A virtual private network (or VPN) is an easy way to improve your privacy online. Kaspersky Secure Connection carries one of the most recognizable names in the industry and offers customers a simple, affordable VPN. It is a bare-bones offering with few server locations, but Kaspersky users and anyone looking for a cheap VPN will likely be pleased.
What Is a VPN?
When you switch on a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server operated by the VPN company. Your web traffic travels through this tunnel, protecting it from the prying eyes of your ISP and any attacker that might be sitting on the Wi-Fi network. VPNs also hide your IP address, making it harder for advertisers to track you online. You can also use a VPN to spoof your location by connecting to a server in a different country.
While VPNs are useful tools, they can’t protect against every threat. We strongly recommend enabling two-factor authentication wherever it’s available, using a password manager to store strong and unique passwords for every site and service you use, and installing antivirus software.
How Much Does Kaspersky Secure Connection Cost?
Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN is a licensed version of Hotspot Shield. That means Secure Connection uses the server infrastructure of Hotspot Shield, but offers a different set of features, a branded interface, and different pricing.
Paid subscriptions to Kaspersky Secure Connection start at $4.99 per month, which is well below the industry average of $10.21 per month. Kaspersky has the distinction of being tied with FrootVPN for the lowest monthly paid subscription I’ve seen, beating out even Mullvad‘s flat €5 ($5.92 at the time of writing) per month fee.
More impressive is its annual plan, which costs $29.99 for a full year. That’s significantly less than the annual average of $71.87 per year. In fact, it’s the lowest annual fee of any VPN we’ve yet reviewed.
On the pricing page for Kaspersky Secure Connection, I noticed language that implied that the $29.99 annual price is merely “introductory.” A company representative clarified that if you sign up at that price, you can renew at that price as well. There doesn’t appear to be any hidden price hikes.
While you will definitely save money with any VPN’s annual plan, I strongly advise against signing up with a long-term plan initially. Instead, use a free plan or short-term subscription to test that the VPN will work with all the sites and apps you need. If it does, then spring for the longer plans.
Of course, cost doesn’t need to be an obstacle when there are so many excellent free VPNs available. Kaspersky Secure Connection also has a free option, which limits users to 200MB per day, and won’t let you select a VPN server—it makes that choice for you. That’s more generous than TunnelBear’s 500MB per month limit, but half of what Hotspot Shield offers per day. ProtonVPN has by far the best free subscription option, in that it places no limit on the amount of data you can use.
You might expect that purchasing another Kaspersky product might net you a cheaper VPN plan. Sadly, that’s not the case. While the free version of Secure connection is available in both the Kaspersky Internet Security entry-level suite and the Kaspersky Total Security mega-suite, you still have to live with the 200MB-per-day limitation. That’s disappointing, especially considering that these suites cost $79.99 and $89.99 per year, respectively. For all that, I’d expect better than just a free version.
Most VPN services offer five licenses with a subscription, meaning you can secure up to five devices. Kaspersky follows suit, which is great considering the price. Other VPNs, however, have abandoned this model and are allowing an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. You can connect as many devices as you like with Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN. Note that Encrypt.me and IPVanish are owned by J2 Global, which in turn owns PCMag’s publisher Ziff Media.
Other VPN companies include additional tools to further protect your privacy or make a VPN fit better with your life. Split tunneling allows you to pick what traffic travels through the VPN, letting you prioritize traffic with high bandwidth needs or use apps that block VPN access. Some VPNs provide one-click access to the Tor anonymization service. In the same vein, a few VPN services provide multihop connections. This routes your traffic through more than one VPN server, ensuring that even if one server is somehow compromised, your data remains safe. Secure Connection doesn’t offer any of these features. ProtonVPN, notably, is the only VPN I have yet reviewed that includes all of them.
Kaspersky Secure Connection uses the excellent OpenVPN protocol to create its secure connections on Android and iOS. I prefer this to other options because it is newer and faster than many other protocols, and it also benefits from all the eyes in the open-source community that inspect its code. A company representative said that Hotspot Shield’s proprietary VPN protocol is used on Windows and macOS. Custom encryption tools are generally a red flag, since they’re unlikely to be as thuroughly vetted as open-source standards. Thankfully, Hotspot’s protocol uses the open-source Open SSL library to encrypt data.
WireGuard is the newest VPN protocol, and the open-source heir apparent to OpenVPN. In fact, WireGuard is so new I haven’t had a chance to test it on most platforms, but anecdotally, I saw remarkable performance with it. It’s forgivable that Kaspersky Secure Connection doesn’t support WireGuard yet, but that may change in the future.
Server and Server Locations
Kaspersky has expanded its offering since I last reviewed Secure Connection. The service now offers 300 servers in 18 countries. That’s still a modest showing compared to most VPN products, but it’s an improvement for Kaspersky. ExpressVPN leads the pack with physical servers in over 90 countries.
The collection of countries is also a bit curious. Commonly found countries, like Australia, are absent, but countries known for their repressive internet policies, such as China, Russia, and Turkey, are present. The service also ignores all of South America and Africa, which is unfortunately common for the industry.
It’s important for a VPN to offer servers in many locations. This gives you more opportunities to spoof your location and means it’s more likely you’ll find a nearby VPN server when traveling. The closer a server, the better service you’re likely to receive.
The total number of servers isn’t necessarily an indicator of robust performance, and it may be more closely tied to the size of the company’s customer base. That said, 300 is quite a small number of servers. CyberGhost currently operates the largest network, with over 5,900 servers.
Because Kaspersky white-labels its VPN product from Hotspot Shield, it is not closely involved with securing the VPN infrastructure. Kaspersky says it has performed audits of Hotspot Shield’s code and infrastructure and is satisfied with the results.
From my own review of Hotspot Shield, I know that the company does not own its server infrastructure but rather leases it. That’s not unusual for the industry. The company does deploy safeguards to protect its infrastructure, which is a good thing. Other companies, such as ExpressVPN and more recently NordVPN, have moved to RAM-only servers that store nothing to disk and are intended to be more resistant to physical and software tampering.
Your Privacy With Kaspersky Secure Connection
A VPN could potentially have the same insight into your online life as your ISP, so it’s important to understand what measures the company has taken to protect your privacy. The situation with Kaspersky Secure Connection is a little more complicated than most, as you will see.
Kaspersky was founded in Russia but has relocated to Switzerland and is managed by a UK holding company. The VPN service, provided by Hotspot Shield, is based in the US and Switzerland. That’s a lot of different locations with different legal requirements.
Note that Hotspot Shield has changed hands a few times since I first reviewed Kaspersky Secure Connection. The product is now owned by Aura, although it appears there are no significant changes to the relevant privacy policies in the process. See my review of Hotspot Shield for more on that company’s policies.
Hotspot Shield says that it does gather your IP address but immediately encrypts it, and then deletes it when you disconnect. That’s great. The company does log VPN session duration and bandwidth used, as well as device hashes that the company says cannot be linked to identifying information. The company also logs domains accessed by all its users in an anonymized, aggregate basis. The company appears to have made efforts to protect the information gathered in this way, although doing so is not ideal.
Hotspot Shield says that it will comply with legal requests for information by law enforcement but maintains that it would have no activity information to provide. That’s not an unusual stance.
Some companies release third-party audits to help establish their privacy . Kaspersky has not released an audit for Secure Connection but did tell me that they audited the service and infrastructure before entering into a contract with Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield has not publicly released the results of an audit.
Hands On With Secure Connection
I tested Kaspersky Secure Connection on my Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10. The app installed quickly and easily, and a helpful tutorial popped up after installation to walk me through the basics of using the app.
The Secure Connection is limited to a single window, but it manages to feel breezy and uncluttered. Done up in Kaspersky’s trademark off-white and teal, it has a clean, unified look that’s easy to understand. It’s much improved from previous versions of the app.
The central panel shows a large toggle that activates the VPN with a click. I really appreciate it when services make it easy to get online and don’t have customers jump through hoops. Once connected, a large green hexagon rotates lazily. It’s a small but nice touch that is almost soothing to watch. It’s not as friendly as TunnelBear’s bright yellow and bear-filled map, but the calm it exudes is still a welcome improvement.
By default, the VPN will connect to what it thinks is the fastest server. Click the large VPN server button at the bottom of the screen to browse the other options. A helpful search bar sits at the top, but the list is short enough to scan by eye. Note that you can only browse at the country level; you can’t select specific servers in a particular region. The US has the most fine-grained option, and even that is split into four choices covering huge swathes of the country.
A narrow bar on the left shows more options. The News and Recommendations section is a bit odd as it contains no news, and only vague advice on using a VPN. Another option provides prompts to install the Secure Connection apps on other devices. A tech support panel is an interesting addition, although I found a puzzling warning: “This application is not intended to be used in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Brazil, or by California residents.” Apparently, this meant I downloaded a non-GDPR compliant version of the app. A link takes you to a Kaspersky page to download alternate versions of the software, but the company would do well to clear up this confusion.
In terms of additional features, Kaspersky runs light. You can configure it to run and connect automatically at startup, and prompt you to connect when you join a potentially dangerous Wi-Fi network. The Kill Switch, a new feature, prevents apps from sending data should the VPN connection be interrupted. This is a common feature across VPN services and I’m happy to see it here.
Having a VPN that leaks your information isn’t much good, so I use the DNS Leak Test Tool to confirm that each VPN has successfully changed my public IP address and does not leak my DNS information. Kaspersky handily passed this test. Note that I only tested one server, other servers may not be configured correctly.
Kaspersky Secure Connection and Netflix
Whenever I test a VPN, I connect to a server in the US and try to stream video. Frequently it won’t work because Netflix blocks VPNs, the same as most other streaming services. Kaspersky was no different; you’ll have to shut off this VPN if you want to watch Netflix videos on your device.
Some VPN companies have begun to diversify their offerings. TunnelBear offers a free tracker blocker and a subscription-based password manager called Remembear. ProtonVPN is itself a spinoff of the well regarded ProtonMail. Hotspot Shield is perhaps the most aggressive in this area, offering free subscriptions with three other privacy services with your Hotspot Shield subscription.
Secure Connection has the advantage of being part of Kaspersky’s exhaustive lineup of security tools. But although Kaspersky Cloud products do include the VPN, the pricing does not include the unlimited premium VPN subscription. You have to get that separately. That’s unfortunate, and bewilderingly not unusual for the big antivirus companies’ forays into the world of VPNs.
Speed and Performance
A VPN will necessarily affect your web browsing experience, and probably not for the better. To get a sense of that impact, I run a series of tests with the Ookla speed test tool. Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag. By comparing the results with and without the VPN active, I can find a percent change between the two sets, which I present below. You can read more about how we test VPNs, and the limitations of that testing, in the aptly named feature How We Test VPNs.
Kaspersky Secure Connection had some extremely mixed results in our testing. We found that it reduced download test results by 58.4 percent, which is well below the median result for the category. It reduced upload test results by 97.1 percent, which is far above the median. The service appeared to increase latency by 4,084.9 percent, likely an indicator that the service uses few servers across the US.
These results are a bit surprising considering that our testing shows that Hotspot Shield, the company proving Kaspersky’s VPN capabilities, is the fastest VPN. Kaspersky Secure Connection is even using Hotspot Shield’s proprietary VPN protocol, purpose-built for better speeds. This is could be because Kaspersky Secure Connection has just a fraction of the server infrastructure of Hotspot Shield. Regardless of the cause, it’s clear you won’t get Hotspot Shied’s speeds with Kaspersky Secure Connection.
You can see how Kaspersky Secure Connection compares with the top performers in the chart below.
Our testing has shown that Hotspot Shield VPN is the fastest VPN on the market, taking the smallest chunk out of your available bandwidth. Surfshark is not far behind, however, and put up an eye-popping upload score. Your results with any of these services will almost certainly be different than mine, and this information is best used as a comparison rather than the final word on performance.
The pandemic means that all of PCMag has been working from home since mid-March. As such, I do not have access to the PCMag Labs Test network. I retested Secure Connection recently and found the results to be inconclusive. I look forward to continuing testing as soon as it is safe to do so.
Kaspersky Secure Connection on Other Platforms
Kaspersky has Secure Connection VPN apps for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. Some VPN companies provide Linux apps, but that’s not the case here. Kaspersky also does not offer apps for popular streaming platforms, like Roku, nor does it supply preconfigured routers. That’s fine for nearly all consumers, however.
The Kaspersky Connection
Kaspersky Secure Connection has a lot going for it on name recognition alone. It stands well enough on its own with an attractive price tag and a par-for-the-course free version. It repackages an already strong product in Hotspot Shield, but it offers less than the original supplier. It has fewer server locations, no advanced features to help it stand out from the competition, and significantly worse speed test scores than Hotspot Shield.
By itself, Kaspersky Secure Connection is a bare-bones product at a bargain price. That might be fine if you’re already in the Kaspersky ecosystem, or just need a cheap VPN right away.