirus software to keep your computer protected from all angles, enabling two-factor authentication to prevent account takeovers, as well as using unique and complex passwords on every site and service with the help of a password manager.

Pricing and Features

When I first reviewed SecureLine, I was dismayed to find that it didn’t offer a multi-device pricing tier. Thankfully, Avast has since loosened up and rolled out a pricing scheme that is far better for consumers. For $59.88 a year, you can secure up to five devices on any platform. Five devices is the industry standard for VPNs. You can also opt for a $95.76 two-year subscription, or a $143.64 three-year subscription. 

On average, annual VPN subscriptions cost $73 a year. That makes SecureLine a good value, when comparing annual plans, undercutting much of the industry on price alone. Many VPNs cost significantly more. Hotspot Shield, for example, is $95.88 per year. However, it’s worth noting that all of Avast’s plans start at one year, while much of the industry also offers a monthly billing option. The vast majority of VPN services offer a monthly subscription, on average $10.10 per month. That’s significantly easier to budget for month-to-month, even if it does work out to be more expensive over a year. In those terms, Avast’s hefty up front cost is hard to swallow.

Annual subscriptions always save consumers money, but I advise against long-term subscriptions, at least at first. There’s no way to tell whether a VPN will work on all the sites you need, or if it will provide adequate speeds, until you try it out for yourself. While a monthly plan can cost more, it’s better to start with a short-term subscription to test out your VPN before committing for the long term. Avast does offer a seven-day free trial and does not require a credit card, which helps, but I wonder if a week would be enough time to make a determination about a service’s quality.

Successful connection screen

Although Avast does not offer monthly plans, it does offer single-device plans at a discount. You can protect one device, on any platform, for $47.88 per year, $71.76 every two years, or $107.64 every three years.

Previously, Avast charged separate fees for platform-specific versions of its service. These appear to be discontinued, which is good for consumers. While the opportunity to shave off a dollar or two here and there was nice, the previous arrangement was too confusing to be practical. 

While Avast’s offering is serviceable, other companies are able to offer more for less. Mullvad VPN, for instance, costs just €5 per month ($5.61 USD at time of writing). Other companies cost more, but offer much more to customers. TunnelBear VPN, which is now owned by McAfee, costs $9.99 per month. What TunnelBear lacks in features, it more than makes up for in its ease of use, overall quality experience, and its relentless dedication to transparency and privacy. NordVPN and ProtonVPN have just about every VPN tool you could ask for, and several companies have even moved away from restrictions on the number of devices you can use at a time. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN place no limit on the number of devices that can be used simultaneously. (Note that Encrypt.me is owned by J2 Global, which owns PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)

Nothing is cheaper than free, and there are some free VPNs that are worth consideration. TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield VPN have free subscription tiers, but limit bandwidth to 500MB per month and per day, respectively. ProtonVPN has the best free subscription we’ve seen, as it places no limit on your bandwidth.

Beyond basic VPN protection, Avast SecureLine VPN has little to offer. Other VPN services block ads at the network level, or grant access to the Tor anonymization network via VPN. A few VPNs allow for split-tunneling, a feature that lets you route some website and app traffic outside the encrypted connection. That’s useful for low-security but high-bandwidth needs like video streaming or gaming, and also for secure sites that block VPN connections, like online banks. Some VPNs provide mulithop connections, which route your traffic through multiple VPN servers for additional security and privacy. CyberGhost VPN, ProtonVPN, and Surfshark VPN are the only VPN services I’ve reviewed that offer both multihop and split tunneling.

Avast SecureLine does not offer additional add-ons to subscriptions. On the one hand, that simplifies the shopping experience. But it’s worth noting that other companies, like TorGuard, offer much more with their subscription add-ons. That company offers static IP addresses, DDOS-protected IP addresses for gamers, and so-called residential IP addresses. The idea is that residential IP addresses are less likely to be blocked by video streaming services, although I have not confirmed that through testing.

VPN Protocols

There’s more than one way to make a VPN connection, although not all are created equal. My preferred option is OpenVPN, which is open-source and therefore picked over for potential vulnerabilities. Close behind is IKEv2, which is another secure and modern protocol.

I’m happy to see that Avast uses OpenVPN for its Windows and Android apps, and IKEv2 for its macOS and iOS apps. Ideally, both options would be available on all platforms, however.

While Avast is using secure technologies, a new protocol called WireGuard is the heir apparent to OpenVPN. WireGuard is also open-source, and is intended to be easier to deploy and more secure than existing options. It’s also designed to be faster, which was borne out in my back-of-the-napkin WireGuard testing. Mullvad and NordVPN, among others, have heavily embraced this new technology. Avast isn’t behind the curve yet, but it may soon find itself left in the dust.

Servers and Server Locations

The more server locations a VPN can offer, the better the chances you’ll find one near your home or wherever you happen to be. In general, you can expect better performance from a nearby server than one in another country. Also, more server locations means more options for spoofing your location. 

Avast SecureLine grants access to servers across 35 countries, which is respectable if below the 52 country average. Most of these are across Europe, however. While most VPN companies ignore Africa and South America, Avast does not. That said, its offerings in these regions are slim, and could stand to be expanded. Avast also offers servers in regions known for their repressive internet policies, including China, Russia, and Turkey. ExpressVPN, by comparison, offers servers in 94 countries.

List of server locations

Overall server count does not necessarily correlate to better performance. Avast offers 700 servers with SecureLine, which is a fairly robust collection. ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, and TorGuard VPN all offer more than 3,000 servers, while CyberGhost and NordVPN boast over 5,000 apiece.

Many VPNs make use of virtual servers. These are software-defined servers, meaning that a single hardware server can play host to numerous virtual servers. Notably, virtual servers can be configured to appear somewhere other than the country of their host machine. This can create confusion about where your data is actually headed, although some companies clearly mark their virtual servers and use them to cover regions where it’s not safe to physically house a server.

Such concerns are not an issue with Avast SecureLine. The company owns all of its servers, and does not use virtual servers.

Your Privacy With Avast SecureLine VPN

If it decided to misbehave, a VPN would have enormous insight into what you see and do online. That’s why it’s important to understand what information a VPN collects, and how it protects that information.

Avast does a good job of making it easy to find the company policy that relates to VPNs, and that policy is very easy to understand. The company deserves credit for that. It clearly states the company does not store your true IP address, nor does it store any information about what you do online. That’s excellent. 

The document goes on to outline what the company does gather. Avast is very transparent about these operations, and while they’re not always the best privacy practices, none of it seems malicious. Avast does log a timestamp of connection, which it says is necessary to curb abuse. To monitor its service and plan improvements, Avast says that it logs the amount of data transmitted (but not the content), and a portion of your IP address. The company also logs the IP address of the VPN server you use, which the company says helps identify when services are not available. A company representative tells me that this information is deleted on a rolling 30-day basis.

Several VPN companies gather far less information. Mullvad, notably, does not even have an account system. Instead, you’re issued a lengthy ID number, making it very difficult to correlate VPN activity to an individual. 

The company says that it only generates revenue from the sale of subscriptions. That’s good, as you don’t want a VPN to monetize your user data. 

Disconnection screen

Unfortunately, Avast has already monetized its users’ data. Early in 2020, the company was caught selling anonymized web usage data that had been harvested with Avast’s browser plug in. A PCMag investigation found that while Avast claimed this information had been anonymized, it could be linked back to individual Avast users. Notably, the company’s antivirus product was used in this scheme, not the VPN. Avast has also shut down this data gathering operation. That’s good, but the incident leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Trusting any VPN company is already difficult, and trusting one that so recently engaged in this kind of brazen behavior (even though its VPN was not involved) is harder. 

Avast SRO, the company behind Avast SecureLine, is headquartered in the Czech Republic, and operates under Czech law. The company says that it has provided limited data to law enforcement in the past in response to legal requests. The disclosure is acknowledged in the company’s Transparency Report, which I only located after asking a company representative. Unfortunately, the report has not been updated for 2019. Avast should move quickly to do so. The report acknowledged that the company gave one email address to law enforcement. That’s not bad, although none would be better.

Note that Avast SecureLine VPN, AVG Secure VPN, and HMA! VPN are all owned by the same company. While HMA! VPN operates on its own infrastructure, Avast and AVG-branded VPNs share the same back end.

Avast also maintains a warrant canary that includes the notable assurance that the company has not built a backdoor into its system that would grant access to encrypted information. That’s great, and I’d like to see more companies make similar assurances.

Many VPN companies have begun releasing third party audits of their services, in order to establish their security bona fides. While not every audit is useful, it’s a good trend overall. NordVPN recently finished its second PwC audit, and TunnelBear has released annual audits for several years. Avast SecureLine has not yet undergone a public audited. It should do so.

While the company says that its VPN infrastructure has never been hacked, it notes that it would quickly disclose the event. However, the company did not outline what safeguards are in place to protect its backend. Some companies, such as ExpressVPN, have moved to RAM-only servers which are wiped immediately whenever power goes down. Avast would do well to inform customers of any such efforts it is making to prevent attacks.

Hands On With SecureLine

I tested the Windows client on an Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10. I had no trouble installing the client software. Interestingly, the app had me authenticate myself using an activation key, found on my Avast account page. This saved me the trouble of having to enter my username and password, and is reminiscent of the login methods used by ExpressVPN and Mullvad.

Starting up the app, I was pleased to see that Avast had shed its rather odd previous design and now looked much more clean and modern. Right away, the app directed my attention to a large toggle that turned the VPN connection on and off. I appreciate the simplicity of the design; anyone, even someone who has never used a VPN before will quickly understand what they need to do.

Main window with a prompt to press the connection button

Once connected, the app displays your current virtual IP address, your true IP address, and how long you’ve been connected to the VPN. To switch servers, you can peruse a list of the countries Avast SecureLine serves. Server locations that allow P2P traffic are clearly marked, which is useful. A number next to the location indicates the number of cities in that region. A list down the side lets you narrow down the server list by continent. You can also sort the list to show just streaming servers or P2P servers.

Many VPNs build their server picker around a map, which is both more visually appealing and helpful when you need to find a server near a specific location. I’d rather it follow in the vein of the colorful and friendly TunnelBear or NordVPN, which both put a visual interface up front and let you pull up a list only if you need it.

List of p2p servers

You cannot, however, see specific servers within a given region. That’s handy for when you must be connected to a very particular locale, like the state of Florida, and want to explore your options. NordVPN makes it easy to browse the full breadth of its server offerings, and favorite specific servers that work for you. Notably, you cannot manually select a server with low latency or fewer users. For better or worse, the app makes that call for you—which will be fine for most customers.

When using a VPN, you want to ensure that the service is adequately hiding your information. I verified that my IP address did change and my ISP was obfuscated when I connected to Avast SecureLine VPN. Using the online DNS Leak Test Tool, I also confirmed that SecureLine was not leaking my DNS requests. Note that I only tested one server; other servers may not be properly configured. 

Avast SecureLine and Netflix

Using a VPN is great for security, but it can make some basic things really tedious. For example, Netflix blocks VPNs in order to prevent people from spoofing their location and watching videos that aren’t available in their real location. 

That’s not an issue with Avast SecureLine. I had no trouble browsing Netflix and streaming TV shows while connected to a US-based server. That might change at a moment’s notice, however.

Beyond VPN

Some VPN companies have begun including additional security and privacy tools alongside their offerings. NordVPN, for example, also has the NordLocker file encryption system, while TunnelBear offers the Remembear password manager and a free ad-blocking browser plugin. Hotspot Shield, meanwhile, provides subscriptions for other services with its Pango account.

As with other VPN services owned by antivirus companies, Avast doesn’t work like that. Rather than looking to sweeten the deal, SecureLine itself is more of a sweetener for customers already familiar with the Avast brand. 

Curiously, many antivirus companies that offer a VPN do not bundle it with their other offerings. Avast bucks this trend and includes the SecureLine VPN in its Avast Ultimate bundle. This provides antivirus, VPN, and PC cleanup for $99.99 per year for one Windows machine. Alternatively, you can spring to 10 devices across all platforms for $113.88 for the first year.

Speed Tests

Using a VPN will slow down your internet connection. That’s because your traffic has to go through more fiber and more machines to complete its journey. I try to get a sense of the impact each VPN makes by comparing results from the Ookla’s speed test tool with and without the VPN running. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) Using this data, I’m able to calculate a percent change for upload, download, and latency tests. See How We Test VPNs for more on PCMag’s testing procedures and their limitations.

In general, Avast SecureLine had a strong showing. It decreased download and upload speed test results but 52.5 and 75.1 percent, respectively. It also showed a remarkably low latency time, increasing latency results by just 44.6 percent. If not for its upload scores, it would have easily been a top performing VPN.

You can see how Avast SecureLine compares to the top nine fastest VPNs out of the nearly 40 we’ve tested thus far in the chart below.

Chart showing the nine fastest VPNs

According to my results, Hotspot Shield is the fastest VPN by virtue of having the least impact on download speed test results and latency. Surfshark, however, is right behind, and it boasts a shockingly good upload score. If speed is your concern, both are worth a look.

Speed, however, probably shouldn’t be your primary concern. While I strive to make my testing consistent, every VPN is different and your experience will almost certainly vary greatly from mine. Instead of looking at something as unreliable as speed, I encourage readers to consider cost, value, and privacy protections when choosing a VPN.

Avast SecureLine on Other Platforms

Avast offers SecureLine VPN apps for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. It does not offer apps for Linux, nor does it provide support for installation on routers. Want to run SecureLine on your streaming device? No such luck. Other VPNs, such as TorGuard and Private Internet Access, make their service easy to access on just about any device.

Many other VPN services provide easy access to the files necessary to manually configure your computer or device to use a VPN. I could find no such instructions, or support, with Avast SecureLine. That’s disappointing, but I generally recommend that people use the supplied client. This will be much easier to manage, will always be up-to-date, and will provide access to any additional tools offered by the VPN.

A Fine Line

Avast SecureLine has a strong pedigree from its antivirus roots and notches some successes in its own right, especially in speed tests. It’s also very simple, and fairly friendly. Unfortunately, it offers few privacy tools, and although its annual price compares favorably to the competition, it lacks a monthly pricing option. The company as a whole also has to do some fence mending with customers, and could start by undergoing comprehensive audits and retooling its VPN product to gather less user data.

Avast SecureLine VPN Specs

Allows 5+ Simultaneous Connections Yes
500+ Servers No
Geographically Diverse Servers No
P2P or BitTorrent Yes
Blocks Ads No
Free Version Yes
Server Locations 35 countries
Connects to Tor No
Server Selection Helper Yes
Advanced Settings No

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