Internet security giant Norton LifeLock has offered a somewhat lackluster showing in its virtual private network option, allowing longtime VPN fan favorite CyberGhost to skip ahead in our rankings due to its leaner software and faster connection speeds.
While CyberGhost's parent company has a reputation worth careful scrutiny, the ghost with the most still outpaces the more widely reputable Norton LifeLock Secure VPN on price.
Here's how the two VPNs stack up side by side when it comes to price, security and speed.
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Editors' note, Feb. 9, 2022: The VPN industry has undergone significant change in the past few months, with all three of our top VPN choices announcing major changes in corporate ownership. In December, ExpressVPN announced that it had officially joined Kape Technologies, a company that already owns several other VPNs and has raised privacy concerns in the past. In February, NordVPN and Surfshark announced the two companies were merging, though they'll continue to operate autonomously. We're in the process of reevaluating all of our top picks in light of these changes. We will update our reviews and, if necessary, our rankings to account for this new competitive landscape.
In CNET's previous coverage of virtual private networks, we've praised CyberGhost for its roster of competitive features. Our in-depth review of CyberGhost last year included speed testing, security verification and an analysis of its full suite of privacy tools -- though we also found that it exposed your VPN use to your internet service provider. Since then, CyberGhost has increased its number of servers and is prepared to roll out a new suite of privacy tools, all while remaining one of the cheapest VPNs we've reviewed -- at $2.75 per month for a three-year plan.
But as we've bolstered our approach to VPN reviews in recent months, CyberGhost has raised some red flags. Its parent company's history warrants skepticism, its website and app trackers are more numerous than necessary and its ad-blocker uses an untrustworthy method of traffic manipulation no VPN should even think about. Not to mention its previous issue of letting your ISP see that you were using it, which could land you in trouble in countries where VPNs are outlawed. While its low price previously made it worth considering if you needed to change the appearance of your location online, it won't provide you best-in-class security.
With nearly 49% of average internet speed lost, CyberGhost outperformed competitor Norton LifeLock Secure VPN's speed loss of 57%. While neither VPN can catch up to speed-intensive VPNs like Surfshark and ExpressVPN, which lost just 27% and 2% speed in our tests, respectively, the addition of more than 2,000 servers to CyberGhost's fleet over the past year suggests it may be in the midst of a continued upswing in speed.
No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing, but CyberGhost didn't hide the fact that I was using a VPN, so I recommend some caution here. In March 2019, a CNET reviewer likewise found that CyberGhost failed one of our data leak tests, which allowed internet traffic to be seen by an ISP.
While CyberGhost's speeds and security appear to be improving, I don't currently recommend using CyberGhost if you're in a country where VPNs are illegal. I also recommend anyone in the US reviews CyberGhost's parent company before deciding whether to pay for a subscription.
CyberGhost's best offer right now is $2.75 per month, or $99 for a three-year plan with seven simultaneous connections. That's a great deal for the budget-minded, and beats Norton LifeLock's lowest offer of $5 monthly (which comes with just a single connection allowed).
There are few more familiar names in information security than Norton and LifeLock. But with limited server options and a few deal-breaker security issues, it's clear that the Norton Secure VPN from NortonLifeLock still has some work to do before it can meet the high standards set by its sibling security products.
In terms of speed, Norton's are on par with other midtier VPNs: During my testing, it achieved only about 43% of the average 187-megabits-per-second speed achieved on a 1-gigabit-per-second-capable fiber connection during testing, while still maintaining an average of around 81 Mbps globally. But unlike many other VPNs, Norton doesn't allow you to choose the city you connect to -- only the country. Norton's Hong Kong servers dragged down overall speed scores, averaging just 6 Mbps. So if you're looking for a VPN to use while traveling in China, you may want to consider a different option.
Norton offers what it calls bank-grade encryption -- standard AES-256 -- but offers no kill switch, which would prevent network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. I'd generally consider a lack of kill switch a deal breaker. Norton also didn't mask my IPv6 address, and I experienced DNS leaks during testing -- major security red flags from a product that's supposed to mask your browsing activity.
This also led to difficulties accessing Netflix. So if you're looking for a VPN that will allow you to access your normal media subscriptions while traveling, we recommend seeking a different VPN for now. We likewise recommend looking elsewhere if you want a VPN that allows torrenting, can be used on a wide variety of devices, or can be paid for in Bitcoin.
Norton Secure VPN is only available on the four main platforms -- Windows, Android, Mac and iOS. Depending on your subscription, you can opt for one, five or 10 simultaneous connections. The least expensive plan is the $5 monthly plan, which allows only one device at a time. The most expensive is the 10-device annual plan for $40. That's more than you should be paying for something that doesn't disguise your location, doesn't support Netflix and drags on speed.
On the plus side, the application comes with a built-in ad-tracking blocker.
Between the two, Norton Secure's higher price, slower speeds and various security issues would lead me to choose CyberGhost instead.