Updated September 13, 2018
By now, you are probably aware of the need to be concerned about cybersecurity and protecting your personal information. Data breaches involving large corporations have rocked everyone’s sense of security about keeping their private information safe. Most people are aware that they need to protect their PC and laptop with security software, but the question on many people’s minds is how to protect their information and identity when they are surfing the web. A virtual private network (VPN) is one solution to this problem. We will review Avast VPN and see how it stacks up for keeping your information safe.
If you are an experienced computer user, you probably already know what a VPN is and why you need one. However, if you are like most, you may not understand why having a VPN is one of the most important steps that you can take to protect your identity online.
You may be aware that large companies and businesses protect their computer systems through a protected network. The users within the building can talk to each other, but most often access information outside of the building using something called a firewall.
A firewall is like a gatekeeper that keeps information from coming in or out of the network that could potentially harm the system or jeopardize private information. The less a company engages with information outside of the building and the private network, the less risk they exposed to threats. Going out onto the Internet is like going out in public. This can be compared to your private system at home too.
If you are a person who stays inside of your home and keeps your doors locked most of the time, the threat of someone breaking in is relatively small. However, if you continually leave your door unlocked, or your car doors open with the keys in the ignition, you increase your chances of theft greatly.
Every time you take your computer outside of the home and access the Internet, you are exposing yourself to a growing number of hackers and cyber criminals. Today’s systems are designed to be always connected to the net, which means that anytime your computer is on, and sometimes even when it is not, you are exposing yourself to a public full of people wanting your information to steal something from you.
A virtual private network is a company that provides a secure tunnel between your PC and the places that you want to visit on the Internet. Instead of directly accessing the Internet through your ISP provider, the VPN connects to a VPN server that serves as a gatekeeper, similar to a firewall, and monitors the traffic in and out of your private network, or PC.
Now, you probably understand why you need a VPN and are ready to start doing some research. You also need to understand that there are certain things that a VPN cannot do. For instance, in certain countries, censorship is stricter and there is software that will prevent you from using a VPN to avoid censorship in those locations. However, if you are in a less-restrictive country and want to avoid censorship, using a VPN could be useful when accessing sites such as Twitter and Facebook. It all depends on how willing the government you are dealing with is willing to look the other way and in what cases.
It is also important to understand that a VPN is designed to offer protection against passive surveillance, but it will not be effective against an active and hostile attempt to steal your identity. This means that you still need to have a firewall or other computer security software to protect your system. Keep in mind that complete anonymity online is a difficult goal to achieve, but having a VPN and other security software can make you one step closer.
This can be like having two locks on your front door, instead of just one. A determined thief may be able to get in, but you are reducing their chances of success. Most will not go to the trouble if they see that there are multiple layers of security to go through. This is how a VPN works to protect your network from most invasions.
Large corporations often use a VPN that is housed on their own server. This is particularly useful if they have a mobile workforce who needs to connect with the private network on a regular basis. However, this option is often too expensive and overkill for most users. Small businesses and private individuals need solutions that are less expensive to obtain, and that require less maintenance and upkeep. There have been quite a few companies popping up lately that offer a VPN at prices that are affordable. In addition, you do not have the expense and hassle of keeping up with the needs of your own server network.
Recognizing the need for small businesses and private individuals, several companies have come up with cloud-based services that are affordable. Some providers offer their VPN services for free. However, you get what you pay for and some of them have limited bandwidth, as low as 500 MB. Some companies offer both a free service and a paid service. The advantage to the paid service is that you get faster connection speeds. Of course, some of them are ad sponsored, which significantly slows your speed and you are still having your data harvested for the ad companies. No one offers their services for free and you are paying for it in some way, including selling your private data to ad agencies.
The good news is that companies are beginning to offer low-cost VPNs that offer good privacy and protection, yet do not break the bank. Some of the ones that we have tested include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberghostVPN. All of these VPNs were found to be a good choice for consumers. Each of them has distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Now, onto our review of the Avast VPN service.
Before reviewing any software, it is important to understand who the company is and to explore their reputation in the industry. Avast was founded in 1988 in Prague, Czech Republic. It changed its name to Avast in 2010 and has added offices in the United States, Germany, China, South Korea, and Taiwan.
This means that the company has 30 years of experience protecting computers and systems from invaders. This experience is one of the reasons why we like the company, as a whole.
Even though they only recently launched their VPN service, they have a long-standing reputation in PC security. Going with a trusted company is the first step to finding a reliable and trustworthy VPN service.
In examining their customer support, most of the issues involved billing and were resolved satisfactorily. One of the first things that we always do when reviewing companies to call their customer support number. We found them to be the polite, courteous, and responsive to our needs. We found the tech support to be patient and knowledgeable in resolving any questions that we may have had.
As of August 2018, Avast owns and operates a large number of VPN servers all over the world. They have 16 servers in the United States. They also have servers located in 34 other countries around the world. This makes them one of the largest networks in the world at present.
You need to know that there are several cases of companies saying they were Avast and contacting users regarding a problem. In addition, there are several instances of fake customer service numbers out there that have resulted in some cases of theft from banking or payment services. It is essential to make certain that when you call customer service, it is the genuine customer service website for Avast. If someone contacts you saying that they are from the company, it is always best to refrain from giving them any information until you can verify that they are who they say they are. If you have any questions, you should contact Avast if you are unsure of anyone’s identity who claims to be them.
To be certain, make sure that you are on https://www.avast.com/en-us/secureline-vpn#pc before beginning your download. If you need to contact customer service, you should make sure that it is from a link on this webpage. The customer service number for Avast Total Care is 1-844-340-9251. If you contact customer service for any reason, make sure that you are using this number and no others. Customer service is available 24/7.
Perhaps the most important thing you want to know is what our experience was in downloading, using, and testing the software. Without further delay, here is how it went for us.
The first thing is to make sure that your page looks like this before you start your download. If it does not, you may be on a site that may not be so trustworthy. It is important to make sure that you are downloading from a site that is safe and authentic. Make sure that you have the right address in your browser. To begin the download, simply click on the orange button to continue. The website automatically detects whether you are on a PC or Mac.
Next, you will see a page that looks like this.
As you can see, there is a gray button that says save file. You simply click on this button to begin saving the installer on your computer. For this example, I was using Firefox as a browser, but it will work the same on any browser that you choose.
It will ask where you want to save your file. Make sure that you are saving it to your Downloads file so that you can find it later if need be.
In the next step, you need to open the file, which will work differently depending on the browser that you are using. For Firefox, you click on the down arrow at the right upper hand corner of the screen to open the file.
So far, this process has taken under a minute. Now it is time to install the app.
Once again, make sure that you are in the downloads file when it asks you where you want to store the file.
Next, a security warning will pop up from your computer. This is nothing to worry about, it is simply acknowledging that you are about to download something to your computer. In this case, you know that it is completely safe. You simply kick click the gray box that says Run and your download will start.
Next, it will ask you a few simple questions, such as which language you want, and it will ask you to accept user agreement, then it will ask you to install the software by clicking the button that says Install. It is that easy and you are on your way.
That installation process was lightning fast. It literally took under one minute.
The first thing that Avast does is to show your IP address and location. Without a VPN, any hacker can see this information too. It is like giving them your address and a list of valuables in your home. Please note that on these and future screenshots, my real location and IP have been replaced with Xs. This is information you should never give out to anyone.
You have several different settings that you can configure by clicking the menu icon at the top right of the screen. It is important to check these options before you go any further with setting up the software. You can choose to allow the system to notify you when your VPN is turned on or off, have it start Secureline whenever your computer starts, or automatically turn on the VPN only when you choose to start the app. You will notice that the purple General box is lit up at this time.
While you are here, you will also want to click on the Network Security icon so that the purple box is lit up. This is an important step because it allows you to tell Avast what to do when you are on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. You can have it automatically turn on Secureline whenever you are connected to unsecured Wi-Fi networks by encrypting it. You can have it turn it on automatically, or have it ask you whether you want to turn it on at that time. I recommend having it turn on automatically, that way wherever you are connected you do not have to worry.
Once you click the button to turn the protection on, you will be asked whether you want to Buy It Now, or get a 7-day free trial. You cannot turn the connection on until you either buy the software or start a 7-day free trial. Then it takes your right back to this same screen and says that it is connecting. After about 2 minutes, you are taken back to the same screen. Now you are protected and now it gets interesting.
Here is the magic. You are now invisible to hackers.
You will notice that this screen shows your real IP address and location, but hackers do not see this. Instead, they will see you at the IP address and location at the bottom of the screen. For me, no one will know that I am not in Toronto, Ontario and have an IP address of 18.104.22.168. That is not my real location, but it is where I now appear to be.
By clicking on the circled letter i, an explanation of what this feature is and how it works will appear.
Here is an explanation of what a virtual IP is and how it works. Right now, hackers think that I am in Toronto, Ontario. You can change your location to any one of 55 different locations around the world. You have complete control over where hackers will think that you are located. Let’s travel, shall we?
All you have to do to change the location that hackers will think are your from is to click on the Change Location button. You will then be taken to a list of places that you can go. Notice that it always tries to direct you to the location that will give you the best connection speed.
You will also notice that some of the countries have a circle beside them with a number. This is the number of potential locations available in that country. Some of them also have the letters P2P in a circle beside them. These are the locations that allow for anonymous peer-to-peer file transfers. In terms of being spied upon, these are the most secure.
You may notice sites that have a right facing triangle in a circle. Those indicate sites that are optimized for streaming videos. You can even pretend to be in Gotham City when you watch your videos. The best streaming site in the UK is named Wonderland.
When you click on a location to change it, this warning will appear so that you do not go somewhere else by accident. Let’s see how things are in Gotham City.
See, that was easy; no airplane fare, or passports needed. The entire trip only took about 10 seconds. As you can see, it now shows my location as Gotham City, USA and I have a new IP address of 22.214.171.124. This is what hackers and spies will see, even though I am still physically sitting in my same location. While it changed location, I was not protected for about the 10 seconds that it took to make the change. Then a box popped up and told me I was protected again.
If you turn your VPN off and are no longer protected, it will also warn you so that you can turn it back on.
Overall, our experience with the installation and setup was excellent and beyond expectations. The installation was quick and each screen offered easy-to-follow actions. If you don’t understand something, you can simply click on the lowercase letter i and will be offered a full explanation. It was easy to change locations and one of the things that we liked best is that you get to choose from a long list of locations. Whenever you want to make sure that no one has tracked you from your last location, you simply change it and you are there in a few seconds.
We did notice that during our browsing experience, the sites that were optimized for video streaming did run quicker than those that were not. We tried everything. We tried uploading and downloading large files, streaming video, playing games, from many different locations. We did find that the farther we got from our physical location, it did slow down the connection, in some cases quite noticeably. In terms of feeling safe while cruising the World Wide Web, we think this software is one of the best, if not the best, simply because of the options and number of locations that it provides, as well as the fact that it does not track you at all.
If you use an inferior VPN service, you could experience slowdowns in your Internet speed. This can be quite annoying, especially if you are trying to stream video or music, or you are trying to download a large file. We found that this was not a problem with Avast. We tested the service using a ping meter and found that we got on average about 1.722 GB for both uploads and downloads. It seldom dipped below 1.5 GB, even when connecting to slower servers.
We did not find any problems with buffering in videos or music streaming. Everything ran smoothly and we had a good experience in terms of watching movies or listening to music online. When it came to participating in online games, such as World of Warcraft, we didn’t find any problems there either. Online games are heavy system users, and we found that this VPN could handle both the load in terms of bandwidth and in terms of speed.
Another thing that Avast offers that is a step above is that you have unlimited bandwidth. Other services, and especially free services, often have restricitons on bandwidth that will prevent you from doing anything that you want to on the Internet. For instance, if you have to download large files or want to play games, you may not be able to do it while protected on their virtual networks. This is not a problem with Avast VPN.
From a technical standpoint there were several other things that stood out about Avast that set it apart from other VPNs that we have reviewed. From a technical standpoint, we liked what we saw and we liked what we experienced.
First off, avast uses 256-bit AES Encryption. Every single bit of your data going in and out is encrypted with some of the best encryption software available. Using 256-bit encryption is the standard for security professionals and companies that have personal private information to protect, such as banks and anyone who accepts payments online. Encryption keeps your data, both incoming and outgoing, safe from those who would want to snoop and capture it. We felt that it was impressive that they offer this level of encryption to individuals and small businesses. You are getting the same level of encryption that larger corporations and government entities use.
Another thing that we liked is transparency. Avast uses OpenVPN and OpenSSL, which allows developers and users to see what they are up to. They cannot hide any secrets in the code and keep them to themselves. This adds an extra level of protection and trust that they will not be collecting data on you and selling it to other companies. This is something that other VPNs cannot claim because they do collect your data and sell it to advertising agencies.
Avast says that it keeps no logs of your online activity. They do not keep records of the apps that you use, the content the you engage with, or the websites that you visit. Some VPNs, especially the free ones, will protect your data from other snooping, but they will collect the data themselves and use it to sell. Of course, this defeats the purpose of having a VPN. Your data is still being harvested and sold to third parties. The fact that Avast uses open-source software means that they could not do this without getting called out on it.
Several reports were found online that people found adware or spyware after downloading Avast. Avast does not download spyware or malware to your computer, but if you use an unreliable download site there is a potential that the site you downloaded from may add on ad or spyware. It is important to make sure that you download your version from the Avast website itself, or from another trusted site.
If you download the software from an off-site service, they may have their own policy which could man that you accept adware or spyware from them. Not all of the download sites that do this state so directly on their page. Some of them have a hidden in the fine print of their privacy page.
Without having to go through all of the privacy page of the off-site service, you know you are safe if you downloaded from the Avast website itself. This is the best way to know that you are not unintentionally downloading adware or malicious software from the download service itself. Make certain that the site you are on is an authentic Avast site or other trusted source. Do not download from shady or unknown websites.
Another reason why we liked Avast is that aside from being completely transparent about what they do with your data, which is nothing, because they don’t even collect it, is that they have a nearly an extremely secure way of keeping you hidden while you are online. When we you are using Avast’s shared IP, you disappear into the crowd because many of their other customers are using the same IP. A hacker would not be able to pick out an individual. It is like hiding herself by disappearing into a crowd of people. There are many people using the same IP at the same time and this is what any would-be Hacker would see. This makes it extremely difficult to harvest information about an individual. You are just one face in a crowd of many when you are using Avast VPN to surf the web.
In terms of the VPN itself, we felt that it was fast and reliable. It worked consistently whether we were at our own home office or at a local coffee shop. We tried to access a few sites that featured blocked content and were successful a majority of the time. It did not work perfectly or for every site, but it gave us a lot more potential than other VPN’s that we tried.
Avast offers something even more in this regard. It offers DNS leak protection. If a server using IPv4 or IPv6 requests your IP, the request will be denied. What this means is that if some other server comes in and asks where you live on the Internet, Avast gatekeeper will tell them it is simply none of their business. Even though IPv6 is state-of-the-art and used by most, there are still some using IPv4, particularly in many developing countries. Unfortunately, many hacking requests and attacks come from underdeveloped countries using old software. Avast protects you from both older and newer software requests. It will not tell them where you are.
Avast VPN allows you to protect up to five different devices. It will work for PC, Mac, Android, and iPhone users.
One thing that we noticed that Avast offers an enhanced customer service option where you can get any type of help for your device. It is sort of like having tech service insurance in case something goes wrong that is not necessarily related to Avast software. This means that if the problem is found to be not related to Avast software, but a problem is with your system, you can still get help with your issue without having to call another company for tech-support, or take it in for computer repairs. All in all, we thought that this option was a good value, at least compared to having to take your system into a physical repair shop.
They offer several different options in these services. If the problem is a simple fix such as diagnostics, software or hardware set up, a training issue, or help personalizing windows, the cost is $79 per call. If you want something more complex, such as advanced software or hardware set up, Internet or network set up, virus or malware removed, or email configuration, it is a little more expensive. It is still less expensive than a physical repair shop, or the expense of having your system unusable and losing business by the minute. Another thing that we liked is that they handle peripherals, such as printers, that are connected to any of your devices.
We thought that the best value is their total care package which gives you unlimited service calls up to three devices and covers any of the more complex issues listed in the one-off price. This service is something that sets Avast apart from the other VPN services. They offer more than just the computer security software and a VPN. They can help you with any issue that you have with any device that you own.
In the end, Avast is a winner in our book. We thought that they offered much more than similarly priced competitors. What we liked about Avast the most is that they offer not only a VPN, they also offer standard PC protection as well. Another thing we like about them is that they are a global leader and located in many different countries. This means that your computer could show up as located in any one of 45 different locations, hiding you from a potential hacker or identity thief.
We had a good experience with their customer surface network and like that they offer add on services that make them a one-stop shopping experience for all of your needs. Even if the problem is not related to Avast, or any of their products, they will still help you resolve your tech-support problems. We felt that Avast took extra measures to protect your data.